The newest survival game on the block is Conan Exiles, and apparently, everyone’s talking about it. Or at least, it’s burning up in popularity on Twitch, and why not?
I plan to watch a few streams too, so that the professionals can do all the suffering through bugs and early access and random player kills that I would rather not experience.
UltrViolet’s got a nice early impressions post of Conan Exiles, so head over to Endgame Viable if you want to read more about it.
While leaving a comment there though, the burning question that struck me was, “Besides prettier graphics, just what can these survival sandbox games offer that Minecraft, armed with a good modpack, does not already have, gameplay-wise?”
Mind you, pretty graphics are a thing. It gives any game a massive leg up in popularity and accessibility. That’s why MMOs took over MUDs, after all. Judging book by covers and all that.
But if we want to drill down to gameplay and variety of it, MUDs in their heyday offered a lot more game variants than the MMO clones of yesteryear (and today). There were MUDs with experience levels, MUDs with skills that leveled up as you practiced, MUDs that let you play as White Wolf vampires and werewolves, MUDs that had 12 or 99 fantasy races and then some, MUDs made up of text-only rooms linked by cardinal directions, MUDs with ASCII wilderness maps, and so on.
Rogue-likes, Dwarf Fortress and text-only interactive fiction offer a depth and variety of genre and gameplay possibilties that more elaborate graphical games struggle to match, simply because it takes a much longer time to produce content that has to have voice-over work and 3d models and animation, than a 2D sprite or an ASCII character.
And along the same “limited resources” lines of thought. developer man-hours is a limited resource. Any vaguely-popular game that supports player mods will have far more stuff created for it by player fans than an in-house developer team can produce.
The only real question is quality, and the related problem of finding quality amidst the quantity of stuff produced.
Then again, the lines can get super-blurry, since more and more games are being released by developers as “early access” aka “don’t expect quality control at this stage.” (And quite a few games never make it out of early access either, before shuttering) while certain amateur mod developers tirelessly churn out multiple improved versions, based on dedicated beta tester friends, a large pool of ordinary players offering feedback on forums and their own vision for where their mod is going.
So here I am, doing my own part to show off just how fantastically “survival” Minecraft modpacks can get.
(Mind you, there’s no cruel starvation in this particular modpack . You’d want one that includes Hunger Overhaul for that. Try Minecraft: Crash Landing, it’s pretty evil, lethality-wise.)
What Terrafirmapunk -does- have, is a fairly crazy amount of enemy mobs and exploration possibilities.
This, my friends, is my known world at present, using the seed “Shards of Silver”
One of the big driving factors for exploring in Terrafirmapunk (and Terrafirmacraft variants) is the large variety of rock and ore/mineral resources that are spread out over a vast land area. If you want them, you -must- travel. Staying in one location limits your resource collection.
Not to mention, I think one of the over-arcing goals is to figure out how to move these resources back to where you want them, hence the presence of mods like Railcraft and Steve’s Carts 2, which super-charge minecarts into really sophisticated programmable machines.
The nice thing about playing singleplayer though, is the kind of autonomy and control you have over your own experience. It’s being your own server op, in other words.
If you want to, you -can- cheat.
How much you do so and spoil your own experience, well, that’s up to you. With great power comes great responsibility and all that.
Maybe some people can’t trust themselves. Me, I prefer to play -my- way.
Cheating in all the resources you want would miss the point of playing Minecraft in survival mode. There’s creative mode and going peaceful with no mobs for building to your heart’s content, after all.
I did however, decide that I hated the “back again” part of a “There and Back Again” exploratory journey. (A little Fed-Ex questy for me. It’s interesting to go from A to B. Much less interesting on the return journey from B to A.)
JourneyMap is a Minecraft mod that significantly expands vanilla Minecraft mapping capabilities. I couldn’t live without it in most modpacks these days. It offers a minimap, an overland map, a web browser map if you enable it, and most importantly for the exploration-obsessed, the capacity to set your own named waypoints.
I mark up my maps like crazy, dumping annotations for every resource and landmark I find significant.
The best thing is, you can teleport back to those waypoints (with the right settings configured) at will.
The center portion is home ground and relatively familiar territory.
We have to zoom in to see my home base.
