Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Wiki Wiki

 Be forewarned, this post is even more rambly than usual.

I'm mostly creating this post to help nudge Google's SEO to pick up the new Fallen London Wiki, which has recently relocated to a new home. Well, "relocated" might be too tame a term. "Escaped an abusive relationship and started a fresh life" might be more accurate.

I have a long, albeit tenuous, connection with the wiki. When I first started playing Fallen London about a decade ago, there were two separate community-driven wikis. I believe that the wikidot was first; its domain name even reflects the original title of the game, Echo Bazaar. This wiki focused on gameplay and strategy; in particular, I found its item conversion tables invaluable. In contrast, the wikia was more of a straight dump of the game contents, focused on storylets: you could look up anything in the game to see what was required to make it appear, what the options were, what requirements each option had, and what each choice did.

There was some mild-mannered back-and-forth between the wiki community and Failbetter Games. Since Fallen London is almost entirely composed of text, the company was understandably not enthusiastic about their entire game essentially getting mirrored into a clickable alternative, allowing people to essentially "play" through the game without any Candle limitations. A few principles got established early on that thankfully continue to this day. First, no details can be provided on the wiki about stuff that requires Fate, i.e. spending real-world money. Secondly, there is a character limit on how much text from each storylet body can be present in an article. In practice, this has meant that you can read a summary or gist of what an action does, but will need to play it to experience the actual content.

I was a very active Fallen London player in those days, and that extended to Wiki contributions: I created the entry for the Rumourmaster's Network (now renamed Rumourmonger's Network), filled in descriptors for the higher levels of Scholar of the Correspondence, and filled in lots of details about random ranges, seasonal events and other things. I'm no longer at the vanguard of content discovery, so these days I just use the wiki as a reference. It has some absolutely excellent tools and calculators, including a best-in-slot calculator that was essential prior to the expansion of Outfits and remains extremely useful today. (Fortunately, the retirement of Paramount Presence of the Ancient Regime and the invention of new stat caps has removed the need for me use the wiki to look up each and every new action before I click on it to ensure that it will not remove 1 CP of one of my main stats.)

At some point along the line, Wikia rebranded to Fandom, which I believe was a universal move. Let's take a little tangent and talk about that!

Almost all wikis are based on MediaWiki, the open-source engine that drives Wikipedia. In the early days of Wikipedia, people embraced its ethos as the "everything encyclopedia": you could write an entry about literally anything, and there was an explosion of content and communities building out vast webs of documentation about their passions. Prior to this, information on a given commercial project was usually limited to one of two forms: either an official web site, maintained by the creator of that project and typically limited to a very high-level summary of it; or a community forum, which contained a vast amount of content of varying quality that was difficult to search but likely had the information you sought. Wikipedia seemed like a great solution to the problem of making knowledge discoverable: if you wanted to figure out what issue of Bone first revealed the identity of the farmer, or how many members were in the Minibosses music group, or who the most prolific graffiti artists in San Francisco were, you could head to Wikipedia and find out. And, on the off chance it wasn't there yet, you could do some research and create your own entry, which other users would later polish and correct and refine.

That golden era came to an end in the Great Crackdown. I mostly experienced this with the Webcomic Purge, when dozens and then hundreds of Wikipedia pages were taken down for lack of "notability". A daily newspaper comic that nobody talks about deserved an entry; a daily web comic that got millions of views and spawned a passionate following did not. The purge continued, ruthlessly removing all entries that did not meet the editors' arbitrary standards of notability. (As you might suspect, these reflect the biases you would associate from white nerds. To this day there is a long and informative article about the Vala on Wikipedia; any similar entry on a less-revered property would certainly face deletion.)

Fortunately, there was an alternative! (Sarcasm alert.) While the Wikimedia Foundation is a non-profit, it just so happened to have a for-profit alternative, Wikia. Founded and run by the same people as Wikipedia, and running the same software, but instead of creating a single repository for all human knowledge it segmented each topic into a separate site, and served ads on those sites to make money. To this day I remain convinced that Wikipedia intentionally drove away these vibrant, active communities so they could make money off of them on Wikia instead.

MediaWiki itself will always remain open source, and over the years quite a few other competitors have entered this space. I ran into a lot of headaches related to this during my Shadowrun days. A trend has grown for game companies to establish an "official" site for a wiki, perhaps seeding it with some art and content but leaving it up to players to maintain and fill it in. When Shadowrun Returns first launched, their official wiki was on a domain called wikispaces.com. A ton of great content went up in there: Harebrained Schemes wrote a few articles giving details on the editor, and I and a lot of other creators wrote various tutorials and guides and other stuff. But, wikispaces went away, as you will see if you try to visit that domain now.

Prior to the launch of Shadowrun Hong Kong, HBS migrated over to a new wiki on Gamepedia, copying some (but definitely not all) of the old content and guides. That has been the main source of community knowledge in recent years, though honestly you'll likely get better results by searching Google and finding a relevant Reddit thread; we seem to be back to the old days where the best content could only be found in forums.

I contributed to the Gamepedia for a while, but threw a hissy fit when they got bought out by someone called Curse Media, and then forced me to create a Twitch account to continue editing articles. I can't justify how mad I was, but I walked away and never touched that wiki again.

If you try to go to the Shadowrun Gamepedia today, you'll be taken to Fandom, which is the new rebranding of Wikia. It's becoming yet another monopoly, swallowing up all of the alternatives that were out there and bringing all properties under its banner. After reading Goliath, I am very radicalized against the trend towards consolidation, crushing the little guy and creating big, terrible companies that give everyone an awful experience.

The monopoly wasn't the tipping point for the Fallen London wiki, though. The community editors faced a host of issues that they thoughtfully documented. One of the most germane problems for readers of the Fandom wiki, though, is that it's absolutely unusable on mobile. In recent months I've had to deal with full-screen takeovers, autoplaying videos, pages that jump around to trick you into clicking on ads, and all sorts of slimy, awful stuff. Fortunately my adblocker on my PC does a good job at removing that stuff, but that's no consolation to folks who try and read the wiki from their phones and tablets.

And yes, of course this is a direct result of Fandom establishing a virtual monopoly over the wiki space. If they were merely one of many players, they wouldn't be able to get away with providing such awful service with such aggressive ads.

The move to a new non-Fandom wiki site may be a quixotic quest; currently "Fallen London wiki" still shows the old Fandom site as the first result, and the .wiki on page 2 of results. But hopefully that will change. One especially awesome thing is that Failbetter Games is supporting this change, even though they historically haven't had anything to do with the old wikis: they announced the wiki move to players, added a wiki link to their FAQ, and even offered to pay the hosting costs for the new site. I think that's really amazing of them.

Hopefully there will be more moves like this in the future. Apparently the Fallen London community move was inspired by the Runescape Wiki's escape several years ago; that move seems to be very successful, and their wiki is now very easy to find. I do wonder if, in the future, more companies will move towards hosting their own wikis in the same way they used to host their own forums. It does blur the line between community and company, for better or worse, but on balance I'd take that solution over further fattening the Fandom monopoly.

Soooo anyways, if you play Fallen London please update your bookmark for the wiki and save yourself from watching a thousand terrible ads!

Monday, March 29, 2021

Spur Line

The Underground Railroad is a good book, but can be a hard read. As it should be. It particularizes the horror of slavery, showing its toll on black bodies and minds, and the pernicious influence it wielded over all society. It's still very readable, with a compelling protagonist and tight action and a tinge of fantasy, but (perhaps ironically) it fights against escapism, holding historical reality firmly in the center.




Of course this made me feel uncomfortable, and I could usually only manage a chapter or so per day before having to set it aside for a bit. It made me think about how I learned about the Underground Railroad and Harriet Tubman in elementary school. Slavery was presented as a pure evil, but in my memory we spent a lot of time focusing on the bright things that happened, which gives more hope and optimism about human nature. On further reflection, it's harder to get excited about dozens of people successfully escaping slavery while four million remained in chains. Likewise, this book doesn't let you get too comfortable with the rare positive exceptions: it gives you a taste of possibility, then snatches it away, bringing you back to the brutal reality that most people of African descent experienced here.

MEGA SPOILERS

I didn't notice until I was nearly halfway through the book that it has won a Pulitzer Prize, which is really cool. It is a very well-written book, and what I like best about the style is the sort of verbal pacing that Colson Whitehead uses. He will often say what's going to happen in the upcoming scene, so there's a knot in your stomach as you watch people walking into the trap that awaits them. This technique reminds me a little of Vonnegut telling you the end at the beginning. But there are other times, most notably when the North Carolina Regulators raid the attic, where I gasped while reading because it happens so quickly: in less than a sentence you move from feeling safe to everything being lost.

