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Red's Read on Minecraft with Mods

Mods Make Minecraft

Red Thomas Posted:
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Just as video gaming was reaching a fever pitch a decade ago, Minecraft came onto the scene and blew everything everyone thought they knew about successful projects completely out of the water.  The general consensus of the time was that games needed to pursue hyper-realism and big budgets in order to compete on a large scale.  Notch completely turned that concept on its head by developing a game over one weekend that went on to be one of (if not the) most popular games of the last two decades.

Here we are over a decade later and I’m still loving this game.  As some readers will know, I’m not completely opposed to mods but still tend to shy away from them in most cases.  Minecraft is one of those rare games that holds its own after a decade even without mods, though there are definitely some really cool ones out there that are worth a look.  I still load vanilla Minecraft with relative regularity and spend an occasional weekend or two building new projects with my nieces and nephews and enjoying digital family time.

A few weeks ago, one of my nieces asked me to stand up a server that she and a few friends could play on.  For several weeks, they played on a vanilla server and I even joined them on occasion.  Everyone enjoyed it, but then last week she asked if I’d spin up one with mods and help them pick the mods out.  What followed was a week with two different servers, two different sets of mods, and a whole lot of fun.

I thought I’d talk a bit in this week’s article about both the mods we used and give my thoughts on projects charging for mods and what that might look like going forward.  I also thought we’d take a look at how Minecraft has changed over the last few years and explore some of the plusses and minuses of where the game is currently at under Microsoft.

A Tale of Two Mods

When I was initially approached by my niece to spin up a Minecraft server with mods and asked for recommendations, I pointed her towards the Feed the Beast modpacks.  I’ve used them a number of times over years of playing with the other kids, and it’s just continued to get better over time.  In the early days, the modpack was just a list and then it was a compiled package of mods that could downloaded en masse, but these days it’s even easier.  You download the launcher, which manages all the mods for you.  You can create a custom package, but FTB comes with a number of pre-packaged sets of mods, which makes it way easier.

We picked the FTB Ultimate Reloaded pack, which I have no trouble recommending.  I think it’s a bit overkill and would normally want to go for a pack that was a bit more targeted towards what I want if I were playing alone, but when standing up a modded server for a handful of kids, this is the one to which you should turn. 

minecraft buildingThere’s something relaxing about just taking the blocks you have and building something neat out of them that makes Minecraft one of my favorite games of all time.

I like that specific modpack in these situations because it basically has everything.  Lots of biomes and mods to expand the available flora and fauna for those who just want a more diverse world.  Ultimate Reloaded has a very robust set of industrial mods for those who want to convert oil into electricity to power their mechanized factories.  I’m usually partial to the Thaumcraft set of mods in Ultimate Reloaded, which had a very well-developed magic system.  You might also find the minimap, waypoint system, or the larger world map is particularly useful with younger kids.

Whatever your kids might be interested in, and if it’s a lot of kids and the interests are myriad, then I’d definitely recommend FTB Ultimate Reloaded.  I’ve also found that most server hosts include FTB in their list of supported mods and Ultimate Reloaded also seems to be one of the more common packs I’ve seen among them.  You can always load the server manually and that’s easy enough to do but having the provider handle all of it for you is even better.

This is a mod pack that I’ve turned to several times over the years and I’ve been impressed every time.  With the launcher that you can now download for it, I’ve found it’s even easier to get kids installed and ready to play.  That’s been a huge time-saver and probably the biggest reason I’ve become such a fan. With the army of kids I end up having to support in multiple States, anything that makes it easier for me to get everyone installed and online is a God-send.

We played the server with the FTB mods pretty hard for a few days and then my niece brought up another mod she’d been looking at.  It seems she’d found a Youtube channel where a fellow named Tiny Turtle was developing a mod and creating content related to both his development efforts and his adventures in his test server.

minecraft farmI usually end up building the farms and maintaining the infrastructure when I play with the kids, but that’s okay.  I enjoy it anyway, and I enjoy hearing them in Discord having a good time even more.

The DragonFire mod implements a wide array of dragons, which the player can attain by collecting their eggs and hatching them.  Baby dragons are then fed and leveled up until large enough that the player can actually ride them through the air.  The one big hitch with this mod is that those who want to play it are asked to support the developer via Patreon in order to get access to the latest of what appear to be monthly updates.

The mod is incredibly new and in a little rough shape at the moment, but there are some very cool ideas being developed.   I definitely see this as being a mod that should be watched moving forward.  Already, DragonFire implements a relatively robust bestiary of dragons.  There are also nests in the various biomes for the appropriate dragons, and the nests (which are where you find the eggs) add a very unique and interesting geographical element to the game.  There’s also a bit of science being added to the game by the mod as players can combine DNA from multiple dragons to breed a new one, though the feature only works for one set of dragons currently.

Dragons don’t destroy terrain currently and though they can definitely hurt the player and the player’s dragon, they don’t seem to do any damage to other non-player entities.  I don’t see that being a major problem to fix and suspect we’ll see an update for those issues before long.

I also felt there were just too many dragons and I’d like to figure out a way to turn the numbers of them way down on the server, though I’ve yet to look for or dig through the config file.  In general, this strikes me as a super cool idea and a brilliant addition to Thaumcraft, but I’d really rather the dragons be something special that should be even harder to find than villages.  Currently, they’re everywhere and can be spotted constantly flying in cluster formation like giant grackles.

minecraft dragonThe dragons in DragonFire mod are very well textured and the mechanics are also coming along really well.

