<a rel="me" href="https://mastodon.cloud/@jasonpettus">T</a>he personal journal of author and photographer Jason Pettus

Minecraft Enderman Ranch 01: A campaign is born.

The start of my newest video game storytelling project, using Minecraft to tell the tale of an eccentric adventurer who eventually became a manufacturing tycoon

#minecraft #videogame #roleplaying #storytelling #narrative #ongoing #series #building #crafting #mining #farming #EndermanRanch

So after a decade, it's probably my last year of being a daily player of Minecraft, because my fiftysomething mind has started gravitating more and more to Cities: Skylines over the last year for its added complexity in “universe creation,” to the point where I'm actively saving as we speak for my first-ever gaming computer (which I will be building myself, at the insistence of my friend Carrie's 18-year-old twin sons, who have each done so as teenagers themselves). So while I slowly put together the several thousand dollars I'll need for that (and patiently wait to get my hands on a high-end graphics card, which are impossible to find these days), I wanted to play at least one more campaign of Minecraft and also document it here at my blog, also in anticipation of doing so in a more thorough and interesting way once I start playing Cities: Skylines, and begin building more photorealistic communities that work with a much bigger gaming engine and thus have much more potential for interesting storytelling.

In this campaign, I'm an eccentric adventurer, who has set up an HQ for myself out in the middle of nowhere, in anticipation of far-off travels from here to go collect exotic resources from jungles, Caribbean reefs, painted deserts, icy tundras and more [1]. As I set up farm fields at home for growing all these things in bulk and selling to local villages, I will begin automating the process more and more, inventing my own version of the Industrial Age to build redstone machines for mass production, harvesting and processing of vast acres of produce. (Although note that I will not be building automated slaughterhouses for animals, or sex-slave “breeding farms” for villagers; even as a game, I find it disturbing to think of living creatures as soul-dead “content units,” so I don't like building those kinds of automated redstone machines even in a fictional universe.)

At the same time, I will be building little mini-biospheres around my estate to mimic the look and feel of the various exotic locations I visit for my career; the idea is that, as a full-time adventurer, I'm highly fond of these locations, so I “bring a bit of it home” with me anytime I come back from a trip. This will essentially give me an excuse this summer, autumn and winter to build a bunch of cool-looking ideas I'm always coming across over at YouTube (which, by the way, is an excellent location for Cities: Skylines roleplaying videos as well). I did some of these in my previous campaign, so might be bringing them back to this one — a Japanese pagoda with bamboo forest lit by iron lanterns strung on tall poles, a Frederick Law Omstead unstructured lagoon with live coral, kelp and sea lanterns — and some were planned but never constructed, so I'll definitely be getting to those — a pumpkin patch, a Zen sand garden, a combination apiary-greenhouse.

And then finally, a possible late-stage addition to the campaign if I start getting bored is that, elderly and rich, I become more and more obsessed with a doomsday cult that's built up around the strange “Endermen” all us farmers have seen with our own eyes out on the far edges of our fields at twilight and daybreak. So the name of my entire estate would be “Enderman Ranch,” and I would build in references to it wherever I could; as banners to hang over the walkways, blocks to work into building cornerstones, maybe a big gateway as you approach it from the water. And if I get really bored, I can build one last insanely grand architectural folly that I financed with my now billions of dollars at the end of my life, a sort of combination lighthouse, imposing religious structure and Modernist sculpture, all based around a 100-block-tall abstract construction of an Enderman.

So, not much to show as of the moment, other than starting the campaign itself, spending a few days hiking around and building temporary shelters, and eventually finding a space to call home. Here above, we're looking south, off into a large body of water and then a mountain range in the distance. Just poking above the water's surface in the background is a sunken pirate ship, which means that I'll find all the other Caribbean accouchements just beyond, while this large island in the middle of the cove would make a nice location for the eventual Enderman Death Temple if I ever build it. Most importantly, this will be the launch site for many of my exotic trips, because travel by boat is insanely faster than by foot, so it's your planet's oceans and seas that mostly let you travel in realistic timeframes to any other type of biome you may want to visit.