The structure of the book is interesting too. Cora is the main storyline, and the book seems to move through a series of tableaus, each set in a different geographical region which exhibits a different flavor of white supremacy. Georgia has the brutal and unadorned plantation, with slaves forced to pick cotton under the threat of the whip. South Carolina seems like heaven in comparison, with blacks and whites living in the same society; but while whites here seem kinder they still disdain the race, preaching eugenics and other forms of control. North Carolina is a rigid terror, with whites abolishing slavery by abolishing black people, brutally murdering any dark face they see. Tennessee passes by in a blur, the color-blind forces of nature pummeling slave and free alike; but thanks to the Fugitive Slave Law only one of those categories can live freely. And finally Indiana shows how even in a putative free state white people will still feel threatened by black success: when the law does not directly enforce white supremacy, they will go outside the law and impose it with their own force.

I am curious about the actual history behind these tableaus. I hadn't previously heard of this North Carolina policy, and three minutes of research on Wikipedia didn't turn up anything; I wonder if it might have been a particular regional movement, or a dramatization of a particular strain of thought at the time. Given that this novel depicts a physical railroad secretly dug deep under the ground all the way from the North down to Georgia, it obviously isn't meant to be taken completely literally. The South Carolina experiences carry strong echoes of the Tuskegee experiments and eugenics, which did happen but were more 20th-century events. 

In between each set of tableaus is an intermission, switching the perspective from Cora to some other character. Sometimes the intermission provides background on someone we're about to meet, other times it gives insight into a character who has left the story. These grow especially poignant near the end, when we get to see Caesar's love of Cora after we learn of his death. And it's especially moving to learn how Mabel "escaped" the plantation, and connect that with Cora's feelings of rage towards her mother.

Finally, an Escaped Slave newspaper notice appears before each section. Some of these are obviously about Cora, but I didn't recognize some of the other references. After learning more about how the underground railroad operates, I now wonder if some of these are examples of the coded messages used by conductors on the railroad to describe upcoming journeys for their passengers.

Of course, the railroad itself is a really compelling idea, a sort of fantasy loosely woven into this very grounded reality. I was expecting it to be a major part of the book, but it isn't really, more of a device to move the story forward at key beats. It's interesting how the railroad seems so grand at the start, with wide tunnels and gleaming stations and powerful trains, and so pitiful at the end, abandoned and overgrown and narrow and dark with just a hand-cart; it can't take Cora anywhere, she has to move herself.

Ultimately, I think the book points to how deeply entrenched racism and white supremacy are in America, and how fragile any gains are. It is much more pessimistic than the popular MLK sentiment that the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice. We as Americans tend to believe that things automatically get better over time, but they don't, and slavery is actually one of the best examples of that. At the time of the founding of the US there was entrenched slavery and white supremacy. By the eve of the Civil War, it was even worse. Most of the Founders wrote about their personal hatred of slavery and expressed a hope that it would naturally fade away over time. By the time of the Confederacy, southern leaders had no qualms about declaring the inferiority of the black race, the divine justification for slavery, the inhumanity of their "property".

And in just the last ten years, we've seen a massive backlash against the first black president which has led to courts striking down the Voting Rights Act. Even as you read this blog post a raft of bills throughout the nation are advancing that will make it harder for black citizens to vote, further entrenching white supremacy. What's happening in Georgia now feels an awful lot like what happened on Valentine's farm.

END SPOILERS

And in conclusion, that's why we should abolish the filibuster.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Let Us Prey

I didn't have any particular expectations when I started playing Prey, and have been blown away by how much I enjoyed it. This was another gift from my sister and brother-in-law, and in passing they mentioned its similarities to System Shock 2. That should have been a hint for how much I would love it; SS2 remains one of the most memorable games I've played. Having finished Prey, I almost feel like you could call this game System Shock 3. It returns to the heavier RPG-style elements of the original franchise, unlike the more official "spiritual successors" of BioShock that moved into more of a run-and-gun style of gameplay.



Even the skill trees in Prey closely resemble the SS2 originals, with you leveling up in Scientist, Engineer, and Security trees, roughly equivalent to OSA Agent, Navy Sailor and Marine in System Shock. The environment is fantastic, atmospheric, tense, threatening and moody. And the gameplay is a great blend of action, strategy, and resource management. There are only so many bullets, so many EMPs, and so on, so you are incentivized to be strategic in when to fight and when to hide and when to flee.



There are a lot of great innovations in this title. One really nice aspect is recycling, which fits very well with the setting and also gives a lot of nice flexibility to the gameplay. Throughout the game you pick up a lot of trash, as well as items that you personally may not have a lot of use for. You can recycle these items to reclaim simpler forms of matter: minerals, biological components, and so on. Then you can use matter fabricators to reconstruct items of more use to you. So, for example, if you're using the silenced pistol a lot and running low on ammo, you can recycle items you aren't using so you can make more 9mm bullets.



This system is also a great incentive to thoroughly explore areas and collect all the stuff you can: there's no true "junk", everything has value. I probably took a lot longer to get through the game than most people since I'm an instinctive completionist and wanted to fully clear everything; this in turn got me a lot of resources and made me pretty powerful by the end. But you could also stealth your way through a lot of the game and save on resource expenditure, finishing the game more quickly but maybe with some more risk.



Some minor random strategy notes from my own gameplay (on Normal difficulty):

Advancement is entirely done through Neuromods. Some of these are just lying around and can be claimed during exploration, some are placed as rewards for side-missions, and you can eventually fabricate some yourself from raw materials.

There isn't much use in stockpiling Neuromods. I'll sometimes keep a few in reserve - like, if I have 5 points and am debating between Hacking 2 or Leverage 2, I might wait until I need one or the other and get that first. But usually you're better off having active support from upgrades.

It's probably best to prioritize the neuromods that let you collect more materials and use them more efficiently. In no particular order these include Dismantle, the Repair tree, Materials Expert, and Necropsy (the latter gated behind Physician). You don't have to get those first, but the earlier you get them the better equipped you'll be for the remainder of the game.

Take advantage of the stackability of items. If you're carrying 1 each of 5 types of food, and 5 pieces of another type of food, then you should recycle the first 5 to free up a ton of inventory space, and just eat from the last stack.

In the mid-game and later, look at recycling not just junk and food but all equipment. In my case, I'd accumulated around 60 Psi hypos without ever using any of them; I recycled half, and got about twenty neuromods out of it.

You'll pick up a lot of spare weapons, and as long as you aren't on the hardest difficulty, you don't need any duplicates. Dismantling and recycling are both valid approaches, so do the former if you're running low on Spare Parts and otherwise recycle; I found Minerals increasingly rare and valuable the later you get into the game (though that may vary depending on your playstyle and loadout).

Turrets can never be permanently destroyed: when broken, you can always repair them again. Turrets keep their Fortified status even after destruction, so it can be very worthwhile to invest in Fortify if you're using Turrets. Turrets can be knocked over pretty easily by enemies, but there doesn't seem to be much you can do about that.

Having a mix of a couple of favored weapons seems to be the way to go. If you exclusively use a single one (that shotgun!!), you'll always be low on ammo and need to fabricate more. But if you use every gun, your upgrades will be spread thinly. I generally favored:

  • The wrench when possible (a single not-too-strong enemy who I could ambush)
  • The shotgun against most heavy targets
  • The pistol for sniping at a distance
  • The Q-Beam against powerful enemies who are weak against it
Gloo and the Boltcaster can be situationally very useful. At first I wondered "Why is the game giving me all these weapons that do no damage?", but in addition to some puzzle-solving aspects and navigation aids, they also can be key assets in combat.

Enemy weaknesses can make a huge difference. An EMP can completely knock out some weaker electric-based enemies. Stronger electric enemies aren't disabled by the EMP, but will take significantly more damage from subsequent attacks while under the EMP effect. So a great technique is to sneak in, toss an EMP, activate Combat Focus, and shoot a bunch of times with your shotgun.



There are a few timed quests, which are very clearly indicated. Fortunately, the time allowances for these are very generous. You'll usually want to focus on that quest until it's done, but don't need to rush on the way to completion.

Enemies can spawn on maps you've previously visited/cleared, but don't do so repeatedly. Basically, once you kill an enemy, it stays dead, but more enemies may arrive in the area after the plot advances. There are only two exceptions I'm aware of, which are both pretty clear in-game. I'm not sure if enemies are ever automatically removed from a map or not.