The neat thing about JourneyMap is that it really tracks stuff on a fine detailed level. You might be able to make out little orange pixels in the central fenced compound. Those are Jack O’ Lantern pumpkins serving as lights.
The light green and pink clumps of pixels are wildflowers. Trees all clumped together really look like forests.
Terrafirmacraft, as mentioned in earlier posts, really pays attention to geographical versimilitude, hence the many undulating contoured hills that reflect a topographical map… and make it nigh impossible to find a big flat piece of land to build on.
Even on home ground, there are cool things to see.
The building in the distance marks the entrance to the local mini-roguelike dungeon. I’m building my planned future home pretty close to it, so I’m going to have to keep it controlled and “domesticated.”
I’ve already ventured in and broken quite a lot of mob spawners, and looted some chests of treasure.
The second basement level is proving quite a massive pain with never-ending goblin warriors that spawn in crazy amounts. I blocked the stairs they use to come up with a couple stone blocks for now, but it also makes it impossible for me to go in and loot stuff.
I may have to resort to some highly creative measures of getting light in there, like tunneling -under- the dungeon and coming up under the spawner or something, or setting up a safe barricaded walkway or some other construction-based strategy.
This is on the first level, and “domesticated.” This handy dandy mob spawner produces itty bitty swarm spiders, that are about a 1 x 1 block high. They’re fairly easy to kill and drop string, which I was finding quite tricky to locate in Terrafirmapunk.
Some hasty and creative fence-building yielded an arrangement that blocked off most avenues of the spiders’ approach. At first, they were fitting through the 1 block gap, but I discovered another fence post one block behind seems to screw with their pathing and AI.
They bump into the fence post, feel a barrier and immediately want to start to climb to get over it. As they climb, they can’t quite figure out how to fit through the fence because the fence acts as a 1.5 block tall entity for them. They continue straight upward to the ceiling where they stay stuck and bite harmlessly on the fence, and not at me.
The gap in the fence meanwhile lets me stick a sword in there and semi-randomly flail around hitting spiders, knocking them off the fence post, them picking themselves up and climbing again and unsoweiter until they die and drop string.
Voila. Crude string farm. Not at all automated, really low-tech, but it works.
Surprisingly near the Sycamore forest I was deforesting is a humble little wooden shack with a very big secret. A spawner that makes Giant Miners.
These things gave me the fright of my life.
They use the same skin as the player who sees them, so it’s only my own fault that I used a skeleton skin when I was playing Minecraft: Hexxit and never bothered to change it after that.
They also one shot an unsuspecting, unarmored player from up to 4 blocks away.
There were several corpse retrieval deaths after the first bad surprise, and I had to resort to watching a Youtube video on a Giant Miner mob farm to figure out how to retrieve my belongings from my graves.
(Solution: Fences. Lots of them. Hit-and-run fence building, so that you build a few feet before they spawn and you run away to live and build more fences another day.)
Unfortunately, I lacked the materials to make a Giant Miner trapdoor (they used spectral glass) so the Giant Miner mob farm will have to wait for yet another day. They apparently drop a Giant Pickaxe, so I’m looking forward to that day to figure out what those pickaxes can do for me.
This was in the local BIG LAKE. It felt like an ocean, it was that big, but apparently it’s mostly freshwater and not seawater, so I can only call it a lake.
There are mob spawners in the wooden ship, I think they made redcap scavengers and goblin warriors, and I don’t think I cleared this particular ship yet.
I only had eyes for the weird observatory structure.
I forgot to take screenshots but it was pretty wild inside. A lot of copper piping from a mod made it feel very steampunky. There were bookcases that I went nuts chopping up to loot books from. At the very top, I looked up from my looting spree and came face to face with a glowing mob spawner that spawned some kind of Arcane Tome, ie. a floating book thing.
It was day and all was quiet, so I thought I’d sneakily edge out of there before anything nasty showed up. I exited out the side of the observatory, squee’ed in delight at the white aspen fences and started to chop them up and loot them…
…then evening started falling, it got dark enough that SOMETHING popped up outside the observatory with me.
Turns out, flying spellbooks shoot magic missile / fireball things.
