Minecraft 1.8 Pre-Release Thoughts

I just wanted to give a few thoughts on the new Minecraft while I quickly scramble to find something else to write about. In other words: new content.

ALSO: Getting out of memory errors? Install Java 7. Fixed the problem for me and I can use the Far draw distance once again.

I’ve been playing Minecraft since the early alphas, and considering how much I paid for it, I’ve gotten my money’s worth out of it. Especially when you consider how much I could spend on a regular retail game. For me, Minecraft was all about playing in a world that only I had access to, something that I could shape for myself, racing through the boundless plains and caves below. It was about building a massive underground base, which was never attacked. It was about building a sky fortress, which the clouds could somehow pass through. And… well, yeah, after a while the sense of wonder wore off, and SMP just doesn’t do it for me (none of my friends are particularly fond of it, they need more structured games). Minecraft is great as a world exploration game, but it’s not great for survival. I mean after the initial “OH MY GOD THAT CREEPER THING EXPLODES!” you pretty much die to carelessness. It’s not like Terraria for example where the challenge persists for a while longer until you reach the top tier.

Still, Notch has progressively added new stuff, albeit at a reduced pace. Some of these are fantastic, like biomes. Others are pretty much useless, like The Nether. There’s one reason to visit The Nether, and that’s to get Glowstone, and you can live without that. If Notch’s plan for an Aether-like mod is something like The Nether, then I’d prefer he didn’t bother. Unlike some of the MC community though I don’t sit there bitching at Notch with a sense of entitlement. Then again I guess a large chunk of the Minecraft community are kids, because the sandbox nature appeals to them. Reading the MC Forums at times is like descending into a shitty primary school environment where nobody knows how to spell “lose” (hint: it isn’t ‘loose’). As in “Wen u di, u loose evryfin!” [sic, much to my regret]

Anyway, the new 1.8 update brings a few new things that I’ve wanted for quite a while, and starts to shape Minecraft into something with a bit more structure. Thus, like any self-important blogger, I will now shower you with my opinions of everything.

Should I get the pre-release? And what about my existing worlds?

Sure, why not? Can’t hurt, right? Well I suppose there’s a small risk of it corrupting a world or something but otherwise your biggest risk would be random crashing, the frustrating “out of memory” error, and severe framerate loss. If you’re not running on beefy hardware you might want to wait for the official release, because there are some insane performance overheads for some reason. The frustrating out of memory error is the worst issue I’ve encountered so far. The issue as far as I’m aware has nothing to do with physical RAM (after all I’ve got 6GB!)  but rather to do with limits on the Java runtime environment, and there’s some sort of memory leak in this version if I’m reading it right. It usually begins to manifest with chunks failing to update properly. Then again this problem has occasionally shown up for me in previous releases for no apparent reason, but this issue is common in 1.8.

EDIT: If I turn down the draw distance to Normal, there’s no issue with it. Checking out Minecraft’s reported memory usage on the Far drawdistance doesn’t show it using up all its allocated RAM, so I have no idea what the issue is here. It does seem like a bug though and nothing on my end.

EDIT: Getting out of memory errors? Install Java 7. Fixed the problem for me and I can use the Far draw distance once again. Since I’ve done that I haven’t had an issue. For the record I installed the x64 version (given how much RAM I have). Java 7 doesn’t appear with the regular JRE6 builds because it’s still in development, but it’s easy enough to find.

You can use your current worlds with 1.8, but there are a few things to be aware of. Firstly, villages won’t be generated; each world has to have this toggled on during creation to do so (as far as I know, existing worlds will have this disabled). Secondly, it’ll be in survival mode. There’s no way to swap a world between creative or survival mode at present, but NBTedit can do this for you. Secondly, new biomes will only appear outside of existing chunks, so if you’ve explored a lot of land in your game, you’ll need to go further out to where new chunks generate, which might cause some artifacts where chunks meet (like a mountain being cut in half or something). I’ve also come across a few random errors in the terrain generation code, namely where it somehow decided to generate a small section of Nether (complete with fire) in part of the map. I tried to take a screenshot, but by this point chunk errors were happening and I’m guessing JRE was running out of free memory, because it crashed as soon as I tried to do so.