When you approach the very end of the game, exploration becomes more challenging and limited. There's a sort of sweet spot to explore, so once you have full access to the station, if you want to explore and do all your sidequests, that might be the best time to do it. By this point of the game I was deeply invested and loving it so I did my standard RPG thing and did everything but the main quest line. There aren't any hidden time limits, so you can take advantage of those breathers.



Choices matter! More about this in the spoilers below, but just be aware that (a) not choosing to do something is also a choice, and could be considered the 'right' choice; (b) there are often gameplay benefits associated with making choices; and (c) many of these impact the story and the eventual ending.

Now, some complaints:

For the most part the KBM controls worked great, but it's very obvious that this game was designed to be console-friendly. One impact of this is that there is a fixed limit of 20 hard saves per game. The game never communicates this until you attempt to make your 21st manual save. To make matters worse, it seems to be impossible to delete saves: the menu says to press "Del" to remove one, but the Delete button does nothing and Backspace closes the menu. I eventually had to plug in an X-Box controller just to delete some old manual saves so I could create new ones! (You don't need manual saves, but this game is RPG-ish enough that I'm compelled to make them before major story beats.)



I'm not sure if this is an issue with my playthrough or the game as a whole, but the resource allocation seems wildly out of whack. Minerals are far, far more useful & less available than the others. I had a ton of Organic resources that never got used. Synthetics were pretty useless too. Exotics are limited early on, but they require an equal amount of Minerals, so those get stockpiled as well. It's possible that a less gun-heavy playthrough would have a different experience, though.

I was happy to see a lot of human NPCs showing up around the midpoint of the game; but they all tend to talk over each other, and pass on important information while a PA is blaring over them or you're getting an incoming call or in the middle of a firefight. In general the game has a bad tendency to overlay dialogues on top of each other, which is frustrating when the story is this good.



The zero-G segments were conceptually really cool, but also annoying and occasionally nauseating. I'm glad they were in the game, and also glad there weren't any more.



And I think that's it! The game was solid and never crashed for me. It was nicely difficult, with both resource management and combat tuned well. But the atmosphere and the story were definitely the high points for me.

MINI SPOILERS

This game is in a totally different continuity from System Shock and BioShock, and it's a fun one to explore. From what I can reconstruct, this is the story:

Things seem to start to diverge from our timeline in 1963, when the assassination of JFK fails. The US retains a strong focus on space exploration, as does the USSR. The two nations' rivalry eventually turns to cooperation as they realize that their joint investments in space put them far ahead of the rest of the world, and they embark on several joint missions: establishing permanent space stations, moon exploration, and so on. The Cold War deescalates, with the Gulf of Tonkin not pulling the US into Vietnam, and the USSR remains a viable entity well into the present of the 2030s.



The US and USSR realize that governments aren't best for administering space: there are difficult decisions that are politically unpopular but necessary to make. Control passes from the governments to the TransStar Corporation, which continues to operate the missions from the private sphere. In addition to the straight space work, TransStar pioneers many scientific breakthroughs, drastically extending longevity (JFK lives into the 2030s) and finding ways to manipulate power and gravity. One of their newest and most exciting inventions is the Neuromod: more or less equivalent to a skillsoft wetware in Shadowrun, a Neuromod allows transferring skills from one person to many others. So, a talented baseball player's neurons could be captured, and then others could install that to gain the same instinctual level of ball-playing capability.



That's all in the public history. The secret history is more sinister. Very early in the space era, we made contact with an alien life form that arrived in the solar system. Dubbed the Typhons, they do not seem capable of communication or reason, but have a wide array of deadly capabilities including transforming into other pieces of matter, mentally controlling humans, and manipulating elemental forces like fire and lightning. Almost all of TransStar's inventions are in fact repurposed from Typhon powers. Talos I, where the game takes place, is secretly a Typhon research facility: holding the organisms in quarantine and running experiments on them. This is incredibly dangerous work, and there have been outbreaks in the past where Typhons have slipped free and wreaked havoc. (Which is another great reason to do this work in space - when things go wrong, it's easier to clean up any messes when you don't have to worry about civilian casualties.)

You are Morgan Yu, the daughter or son of a powerful family in TransStar history and sibling to Alex, the CEO of Talos I. Early in the game, you learn that you have been repeatedly run through a simulation: you install new neuromods, take some tests, and experiment with typhon powers: levitation, explosions, etc. The neuromods are removed, causing you to lose your memories, and then you start over again. I'm still not 100% clear on the purpose of these experiments, but it seems to be trying to condition the human body and mind to adapt Typhon abilities, eventually creating superhumans who will be able to take on the Typhons and any other aliens in the galaxy.



Morgan has done this many times, and has created contingency plans: one early set before the first time she removed her neuromods, and then again during subsequent runs through the simulation. One early and frequent source of in-game confusion is the timing of these plans and their authorship: who is the "original" "you"? The plans are associated with various months: January advocates for shutting down the entire station if things go south, October for completing a moon-shot and uplifting humanity, December for simply abandoning the endless rat race and finding freedom. This touches on some cool and heady philosophical ideas; I found myself thinking of Dark City, as your position at the start of this game reflects the protagonist's position in that film.

At the very start of the game, the typhons break free from confinement. The researchers had been unsure whether Typhons were intelligent or merely instinctual, but it quickly becomes very clear that they are in fact extremely cunning and have been preparing their assault for a long time. You are suffering from in-game amnesia, placing your character's knowledge in line with your own, catching up on your personal history as you try to grasp what's happening around you and plot a path forward. Everyone on the station knows you, but you don't remember anyone except your brother.

As noted above, there are many choices to make in the game, many of which seem to be strictly gameplay but do in fact have implications for your character and, potentially, the story. There are two spheres of abilities to acquire, with one set of skills labeled Human (hacking, running, guns, repairing, stealth, etc.), and another set of skills dubbed Typhon (mind control, morphing, pyrokinesis, etc.). In my game I strictly stuck to the Human skills, which the game eventually noted and remarked on. If you install too many Typhon mods, the station's automated defense systems will start to identify you as a Typhon and try to kill you (unless you hack or destroy them); other Typhon organisms like the Nightmare may become better attuned to your location if you seem sufficiently Typhon.



The mechanics of Prey are very traditional for this type of game: go to a place, find a thing, that will unlock another place, etc. Thematically, it started to get a lot more compelling for me once I entered the Crew Quarters, where you start to find living survivors. Now the game isn't so much about shooting aliens: it's about rescuing humans from alien control, trying to find survivors and give them a fighting chance of survival.

MEGA SPOILERS

Because of the System Shock heritage, I'd been prepared for a twist. The first twist comes about 5-10 minutes into the game and didn't seem likely to be the only one. My mind kept running with possibilities: was January tricking me? Maybe Alex was really January. I even doubted the videos of myself that I saw: you can fake Danielle Sho's voice, so who's to say that that's really "my" voice?



It becomes a lot more clear that something is up when you try the December ending, which is available relatively early in the game. Alex says something like "Such a disappointment. Let's try again." I was now pretty sure that all the events of this game were a simulation, not real. But what was the nature of the simulation, and to what end?

The most likely possibility seemed to be that the Typhons were running things. Either they had already won and this was some sort of macabre torture, "I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream" style; or they are trying to manipulate Morgan to reveal some information or perform some action that will benefit them, perhaps allowing them to truly escape quarantine or establish contact with their point of origin. (One of the many things that I love about this game is that the first thing you experience is a "simulation" that is actually "real": Not just a VR thing or direct neural experience, but an elaborate system of moving backdrops and actors convincing you that you're somewhere other than where you truly are. Could typhons be mimicking the operators and humans, and manipulating you to carry out their goals on the real Talos?)



Despite my suspicions about what was going on, I relentlessly pursued a "good" path, to the best of my ability. In no particular order:

I neither freed nor harvested the prisoner in Psychotronics. I couldn't articulate my reasoning in-game, but basically I felt that I as an individual was unqualified to make such a weighty decision. It sounds like he deserves justice, but that justice should be carried out by society as a whole, not a random lady with a wrench. This seems to eventually be an even kinder route than freeing him, as he's still safe in his chamber at the end of the game.

I rescued all of the humans I could find, which required reloading a couple of times in the Crew Quarters.



Apparently you can kill January! Or not summon her! That's wild, I assumed she was essential to the game. I kept her around until the very last scene, though.



I chose to detonate the previously-scheduled shuttle heading towards Earth. That's one of the harder decisions, but as I saw it, the risk was just too great. Additional information gathered later in the game seemed to reinforce that, as it becomes clear that the Typhon had already widely spread and were likely on board the shuttle.

