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

Minecraft: Xanadu, part 2: Building out my personal industry.

In which I spend my second Saturday of my newest Minecraft roleplaying campaign setting up my workshop and Zen Room, and building a machine that turns potatoes into magic

#minecraft #roleplaying #storytelling #game #tale #1.18 #fun #weekend #hobby #virtual #camping #paleocamping #primitivetechnology #industrial #redstone #farming #xp #bonemeal

Xanadu, a Minecraft roleplaying story

Greetings from “Xanadu,” the name of my latest Minecraft roleplaying campaign, which regular readers will remember that I'm only getting to play once a week these days, on Saturday nights when I'm super-high and listening to chill EDM (aka “dadcore”), in which I'm pretending to be a...um, overworked middle-ager who owns a wilderness location that he gets to escape to on the weekends, where for fun he engages in “paleocamping” in the spirit of the YouTube channel Primitive Technology. To be specific, my patch of land is on an island in the middle of a wide lake within a deep ravine, where four different trails to various rivers spin off; and on its top I've built a greenhouse and apiary I call the “Crystal Palace,” with a pond in its center that I've decorated into a little Zen meditation space, precisely because I thought it would be fun to have a little virtual Zen meditation space out here in my real life in Chicago too, that I could just leave up on my screen during an evening when I'm reading or listening to music, to serve as a literal space for centering myself and being all Zen and whatnot, even though it's just a virtual space. Confused yet? This is what Facebook is hoping to achieve with their coming “Metaverse” virtual-reality platform, the promise that was first given in William Gibson's Neuromancer and Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, that eventually we will have digital spaces that feel as “real” to us as real life in the physical world does; and I admit that there's a certain amount of fascinating slipstream stuff going on here with my latest Minecraft roleplaying conceit, and that a very meticulously terraformed space like this one is sort of serving for me as not only a digital space of retreat but a very real emotional one too these days.

Xanadu, a Minecraft roleplaying story

As you can see here, I haven't really started building out any infrastructure to the surrounding countryside yet, including the nearby village you're seeing to the northeast of my island there, other than an unadorned walkway to a nearby pasture to gather animals and lead them over to my island. But I'm also not really afraid to just tack on more land to the edges of my island when I need them for things like farming, so that I can maintain the original look and structure of my island's sole hill, instead burrowing out the inside and putting most of my machines and other belongings in there. Infrastructure for traveling nearby is more a late-game idea, to be saved until after more pressing needs are met, and after I've been able to build up the massive resources in iron and gold I'll need to build a railroad that spans the entire long breadth of this ravine.

Xanadu, a Minecraft roleplaying story

And speaking of pressing needs, I got my first industrial farm set up this particular Saturday, a big requirement when it comes to the idea of converting raw resources into the kinds of high-end game items like experience points and bonemeal needed to perform Minecraft's version of powerful magic, for granting yourself supernaturally powerful tools, weapons, armor and produce. This is one of the really clever things about Minecraft, and why the game is so addictive for such a large age group, literally from seven or eight to fifteen and even older; for while you can just do normal farming or hunting or mining and just slowly build up experience points, part of the “fuel” (along with lapis lazuli) needed to cast spells, you can also use the electricity-capable redstone to build automated circuits and simple machines, which you can combine with the game's deliberate mechanics and a few accidental tics in order to do large-scale automated industrial conversion from one type of good (say, a very common one like potatoes) into another (say, a much more rare one like experience points or bonemeal, aka “magic fertilizer” that makes produce instantly grow from seed to maturity).

Xanadu, a Minecraft roleplaying story

Xanadu, a Minecraft roleplaying story

So here, for example, you're seeing fields of potatoes holding a grand total of 434 potato plants, which when mature will yield anywhere from 434 to 1,736 potatoes, depending on random odds. But one of the weird tics in Minecraft is that if you run water over any piece of produce currently in the ground, it will automatically knock it out of the ground; so if you build your fields on a gentle hill, then dump a bucket of water on the top, the water will flow down the field, knocking out all the mature potatoes and floating them all the way down to the bottom. Once there, I have another small tilted trough of water that directs all the hundreds and hundreds of potatoes into a hopper and then into a barrel, where it starts the process of industrial transformation, but more on that in a minute; for now, let's just note that the way you can automate the flowing of this water is through an in-game device called a dispenser, which is then hooked up via redstone to an on/off switch and a source of power. I press the button, and eight buckets of water are dumped on each side, ensuring a smooth downward flow to the bottom of the fields and the collector barrels. And then through yet another tic in the Minecraft game engine, if you click the power button again for a dispenser with an empty bucket in it, it will actually gather the water out on the field back up into it; so there's no need to keep refilling the buckets inside the dispensers, essentially making this a machine that works perfectly over and over again, every time you press the on/off switch.

Xanadu, a Minecraft roleplaying story

Then down underneath these collector barrels is where the literal magic happens; as you're seeing in this shot (believe me, you are), the potatoes then get funneled into two ovens, which themselves have sideways hoppers that let them store up to five sources of oven fuel (buckets of lava in my case), so to run theoretically perpetually as long as you keep occasionally replenishing the supplies. Cooking potatoes is one of the non-combat ways you can earn experience points in Minecraft, although most people earn it through things like killing monsters (no thanks), slaughtering animals (ugh), and smelting ore and stone (yep, doing that too); so by building this automated system that's smelting up to 1,700 potatoes each time I press a simple button, I boost up my XP level at an accelerated rate, which is important because you can't cast any of the really useful spells unless you're at level 30 or higher, and then the enchantment table subtracts XP each time you do cast a spell, which means you're back under 30 again by the time you're done. That's just clever and difficult enough to keep a kid at the end of their tween years busy and engaged, which is why it seems that Minecraft has such this huge span of ages who love to play it, and why it seems that so many kids play the game for sometimes up to an entire decade without getting tired of it, while most first-person shooters grow stale after just a few months.

