Nov 29, 2010

Leslie Nielsen 1926-2010

Actor Leslie Nielsen died on November 28 at the age of 84. The many fine films he made during his career which spanned more than sixty years will be his lasting legacy.

But the role we will all remember him best for was, of course, Commander John J. Adams in Forbidden Planet.

Nov 26, 2010

Exploding cactus of death

See that cactus in the middle of the screen, with an angry face and weird legs, coming right at you? That, dear reader, is a fucking exploding death cactus, the scourge of Minecraft. If it gets close enough to you, it explodes, killing you and destroying anything nearby. The damn things are totally quiet, so you can never tell if one is coming up, ready to blow up both you and your hard work.

Exploding death cacti and other monsters spawn in dark places, meaning caves and outside at night. Here's the view from my window in the night; I've highlighted three death cacti and a zombie. There's a couple more guys on the other side of the water, too. This is why proper lighting is essential for all indoor and outdoor areas: otherwise you'll run into a cactus in your house. Nobody wants that.

Your first nights in Minecraft are spent cowering in a primitive shelter, with the sounds of zombies, skeletons and giant spiders terrifyingly close. Luckily, the living dead in Minecraft can't abide the sun, and spiders calm down in the day as well, leaving just the ever-present, silent menace of the goddamn fucking cactus. You'll be fixing your first shelter more than a few times after a dawn visit from a death cactus.

If, like any self-respecting journalist, you choose to live in a fortified compound where the cacti can't get to you, they'll still try to. At night, they cluster around you, and in the morning, the cacti are there. Waiting. So, what to do?

For starters, I built an elevated walkway to an exit far enough from where I spend most nights to avoid the immediate attention of the cacti. But they're still there; the main body of my tower is finished, but I still have to do the landscaping around it, or my tower will look like it's been built on a rubbish heap. So I used my nous to come up with a way to make the grounds around my tower look more attractive that will also deal with the death cacti. Here it is: the cactus death maze.

Unlike its ambulant, explosive cousin, the stationary cactus is your friend. Anything that touches a regular cactus takes damage, and this can work in your favor. As I said, at night, the monsters try to cluster around you; the undead will come straight at you, while the fiendish exploding death cactus actually tries to ambush you by hiding behind a corner or an obstacle. But in either case, they're aiming to get as close as possible. And when the only way to get closer is to go through a cactus death maze, it doesn't end well for the monsters.

Putting together a cactus plantation is amazingly easy, too: the cactus grows incredibly quickly, and as long as you take care not to get hurt while handling it, you'll have a protective cactus screen set up in no time. Fight cactus with cactus, I say.

In the screenshot above, you can see what the north side of the tower looked like before I started the cactus death maze. You can also see that the spire of the tower is getting pretty tall; in fact, it's finished! Here's a view from further away:

There's a maximum height you can place blocks up to, and my tower has now reached it. That means that once I finish tidying up around it and planting my cactus death maze, the tower is finished! When I was rebuilding the first parts of the tower after cactus attacks, I didn't think I'd ever finish, but there it is! I'm actually quite happy.

Next up on Minecraft: new adventures! The tower is done: what's next?

Last time, I closed with a picture of a sunrise through my window; here's a similar sunrise, seen from above the clouds. Have I mentioned that this game is awesome?

Nov 22, 2010


Minecraft. If you haven't heard of it yet, it's only the best computer game ever.

Minecraft is a first-person game where you build things from blocks. That's it. You mine blocks with the left mouse button, and place blocks you've mined with the right button. You can build just about anything. I've taken a fairly pedestrian approach, and am currently building a tower:

In retrospect, it was stupid of me not to take a "before" screenshot; that used to be a hill.

It's not just an endless game of Lego. At night, monsters spawn around you, so you have to build some kind of a shelter to not be eaten by the living dead or blown up by an exploding suicide cactus. To mine rock and other hard materials, you need tools, for which you need wood, both to make the tools and build a workbench to build the tools on. You can find ore, and smelt it into metals, but that requires a furnace. You get the picture. Here's a glimpse of the inside of my castle:

It's night, but no exploding suicide cactus of death can get at me in my tower. Fucking cacti. Here's another view of my tower, from the north.

As you can see from the mess around it, I'm still in the process of removing the remnants of the hill and landscaping the whole place so it looks neater. I just finished the walkway to the smaller tower yesterday. When I say yesterday, I mean last night. The only exit from my tower is down the walkway and through the smaller tower, to confound the exploding cacti. I'm happy to say it's working! Here's a view down onto the walkway from the main tower.

Words cannot adequately describe what a fantastic game this is. It's like playing with Legos when you were a kid, only so much better. Minecraft has already sold over 600,000 copies, and it costs a measly 10 euros; there's a version on the site you can try for free. The website is here; there's no documentation yet, but that's no problem at all, as there's an exhaustive wiki. There's an excellent tutorial that will get you started.

Believe me when I say that my tower is a ridiculous little hovel compared to the things some people have made. It's simply amazing what you can put together in the game. I was still quite proud of myself when I finished the first proper story of my tower! I'll finish off with a picture of the sun rising, as seen through my east-facing panoramic window.

So if anyone's wondering where I am or what I'm doing, this is the answer. Minecraft. I love it.