I rescued the doctor from the shipping container and did his side-quests, though I was ambivalent about his enthusiasm for Alex.



I helped the security chief and other survivors in the Cargo Bay, bringing power back up and helping them fight off a wave of Typhons and secure the zone.



I saved my ex-girlfriend; the timer on this quest is ridiculous, like two hours long, how could you not save her?!


(Quick side note: Prey very much seems to be a successor to System Shock rather than Bioshock, and is filled with nice little nods to the older game, like the "Looking Glass" technology for 3D video recordings. But this one particular visual is totally an homage to Bioshock's ADAM syringe.)

I made contact with Danielle Sho and tracked down "Mitchell" to his escape pod, but incapacitated him with a stun gun rather than kill him.



I attempted to rescue the fake employees during the Dahl incursion, then saved the real employees by repairing the air supply. I incapacitated Dahl and cooperated in wiping his memory.



In the endgame, I saved Alex from suffocation. I followed both the heart-of-coral / nullwave mod fabrication quest line and the power plant detonation quests, setting up both before getting to the bridge. On the bridge, I heard out Alex and January until Alex shot her, then reloaded, then stunned Alex just before he shoots her.



Throughout the game, I was leaning towards "blow it all up" as the best ending. Since that's the first direction you get from January, I was on the lookout for a twist, but all the alternatives seemed easier and riskier, more selfish. Very late in the game, it got a lot more compelling to pursue the escape plan, and I mulled over the risks. Dahl had left Earth after the typhon invasion, so his craft would have been clean when it arrived: was I confident it was still clean now? None of the prospective passengers were carrying any typhons, right? I initially just wanted to leave that door open to see what happened, but as the time grew closer I became more confident in that approach. January herself expresses that, as I had no typhon mods, I did not pose a threat to Earth.



One frustration I had heading into the final minutes of the game is that, well, you just don't know. You're asked to make weighty decisions that affect your life, the lives of your friends, and potentially all life on Earth, and you just aren't sure what's going on. Does the shuttle carry no risk, or a small risk? Can I trust January? Is any of this even real?



Whatever. I'd worked hard for this, and was going to try and get a happy ending. I activated the self-destruct, smashed January (at her not-too-subtle suggestion), and made it to the exit shuttle with several minutes to spare. (Again, I'm a big fan of the generous time limits in this game.) I chatted with the major NPC passengers, checked the crew manifest for the back cargo area, and took off! There's a relatively short ending that seems to show debris, presumably from the exploding space station, as your shuttle returns to Earth. And then the credits roll.



And then THAT happens.

I was digging the ending already, but my esteem of it shot up dramatically during and after that final scene. It gets me on personal and a philosophical level. First of all, it does feel good to have my choices recognized and honored, getting a sense that this does matter.

The dialogue is also really fascinating: at one point someone (I think Alex?) says something like "Of course we can't judge its motivations," which is something that I think a lot about when designing and playing and writing about video games. You can tell what a player did, but even in a text-heavy RPG with vast dialogue menus, you can't definitively know why. In a sense, Alex and the operators are in the role of game developers, peering at a player's decision trees and murmuring "Does this mean that they're trying to be a good person? Or not?" It was such an honoring and validation of the ambiguity and complexity I'd been intermittently struggling with during the game, turning those very same things from challenges into features.

Likewise, it was a trip to go back through my old screenshots and piece some stuff together. There are a couple of points throughout the game where you have sort of blackout visions, seeing scenes and voices that aren't really there. At the time I had thought that these were flashbacks to when your neuromod was installed for the first time, or perhaps when it was removed. The conversation snatches you can hear are definitely sinister. Now that I know what I'm looking for, though, I can see that these weren't glimpses across time, but across realities: the shock of the neuromod is briefly piercing the veil, letting you see outside the simulation for a few seconds, witnessing the operators witnessing you.



One of several reasons why I opted to destroy the station was because of "Will Mitchell"'s final message: as I was heading towards the bridge, he called and rambled about a vision he had had of the Earth conquered, the human race destroyed. He seems to have had a premonition of the events on board Talos, and for some reason the Typhon seem to be frightened of him. I figured that his vision was more likely the consequence of me activating the nullwave transmitter than of me blowing it all up, so I blew it all up. Of course, we eventually learn that not only was Will Mitchell not Will Mitchell, he also wasn't Luka Golubkin, he wasn't real at all. So, what's that all about? There are several possibilities, all of which are fun. The simulation might have been based on the real Luka Golubkin: it's interesting to imagine that the original Morgan Yu heard the same warning, decided to activate the transmitter, and brought about destruction. Or he could have been voiced by one of the Operators, creating one of those nuanced and difficult choices permeating the game (kill the murderer? trust the liar?). It's also fun to think that he might be one of those characters in fiction like Deadpool or Kilgore Trout who are aware that they're fictional characters, and thus have higher insights than the people around them who do not.



One final thought: the D&D stuff was great fun. I love piecing together all the rhythms of the campaign and the group dynamic over emails, character sheets, audio logs and more. The final reward was pretty cool, too.



END SPOILERS

It was quite a shift to play Prey after so long in Minecraft: switching to more realistic visuals, modern controls, voice acting and more. Prey isn't at all a sandbox, but it does offer a pleasing degree of freedom: in character progression, in exploration, pursuing quests and making decisions. Once I started thinking about it as System Shock 3 it suddenly had a very high standard to live up to, and it managed to hit that high bar.



There's apparently a New Game + mode, which I'm mildly curious about. I've also received a personal recommendation for the Moonbase expansion: it's apparently a roguelike, which I'm having a very hard time imagining with this game but which is definitely an intriguing idea! The game proper ends kind of wonderfully: it perfectly sets up a sequel, but at the same time I'd be fully satisfied if this is the end of the story. It's hard to ask for more!

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

End Poem

 I "beat" Minecraft! Those scare quotes seem essential. Minecraft is a sandbox game, everyone plays it differently and gets different things out of it. But there is technically a "final boss" and you see the end credits after you beat the boss, and that happened to me, so I feel like I get to say that.

This post will mostly talk about the more gameplay-y things I've been doing since my last post, and not so much on my building.

Where we last left off, I'd just made it into the Nether. On the very wise advice of my Minecraft-expert brother, I left all my fancy enchanted diamond gear back at my base and explored in plain Iron gear. There is a TON of lava in the Nether, scattered around at all elevations; there are also sudden drops down hundreds of blocks. I think my first experience in the Nether was following behind Rick as he powered ahead, blasting through netherrack, just to see him abruptly disappear as he fell down a hole into the lava ocean far, far below.

Overall I'm happy with our world seed, but one major downside is the Nether biomes: There is a HUGE Basalt Delta around 0, 0 in the Nether, extending for over 500 blocks in all directions. Basalt Delta seems like the hardest biome in the Nether. The ground is extremely choppy and hard to navigate, requiring frequent mining or building to get over ledges, and liberally scattered with lava pools big and tiny. It has tons of Magma Cubes, who can knock you into said lava. And no piglins or bastion remnants or many other things you want from the Nether.

My main strategy has been to build out long, straight tunnels in the Nether ceiling, occasionally opening F3 or listening to detect when I've (finally) entered into a new biome, then tunneling a slope downward to peek out and see what's around me. Even in the ceiling I'll sometimes break through, which gives me an opportunity to look around for structures or other points of interest.

I finally found a Warped Forest, which doesn't have a whole lot of useful stuff gameplay-wise, but was still a really nice change of pace and had a lot of unique blocks that you can't find elsewhere, like Shroomlights and Warped Planks and stuff. Shortly after that I found a Nether Waste, where I met my first Piglins. These creatures attack you unless you're wearing golden armor or you attack them first. You can "barter" with them, which is a lot less lucrative than trading with villagers but can still get you some useful and hard-to-get items.

The Nether Waste was relatively small, but quickly opened into a huge Crimson Forest, where I found my first Nether structure: a Bastion Remnant. This is a huge ruined castle, populated by tons of piglins, zombie piglins, and Piglin Brutes. The latter are instantly hostile and hit like trucks, doing huge damage and knockback. After a disastrous insertion at ground level, I elected to enter through the battlements and work my way down. Along the way I discovered that the single greatest combat technique in Minecraft is two blocks on top of each other. You can perch up here and swing your sword down at any hostile melee creatures (zombies, piglins, etc.) and they'll never be able to touch you.

