Why Minecraft is a a Paradise for Makers

Our kids love Minecraft. All three of them. And so do I. It’s not just because it’s a fun and amazingly creative game. I have other reasons – there is a back story. Here is that story.

The youngest of our three kids is 7 years old in a few day. He’s a big guy now. And in the past 6 months he has become a real little social guy. Why? because of Minecraft. He was a whiz kid on the XBox. Actually on any electronic device. And while I like to think that he enjoys his scooter and his bike and playing outside, he really is a cool little nerd. Loves Lego,. and Lego Marvel.. and Minecraft.

When I introduced Minecraft to our home, it was through the Raspberry PI – the original one. It was a blast! the kids were able to play on the big TV with the wireless keyboard and mouse I wired up, but I was secretly able to ssh into the box and run python script ( I called them code spells to do magic stuff. Simple things like create a 8 x 8 grid of glass, or a stair way. Once I messed up the texture and created an apocalyptic hail of fire instead of water, and then created a deluge of water to put out the fire. I had to create some creative scripts just to clean up the mess. But we had so much fun!.

After that, the three of them were hooked. Even the girl! She was the leader. but there was a problem. Since the Raspberry PI needed Dad’s Attention to get it working, everyone reverted to Minecraft on the XBox 360 or on mobile devices. This was not good. I would come home at 7 or 8 in the evening to see each of them in their own world playing Minecraft Local, as I called it. This had to stop.

Around the same time, we got a call from the school about they youngest. He was very quiet and wasn’t really putting in the effort to network with others. It hit me like a plank. Network!. This is what was upsetting me. I have been an avid gamer in the past, but I was never really interested in solitary gaming. I wanted to play with others. It was the real-live interraction, the total unpredictible nature of the soul that I loved. No Machine Learning or AI could match that (At least not yet).

I got a plan together. I went up to my office and got to work. I had 2 research PCs – low end specs, that I used for work. testing windos clustering, load balancing, and such technical mumbo jumbo. These PC were tiny servers with 64GB SSD and G640 CPUs running headless Windows Servers, but it was time to give them a desktop. I installed the Server Desktop Experience and dug up an old monitor. Sadly, I took my second monitor away from my main work server and assigned it to the second PC. I then found my old nettop PC. a 4GB Nvidia ION PC that used to be a Plex server on the back of the TV until the XBox One showed up. It had become a relic of windows 8. Dusy and disused, so I gave it a refresh, installed Windows Server 2012 R2 on this too (since I had a 5 Microsoft Partners license that I wasn’t using), and stole the TV/DVD from the kitchen. I then order a couple of £10 desks from IKEA and got a bunch of network cables and gigabit routers and by the end of the evening I had setup 3 new workstations in the playroom, wired up and ready to play. I purchased 4 copies of Minecraft user accounts – yes, I know it was almost a £80 investment in a game, come to think about it, more than I had ever spent on a game before in one go, but it was a gamble.

You see, I had this vision, that If I could setup a network environment where all three kids could play in the the same immersive world together, then it was possible that the youngest would interract and socialise more with the others. And considering his love for technology and computing, it seems like the right thing to do.

I introducted the new charaters to the team, they were a little dubious at first, and then I introduced to the the new world I had created. I had called it ColhounTech Minecraft Server for the sake of a better name. and we all logged in together.

It was awesome. We learnt together how to survive the first night in Minecraft. In fact, I lie, we all died many times and yelp and screams as zombies and spider came to devour us and we ran for cover that didn’t serve us. It took a day or two to get our act together. “Dig down, there is a lot of cover down there!” that’s the secret. Slowly we discovered that certain resources were more valuable than others, and learned to craft things. Before I knew it there were Mines and Buildings all over the place. I never experienced such group rapport and creativity. All from a free 8MB download from the Mojang guys.

But then we started to see crack in the plan. I had set the height paramters higher than normal, so the world of colhountech was very, how can I say.. Steep. Vertical drops and sheer cliffs made it difficult to explore. And then there was youtube. Our kids discovered Little Kelly, and ducklongface and ibilistic squid or names to that effect. Their world we so much more… flat. and so I got asked to create a new world….

6 weeks later we had 4 worlds. ColhounTech world was still there for research I guess – trying things out but Dream world was so much more fun and easier to explore, and FlatLand was, well, just flat. Next came Spigot server that offered new mods or mechanisms to modify the game play and add concepts like currencly, and build macros, it was growing and evolving literally weekly.

A few weeks ago, the youngest asked a new question: “Dad, can we get a PixelMon server?” I had no idea what that was. “Let me find out a little, see what it is first” I responded. A sulky boy appeared. Boy. How do I handle this? I did some research. “I’ve god a bad feeling about his” I heard myself say. “These are mods of mods on Mods on steroids”. I was right, pretty much. Whereas minecraft vanilia server was just a single jar file to download and point a batch file at it, the PixelMon server was… how shall I put this diplomatically.. a heap of confusion. yes, that’s about right. A big smelly heap of confusion. All the forums were discussing advanced topics, and all poor Dad wanted was a simple “What is a Pixelmon server, and how is it different to a vanilla Minecraft server, and how the heck do you set one up?” Four attemps over four days and a full 8 hours of digging and learning, we finally got our new clients and servers up and running. I’ll be honest. I’ve not logged into the pixel mon serers yet, I just set them up, but in the end I did learn a lot about how I never want software to be written!!. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the Pixel Mon team are amazing hackers and developers, but guys: Where the hell is the Howto for Noobs? anywasy, the kids love it and they are having fun.

But now we have an interesting problem. The 5 services we run each consume about 1GB of memory and my poor aging server only has 4GB of memory. What gives? Well, it’s a matter of Dad having to log in to the server and manually switch certain Minecraft services on and off as supply exceed demand. In fairness there is rarely more than 2 servers running constantly, but then I asked myself the question: What’s a good way to start and stop these Java applications without having to log in? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a web hook or big green button that I could press to just start or stop a server, and a new idea was born….