What’s creative mode like?

It’s pretty much what I’d expected: the inventory is replaced with a bunch of blocks that you can select and place, just like the old Classic mode. Everything breaks in one click… including bedrock, which is annoying because you can toss yourself into the void that way. Also you can’t place lava or water for some reason, they just don’t show up. All of the tools and items appear in this mode as well (including Chainmail Armour!) and can be placed into chests at will. You can control time, fly around, and basically build to your heart’s content. Monsters will notice you and try to attack you, but they can’t hurt you. Nothing can, except falling through the void. I’ve been hanging out for Creative Mode because I love the building aspect of Minecraft, to the point where I’d spend hours building a fort using Toomanyitems and then playing a survival-style game. I’m glad it’s official, but I’m not so pleased that the current iteration of the game’s menu means a world is either creative OR survival. That had better change, or I won’t be pleased. There are also empty NPC villages that spawn on the map, and a few new terrain features like abandoned mines, strongholds, ravines, and ocean biomes (which are massive). In fact all the biomes have received massive overhauls in terms of size, such that you don’t walk 5 meters in one direction to come across a totally different biome. The abandoned mines are huge and I think that might be a bug, but I’m not sure. They take up a hell of a lot of space.

How’s survival mode?

More or less the same as before, except with the addition of food. Basically when you move around or do something in Minecraft, a food meter depletes. You can replenish this by eating… food. There are a few new food items, like cooked chicken and watermelons, to help you with this. Also food now stacks properly, so you can finally carry around a stack of pork chops as opposed to a little bread factory setup, which was ridiculous. There are also experience orbs, but they don’t do anything right now (and won’t until 1.9 is released later on).

Endermen are awfully common considering Notch said they’re supposed to be rare. I’ve come across them on a fairly regular basis. Endermen ignore you until you look directly at them by putting the crosshair over them. At that point they flip out, glaring at you and shaking violently. If you break contact with them by moving the crosshair off them, they attack, teleporting towards you. Basically they’re teleporting zombies, and even use the same sounds. Endermen can pick up blocks at random, including player-placed blocks. I hope they keep that element, it’d go a long way to stopping the impenetrable fortress part of Minecraft.

I’m not sold on the new combat techniques… I mean a 100% critical hit chance just because I jumped at hit the enemy at the same time? That’s… a bit too easy, guys. I like the new bow though, that’s a nice improvement. There are also new Blue Spiders that poison you if you get hit by them. Poison is pretty friggin’ dangerous at that, so they’re a great addition to the game that increases the risk factor.

Apart from this, survival mode is pretty much what I remember from the previous game. Due to the memory issues and a few bugs (like furnaces crashing the game at times) it’s not really playable, but it’s a good indication of where Minecraft is going.

Is this a good preview, and will the update be good?

If it stays on track, then yes, I think it will be. Let’s get something straight, it isn’t a perfect update and it’s about half of what we previously expected based on what the devs were originally telling us. Okay, that’s fair enough. The addition of creative mode alone is worth the wait, and the new mechanics in survival mode, while unfinished, are a good indication of how that part of the game will now function. It does make things a bit more interesting for survival mode to have to carry around food (beyond using it as a medkit) and makes it more like a survival game, and less like an amalgamation of creative and survival modes. But my concern is that Notch won’t let us swap between creative and survival modes on the same world, which would piss me off. If it’s my world, why not let me do that?

One thing I think is clear from this leak and subsequent sanctioning though is that it was nowhere near ready for a Monday release. It wasn’t even ready for the 8 September release. This reminds me a lot of the Half Life 2 leak, which happened shortly before the expected release date, and subsequently proved that Valve didn’t have a hope in hell of releasing on time. There’s a lot of stuff to fix here, and some of the idiots out there don’t understand that this isn’t the final release and thus will be buggy and will change. Still it’s an interesting glimpse at what we’re getting into, and I like it.