Clearing the Bastion Remnant took close to a real-world week, and I died a lot along the way, but I got a bunch of great loot out of it: tons of gold blocks, diamonds, enchanted gear, and a Netherite ingot and some Netherite scraps. My heart was in my throat as I carefully navigated from the treasure room back out the bastion, through the Crimson Forest and to the portal home; I would have been devastated if my loot had dropped after all that effort!

I couldn't explore much further than the Bastion Remnant since it was on the edge of a vast lava ocean, so I started digging out another tunnel from my Nether base in another direction. Here I eventually found a Nether Fortress after around 500 blocks. I was elated: this is what I'd been looking for all along. I would be able to find Blazes, which would unlock potion brewing for me, and had a good shot at getting some Nether Wart, another essential ingredient for potions.

Like the Bastion Remnant, I took a long time carefully exploring the Fortress, clearing a few chunks at a time and regularly ferrying loot back to a safe zone. You can't really "clear" a Fortress in the same way that you can most other things, since Blazes continue to spawn at almost all light levels; but I could keep Wither Skeletons and some other dangerous creatures from spawning.

As a side note, I have become a huge fan of archery, and probably use my bow more often than my sword. This wasn't true in the early game: bows are pretty easy to make, but arrows require feathers and flint; feathers are rare until you get a chicken farm going, and flint is incredibly annoying to get. That changed once I started enchanting and got an Infinity Bow, and changed even more once I got a Fletcher Villager, so now I can buy unlimited arrows. Arrows are useful in almost every situation: you can snipe an enemy from far above or below, and if a melee creature is closing in on you, you can significantly weaken or kill them before they come into melee range. The latter was especially nice when dealing with Wither Skeletons: a single hit inflicts the devastating Wither effect, but more often than not I could take them down before they could reach me.

I successfully found some Nether Wart and got a Blaze Rod from a Blaze, and the whole game started to change. Back at my safe overworld base, I built a Brewing Stand and started brewing potions. Each Nether Wart can brew up to 3 potions; and, like potatoes or carrots, you can plant Nether Wart in Soul Sand to grow more Nether Wart, making it self-sustaining. Each potion requires a certain ingredient. Using the Magma Creams I'd been collecting from the tons and tons of annoying Magma Cubes, I was able to brew potions of Fire Resistance. Based on the name I thought they would reduce fire damage, but it turns out that a better name would be Fire Immunity: When under the effect of these potions, you are completely invulnerable to almost all sources of fire damage in the game, including standing in lava!

So my subsequent returns to the Fortress got easier and easier. The Blazes were much less frightening once I could ignore their ranged attacks, and as long as I killed a Magma Cube or two, I'd be able to re-brew more Fire Resistance potions each time.

I was collecting a fair amount of Blaze Rods from the Blazes, but it was still a somewhat troublesome process: I'd need to trek back out to the Fortress whenever I needed more, they would only drop a Rod about 1/2 of the time when I used my arrows, if I killed them while in the air they might drop their rods into lava or off the edge of the fortress, and while Fire Resistance neutralized their ranged attacks it did not protect against melee. So, again following the advice of my brother, I started looking into constructing a Blaze Farm to safely collect huge quantities of Blaze Rods.

For a while I was worried that I'd have to find an entirely different Fortress as I'd cleared out this one without finding any Blaze Spawners; but on subsequent searches I found an outside wing that I hadn't fully explored, and managed to locate one. I marked the position, then returned back up to the ceiling, dug a new tunnel straight from my base to that spot, and constructed a long ladder down.

I looked at a few different videos for building farms, and eventually settled on this one from Shulkercraft. Unlike a lot of other videos, it clearly breaks everything down within the video itself instead of referring you to a world download, and it even calls out a manifest of all the blocks you'll need to create it. I also like how all the text is printed instead of spoken, which can be hard to follow in some other videos.

The overall idea behind this design is pretty much:

  • Create a huge open area for the blazes to spawn.
  • Flowing lava along the floor pushes the blazes towards a central chute.
  • Within the chute, they move down the vines and wait at the bottom. (Vines seem to be optional but increase efficiency by keeping them in place.)
  • You can safely attack them through a 3/4-block opening, hitting their "feet".
  • Using a Looting Sword (optional) increases the drop rate, from 0-1 up to 0-4, quadrupling blaze rods per kill over what I was getting with a bow.
  • Their blaze rods drop into hoppers, which deposit them into a chest.
  • You can collect from the chest at any time, and can also pick up the XP they produce.

Unlike some other mob farm designs I've seen, this one isn't fully automatic and requires you to stand there and swing a sword; but that isn't too onerous, and is necessary to get the better Looting drop rate. One other design I saw included a Redstone contraption that would soften the blazes up and let you kill them with a single swing, which seems cool, but also somewhat complex and requiring more steps in the harvesting cycle.

This is the first, and so far the only, mob farm I've built in Minecraft. It took quite a while. It wasn't until I finished up that I belatedly realized that I didn't need to use glass for all those blocks, it was mostly just for looks, which is especially dumb since I tunneled out of solid blocks all around and then put in glass blocks facing the solid rock on 3/4 of the sides. I also failed to keep lighting it up while clearing away the inner blocks, so it got pretty hectic while finishing up the cage, and I died once even with Fire Resistance on. But it all felt worthwhile. I've only used the farm twice, but already have more blaze rods than I'll probably ever use; and it's also been a big help to other players on my server, who prefer to use it for XP gain.



Once I had my nether wart and blaze supplies, I happily skipped out of the Nether and back to the comforting and familiar environment of the Overworld. It's funny how what once seemed like a dangerous world now appears positively gentle!

I mentioned in an earlier post how I had built a railroad connecting two villages. My next major construction project was a simple but very effective upgrade to the station, adding an auto-launching platform and automatic deboarding. Basically, in my original design you would grab a minecart from a chest, place it down on the rail, slowly scoot yourself forward until you hit the powered rail, and then took off. I switched to this more complex setup that I took from a YouTube video, which takes a bit longer to build but is significantly faster to use. Now, you just right-click on an already-placed minecart to get in. That activates a tripwire that powers the rail and immediately shoots you out of the station. After a brief delay, it also activates a Dispenser that places another minecart back in that spot, ready for you or the next rider. When you reach your destination, a cactus breaks the minecart, which causes it to fall into the hopper, which transfers it back to the dispenser. It's all very slick and nice. The only changes I made from the original video were: Depending on the orientation of your station, you might need to add a redstone torch or other power source to get the correct rail curve to/from the station (so outgoing carts leave and incoming ones are routed to the cactus); and I had to add an extra pair of boosters on the way out of the station to reach maximum velocity. Also, I had to place a block on top of the middle hopper so I would "exit" to the side and not trigger another launch. Not too bad!

As a side note: I've been mildly annoyed for a while at how pervasive video culture has become in the gaming community. This marks me as an out-of-touch dinosaur, but I really miss the days when you could pull up a gamefaqs and just ctrl-f to find what you're looking for, instead of being pointed to a YouTube video and patiently bearing with some teenager's desperate attempts to be funny while mumbling through an explanation of something over the din of bad music. I ran into this a lot while playing Stellaris, where a hub like, say, the r/stellaris Subreddit sidebar and wiki almost entirely consist of links to outdated YouTube videos. It's even more widespread in Minecraft, but after living in that community for a few months, I've come to terms with it. First of all, video really is an especially good medium for describing what's really a four-dimensional process: not just the length, width, and breadth of a construction, but also how it is built up over time. Early on I was really craving two-dimensional blueprints that I could look at, but after trying to translate some builds into that format I've realized just how tricky that is. And secondly, for better and worse video seems to be the only way most people can monetize their labor. If someone spends days researching a technique and putting the time into documenting it, they may be able to get pennies if they make a video, or nothing if they write an FAQ (or blog post!), so I've started viewing videos as part of the ecosystem that enable the creation of more research and content, and not as just an alternative to traditional written delivery.

Back to my own build: the upside of the upgraded railroad was that visiting Forochel, the northern village, became a piece of cake, which was especially nice since that's where my fletcher and cleric were. I also had two Farmers up here, who between them would buy every single food item I could produce. Why dig for flint or fight Endermen when you can just buy arrows and pearls from your villagers?

I've enjoyed working with villagers for a while, and had specifically chosen my castle site in part because it's a short walk from a small village. I've gotten to know a few helpful tips since then, though, that have made them even more useful. In no particular order:

* A villager chooses a profession by encountering a specific job block: if an unemployed villager finds a composter, she becomes a farmer; if she finds a fletching table, she becomes a fletcher. Some of these job blocks are also useful to the player, other ones are only used to give jobs. You can control the professions in a town by adding and removing job blocks.