Here we're looking north into where I'll build the ranch itself. I'll essentially cut down every tree you see here, then flatten the earth as I go, and eventually build infrastructure and then the small village that will comprise my entire estate. I'm doing so under the same justification as many of the actual people in the 1600s who first moved into wilderness spaces and did this themselves — hey, there's so much untamed stuff still around, my little bit won't possibly hurt. Plus it's suffice to say that the lone settler humans who were around in these environments then were very much the underdogs as far as survival — don't forget, one of my burdens even here in the game is to create a community that can be traveled at night without death from wandering or magically generated monsters — so I feel a little “civilization-building” clear-cutting justification can be excused in this case. So in that spirit, in this particular campaign I won't be building a self-sustaining orchard like I usually do, since I'll have more than enough natural wood to last me a long, long time.

And then here's looking west and east, which is essentially more of the same, although notice the horses in the far background, one of the reasons I chose this place as my stopping point during my nomadic first days in this universe. I try to tame and saddle [2] a horse in Minecraft as soon as I can, because it's just so much faster to get around a large flat space using one than it is to walk, which is crucial when you're planning on having a large estate like mine. Yes, those are ice spikes you're seeing in the background! But there are no structures or mobs to be found in that biome, no trees and no grass, so there's not actually much reason to visit other than to build a platform on top of one and maybe a Ra's Al Ghul winter version of the Enderman Death Temple. We'll see, anyway.

So, there's the next...um, nine months of my life? Until maybe February 2022, when I maybe will have enough money saved up to bite the bullet and build my own gaming PC? And then start OBSESSIVELY PLAYING CITIES: SKYLINES? Hmm, we'll see! As always, more updates here at my Write.as blog, as I start gearing up this summer to finally build out my long dormant jasonpettus.com over at my un-setup WordPress space.

[1] I feel that most people probably play Minecraft the way we all used to play Monopoly during my childhood in the 1970s, with a series of “house rules” that essentially let everyone involved “cheat” a little from the official rules. One of my house rules is that teleportation exists, which is basically the way I justify using the “TP” cheat command within a strict roleplaying survival world, but I build persistent rules about using it. I have to first visit the space on foot (or, you know, by horse or boat); I then have to build a “teleportation platform” consisting of eight blocks of polished diorite surrounding a center block of redstone; and I can then only TP from one platform to another, not anywhere else or under any other circumstances. That said, this lets me sort of have my cake in Minecraft and eat it too; I have all the fun of exploring by foot to find various exotic biomes and the villages I'll eventually be trading with; but once I visit all of them once, I can just build me a little TP platform then instantly come back whenever I want. This will also let me trade with a dozen villages like a legitimate manufacturing tycoon, so that I can do a quick turnover of my industrialized farming produce and build up all those villagers into “master” levels, so that they'll produce things for me like diamond armor, golden carrots, enchanted arrows, enchanted books, enchanted tools and weapons, enchanted bottles of XP, and pillars of quartz.

[2] Another “house rule” for me is that I've built my own datapack, which is essentially the old owner Mojang's way to let players very quickly and easily build these exact kinds of house rules for themselves, written in plain old JavaScript Object Notation (or JSON), which like HTML is considered one of the simplest “programming languages” that exist. So I in late middle-age, for one notorious example, am not a big fan of the combat aspects of Minecraft, and prefer to stick to building, farming and planning; but there's a whole lot of stuff you can't build in Minecraft except with raw materials you can only get through combat, often in scary mystical locations with ominous names like THE END and THE NETHER. So I've built my own wrinkle to my roleplaying universe in which redstone can be used not only for electricity and circuits, but as a “magic ring” of eight pieces you can put in a circle in a crafting table and then insert ordinary things to make them extraordinary, the kinds of stuff you usually have to gain through combat or that otherwise have a strange random history of being way too unusually hard to obtain even though they should realistically be easy enough to craft.

So a ring of redstone surrounding a block of TNT makes a blaze rod in my world, for making into brewing stands and the potions you make in these brewing stands; swap in a piece of string to get a horse lead, or a piece of leather for a saddle, which are both ridiculously hard to naturally find and unable to be naturally crafted; or a piece of wheat for a piece of netherwart; or a poisonous potato to make black dye; or cobwebs into string. Is it “cheating?” Technically, yes it is. Does it make the game more fun for me as a result? Yes it does! Will new owners Microsoft get rid of this ability when they finally phase out the Java-programmed legacy version from Mojang for good? Um, maybe. (The “Bedrock” version, which now fuels all the mobile versions, console versions, and the official Microsoft laptop version, is built in C++. The company has just started making the first overtures towards the idea of finally shutting down the Java version for good, but there's been no timeline and nothing official said.) We'll see, I suppose. But for now, I continue to use my “Combat Hater Datapack” guilt-free.