Then not only this, but the baked potatoes are then dropping into yet another hopper and landing in a composter, which Minecraft introduced a few updates back as a way of productively getting rid of the sometimes massive amounts of organic material that builds up during a typical game. Composters eventually turn produce into bonemeal, which before their invention could only be gained by killing monsters; it's a magic form of fertilizer, if you will, which among other things can grow most produce from seed to maturity with a single click, turn regular trees and mushrooms into giant trees and mushrooms, produce a glowberry on the game's brand-new glow vines, and grow wheat and flowers if you click on a piece of grass with one. That's incredibly clever, basically proof of concept behind the entire Industrial Age of real Western Civilization's 1700s and 1800s, the idea of taking a common and cheap item and literally transforming it into something rare and expensive, which along with the customized recipes in my datapack (but more on that in a future update, I promise) even lets me convert potatoes into non-food items like glowstones, fuel for my furnaces, wooden construction pieces like ladders, trapdoors and trip plates, scaffolding for building, and a lot more.

Ultimate, the average 1,000 potatoes these fields yield at each harvest eventually convert into an average of 100 pieces of bonemeal, as well as just enough XP to top me up again at level 30 after recently spending some XP on a 30-level spell. That should give you a good sense of exactly how powerful and rare XP and bonemeal is, and how interesting it can be to work out in your head how to gain such powerful and rare stuff merely from your ability to be clever.

Xanadu, a Minecraft roleplaying story

Xanadu, a Minecraft roleplaying story

With this new industrial farm jutting way out into the water now, I'm closer than ever to the nearby shore where I set up my initial bamboo farm. Regular readers will remember that this is a longstanding “rule” of my roleplaying games; that I play Minecraft in “Survival” mode, which means I have to physically travel to exotic locations like jungles if I want to harvest and use the exotic resources found only there, like bamboo, melon and cocoa in this particular case. Bamboo is an incredible newish addition to Minecraft, because like the real world, it grows insanely fast but is insanely strong, and not only in the vanilla game lets you build very useful scaffolding for your construction projects, but under my customized recipes lets me construct books without needing the leather from slaughtered cows for their covers. (As you might be deducing, my particular datapack is for genteel middle-agers like me who don't have much interest in killing things or going to dangerous places like the Nether, but who need the exotic resources that otherwise only come from those activities.) I chose this particular location for the bamboo farm because it's right at the mouth of what promises to be a fascinating nearby cave, and I like the idea of maybe later in the game going over and terraforming that too, and being able to call it “Hidden Bamboo Cove” or whatever.

Xanadu, a Minecraft roleplaying story

And as mentioned in the last update, I have this really fascinating ruined Nether portal just a five-minute walk away from my place, and I'm thinking pretty seriously about devoting another Saturday evening soon to repairing it, upgrading the surrounding platform, and turning it into a working portal for “community” use. See, that's part of my roleplaying scenario here; I'm pretending that this entire region is owned by some big company, and that they're selling off little pieces of it to urban middle-aged middle-classers like me, but doing it mindfully so that none of us are ever too close together or impede each other's views. I like the idea that we're all out here wandering around on the weekends and maybe bumping into each other and whatnot; so I thought it'd be fun to roleplay getting this back into workable shape for the good of the “community” of weekending middle-classers out here in the wilderness, so that we can all hop over to the Nether for whatever supplies or dungeon runs we might want to do. That'll be coming in a future entry (or maybe not), so keep your eye out for that.

Xanadu, a Minecraft roleplaying story

Xanadu, a Minecraft roleplaying story

And like I said, instead of building a ranch in this particular campaign where all my tools, machines and storage barrels are, which I would normally do in a campaign where I'm on level ground, this time I've hollowed out the inside of the sole hill that comprises my island, and this weekend finished all the basic interior design of the floors and walls. I'm a big fan of these new glowberry vines that have come with Minecraft's newest update, essentially the very first light source in the game's history that can actually be organically grown from scratch, instead of crafted out of a finite resource like coal or glowdust, so I'm now using them to not only decorate the walls of my space but to light it up. That said, some of the stuff you're seeing here (like the barrels in the floor or the underground enchantment table) are leftovers from when this space was only that smaller size, so one of the things that will be happening next Saturday is finishing up all the rest of the interior decorating here, including the construction of an aboveground barrel configuration that will span the length of this giant room.

Xanadu, a Minecraft roleplaying story

But the main project next time, however, will be the construction of the space you're seeing here, essentially the other half of the hollowed-out hill, which I'm turning into my first-ever indoor ranch for cows, sheep, pigs, chickens and horses. I'm being forced to in this case, because there's literally no room for a large amount of animals on the outside of the island; and although I've never actually done it this way before, I believe that as long as I have the eventually finished space lit well enough, there shouldn't be any problems with luring animals in and out of the space, growing food for them in here, and breeding offspring. I've decided to really do it up right, and devote an entire Saturday to decorating the inside of this space into a traditional wood-paneled barn area with fluted columns, hanging iron lanterns, individual pens for livestock, and a large stall section for what I hope to eventually be an entire stable of horses. That's all coming with the next update, so I hope you'll have a chance to come by here again next week for that.