* A farmer is probably the single most important profession. In my experience, they are by far the best source of emeralds, as they buy infinitely renewable food resources. They also generate their own surplus food, which causes population growth and more villagers.

* Villagers will be targeted by zombies and pillagers, but not by other creatures like skeletons, creepers or endermen. But, they can get caught in the crossfire from all monsters. Try to avoid visiting villages at night if possible.

* Chunk loading and unloading can cause harm to your villagers. For example, if you leave a village during midday, it will be unloaded while villagers are at work. If you return at night, then they will still be at their work station after dark. In this scenario they could be vulnerable to zombies spawning in the dark.

* So, use lots of light to keep the village illuminated. Remember that monsters can spawn on top of flat roofs.

* You can defend a village by surrounding it with a fence or tall wall, which will make it impossible for zombies and pillagers to enter. Villagers can open doors but not fence gates, so I typically use fence gates to keep them inside.

* Villagers will generally give you a discount if you trade with them enough times, but this discount decays over time. If I'm trading a lot of different items with a single villager, I'll do cheap trades for a while to get the discount, then switch to the more expensive trades. (But some items, like arrows, never go on sale.)

* Villagers offer significant discounts after defeating a raid, so in some cases (diamond armor, etc.) you might want to wait for that before buying. A villager will always give major discounts if you cure it from being a zombie; more on that below.

* Whenever a villager can sell an enchanted item, the specific enchantment is purely random; unlike the enchanting table, no type is more common than others, and each level is equally likely. For diamond gear, I usually like to just strip off the enchantment and add my own.

* Each villager offers a trade a limited number of times before it is sold out. After this, they will need to return to their job block site and use it to replenish their trades. This is random and can happen quickly or not at all. They can replenish up to two times a day.

* Trading with a villager gives XP to both the villager and the player. This can give you a lot of XP if you trade a lot! Villagers will level up and unlock more trades.

* Each villager offers two trades per level, each of which can be a buying or selling offer. These are all chosen from predefined lists (as shown in the wiki). Depending on how many options there are per level, a certain villager may always have a trade or only rarely. For example, at level 1 a Farmer will offer two trades from the list of carrots, potatoes, wheat, beetroot, and bread; but at level 3 a Farmer will always buy Melons and sell Cookies. Once a villager has started offering a trade, she will never stop offering it.

* But, if you haven't yet traded with a Level 1 trader, you can break their job block to return them to Unemployed status. Then, you can place down another type of job block to turn them into another profession (e.g., break a Barrel and place a Cartography Table to turn a Fisherman into a Cartographer), or place down the same job block to generate a new set of level 1 trades (e.g., breaking and replacing a Composter might switch a villager from buying Potatoes and Beetroot to one who buys Carrots and Wheat). 

* If you aren't getting the higher-level trades you want, you can also murder the villager, you monster. Other villagers will get mad if you directly attack one of them, but not if, oh I don't know, someone falls down a pit and gets covered in hot lava.

What's the one thing more useful than a village with all the professions you want? How about a village in your base with all the professions you want! Once I had access to brewing, I was able to rescue a few Zombie Villagers near my base, transforming them into regular Villagers, and once I had two of those, I could start breeding them and eventually made a village of my own.

My technique for this was: Kill off any other enemies that are nearby (regular zombies, skeletons, etc.). Then, dig a hole 2 blocks deep. If possible try to get them to fall into it; otherwise, jump in yourself, place a ladder 1 block out and get out yourself. They'll stay put. Now, get a Splash Potion of Weakness and a Golden Apple. If you don't already have them, you can brew the potion with a Fermented Spider Eye and Gunpowder. To get a Golden Apple, just combine an Apple with 8 gold ingots. Throw the splash potion on the zombie villager, then use the apple on them. They will start to shake. They are still hostile at this time, and still zombies. I like to cover up their pit at this point with a block of dirt to protect them against the sun or other monsters. After daylight comes and they're cured, dig a block of dirt out and let them come up. They will wander around on their own, moving randomly until they spot a job block or a bed; but you can nudge them to push them in a direction you like.

For actually making the village, I cleared out a spot behind my chicken coop; I built a house there, then placed a bell a couple of chunks further. My main goal is to ensure I can visit my castle with a Bad Omen without triggering a Raid, but I haven't yet been able to test if it's far away enough. I followed my normal village protection techniques of fencing and lighting, leaving plenty of room for future expansion. At the moment I have a large dormitory-style building that everyone shares, though at some point I'll construct more buildings.

One mild glitch I've noticed is that, unlike the "natural" villages I've come across, villagers here continue to breed even if there aren't enough beds. I currently have four beds and seven villagers. At first I thought they were detecting the extra beds in my castle, but there are only a max of two beds there. I also noticed that my village technically spans two biomes, with the bell in a Forest and the beds in Plains; but if that was a problem I'd expect to be getting fewer villagers, not more. The good news is that everyone still crowds into the dorm at night, even if they can't sleep, so at least they're all safe.

I've continued to explore the world, both to fill out my map and just to see what there is to see. I've completed my 1x, 2x, and 3x maps (each a 3x3 grid centered on Fort Kickass), and am about 2/3 done with my 4x and laughably far behind on my max 5x. I've found that there is a vast frozen area to my north, and seemingly all of the world's villages are up there: I've found a half-dozen huge villages there, compared to my one tiny forest village and another small one across an ocean by the office. It seems really weird that everyone wants to live in the frozen wasteland and not in the many verdant plains and lush forests to the south!

Most of the area around the world spawn is plains and forests, with some major mountain ranges, rivers, and a couple of swamps. Even with all my exploration, I still haven't been able to locate any deserts or jungles. Or mushroom fields, which I am not completely certain are not a practical joke.

I have located a huge ocean far to the west, which I've had a lot of fun exploring. Once again, unlocking potions has really changed the game: I can now craft an infinite supply of Night Vision potions, which makes it a lot easier to see what's under the water; I can also craft some Water Breathing potions, due to my limited pufferfish supply. This has been another really fun cycle: I paddle around the ocean on my boat, look for shipwrecks and ocean ruins below, then dive down and loot the structures for treasure. Shipwrecks often contain Buried Treasure Maps, which work similarly to the Ocean Explorer and Woodland Explorer maps you can buy from Cartographer villagers. Buried treasure has tons of great loot, including gold, diamonds, enchanted gear, TNT, and the unique Heart of the Sea.

The next thing for me to tackle in the ocean will be conquering an Ocean Monument. I found one decently close to my base, but have come across a half-dozen more already in the big western ocean and am sure there are more there. With the Heart of the Sea I think I should be able to build a Conduit soonish that will help with the infiltration; I've been holding off that attempt until I can acquire a Trident, but so far I haven't had luck collecting one from a Drowned. It isn't a huge priority, just one of a few goals I'm tracking.

I actually found that huge ocean while searching for The End. Thanks to a leveled-up Cleric Villager, I was able to buy an endless supply of Ender Pearls, which combined with my endless supply of Blaze Powder to make Eyes of Ender. The first thing this got me was Ender Chests, super-useful pocket-plane-type items that let you access an inventory from anywhere in any dimension. Eyes of Ender are also used to locate a Stronghold. This is a pretty fun process: using one causes it to fly up in the air, then move in the direction of the Stronghold, indicating the direction but not the distance. It took maybe a little less than an hour to travel from my castle to eventually find the buried Stronghold.

Once I did find it, I built up a little mini outpost: not as grand as my main castle, but a comfortable size. Using some of the vast quantities of Nether bricks that I had retrieved, I dubbed this Fort Blackstone and crafted it all out of polished blackstone bricks. I later reused variations of this simple design for other outposts: a roughly 7x7 interior space, with doors in the center of each wall, and a glass pane window between the door and the corner. This gives lots of space for chests and workstations, and is easy to light up and operate in. The main room is 3 blocks tall, the roof has one ring of slabs, then one ring of full blocks, and the center is filled in with glass blocks, giving a view of the sky.



Beyond the structure, though, I also made a little farm. Coincidentally, the stronghold entrance was in a pretty location between a lake and a pond, making a surprisingly bucolic setting. I made another wheat farm, modeled on my 9x9 plots, then added more 9x9 plots for chickens and then cows, both of which could be fed on the wheat and provided a reliable source of highly nutritious food. Eventually my place got so nice that the Wandering Trader dropped by; as he often does, he eventually lost control of his llamas, which I promptly tamed and then enclosed in yet another pen.



