Minecraft Sky Odyssey: Comfort Food

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Oct 22, 2019

Filed under: Game Reviews 51 comments

It had been a rough week. I’m not trying to get you to feel sorry for me. We all have a rough week sometimesAnd sometimes, more than a week. and you just have to roll with it. But when Saturday came around and it was time for my day offI take a day off no matter how busy I am. I’ve discovered this is ENORMOUSLY helpful in avoiding burnout., I realized I wasn’t in the mood for anything challenging. I didn’t want to have to fight with a game to make progress.

You might argue that this is kind of the point of video games, and that’s fair enough. But sometimes you just want to enjoy the sensation of progress without having to work for it. This is particularly true if the real world has been onerous lately.

Like I said on the podcast, I’ve been playing FTB Sky Odyssey, a modpack based around sky islands. These types of island worlds have been around in one form or another since the dawn of the game, but somehow I’ve never played one until now.

The Premise

You can choose to start on one of several different islands with different climates and resources. This one is the default.
You can choose to start on one of several different islands with different climates and resources. This one is the default.

The idea is that you start the game on a tiny island floating in the endless void. You don’t have a lot of room to move around and space is fairly precious to start with, but as you make progress you’ll gather resources that will enable you to add material to the island.

This turns the entire game on its head. Instead of having access to an infinite world of resources, you’re confined to a single location. Monsters are basically a non-issueIn this particular modpack, it’s always day. That’s a bit annoying, but either way it’s trivial to prevent monster spawns when you’re limited to a small space like this.. You’re not going to be digging any tunnels or mining for resources, and there’s not much opportunity for creative buildings until you’ve made some progress.

In this particular modpack, the balance is a little… odd. You start off the game with a tiny patch of plants that grow basic resources like dirt, stone, and iron. You have to harvest these plants many times before you get enough crumbs to make a single block, and these plants can’t be grown faster using the normal fertilizing techniques of vanilla Minecraft. It looks like you’re in for a long, long process of earning blocks one at a time so you can make your farm just a little bit bigger. It seems like this is going to be a game about patience and farming optimizations.

Those little crafting tables on the right are the main tools of ProjectE, which are still using the same art assets from ~10 years ago when they were part of a completely different mod with a similar design.
Those little crafting tables on the right are the main tools of ProjectE, which are still using the same art assets from ~10 years ago when they were part of a completely different mod with a similar design.

Except, this modpack also includes the mod ProjectE. The mod has a long, complicated history that goes back to the early days of Minecraft mods and I couldn’t begin to do it justice here. The important thing is that the mod is a bit like a clicker game where you grow through compounding returns. It’s based on the idea that all materials are inherently fungible. Items can be transmuted into energy, and that energy can be turned into different items. A single block of dirt is worth 1, a log is worth 32, and a diamond is worth 8,192. So all you need to do is grow a few trees, turn them into energy, and use that energy to build thousands of blocks.

This means the introduction is a little odd. You spend your first half hour painstakingly working for every square meter of space, and then you gain access to the tools of ProjectE and suddenly blocks are cheap and expansion is effortless. From a game design standpoint you’d normally expect this to be a slow transition that takes place over the course of hours, but here it’s an abrupt change and the whole experience shifts to a completely different type of game.

It’s not wrong or anything. It’s still fun and that first half hour of crowding means you’ll really appreciate the abrupt power of ProjectE. It’s just odd because this sort of shift goes against traditional gameplay design. Your typical AAA developer would balk at creating all of those complex early-game systems and assets if they’re going to be obsolete so quickly, but in a modpack where everything is assembled from extant mods, the “cost” of those assets is effectively zero. It makes me wonder what sort of weird experimental games we’d see if creating stuff was cheaper and developers openly shared with each other.

Keeping You Busy

This setup slaughters an endless stream of chickens that are being bred elsewhere. Here the machine picks up the loot boxes (yes really) the chickens drop, opens the boxes, and sorts the resulting loot. It's very silly.
This setup slaughters an endless stream of chickens that are being bred elsewhere. Here the machine picks up the loot boxes (yes really) the chickens drop, opens the boxes, and sorts the resulting loot. It's very silly.

Like all the best modpacks, it’s very good at giving you lots of different things to work on at the same time. You check on your farm and realize you really ought to have a railing here so you don’t accidentally blunder off the edge while you’re distracted with crops. While you’re gathering materials for your railings, you see some of your machines have fallen idle. While you’re refilling them, you realize you could prevent this with a better system of automation. While you’re sorting that out, you see some of your livestock has gotten loose. While you’re cleaning up that mess, you realize your furnaces are idle. While you’re filling those up you realize your character is hungry. So you walk over to the farm and nearly blunder over the edge because you still haven’t gotten around to building that railing.

Factorio and Satisfactory both have this same feeling of working on several different related things at once. According to my wife, Stardew Valley does it too. Depending on how you play it, Skyrim et al. could sometimes scratch this itch.

Like always, I get halfway through the game, realize I could have made everything much better, and suddenly want to start over.
Like always, I get halfway through the game, realize I could have made everything much better, and suddenly want to start over.

