Notch mega-interview: 0x10c, micropayments, Kickstarter and quantum computing
Minecon was a busy old time for Mojang’s bearded, be-hatted co-founder. When Markus “Notch” Persson wasn’t on-stage or in interview he was being mobbed by hundreds of fans, barely kept at bay by the towering mass of his bodyguard. Yet, when I catch up with him in a backroom of the New Yorker hotel, he doesn’t seem especially exhausted by the relentless bustle of celebrity. Quite the opposite: he talks with eager enthusiasm about space-faring game 0x10c, Mojang’s attitude to microtransactions, money, and how future technology will change both gaming and shake the very foundations of the internet.
As for what Mojang can do to top this year’s Minecon in Disneyland, Notch giggles and says: “I dunno, maybe go to space or something.” You heard it here first, folks!
PCG: Last time we spoke, you were still deciding whether to put textures in the game. I assume you've decided now...
Notch: Yeah, we hired a graphics artist Jonatan Pöljö to do a textured look. Because a) it feeds into the fact that it's made by the guy who made Minecraft and b) I really like pixels. Jonatan wants to tweak a lot of it. We still haven't gotten to the planets yet. We're focusing on the ship. So the first release is basically going to be this: you can build a ship and you can play with the computer components in it. I'm kind of ignoring the planets as hard as I can because that's going to be a lot of work.
What about multiplayer?
It's basically done already. So when you're playing single player you're playing against a local server. Everything that we add has to work in multiplayer by definition now. I added to gun to test it and we played it in the office. It worked good.
Is there going to be an alpha sometime soon?
Er... as soon as it's fun. The shooty roundy bit is fairly fun. It has a strange Quake-like quality to it: slightly too fast. I think it could be entertaining on LAN play but I don't think you want to play it over the internet because with latency it's going to become very unfair because it's so fast. The goal still is to get it so that you can have a ship with the computer components in. Because then not only can you try the game but the people who want to build stuff for the computer can actually start doing that - it actually has some utility as well.
That's a very exciting part - especially for Minecraft fans who are used to customising their own experience. You've got the programmable computer in 0x10c but are there other obvious analogues for things like redstone and custom maps?
Yeah, kind of. Maybe custom maps. Instead of having blocks we have different things you can place - like a refrigerator or a laser gun. Pre-fabs. You can customise the component inside but not what it looks like. But then you get your own ship. There will be a ship editor where you can put chunks together to make the shape of a ship.
Is that the way it looks externally or are you actually modifying the way rooms fit together?
First you build the external part, and then you go into the room mode. Then you get a cutaway view of the ship. You can drag out rooms on different levels and make them taller if you want a shaft or something and put it all together.
And what effect would that have in terms of gameplay? I guess if you're running from one side of the ship to another to put out a fire you would benefit from having an efficiently designed ship.
Yeah, and we're trying to make it so you can have specialised rooms somehow, but we don't know how to do it. We want to avoid placing a room and saying, “This is the medical bay.” But we still want to encourage you to have rooms for specific purposes. So if there's a hull breach you could lose the air in one of the rooms - kind of like FTL.
How will multiplayer work? Do you all have your own spaceships? Or are you encouraged to form crews together?
The idea is kind of to allow for both. It's still not clear how we're going to monetise the game – but the rough idea I have right now is to have an MMOish part called the multiverse. It'll probably be monthly subscription because of the cost of running all the [spaceships’ emulated] CPUs on the server. The idea is that one subscription gives you one generator. If a CPU in the game costs us this much money to emulate then it has to consume an equal proportion of the wattage from the generator. So several people could play on one ship with one generator if they wanted. I think that’d be the most fun, but I know a lot of people just want to pilot their own ship. That part of the game kind of grew stronger after we played the Artemis Ship Simulator.
Have you been playing that at Mojang?
Yeah, [ex-PCG web ed, now Mojang’s pet Welshman] Owen suggested it.
Who was the captain?
It varied. I was the captain once and I kept telling them to launch nukes at space stations. I'm not a very good captain as it turns out.
Head to the next page for Notch's thoughts on microtransactions, resource mining and emulated CPU craziness.