All this seems like a lot, but it didn't take too long to get up and going; as with most of Minecraft, once you know what you're doing it goes a lot more quickly. As it turns out I spent over a real-world week dealing with the stronghold. It was really exciting from the start, and doesn't feel like any other structure in the game: I'm used to areas just looking like random natural caves and stuff that happen to be filled with monsters, and this was the first time I was in a non-human-made structure that included iron doors, bars, torches on walls, and all the other stuff I've come to associate with human intelligence.

The monsters were pretty interesting, too. I first located the stronghold by following the distinctive "squelch... plop... squelch... plop" sound of a giant slime. There a creepers, zombies and skeletons aplenty to be found. And I also had my first-ever encounter with silverfish, who I hate. They aren't all that dangerous but are tiny and fast and very annoying to destroy.

Besides my pure interest in the structure, which extended to me collecting large amounts of mossy stone, I also found the stronghold rather lucrative. The highlight was a buried library that contained a ton of very high-level enchanted books.

But, alas, no End Portal! This is the main feature of a stronghold and the whole reason I was searching for it in the first place. Instead, the library transitioned into an abandoned mine shaft. I spent days and days exploring that shaft. I'd read that, due to the random generation of structures, strongholds would sometimes be partially overwritten by other features, but that the end portal itself is almost always still present, so I hoped to eventually connect back up with the stronghold. But it was not to be. I wasn't at all disappointed, though. Abandoned mines are one of my favorite areas to explore, and in this particular one I found my first-ever enchanted Mending book! I'll have much more to write about this later; Mending is yet another game-changing element, which allows you to use gear indefinitely without worrying about repair.



I never did find the end of the mineshaft; like many of the ones I've found, it continues on seemingly forever, constantly branching out into more and more areas. Instead I eventually retreated back into the main stronghold and just started busting open walls all over the place. I'd read that sometimes an extra layer of brick could conceal the presence of hidden doors that extend the stronghold. No dice... but at one dead end I did hear the moaning of zombies, which meant that something was somewhere around. Unfortunately directional audio in Minecraft is very poor (maybe nonexistent?), so you can tell that enemies are around but not where they are, so I ended up digging a ton. I eventually broke through... into a cave! Not a stronghold, but at least something different than the rooms I'd traversed dozens of times.

The cave wasn't too huge, but it opened up into an enormous complex of branching closed-in ravines. I spent a few days in here clearing out monsters and lava flows up high, then descending to the bottom to collect diamonds, gold, lapis and redstone.

At the end of one ravine, I found: a stronghold! Or what must have technically been a continuation of the original stronghold, though separated far away. I continued my exploration here. It was larger and had more rooms than the initial segment I'd discovered, including more treasure rooms, a second library... and the End Portal room.

I'd need another eleven Eyes of Ender to activate the portal, but I was delighted to have the room located. I dug a short access shaft, then straight up all the way to the surface, eventually emerging maybe 40 blocks or so away from Fort Blackstone. Now in the future I could just walk over and descend right to the portal room instead of traversing hundreds of blocks through stronghold, cave, ravine, and stronghold.

By this point I had kidnapped four llamas, so I loaded them up with chests and caravaned all my loot back to my main base. This long excursion had proven incredibly lucrative, between the enchanted books and tons of rails and raw precious stones. I had a ton of XP built up as well and was able to put my new books and gear to good use.

I knew that I would want to return to the End Portal, and likely more than once, so I began to prepare a faster mode of transportation. I had initially located it on my horse "Speedy"; horses are really fantastic and I've done most of my exploration on them, they can't cross oceans and tend to be slow in thick forests, but overall are several times faster when navigating terrain and are especially good on steep inclines. But even on horseback it was quite a journey, and I'd have to choose between multiple fast trips or more slow llama trains to deal with large supply transfers.

So, I elected to put into play Operation Nether Link. Distances in the Nether are 1/8 their corresponding position in the Overworld, so, for example, a portal at (0, 800) in the Overworld will open at (0, 100) in the Nether. Rather than build out a long line across multiple rivers and lakes and mountains to the End Portal, I would create a new Nether Portal and then hook it up in the Nether ceiling.

I brought back some obsidian and iron armor - again, Nethering is dangerous! I opened a new Nether portal in a small chamber off the End Portal room. This spawned on the Nether side on the floor of, yes, the Basalt Delta. I quickly built up a tiny, temporary cobblestone shelter, keeping a wary eye on the dozens of giant Magma Cubes bouncing towards me. After noting the (X, Z) coordinate of the portal, I ventured out, climbed many pillars, eventually making my way into the wall and, finally, the ceiling, then navigating back to the (X, Z) location, at the same Y elevation as my castle's portal. (In retrospect, it would have been a lot faster to just bring more blocks and pillar straight up. For whatever reason I'm not much of a pillar-er in Minecraft, I vastly prefer placing ladders and finding natural slopes and digging diagonal tunnels.) I made a new portal here, lit it, and popped back into the Overworld by the End Portal. Excellent. Back into the portal, then I broke the original Nether side of the link, started making my way back to the ceiling portal, then died after getting swarmed by magma cubes. Whoops. But the deed was done, and all future transit would now be much faster and safer!

As it turned out, the nether-portal-to-the-end-portal-on-the-nether-side was pretty close to the existing tunnel I had built to and from my Blaze Farm. Unlike my earlier exploratory digging to find new biomes, I had intentionally built this one perfectly level and straight, bridging chasms instead of circumnavigating them, since I had a vision of eventually laying down rail here. With a particularly compelling point of interest on the same line, this shot up my priority queue, and I prepared my next major engineering project.

My earlier Overworld railroads ran mostly diagonally, taking advantage of a quirk that causes minecarts to move more quickly. But I'd learned that this requires mining out significantly more blocks: to avoid slowdowns, you need to clear additional space around each and every curve of the track. My new Nether route now followed a straight line along cardinal coordinates. I'd initially carved out a simple 1x2 tunnel, with a few open paths over chasms. Later on I added "guardrails" over the bridges, side blocks at head level that let me run through without worrying about falling. Now I also added a minimal roof the whole way, hiding me from ghasts and their dastardly fireballs.

Actually laying the rail went quickly and easily. Unlike my brother, whose rail enterprises require a vast iron supply, I've literally never crafted a single rail: I have more than I need from the many many many abandoned mineshafts I've looted. Powered rails are another story, and I needed to craft a few of those, but I have tons of gold and not much else to spend it on. Based on what I've read, the ideal ratio is one powered rail to every 37 regular rails, but I'm lazy so I do one for every 32 rails, since it's so much easier to just split a full stack in half.

Unlike my earlier overworld route, I needed to figure out how to handle the three destinations. The simple thing would be to build a station at the intersection, but that seemed silly since the length of the spur line was so short. After some research and a lot of alternatives examined, I found an old-ish design that works really well and is relatively user-friendly: the minecart automatically comes to a halt when hitting un-powered rails, then stays there until you select from one of two buttons that take you to one of two destinations, each switching the track and boosting you on your way. It took a little while to build and I had to redo some redstone after a Ghast attack, but now that I've done it once I think I'll be able to knock them out much more quickly and easily in the future.



I had a lot of preparation to do before entering The End to battle the Ender Dragon. I've mostly worked off the wiki strategy page for a checklist of preparations. I had lots of potions to brew, in particular Slow Falling, which requires Phantom Membranes, which I don't have many of because I've been pretty diligent about sleeping. I also wanted to make some more upgrades to my enchanted gear, in particular finalizing my sword's enchantments before converting it to Netherite: I needed 30 levels for the final anviling of the sword and only 25 levels. But I already had plenty of Eyes of Ender, so I first prepared the portal chamber by flooding the lava pools in the corner, then the lava pool below the portal, then mining out the obsidian, and then... oh, crap!!

While exiting the (3-block-high) space below the portal, I bumped into one of the stone blocks on the edge, which caused me to auto-jump, which caused the top of my head to touch the End portal, which instantly teleported me to The End. Completely unprepared: Zero potions, minimal food, no Ender Pearls or building blocks. Crap. And, worst of all, wearing my enchanted diamond gear. Crap, crap crap. Unlike The Nether, you can't just turn around and return to the Overworld: Once in The End, you can't leave until you defeat the Ender Dragon. Craaaaaaap.

I decided to make the most of my doomed time. I did some reconnaissance, getting a handle on the pillar situation and studying the dragon's movements. With my bow I managed to take out a couple of End Crystals on some of the shorter towers, but the taller ones did not bode well at all. I experimented with tunneling up a staircase inside one of the pillars, but this takes forever with obsidian (even with an Efficiency pick), and once you get high enough you start taking damage once the dragon begins phasing through you. I eventually called it quits. Fortunately, I always carry a supply of wood with me, and rather than risking all my gear getting lost to the Void, I crafted a chest, carefully stripped down naked and put all my gear into that chest. With luck, one day I would be able to return and get it back. Then I got killed by some Endermen and returned to the Overworld, cautious but determined.