In the real world, I hate the feeling of being pulled in six directions at once. During my office-dwelling days I’d be trying to code, but then an artist needed my input, and while I was doing that I’d get a call from a client who couldn’t be made to wait, and while I was doing that my boss would say he wanted to talk to me as soon as possible, and before I could see my boss I’d get an email notifying me that one of the automated scripts had broken and the resulting malfunction was going to start generating tons of complaints that I’d have to deal with and suddenly I’d start fantasizing about walking out into the wilderness, stripping off my clothes, and living with the wild beasts.

But this feeling of having six different things to do at once can be relaxing and engrossing in a game. I guess the difference is that I don’t have real people making demands of me. Nobody’s going to pester me with emails asking why I haven’t gotten around to building that railing yet. There’s lots to do, but you can do the tasks in any order and at your own pace. Also, the progression systems of a game often have a lot of synergy. Getting better in one area makes it easier to make progress in another. This stands in stark contrast to the real world, where answering all my emails doesn’t give me a +15% bonus to my coding speed and reaching project milestones doesn’t give me a 50% defensive bonus against phone call interruptions.

Some Nitpicks

This was probably a bad choice for an introduction to the sky islands sub-genre of Minecraft mods, but I managed to have fun with it anyway. It very quickly stops being about limited space and instead becomes an exercise in amassing vast quantities of wealth and power. You’re essentially earning your way into creative mode.

If I had to nitpickAnd let’s be honest with ourselves here: I do have to nitpick., I’d point out that the modpack suffers from the problem that plagues all modpacks: The problem of recipe inflation. Vanilla Minecraft has a system of simple, easy-to-remember recipes.

Here is the recipe for the humble pickaxe. Three cobblestone across the top, with two sticks underneath it.
Here is the recipe for the humble pickaxe. Three cobblestone across the top, with two sticks underneath it.

But mod authors are obsessed with recipe complexity. If a mod author were to design the pickaxe recipe, it would be an absurdist multi-stage process. First you’d craft a handle from three different specific types of wood. Then you’d have to make a grinding wheel and use it to shape the head. Then you’d need to build a brewing lab, kill a horse, and use drops from the horses to make glue to attach the head to the handle. Then you’d have to set it inside a special container until the glue cured.

Building a simple tool ends up requiring eight recipes, four machines, and twelve trips to the out-of-date and barely maintained wikiThe recipes are usually provided within the game, but you still need the wiki to figure out what machines you need, how to power them, and where to obtain their special ingredients.. It’s not a lot of fun and I don’t think it adds much to the game. You end up with your pockets full of useless intermediate parts and none of the inconvenience really creates interesting decisions for the player to make.

I guess that’s a gripe with all modpacks in general. That’s just how these things work.

Getting back to Sky Odyssey in particular, I wish the progress was more gradual across the board. As one example of many: You eventually gain access to free unlimited flight. I like that as a long-term goal, but I wish it was something you could earn a bit at a time. Maybe you’d first earn reduced fall damage. Then immunity to fall damage. Then a limited glide ability. Then basic flight. The final unlock would be the fast-moving creative mode flight. So many systems in Sky Odyssey are an instant unlock that renders previous systems obsolete, and a gradient system would be more interesting.

I realize it’s not that easy. This modpack is assembled from existing mods, and those mods are assembled from other mods, and those other mods are cobbled together from systems already in the game.  It’s not really reasonable to expect a community of independent amateur volunteers with conflicting agendas to make a holistic set of mechanics like a AAA title, but this is what I was wishing for while playing the game.

I suppose this is what has kept the modding scene alive for all these years. Someone plays a modpack, thinks of something they want, and makes a mod for it. Then someone else takes that mod and adds it to a pack where it doesn’t totally make sense. And then someone else comes along and wonders why they would bother building something from “Shamus’ Flight Progression” when “Industry Expansion” offers an unlimited jetpack for half the work.

Ah well. This was a fun pack, despite my incessant whining. Sky islands are an interesting genre of mods, and I wish I’d tried one ages ago.

 

Footnotes:

[1] And sometimes, more than a week.

[2] I take a day off no matter how busy I am. I’ve discovered this is ENORMOUSLY helpful in avoiding burnout.

[3] In this particular modpack, it’s always day. That’s a bit annoying, but either way it’s trivial to prevent monster spawns when you’re limited to a small space like this.

[4] And let’s be honest with ourselves here: I do have to nitpick.

[5] The recipes are usually provided within the game, but you still need the wiki to figure out what machines you need, how to power them, and where to obtain their special ingredients.



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51 thoughts on “Minecraft Sky Odyssey: Comfort Food

  1. Asdasd says:

    I recognise that feeling of not having the energy to fight my way into a new game. In fact it’s becoming an increasing struggle to find anything I want to play, despite having a frankly shameful pile to choose from. The thought of chewing through hours of ‘move mouse to control cursor’ tutorials or lore-dump ‘world building’ – and most modern games slather on plenty of both – is enough to put me off entirely. I seem to read about games more than I play them these days.

    1. Bubble181 says:

      Ditto. When I come home, I’m not in the mood to invest hours into a game before it starts being fun, or investing time and mental energy on a world/lore/etc I don’t know yet and might not like…Which means I gravitate back to my personal all-stars which I’ve completed plenty of times before.
      Sometimes a game is meant for relaxation, or frustration management, and definitely not to progress, learn, run against a wall, have to master concepts, etc etc.