I shrieked in horror, tried to chop a few up into bits of paper, realized I was fighting a losing battle versus a spawner as it got darker and darker…
…then an Infernal Mobs-buffed spellbook showed up. This mod adds Diablo-style modifiers to mobs, so they get all kinds of special effects and attacks, like fireball spewing and poison and blinding darkness.
I barely looked at the modifiers, just at its massive health bar and noped right out of there, hurling myself off the observatory battlements and into the water.
The wooden ship was crawling with red markers on my minimap, meaning lots of enemies had spawned in there too.
So I beelined away from anything solid and swam right on out of there without looking back.
Someday, I’ll go back to loot those copper pipes. But not today.
There were three main exploration journeys I made.
This eastern loop was an honest one.
I literally walked every bit of this loop. When it got dark, I put up a dinky little wood shelter with a door and huddled inside till morning.
There were some stone ruins, and more entrances to rogue dungeons.
and rivers that curved their way into caves. (Ignore the big blocky splotch. That shows I’m starving and debuffed.)
And then I saw it.
A giant tree, lit up with glowstone lamps, and a hedge-like maze in front of it.
I went “wow,” and started to approach…
Then I saw this green snake-like creature traveling at a fantastic speed around the vicinity, seemingly chewing up blocks, and when I put my crosshairs over in its direction, there was a giant boss health meter labeled “Naga.”
Cue more “NOPE”ing right on out of there.
Need armor. Need a shit ton more weapons.
Now and then, you see the skeletal ruins of something that reminds you that this is a steampunk world. Or was.
What calamity befell and let the wilderness reclaim much of its civilization? We might never know.
One thing modded Minecraft doesn’t do terribly well is lore or narrative. Maybe I haven’t quite found the right mod yet, or maybe writing stories is hard for technologically mod-inclined programmers.
One thing procedurally generated ruins with no story beyond what’s in them are good for… lots of materials to loot when I’m ready for this level of tech.
The westward-ho journey was similar, except this time I’d gotten tired of the return loop and resolved to just waypoint back when I was done exploring.
I found more scary shit that I wouldn’t dream of going near without being more fully prepared and armored to the gills.
This was terribly amusing.
I saw it in the distance, went “lol, tower of Sauron! Should I? Dare I?” and kept creeping up ever closer and closer.
So I went in and found some pretty cool sulfur ore blocks and bubbling pits of lava. I was thinking, “great! New resource place when I need this stuff!”
Further exploration revealed two mob spawners, which were supposed to spawn mini-ghasts, which I quickly broke before giving them a chance to spawn. *shudder*
Circling and circling the place, it all seemed safe sans spawners now.
Then for whatever reason, I got it into my head that I wanted to practice the Smart Movement mod – a recent discovery, this mod lets you crawl and fit into 1 block gaps by holding down a special ‘grab’ key along with the usual ‘sneak’ key, and also lets you climb naturally by jumping up to 2-3 block high cliffs and holding down the ‘grab’ key, simulating your ability to grab onto and shimmy up onto a slightly higher platform.
So I started shimmying up the Tower of Sauron-lookalike with my bare hands, only using a stacking block or three when there were no more handholds.
Just as I’d almost reached the top, and was looking down messing with stepping blocks, I looked up and this looked back at me.
I’m not sure who shrieked first.
I shrieked. It shrieked.
And if you know Minecraft ghasts, their shriek is literally ghast-ly, and comes with fireballs that sets things on fire.
I didn’t -quite- tumble off the tower, or else there would be another hectic gravestone retrieval, but it was a close thing, plummeting 3-4 blocks at a time, fleeing as if all the hounds of hell were after me. (It kinda was.)
The darnest thing was, it kept shrieking over the horizon, even as I continued around, giving that tower a wide wide berth. It was like I’d literally woken it up. (Or caused it to spawn by getting close to the top.)
It might be still there to this day. I’m not going back until I have a ton of high quality arrows and a good bow.
More cool steampunk shit. Or ship.
It was, unfortunately, occupied. And I didn’t feel like messing with well-armored steampunk pirates quite then.
There are ways to add shaders and higher-resolution textures to mod Minecraft further graphics-wise. But I’ve rarely been able to make myself take the effort when the base (modded) game can already produce stuff that looks as good as the above.