The Twist

That brings up an interesting question, though.  Should modders put their work behind a paywall?  No matter where you fall on the subject, and I suspect most folks will have an immediate reaction to the question and find themselves solidly one way or the other on it, it’s a big more complicated than you might first think.

First of all, there’s the obvious problem of charging for something built on top of intellectual property that belongs to another party.  The business guy in me doesn’t like this.  I get that folks are putting effort into something and want to get compensated, but they’re doing it on the backs of other developers and investors who have taken the risks and laid the groundwork in the first place.  Even that business position has a business conflict, though.  Mods are where a lot of developers cut their teeth and learn their trade.  It’s important to the industry to make modding as common as possible and allowing folks to make a dime at it just encourages it that much more.

Beyond the business, there’s the crowd to consider, too.  We know that charging is technically legal because both Steam and Bethesda have implemented systems where modders could charge for their mods, but neither attempt at monetizing mods was met with anything resembling applause.  Bethesda’s attempts to monetize mods for Skyrim in particular were met with very aggressive resistance.

minecraft more dragonsDragons are cool, but I’m hoping we get a config file that lets us dramatically dial back how common they are.

But there are reasons this is a good idea.  As I mentioned before, it helps ensure the IP owners and developers get their cut of the additional revenue, which is to be honest, very fair.  I suspect it would also cut back on how often owners of a particular IP flatly shutdown projects as they protect their intellectual property.  This would create a legitimate path to create content for IP that might otherwise never even be on the table and frees modders from worrying about when the hammer will drop on them. 

Besides, asking for donations has been a staple of the modding community for a really long time, and if we all appreciate the work someone did, the right thing is to always compensate folks for their effort.  It’s a significant step, but not an insurmountable one, to shift from donations to charging for mods.

I feel that this is the right direction and the right thing to do for all involved, but I also don’t think the gaming community in general is a big fan of paying for things that once were free.  I also feel that charging for mods puts a little more onus on the developer to do a better and cleaner job, which I hope over time improves the quality of mods in general.  Care does need to be taken not to charge for mods that don’t meet some modest minimal quality standard, but good luck figuring out how to describe something that subjective in any sort of policy.

Great Expectations

I’m not really a fan of Microsoft and I don’t know that I’m really all that impressed by what they’ve brought to Minecraft since their acquisition of the project.  They’ve split the community by implementing the “Bedrock” edition, which has to be purchased separately.  While they still support both versions of the game and they clearly have added features, I just don’t feel that their pace of improvement is any better than the original team.

minecraft monsterGiggling, my niece named her “Monstrous Nightmare” Karen.  Honestly, that laughter was definitive of why I love this game and continue to spin up servers for the kids.

Also, I feel Bedrock was generally a mistake.  I suspect it was a well-intentioned mistake, as the improved documentation and exposed APIs in the Bedrock edition notionally make that version of Minecraft infinitely easier to develop on.  The problem is that Java, despite clearly not being the best language for applications, is still incredibly popular and massively supported by the community at large.  Plus, the wide range of existing mods for the Java edition of Minecraft make it hard to ever push the entire userbase over to the other edition.  This is rather obvious, and really makes me scratch my head about why Microsoft would even try.

I don’t know that I expect much out of Microsoft where Minecraft is concerned.  I just don’t know that the company, even their game development arm, is particularly suited for supporting the type of game that Minecraft became and continues to be defined as since they bought the project.  I also think that’s why they game likely has significant life yet left in it.

True, other projects such as Roblox has certainly taken some of the thunder out of Minecraft’s sails and I personally think Microsoft has done their own share of unintentional sabotage (which is another article entirely), but Minecraft remains a game that is supported by a dedicated horde of mod developers and that group is constantly growing as new players discover the joys of modding the game.  Plus, Java is just such a common language and with all the documentation, examples, and tutorials out there on how to create mods for this specific game, it’s just unlikely that Minecraft in general, and the Java Edition specifically, are going anywhere any time soon.

Bill Gates, or “Dolla-Bill” as he’s known to his close friends, doesn’t typically solicit my advice on these subjects, I think Microsoft is needlessly shorting their revenue with this product and that there’s a better way.  My recommendation would be to make Minecraft licenses universal, a purchase of either edition grants access to both.  Then, I’d work with some of the mod aggregators that already exist to improve mod distribution and allow modders to optionally charge a modest fee for access to their content.

Supporting mods will sell more licenses and extend the life of the product in a way that creating shovelware around the Minecraft name is unlikely to do.  Regardless of what Microsoft does, I’m having a blast with Minecraft and love playing it with my nieces and nephews.  It’s one of those rare games that everyone loves to play and it’s a great way, especially during this period of social isolation, to enjoy each other’s company in a virtual space. 

So how about you all?  Who all runs their own Minecraft servers and what are your favorite mods?  Let me know down below and maybe I’ll give them a rip the next time around with the kids.  In the meantime, if you haven’t played the game or haven’t played in a while, try loading up Feed the Beast and one of their modpacks.  I think you’ll be surprised how well this incredibly old game has held up over the years.


Red Thomas

A veteran of the US Army, raging geek, and avid gamer, Red Thomas is that cool uncle all the kids in the family like to spend their summers with. Red lives in San Antonio with his wife where he runs his company and works with the city government to promote geek culture.