    2. Echo Tango says:

      Indie and mid-sized games often fare better, having less (or zero) mandatory tutorials, shorter mandatory tutorials, skippable dialog, etc.

    3. ngthagg says:

      At some point learning a new game began to feel like hours of screwing up before I achieve competence. Or maybe it’s that I anticipate that it will feel that way, without even giving the game a chance. Either way, it’s made me averse to trying new games, even ones that I already own. I’m not proud of this, I feel like a petulant child complaint about having to work for a reward, but my gaming time is so limited these days I haven’t put any work into breaking this habit.

    4. Kincajou says:

      I know the feeling…
      You’ll laugh but the most relaxing game recently has been… Stellaris

      It’s my first paradox game, and I’m letting it flow in “normal speed”. I have to admit that whilst the systems are in depth (and the tutorial is absolute pants), I’m finding it the most relaxing part of my life atm (including switching my brain off in front of videos)

      I don’t know exactly what it is, maybe that at this stage nothing happens fast and I don’t feel rushed to make any decisions…

    5. modus0 says:

      You could always try the Destiny 2 “New Light” “free” version if you don’t want to worry about tutorials or forced lore-dumps.

      The game apparently just kind of dumps you into the middle of the current game story without much of a tutorial on anything.

      And the lore is rather unobtrusive, generally found in descriptions of some items, or as things you find out in the gameworld that unlock “Lore Triumphs”, where you can, if you so choose, go read up on various game subjects.

  2. Joshua says:

    “This setup slaughters an endless stream of chickens are being bred elsewhere. Here the machine picks up the loot boxes (yes really) they drop, opens them, and sorts the resulting loot.”

    Both of these sentences have a lot of grammatical issues.

    1. Geebs says:

      First one is missing a “they”, but the second one parses fine.

      1. Joshua says:

        Looking at it again, the second makes more sense, but I think the inserted comment breaks the flow. It might read better as “Here the machine picks up the loot boxes they drop (yes really), opens them, and sorts the resulting loot.

  3. ccesarano says:

    In addition to a lack of people harassing you every hour of the day, another reason why multi-tasking in games – and even personal projects – is no doubt a lot less stressful is due to these tasks being your priority. It’s something I realized some time ago when I’d enjoy butting my head against certain HTML problems on my own website, yet when tasked with simpler challenges at my job I’d groan.

    It was an interruption, to be certain, but it’s also not my task. It’s someone else’s, and I’m getting that with my current job right now as my position is in a series of transitions where we figure what tasks I’ll be taking on in the future. Some tasks are rough if only because they come with homework that’s going to be obsolete in a few months as it is. Other tasks are just monotonous and not a good use of my skillset. Then there’s one set of tasks I’d love to be involved in but I have to wait until some nebulous time down the line until maybe they include me on it. So not only am I tasked with things other people want me to do, the stuff I want to do I’m prohibited from for the time being.

    Versus that railing being something you want to make because it serves a purpose for you, as do all these other projects you’re taking on. Everything in your benefit, not someone else’s.

    It’s easier to sacrifice for ourselves than it is for others.

    That’s my take, anyway.

    1. Bubble181 says:

      Very true, but in addition: in a game you can usually complete a task before another one comes along, and you get some sort of reward for finishing it. Getting a DING for finishing your new….armor or whatever, is fun and gets you a small drip of dopamine. Clearing my mailbox…Well, too, but that’s far more rare. Just getting to finish some mails isn’t fulfilling. Killing some orcs or growing some beans or what-have-you is.

    2. Geebs says:

      I have the exact opposite; my day job is characterised by relentless and imposed multitasking – as in, people routinely butt into conversations which already began when somebody walked up to me and started talking while I was obviously busy doing something, while also in the middle of a conversation on the phone to somebody else entirely. Oh, and the topics of these conversations are all separate and mixing them up would potentially be disastrous.

      I can cope with that just fine, but late-game Civilisation reduces me to a quivering wreck.

  4. Ninety-Three says:

    Are we doing mod recommendations? I’m doing mod recommendations.

    I won’t suggest any particular skyblock modpack, because there’s a billion of them and I haven’t played enough to know what’s best, but I’ll suggest the Crash Landing pack which has a very similar “build up from nothing” goal only without the “sky islands” thing. You start with a crashed spaceship in the middle of a featureless desert (no resources except useless sand) and you have to gradually rebuild industry with resources being precious. Unlike skyblock, the opening of the game has actual threats (monsters spawn, setting up a farm isn’t trivial), but once you’ve walled in and got your food sorted out, you can settle in to that safe skyblock-esque advancement, and it has less of the discontinuous resource curves and instant unlocks of Sky Odyssey.

  5. VahnRPG says:

    f a mod author were to design the pickaxe recipe, it would be an absurdist multi-stage process. First you’d craft a handle from three different specific types of wood. Then you’d have to make a grinding wheel and use it to shape the head.

    That sounds like the Tinker’s Construct pack, actually. You build parts of it individually from other resources and then use it to make a pickaxe or hammer or sword or crossbow or….. The differences are 1) while the pickaxe you create does eventually lose durability, you can repair it and all your hard work isn’t wasted 2) the more you use your pickaxe the more modifiers you can put on it so you can make it faster or indestructible or poison monsters if they’re hit or all 3 if you do enough 3) the materials you use determine innate properties. paper materials allow more modifiers to start with, certain materials allow you to mine obsidian and hard materials quicker, etc.