The western side of the continent is filled with mostly white rock – chalk and so on.
It is also, apparently, Easter Island.
Then there was this confluence of three ruins I marked for future exploration.
I am still not sure if this was an intentional set piece that is going to have monsters inside it, or just part of the randomness of procedural generation.
There’s ore up in them dar floating basalt hills though, so I’ll find out one day.
This, though, takes the breath away.
And it’s not until I look at the screenshot now, that I see there’s also something oddly cross-shaped and almost depth-charge-like in the water.
(It bears further exploration. Maybe it’s a submarine, just head on.)
Yes, there are things in the water too.
Which, by the way, I fell totally in love with.
I jumped into one, cleaned out the engine room of a few nasties, and then totally didn’t want to leave, ever.
I really wanted to drive it around as a personal ship, but unfortunately, after some cheaty experimentation with Archimedes Ships – a mod that apparently lets you build and pilot your own ships – the submarine was made up of too many blocks for it to handle.
So I eventually had to say goodbye to my submarine.
The sea monsters are fortunately quite benign and seemingly content to live and let live. I didn’t dare hurt one though. Just in case.
The last journey was the cheatiest.
By now, I was armed with a bed, woven with silk cloth from the string from the spider spawner.
So I was sleeping away nights while on the move, and fully prepared to JourneyMap waypoint teleport back home when done.
But it was quest-like in its intensity all the same.
This is the story of the Great Northern Boat Trip.
Some background: I’d been watching a few Youtube Terrafirmacraft players who complained that they were living in a place too cold for crops to grow, especially in the winter, and that they were going to move south to warmer climes to build a new base there.
I absolutely could not relate, because my home base temperatures sat at 26-30 degrees Celcius in spring, summer and autumn and seemed to barely go to 20 degrees Celcius in winter. (I do still have seeds popping out of the ground in autumn and winter though.)
While this perhaps is great for agriculture and crops, this does a number on my food stores because they are prone to decay in the warm climate. I’d built a cellar, but the special ice bunker block that controls and lowers temperatures in the cellar to refrigerator temperatures requires harvested ice to work.
I SEE NO ICE IN WINTER.
Or at least, I don’t remember seeing anything on my ponds in the first winter, and I wasn’t sure my second winter was going to produce any ice, given that the average temperature around my home base is 26 degree Celcius.
So I was going to go NORTH.
The plan was to lay down a few convenient waypoints near ponds, so that I could teleport over once it was Winter and I’d go carve out some ice.
One thing led to another, I was watching the temperature on the debug screen drop ever so steadily lower as I went further and further north.
And then it became a question of curiosity that had to be sated.
Even though it was Autumn, was it possible to go north ENOUGH that the average biome temperature would drop below 0 degree Celcius and hit a kind of permafrost tundra?
Turns out, it was a LOT of going north.
I was crossing Ocean, then Deep Ocean in a dinky little boat.
The odd island would come into view.
I skirted most of them, especially at night. Zombie/skeleton/creeper spawns are thick and dense when that’s the only land to spawn on.
It was quite fascinating to see the tree types change as the biome got colder.
I started with oak forests, and then they started changing to spruce and pine and douglas pines.
Eventually, I did reach that mythical land where the average temperature was in the negative Celcius readings, and the current temperature dropped to below zero.
There was snow on the tops of the trees, and the ponds literally started freezing in front of my eyes. (I suppose my presence in them started the chunk loading and all the processes that were supposed to happen began to happen.)
Sadly, there wasn’t thick snow anywhere. A little reading up suggested that snow only collected in layers when it “rains” – which converts to “snowing” in cold climates, and that Terrafirmacraft can only produce 1-2 deep layers of snow and nothing deeper than that. Perhaps in another version. Or another modpack.
Still, it was a wild adventure.
I gleefully took out the ice saw that I’d been carting around in my inventory, sawed up 18 or so ice blocks and teleported home to equatorial climes to try out the ice in my cellar.
A little bit cheaty?
Just a bit.
But it was fun.
Maybe some day, I’ll have a real railway line that can travel the distance and bring the ice the slow way around.
But until then, I’ll be fine with magical teleporting. It’s my game and my time, after all.