January 31, 2015

Kill My Backlog

My personal theme for the past year or so has been to do less backlogging and more doing. I've been saving bookmarks and books and games and ideas, pretty much hoarding and obsessing over lists of things to read/play/write/make/do some day when I get around to it, since my early college days.

When Google Reader announced its closing a couple of years back, I was dismayed to find I had about 250 unread articles "saved for later." That was my first clue. Since then I've been more mindful of all the stuff that I tuck away for some other day, but I still tend to find myself spending as much time curating my lists (which can be helpful, as outdated and irrelevant as some items are) as I do consuming them.

The name for this post comes from a subreddit that started up around the same time, when a Steam collector's similar realization led him on a crusade to at least try all of the games in his account. It might be the sunk cost fallacy, but it's a noble effort. My own experience has been more like this:
Doghouse Diaries: How To Feel Mad
The thought of missing out on something interesting has made me a digital hoarder, but ironically the volume of stuff I already have backlogged probably limits what I discover.

Since I've been on a productivity kick lately, and of course blogging is one of the things I always want to work on, I'm going to draw this out into a little series about the kinds of stuff I've collected and the tools and habits I've been finding helpful in getting more done.

November 28, 2014


I can think of few concepts less appealing than Black Friday:

> Getting up stupid early,

> To go shopping,

> In a mob of people... who got up stupid early to go shopping.

All on the morning after (and increasingly the day of) a holiday dedicated to thankfulness for what we have.

Buying things we don't need, with money we don't have, to impress people we don't like.

September 21, 2014


It's been over two years since I described Civcraft, the Minecraft server about emergent societies. A lot has happened.

Gondolin, under a successful model of minimalist federated monarchy, enjoyed a year of growth and political relevance, becoming the largest single state and first functioning empire of Civcraft. The city of Aristopolis grew from a ruined village to this, serving as our de facto capital and a center of trade for the quadrant.

Render of Aristopolis in late 1.0, by unknown
Almost a year to the day after Gondolin's founding, an incident led to the announcement that map backups had been leaked and we would have to start a new one. And so the first era ended, with more than a year and 20,000 unique accounts to its name. Civcraft 2.0 launched in late May, after only a month of preparation.

When the server reset, we had a distinct opportunity to introduce new variables into the experiment. These changes included custom terrain generation, mass production factories, and one of my own ideas: restricting plant and animal fertility by biome.

As players, we also saw a fresh start and the chance to reform our virtual societies literally from the ground up. My friend and compatriot berge403, having succeeded me as King of Gondolin, led a movement to found a planned international community on the rim of the 30km-wide world. Metropolis would be a commonly held region dotted with designated city plots, each self-governed and uniquely styled. The dual centerpieces were to be two huge cities: Minas Minas of Gondolin and Solis of SPQR, an allied Roman faction that had outgrown its role as a Gondolin territory.

Stylized map of Metropolis, by SPQR citizen Logic_Man
Unfortunately for us, Gondolin and the Metropolis never really took off. Some of the cities backed out or failed to take hold, while the daunting scale of work to be done in Minas Minas and Solis drove many players to more happening places. A string of raids and the attrition of Gondolin leadership sealed its fate. The dream of Metropolis slowly faded into obscurity, but berge and I weren't satisfied to give up on Civcraft just yet.

By this time we had effectively stopped playing, lending our time instead to the reddit meta-game and helping with development. Some of the features had not played out quite as planned or were not balanced, and people were starting to see some serious problems with 2.0 mechanics.

There was talk of 3.0 and breaking changes that would be impractical and unfair to patch in now. We were in the heat of it, heedlessly proposing new concepts, hoping that someday Civcraft would be ready for them. The Civcraft admins firmly rejected another reset (3.NO!) as it would undermine the whole concept of social consequences, but as we talked berge and I found that we were converging on a radically different vision of how Civcraft should work.

And so we decided to fork the Civcraft model to a new server. The thought process went pretty much like this:

Thus Bergecraft was born in a storm of what-ifs. Our philosophy is to iteratively try the crazy ideas that wouldn't fly on Civcraft yet and invest some time playing with and refining them without the obligation of long-term support or continuity. That means short cycles, planned resets, and a whole lot of prototyping. We bill ourselves as the unofficial R&D lab of Civcraft.

Officially launching on March 1, the first iteration was a modest rehash of Civcraft 1.0 mods with the addition of Extra Hard Mode to make mining and PvE more challenging. Players joined by the dozens, and for the most part loved it. After setting our baseline we continued on to address PvP in April-May, lessening the exponential advantage of better gear and the domination of Protection IV. At that point we took a hiatus to help both servers get ready for the 1.7.10 upgrade and the transition of many of our shared plugins to player UUIDs.

Now that those are stabilizing, we're putting the final touches on Iteration 3, our most ambitious yet. The theme this time is resource scarcity, a factor which Civcraft's huge and bountiful world is severely lacking. Our map will be only 2km wide, featuring a new style of terrain and ore generation. I wrote a plugin that forces players to smelt their ores in factories, which will be wastefully inefficient. The idea is that easily accessible materials will quickly start to run out, a situation that has not been seen on this type of server.

So that's where Bergecraft stands. In the wake of drama surrounding CraftBukkit and the Microsoft acquisition the future of Minecraft servers is very uncertain, so we've considered jumping ship after this one to build on an open-source platform instead. Assuming we do continue with Minecraft we have several months worth of features to try. Environmental acclimation, agriculture, a more pronounced tech tree, and advanced machinery are all on our roadmap. We will continue to diverge from Civcraft, but hopefully sift out some features along the way that can be fed back into its future development. On the other hand, maybe Bergecraft will become something all its own.

Bergecraft Iteration 3 is launching soon at bergecraft.com for vanilla Minecraft 1.7.10. Our server community is at reddit.com/r/bergecraft.

March 8, 2014

On Morning

"Good morning" is not a phrase I will ever utter in sincerity. When necessary I will resort to simply "morning" which if anything should be regarded as a word of warning. "Good morning" on the other hand is an oxymoron whose use is about as sensible as wishing someone a "happy funeral".