    One modpack that I adore is Sky Factory 3. It’s pretty old by now and there’s a sf4, but I like the way sf3 progresses a bit better. You don’t have as many useless resources, but once you do that’s around the time you start making Refined Storage stuff to automatically store (and eventually craft) your junk. It also has a jetpack mod which gives you different tiers of jetpacks that allow for flight. The lowest tier doesn’t hold as much energy and you fall down slowly if you aren’t actively flying (which you can offset by holding the fly button, of course). The highest tier holds a butt ton of energy, you don’t fall at all, it’s super fast, it has the ‘if the jetpack is turned off and has energy and you’re falling it will activate hover mode to prevent you from taking fall damage’ feature, but it takes a fair bit of work to get that far.

    And it all started from you standing on a single tree with a single dirt block underneath! The progression can be a bit wonky if you’re strictly following the order in the achievement book you’re given, but once you get the hang of the order you should be doing, it’s fine. Though the “yeah…knowing what I know now, I could’ve done this so much more efficiently” effect is definitely there.

    1. Veylon says:

      Tinker’s Construct is complex. You have to weigh the pros and cons of each material to be used for each part and may well construct multiple tools of the same kind to maximize certain parameters. A high durability pickaxe for day-to-day usage, a high tier one for top level ores, a lucky one for blocks that drop items, and so on.

      What Shamus is complaining about it are mods that are complicated. There are no pros or cons to consider, just an unnecessarily large number of hoops to jump through. There’s only one pickaxe to be aiming for, but you have to follow eight steps with a dozen otherwise useless intermediate ingredients and you must have that pickaxe because you are otherwise barred from certain machines that require ores that only that pickaxe can mine.

  6. Droid says:

    Some years ago, I tried Agrarian Skies 2, and even though it definitely had its flaws (you had to succeed in getting a 2% drop FOUR TIMES before you could automate the process of grinding through said drops, and every try was a rather time-consuming multi-step process), it really captured my interest. Even now, after having tried several other skyblock modpacks and, very briefly, the Factorio Seablock modpack (urgh!), I still would rather go back to AgSkies than any other skyblock, simply because it’s exactly my kind of grind, I guess.

    I’d say there’s something out there for everyone even remotely interested in the premise (adding ‘tracked progression’ / ‘questlines’ to a very fundamentally sandbox-y game), but don’t be discouraged if the first one you pick doesn’t quite feel right.

  7. Ninety-Three says:

    But mod authors are obsessed with recipe complexity. If a mod author were to design the pickaxe recipe, it would be an absurdist multi-stage process. First you’d craft a handle from three different specific types of wood. Then you’d have to make a grinding wheel and use it to shape the head. Then you’d need to build a brewing lab, kill a horse, and use drops from the horses to make glue to attach the head to the handle. Then you’d have to set it inside a special container until the glue cured.

    Argh, I hate this so much. I understand where it comes from: a lot of these mods are about automation, and if the player’s going to automate the mass production of solar panels, you make an elaborate multi-stage recipe so that the player gets the interesting experience of building a whole solar panel factory instead of throwing down a single block that converts copper and iron into solar panels.

    But then the cargo cult hits and applies this philosophy to everything. You want a jetpack, an item that you will only ever make one of? Get ready to spend the next five minutes hunched over a crafting table as you assemble substages from a recipe tree seven layers deep. Before this got so ridiculous that I quit playing, I had gotten into the habit of carrying around stacks of 64 printed circuits, steel gears, and all kinds of other intermediate components just to cut down on the substages when I wanted to craft one of a particular thing.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      And speaking of pickaxes, I can tell Shamus has never played with the modpacks that mandate Tinker’s Construct. You see, for some baffling reason, in addition to enabling a modpack that adds ridiculously complex tool recipes to the game, a lot of modpacks choose to disable regular tools (either outright or by setting their durability to “breaks in two hits”). Under Tinker’s, crafting a basic wooden pickaxe from scratch requires chopping down multiple trees worth of wood and working through three different specialized crafting benches. God help you if you want to make a metal one, then you have to do all that plus follow a guide on how to build a special multiblock furnace out of rare resources and cast specialized molds for the individual components of the pick you’re going to be assembling.

      1. Shamus says:

        Actually, this was my first experience with TC. I got some sort of survival modpack that removed all vanilla tools except the wood pickaxe. It was a nightmare. I actually thought this was a “feature” of TC and avoided TC-based mods for a whole year after that. But then I discovered that no, most modpacks let you use the normal tools and the TC items are a good reward for a long investment of time.

        TC is really good at that “gradual progression” idea I mentioned.

        TC is fantastic in general. My only gripe is that the smelter is enormous, and that sometimes that massive black tower really clashes with the building I’m trying to make. Like, if I’m trying to build a domestic house, then the smelter will need to be hidden far underground. And so then I end up spending all my time in the basement workshop and never see the house, and then I start wondering why I went to all the trouble of building the house if I’m going to spend all my time in this underground warehouse.

        It’s a small nitpick. TC is fantastic.

