September 21, 2014

Bergecraft


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".

January 21, 2014

2013 And Beyond

Another year come and gone, and it seems time for another "what am I doing" post. I suppose this is becoming my equivalent of the annual family Christmas letter.

A lot has happened since I stopped blogging in 2012. My more professionally-oriented blog "Debugging Life" never really took off, mostly because I never really wrote much of interest. I was less active and less focused than I had intended right off the bat, and it barely garnered any attention. After letting it go for a while I started to miss this creative outlet. Now that I'm settled into an early career though I'm actually more inclined to get back to blogging about personal interests, namely writing and government. So I'm back to blogging-or-not under the old name, WildWeazel.

Now, about the interim. My last few posts were about what I was up to at the time, and that's where I'll pick back up.

Jessica and I have been happily married since September of 2012, making for the biggest piece of news. Marriage is a huge life change obviously, but we've settled in. We've also attended 4 friends' weddings since that summer, so I guess we're now in that phase of life where everyone is settling down. We at least are holding off on the reproduction phase for a while. We did get a guinea pig though, my first warm-blooded pet in several years.

The three of us moved to a larger apartment just across town and within walking distance of my work. I'm really spoiled having no commute and flexible hours, which I'm sure I'll miss at my next job.

I'm still with the same company, but I've been assimilated into a different software team since starting. That's been a positive experience; I like the new group culture better and I get to work with a variety of technologies including Qt and Android. To that end I just started a series of classes on Coursera to expand my Android knowledge and hopefully improve our technical skill-set. I've really taken an interest in online and open-source education recently so that's something to pursue as I try to find my niche and figure out exactly what I want to do with my career.

When I'm not working or spending time with the wife I'm still doing the same things: gaming, reading, writing, or perusing the internet. On that front, I still haven't read or played a vast majority of my entertainment backlog, and I still haven't written much of my book. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

December 8, 2013

NaNoWriMo Postmortem

Well, that's over.

Last month was my third consecutive November participating in National Novel Writing Month, an annual 30-day sprint towards an uninhibited 50,000 word first draft. Being a very deliberate outliner and obsessive wordsmith, not to mention otherwise busy, I never actually expect to reach 50k. Instead I use the month as practice to get into a regular writing habit: a habit which I still have never sustained.

Both previous attempts were short-lived as I went into it just trying to get as many words down as possible but quickly fell far behind the quota and lost motivation. This time, I planned ahead to maintain 333 words/day for a total of 10k: a manageable one-fifth pace. (This wasn't my only act of rebellion; the "rules" state that you should start a new work with nothing written prior to November 1 but I continued my perennial work on the epic realistic-fantasy concept that I've been kicking around for several years.)

I held up pretty well for a while with this slow and steady approach, but I got derailed in Week 3, and then I was away on vacation for all of Week 4... which I should have known would result in exactly 0 words. All said, my word count topped out at 5342, just over half of my personal target. That's my best so far for NaNo, but still hardly impressive for a month's work. However, I did come to a few helpful conclusions.

1. A writing habit takes more than just time. Even though I forced myself to sit down with my laptop every day for most of the month, I didn't automatically start pouring out words. I fidgeted, I brainstormed, I chatted up the wife, I agonized over where to start. I did just about everything short of the one metric that counted: putting words on the page. Time in the chair doesn't mean anything if you don't have a word count to show for it. This is something that NaNo specifically aims to address, but I didn't do so well. Maybe I need to bump up my quota to something more demanding.

2. I haven't found my voice as a writer. Obviously this will only come with lots of practice but it's something that stuck out to me as I wrote new scenes each day. A few passages were rich and evocative, but most read like screenplay. I tend to use a very factual, narrative style. It doesn't feel engaging. It sounds nothing like the kind of books that inspire me. Which brings me to the last point:

3. I need to read more. A lot more. For all my love of a good story, I read very little fiction these days. I have multiple bookshelves both real and virtual full of novels that I have yet to read. You can't develop a skill in a vacuum, and I know that the first tip for beginning writers is to read read read. I already have more books in mind than I'll probably ever be able to get through, but I've only completed one novel all year. I can't hope to finish a book of my own if I don't finish the ones that are already written.

So that's what I've learned in addition to my modest 5,342 words. Now I just need to keep reading, and keep writing.