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          I appreciate what TC does in terms of giving you stuff to invest resources in and rewards for doing so, but I hate everything about the crafting process. It’s full of busywork and juggling molds and multi-stage recipes when you could get the same mapping of resources to rewards by having there be one “Tinker’s Crafting Bench” item that lets you make wood pickaxes by dropping a couple pieces of wood into a grid, and then if the bench is placed next to an active smelter you’re also allowed to drop metal into the grid for metal tools. Technically this is cutting out the resource cost of the molds, but never, not even on resource-starved skyblock maps has that cost felt like it mattered.

        2. DanMan says:

          This is what I liked about Sky Factory 3. The giant smeltry was “gen 2” (vanilla minecraft furnace being gen 1). It doubled ingot production (1 iron chunk = 1 ingot in furnace. 1 iron chunk = 2 ingots in smeltry). There is no way to speed it up, just make it bigger so you can smelt more at a time. It was also the only way early game to make alloys.

          Then, as you progressed, you got access to the Alloy Furnace. Single block structure, does the same thing as the big smeltry, but you could upgrade it so it could do it much faster and it was easier to automate.

          I love TC when done right because I love progressing the things that I’m already using. Rather than “do this tedious thing you have no reason to do just to make your thing better”, it’s “hey, I noticed you’re using this pickaxe a lot. How about I reward you with the ability to make it better the more you use it!”. And the fact that you can replace parts so you don’t lose your progress on a particular item.

          My biggest gripe is that there is just TOO MUCH STUFF with Tinkers. I know they have an in-game book and there are plenty of wikis that are actually kept up to date, but I liked the simple Wood -> Stone -> Iron -> Diamond progression. Now this is stronger, but that has a special effect. This effect isn’t really useful on a pickaxe, but is great on a sword. I like that you are not FORCED to integrate with everything if you don’t want, so it’s a minor gripe. I just never feel like I have “the best” equipment because I have a hard time comparing all the options

        3. Saint says:

          Fun fact: you can make a 1 ingot sized forge. You could technically make everything but you’d need to wait for every ingot to smelt down then empty that bit into a mold and do it again for however many is required. Since they don’t have shape restrictions it’s entirely possible to make a reallllly tall one and hide it in a wall or something.

      2. Ruethus says:

        Speaking as someone who maintains a small personal modpack into which he has put a few too many hours, what you’re describing sounds like it isn’t actually the Tinkers’ Construct mod but the Iguana Tinker Tweaks mod, an external add-on to Tcon that changes it in several ways. ITT has an option that many, MANY modpacks love to tick that, as you say, basically renders vanilla tools worthless. As if that wasn’t enough for you, it can also crank up the steepness of the mining level curve, making it so that you need a copper pickaxe to mine iron ore, an iron pickaxe to mine tin ore, and so on, whereas in vanilla a stone pick bumps you to mining iron and an iron pick bumps you to mining diamonds when you find them.
        The biggest selling point of ITT, both for me and likely a lot of others, however, is that it lets you replace parts on an existing Tcon tool, which means that you can make ONE pickaxe and just keep upgrading it as you go along rather than having five or six obsolete ones bouncing around (For anyone wondering how to do the swap, you need to repair the tool to full durability, then throw it into a tool bench or tool forge and toss the new part into one of the other slots like it was a modifier item).
        I actually enjoy the lengthening of the progression cycle it adds and of course the part-swapping, but in my case it’s self-imposed to keep me from getting to the pack’s endgame absurdity as quickly as I can often manage, and if that choice is taken out of the equation, things stop looking so peachy.
        Just wanted to clarify for the sake of anyone who might be considering using Tcon in their own packs, and so that we can be pointing fingers at the right mods when complaining.

  8. Daniel says:

    Your sarcastic description of how a mod author would have you make a pickaxe is SUSPICIOUSLY REMINISCENT of the actual process to do just that in Terrafirmacraft, one of those “Realistic” mods for minecraft that I suffered through several times. (It just scratches that particular itch, don’t judge me)

    You legitimately have to melt down the composite materials, fire a clay molding of the tool head, and then attach it to the handle- And that’s just for tier 2 tools, it gets even more complicated once you start smelting iron and stuff like that.

    Sheesh.

  9. DanMan says:

    I feel like Shamus would HATE Sev Tech Ages. I watched a streamer play through it. Would never be able to do it myself. It breaks everything down into “Ages” which have technology upgrades. You start as a caveman who can’t even cut down a tree. You have you punch leaves to get a stick, dug up gravel looking for flint, bang the flint against a rock to make flaked flint, break grass to get fiber, combine fiber to make twine, then combine stick, flaked flint, and twine to make a hatchet. Now you can chop down trees.

    However, you cannot make logs yet. You have to make a chopping block, physically place 1 log at a time on the chopping block and actively swing the hatchet at the log until it makes planks.

    Also, even if you know future recipes there are “unfamiliar items” that if you happen to collect, you will drop on the floor because you don’t know how to use them. Pretty sure you have to progress to Age 2 before you can even make a door.

    1. Retsam says:

      I could see it going either way. On the one hand, it nails the concept of gradual progression: that’s basically it’s whole schtick, and overall it’s really good.

      On the other hand, while most modpacks add progression as features on top of the base game (“raising the ceiling”), Sevtech takes existing features and makes them initially more tedious, until you progress and unlock easier ways of doing things (“lowering the floor”).

      IMO it really depends on your perspective. Either you’ll see the early ages as pointless drudgery because you’re constantly comparing everything to how easy it is in the base game, or you’ll find the sense of progression out of the early ages as really satisfying.

      A lot of people would probably enjoy the game better if they skipped “Age 0”, which is the age without the crafting table (or doors).

      I enjoyed the first few ages of Sevtech that I played – though I think I could have done without having progression blocked by detours to other dimensions in age 2. I eventually stalled out somewhere in Age 3 and haven’t gone back yet.

  10. Rob says:

    Getting back to Sky Odyssey in particular, I wish the progress was more gradual across the board. As one example of many: You eventually gain access to free unlimited flight. I like that as a long-term goal, but I wish it was something you could earn a bit at a time. Maybe you’d first earn reduced fall damage. Then immunity to fall damage. Then a limited glide ability. Then basic flight. The final unlock would be the fast-moving creative mode flight. So many systems in Sky Odyssey are an instant unlock that renders previous systems obsolete, and a gradient system would be more interesting.

    This makes me want to go back and play Terraria again. I feel like all sandbox designers should be forced to play through that game at least once while taking notes. You could write an entire thesis on its many gradual, intertwining progression systems. I’ve never played a game where how you interact with the world changes so many times over a single playthrough, while the world itself changes only slightly (hardmode biome introduction aside). You’re simply given new toys that open up options you didn’t even know were possible.

    What would you call Terraria’s specific subgenre of sandbox crafting game? World mastery? An open-world metroidvania? Minecraft, but with a point?

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      I’ve never played a game where how you interact with the world changes so many times over a single playthrough, while the world itself changes only slightly

      I feel like you played a different game than me (you probably did, given how many updates Terraria has had). When I played, my interactions with the world didn’t change at all unless you count “my equipment now lets me run faster, jump higher and sword harder” as changing interaction. As soon as you craft your first wooden tools, you have three high-level verbs: “dig in the dirt for metals”, “search this cave/dungeon to find pre-spawned loot” and “go here and kill this thing (usually a boss) for loot”. As I advanced through the game’s progression systems I used those verbs on different areas of the world in search of different loot, but other than being pleasantly more mobile, I didn’t feel like there was any real difference between using metal tools plus wooden armor to explore my first cave or fight King Slime, using meteor tools and rocket boots to spelunk Corruption or fight the Wall of Flesh, or using endgame gear to farm bosses.

      I guess you could say that my interaction with random monsters changed to become way safer as soon as I hit my first meteor and escaped from trash gear, but other than that I barely even revisited areas. The only times I did were farming, sprinting through to get somewhere else, or when Hard Mode kicked in and the areas themselves actually changed.

      1. Will says:

        Movement changes significantly (Double jump? Rocket boots? Quadruple jump? Climbing claws? Wings?) and weapon mechanics change somewhat (e.g. fighting with Starfury is significantly different from fighting with the Fiery Greatsword, even though they’re both similar-tier swords), but you’re right that the fundamental mechanics never advance beyond kill/explore for better loot, use better loot to kill/explore more things.

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          The movement changes never felt too significant to me because all the bossfights encourage you to have a preconstructed arena full of scaffolding which gives you 90% of that mobility already. I fought with ranged weapons which mostly have their attributes (RoF, ricochets, piercing, etc) manifest in terms of DPS instead of how you use the weapon, and also ranged weapons take most of the mobility requirements out of fighting non-boss enemies.

          Maybe the mobility stuff matters a lot more to melee players, but every time I looked at the swords I felt like they’d have to do about ten times the DPS of guns to even consider getting that close to enemies and the payoff just wasn’t there.

      2. Rob says:

        There’s not much progression besides “jump higher, fall further” before you kill the fourth boss and enter hardmode, that’s true. Pre-hardmode was the entirety of Terraria’s content at launch, and 95% of the game’s current content doesn’t show up or is locked away until after it starts. Fortunately the progression system also lets you skip several tiers during pre-hardmode if you know what you’re doing, allowing you to get to the fun parts faster.

        I was more speaking of things like the wrench, which when acquired unlocks an entirely new layer of gameplay in the wiring/traps system – one that always existed, but was invisible and unusable until you got your hands on it. Or the fallen stars, which unlock your mana bar and let you use spells. Or the various NPCs, which offer wares and services once you’ve met the requirements for them to move in. Or summons, which are the third major playstyle (after melee and ranged) but don’t even show up reliably until several hours into the game. Or the grappling hooks and climbing claws, which turn caverns from incredibly deadly pitfall-filled death traps into fun obstacle courses. Or what I quoted from Shamus that inspired my post: Terraria’s flight system. You start out pre-hardmode finding items like boots, balloons, horseshoes, etc that let you run faster, jump higher, double/triple/quadruple jump, fall without taking damage, etc; but true flight isn’t unlocked until hardmode. Then you can start acquiring wing accessories which grant limited flight time, slowfall/gliding, and negation of fall damage, all in a single accessory slot. As you defeat bosses and explore areas better wings become available, letting you explore further and faster above ground. And then, at end-game, you can acquire a flying pet with infinite flight (which, since pets have their own dedicated slots, also frees up your incredibly limited and valuable accessory slots).

        That’s what I was referring to regarding Terraria’s progression system. You’re constantly getting more and better traversal abilities; the game starts as a basic hack and slash where you can only walk and jump, and ends up with you circle-strafing your enemies in the air, pelting them with spells and bullets while your summons attack them in melee (or the other way around). The game world itself is mostly static, but how you interact with it changes as you unlock new abilities.

  11. Karma The Alligator says:

    You might argue that this is kind of the point of video games

    Nope, the point is to have fun.

    fungible

    Learnt a new word, thanks.

    In the real world, I hate the feeling of being pulled in six directions at once. […] But this feeling of having six different things to do at once can be relaxing and engrossing in a game. I guess the difference is that I don’t have real people making demands of me. Nobody’s going to pester me with emails asking why I haven’t gotten around to building that railing yet. There’s lots to do, but you can do the tasks in any order and at your own pace.

    I hate this feeling even more in games, because it goes against the idea of relaxing. I don’t need the extra stress, I get enough from work, thank you. Sure, you can go at your own rhythm so it’s not as bad, but it’s still unwanted stress.

    1. Kathryn says:

      Yep, completely agree. I have three roles at my day job, and they intersect in surprising and frustrating ways (a couple weeks ago, I was late on a hardware delivery to myself, partially because I had requested a last minute software update from myself). I am constantly having to balance my attention across several different areas and make tradeoffs, not only within one job as I’m accustomed to doing (engineering project management is all about tradeoffs) but also across all three of my roles, because the more time I spend on X, the less time I have for Y, which is a higher priority for the program, but X still has to get done so maybe I push off the completion date for Z, and so on and so on.

      I actually don’t mind this constant balancing act at work, because all those tasks are working together toward a single goal in which I strongly believe and about which I’m passionate. But it is definitely not relaxing for me!

      1. Daimbert says:

        I personally like it when I’m the one asking myself for changes, because then it’s easy to balance things the best way for me without getting into any kind of politics. On one product I worked on, there was a team that tended to do the HTML/JS GUI side while our team did more of the C++ server side, but I insisted on doing both parts myself. At one point, I had an issue where the way I did the GUI part and what I needed to do on the server side didn’t align and I had to redo one or the other, and I found that I was, in fact, very reasonable with myself in determining where the work needed to be done. Another co-worker had had the other team do the GUI part, and when the person there rewrote the GUI part forcing a server-side rewrite he was … unhappy, to say the least.

        1. Kathryn says:

          Well, in this case, I am not the one doing the actual work, but the team lead (leads?). So one of my engineers on one team reported a change request from the contractor. It sounded related to my other team, which is all contractors and me (long story behind this setup, but the team is contractor-led, so I’m not playing a down and in role, so something like that would not get run by me), so I asked who specifically at the contractor made the request while thinking, “Not my team! Not my team!”

          Naturally, it was my team.

  12. TMC_Sherpa says:

    And then you have games like Graveyard Keeper where every recipe(1) needs less parts than you make in a single batch so you wind up with one extra simple iron part, two extra nails and one extra billet of wood. That you have to store somewhere. In a place that might have dedicated chest locations.
    You can unlock new technologies that require other technologies that are locked behind the story. Make sure you check the requirements before spending your blue points at the beginning of the game kids.
    And then to progress the story person A asks you to talk to person B. Who is only available THE DAY BEFORE person A is. Thanks for making me wait a week game. Again.

    1) At launch. It looks like some of the recipes have changed to reduce this.

    1. Syal says:

      That you have to store somewhere. In a place that might have dedicated chest locations.

      Pretty sure that’s an illusion; I don’t think anything ever despawns, you can just toss it all on the ground if you want.

  13. Syal says:

    Another major difference between games and work is time limits. I tried playing Atelier Sophie, and while it doesn’t have time limits, it has the feeling of time limits; every battle and every material gathered advances the in-game clock. It stressed me out enough to stop playing*.

    Even the difference between getting pulled off a work project and getting pulled into a house project is sizable, because home projects don’t have that feeling of “All projects stop at quitting time and everything has to be done before that time”.

    *(I mean the game was pretty mediocre outside of that too, but still.)

  14. Dreadjaws says:

    Hey, Shamus, have you ever engaged in mod creation? I see you talking about using mods all the time, but I’m not sure I’ve ever read anything from you claiming to have actually created some. I remember something about you making maps (for the likes of Unreal Tournament, I think), but that’s it.

    I’m curious because of the ending of your article. Surely more than once you’ve wished a certain mod did a certain thing, but I don’t know if that ever ended up translating into you actually deciding to create a mod yourself. I can tell you that I’ve wished to create mods myself when I wasn’t satisfied with what a game/other mod would offer, but the difference is that I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      For some games, the barrier to entry in making a mood is pretty big. I believe when I was researching it last year, that even basic stuff in Minecraft requires a lot of forum-searching, just to find out what files to modify, and what tools can edit those files. Contrast that with Rimworld, where a lot of the data in the game is in plain XML files (basically just text with brackets); I can change what my characters say or how they’re described, or what color or image something uses, fairly easily. That gave me a starting point to add new behaviors, when I saw that many behaviors are also in the XML. :)

      1. default_ex says:

        The barrier for entry to make mods for Minecraft is weird. First you need to learn enough Java, JSON and XML to read and write code/data files. Then you need to bash your face into your desk over and over again as the Minecraft mod development community fails to see the point of documentation and tries to direct you one of a couple of chat channels depending on what exactly your trying to do. Then you say screw it and run the “decompile Minecraft” script so you can pour over the game code yourself to figure it out. Skip some step and learn how to use Find and Replace quickly with multiple terms, your going to need it with the parts of the code that don’t have sensible aliases defined yet.

        Playing with replacing Minecraft’s renderer and the GPU computing with a Vulkan implementation. The only help the Minecraft modding community has been, including websites they produce has been providing the build scripts to produce a mod and being able to run OptiFine through a decompiler to find where I should look for the rendering stuff that’s still in use. It’s kinda sad that it looks like actually developing a Vulkan renderer compatible with Minecraft is going to be easier than mapping the relevant source. A wiki could have shaved a good week off what I have done so far.

  15. RCN says:

    Have you tried “Grow Home” and “Grow Up”?

    They don’t have building mechanics, but they are very relaxing games about exploration and earning things a bit at a time.

    Your description of how flight should be implemented gradually is basically how it is done on these games. You get a jetpack that at first is mostly a buffer to falling, then it can be used to actually boost your jumps, before becoming a constant tool you have to carefully spend the fuel of until it becomes basically free flight.

    As a bonus, the game has a procedurally generated animation system for your character, the robot BUD. And it could be an excuse for you to talk about the difference between procedurally generated assets and procedurally generated animation.

    1. Philadelphus says:

      Procedurally generated animation also features in the 2D indie game Rain World and works rather well, if you want another data point.

  16. evilmrhenry says:

    RE: recipe inflation. I hear you. That’s the reason I drop most modpacks after a while; I see that I need to build a machine to progress, then I find out it has eight steps to it, one step requires a second machine I haven’t built yet, and one of the parts needed to build that needs a third machine, and that needs a rare drop from an enemy that I don’t know how to find.

    If you ever get the urge, the Twitch launcher lets you create modpacks by just clicking. (I’ve created one, and am in the process of making another. It’s really easy.)

  17. John says:

    That is without a doubt the prettiest, most scenic low-poly floating block island I have ever seen. My entire Minecraft-ing experience consists of maybe a half-hour of puttering about on classic.minecraft.net, which does not look nearly so good. I’m kinda jealous. Not jealous enough to go buy Minecraft or install a bunch of mods, but still jealous.

  18. Joe says:

    I tolerate crafting systems for the rewards, but I don’t enjoy them for their own sake. Still, this looks nifty. If you *do* try digging down, do you fall to your death?

    Also, congrats! Yahtzee agreed with you in the latest video, that he’ll have gone mad by the end of his 12 game project.

    1. evilmrhenry says:

      “If you *do* try digging down, do you fall to your death?”

      Yes, because there’s nothing down there. It’s just a bunch of blocks suspended in midair. (See the second picture, where you can actually see the bottom of the island.) In the other pictures, there might be a couple floors underground, but there’s a bottom layer, and below that is nothing.

  19. Rick C says:

    Re: discovering recipes in Minecraft. Shamus, from one screenshot it looks like you have NEI/JEI, the mod that lets you see a searchable list of items on the right. I can never remember which is which, but if you left- or right-click on an item in the list, you can see either “the things you can make with that item” or “the recipes to craft that item on a crafting table.” Where it gets neat is if there are different things you can use other than the crafting table (e.g., the smeltery, or Thermal series machines like the Pulverizer) you’ll see a list of the various workstations that can operate on that item, and what the the relevant recipes are in that workstation (4 obsidian dust & 1 lead dust put in an induction smelter gives you 2 hardened glass, and so on). Incredibly useful once you get the hang of it.

    1. Higher_Peanut says:

      NEI hits its limit of usefulness pretty quickly with the amount of recipe bloat in a large number of mods. You can hit items made up of other items all of which have their own individual nested recipe trees made with different machines as early as iron. Then the machines themselves might require properly set up inputs and power which aren’t shown on NEI. There’s too much to hold in your head and you end up writing it down anyway just so you can total up the actual resources and steps required.

      I feel it goes beyond useful into totally required to get anything done at all with most tech mods. They seem to be made assuming NEI is active and use it as a crutch, resulting in recipe trees so nested it can take longer to figure out what/how you need than it does to get the resources for it.

      Mod creators sure love recipes though, I’ve seen mods add extra tedious steps, tools and timers to every stage of production. With the group I played with it always did the exact opposite of what the creator wanted. Systems were far too tedious and slow to bother interacting with, so you saved up using baseline tools until you could skip half of it.

  20. ElementalAlchemist says:

    But mod authors are obsessed with recipe complexity. If a mod author were to design the pickaxe recipe, it would be an absurdist multi-stage process.

    I’ve never played Minecraft, much less modded it, but speaking in more general terms, typically modding itself becomes the game once you become a serious modder. The game ends up being merely a necessary part of testing and development, not something you play for its own sake. It’s not surprising you get the sort of outcomes you describe.

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