Fortunately, due to my habit of picking whatever good enchantments were available, I already had decent spares of equipment ready to wear. I thanked my lucky stars that I hadn't already finished my sword. The sword did end up taking a long time to finish: For most of the game, I've been happy when I get bonus enchantments on the Table, but with this I kept getting redundant upgrades on my sacrifice piece that pushed the anvil cost too high to complete. I'd been within an hour of finishing the sword before my accidental foray into The End, and it took me nearly a full real-world week to finally recreate my sacrifice sword with just the right enchantments on it.

But, once I did: heck yeah! The Sommerswerd has every enchantment I could put on it. Sharpness to increase damage against all enemies, Looting to increase treasure drops from foes, Unbreaking to make it last longer, Knockback to, uh, knock back enemies, Fire Aspect to set them on fire, and, last and most importantly, Mending to let it repair itself. I especially wanted Mending so I could protect my Netherite investment, and used my one and only book on it.



Some of those enchantment choices could be debated. Knockback moves enemies far away from you when you hit them, which can be troublesome for ranged foes like Skeletons and may be annoying any time you want to kill something. I mostly like it for dealing with Creepers and Zombies: With Creepers it will move them out of explosion range, making it a lot easier to collect gunpowder; and when dealing with a swarm of zombies Knockback helps keep you from being overrun, which is especially nice in tight mineshafts and other confined areas. Fire Aspect sets enemies on fire which deals more damage over time. Lots of enemies are immune to Fire, though, especially in the Nether. If an enemy is set on fire, and then hits you in melee combat, you may be set on fire, which is bad. And killing animals like cows with fire causes them to drop cooked food rather than the raw form, which is a convenience but also removes the XP you could get from cooking it yourself or trading with a butcher. On balance, I think it's hella cool to set monsters on fire so I'm glad that I have it, but I have also made a separate Looting 3 / Sharpness 5 sword that I use exclusively for slaughtering livestock.

Mending proved so useful for my sword that I decided to get it on all of my other equipment too. Since I'd gotten one enchanted book in months of adventuring that didn't seem like a viable strategy, so I decided to do something a little more exploit-y: Use the technique described above to repeatedly place, break, and re-place a lectern until a brand-new Librarian offered the book that I wanted.

This took... probably 15 minutes or so to get the book I wanted, which felt like an eternity but was many orders of magnitude faster than finding another Mending book. Best of all, now I could get all that I wanted! It isn't cheap, I think each book costs something like 35 emeralds, but I have close to 500 emeralds stockpiled now so that really isn't an issue.

My new village is now up to... maybe 8 or so villagers, despite only having 4 beds. I'd kept most of them unemployed for a while until figuring out what to do with them, but by now they all have jobs. The current loadout is:

  1. One Taiga Farmer, an original converted Zombie. He pays one emerald for every single melon I bring him, in addition to buying beetroot and wheat at excellent rates.
  2. A second Plains Farmer who buys carrots, potatoes, and pumpkins.
  3. An Armorer who is another ex-Zombie. He sells enchanted diamond boots for just 1 emerald! But by this phase in the game even diamond gear isn't that exciting, and honestly I kind of wish I'd made him my second farmer instead; earning more income that I can spend everywhere is more reliable than steep discounts on items I rarely purchase. 

  4. A Fletcher for arrows.
  5. A Cleric for Ender Pearls, and also Glowstone and stuff.
  6. A Librarian with Mending and Silk Touch.
  7. A Librarian with Thorns III and Fortune III.
  8. A Librarian with Unbreaking II. (I was trying for Unbreaking III, but after twenty minutes decided that II was close enough and I could anvil my own book.)


I'm super-happy with that loadout. I could maybe add a Leatherworker to be able to sell leather, but I don't make all that much and what I do make gets used pretty well in producing books and item frames and stuff. Butchers buy meat but I don't harvest that much meat. A toolsmith could be nice, but I have an expert up in Forochel already and rarely need new tools, especially now that I have Mending tools.

Besides being a reliable source of items, I've also found that trading with villagers is an excellent source of XP. I feel like I gain levels a lot more quickly if I harvest some fields and sell the crops than if I spend an equivalent amount of time dungeon-crawling. At this stage in the game, the XP actually seemed more valuable than emeralds, and I was glad to be able to quickly hit Level 30 over and over again as I was finalizing my gear for the dragon.

After many (in-game) sleepless nights, I had the Slow Falling potions I needed, along with potions of Strength and Instant Health. I had my armor, all set to Protection IV and Unbreaking III, with some Thorns and Feather Falling and other upgrades built in; I hadn't bothered to upgrade anything else to Netherite. My bow was Power V, Flame, Unbreaking and Mending; ever since getting Fletcher access, I've stopped preferring Infinity bows.

I also crafted a lot of Golden Apples, which are both a nutritious food source and provide Absorption, a rare effect that gives you bonus hearts. Apples themselves are surprisingly rare in the game, but my Farmer was able to hook me up with the produce, while I still had massive stacks of gold even after finishing my railroad. My supply of iron was more limited; the tutorial recommended bringing enough iron for 5 golems, and I ultimately opted for 24 blocks or 216 ingots to make 6 golems. And, after my previous failed entrance, I opted to also bring along an Ender Chest: it could carry some surplus potions and supplies in case I ran low during the battle, and also could hold my gear should the worst happen and I needed to abandon the battle.

I mostly followed the strategy outlined in the wiki. Here are my personal experiences (playing on Normal difficulty on a server with low-but-nonzero latency):

The golems didn't seem all that useful. They did aggro Endermen and killed a few, but there are just so many Endermen around that it doesn't seem to put a dent in them. I'm pretty good at ignoring Endermen and ended up doing that since all the golems died pretty early into the fight. I kind of wish I'd saved my iron.

I never used any of my Instant Health potions or Enchanted Apples during the entire fight. I took some damage, but eating steak was always sufficient to heal. Again, though, this was with full Protection IV diamond armor, so I'm sure the consumables would be helpful with less armor.

On the other hand, the Extended Slow Falling potions were incredibly helpful and useful. I think I brewed 9, carrying 4 and storing another 5 in my Ender Chest. I wish I'd made even more. You will almost certainly die if you run out of these (and don't have an elytra, which you won't if you're fighting the dragon for the first time).

So: My strategy was basically to run around the platforms, trying to snipe the End Crystals. I probably shot about half of them from the ground. Once those were done, I worked on making my way up to handle the caged crystals and higher platforms. I mostly used ladders, which actually worked really well: occasionally the dragon would knock me off and break some of them, but with Slow Falling I was well protected and could bounce back up. Once on top I would build back a few blocks from the ledge, pickaxe into the cage if necessary, then shoot the crystal. I tried a few times to Ender Pearl from the top of one pillar to another, but my pearl aim is pretty bad (unlike my bow aim which is amazing), so I would usually end up falling.

For the very last pillar, I ran out of ladders, so I pillared up with obsidian. This worked really well, but I was really glad and lucky that the dragon didn't knock me off; if she had I would have been in rough shape without more blocks. But I did make it up and got the last crystal. Then I started sniping. She flies pretty erratically and can be hard to lead, but I probably made about 1 out of every 3 shots or so.

Eventually she comes down over the center of the island and is immune to arrows. I should probably revisit this part of the fight if I do it again since I feel like I should be doing something differently; but I would come near, drink a Strength potion if I didn't already have one applied, jump and swing at her tail, not hit anything, jump and swing at her mouth, then BAM get knocked hundreds of blocks into the air, praise my lucky stars that I had Slow Falling, then make sure I drifted back onto the island as I fell. She would usually take back to the air by this time and I'd resume shooting. It took... I forget, maybe three or four cycles before I finished her off, landing an arrow that ended the battle.

Two things happen after the dragon dies: the End Portal activates to return you to the Overworld, and a much smaller (1x1) portal opens way up in the air to take you to an End Island. I popped in here, filled with curiosity. There are two items to be found in The End that sounded absolutely incredible and game-changing: an Elytra, which allows you to fly, and Shulker Boxes, essentially Bags of Holding to expand your inventory.

Much like the main End island, the outer islands are positively swarming with Endermen. I did run across a lot of Chorus Trees, a very strange and alien plant that grows out there. But otherwise, I found The End featureless and eerie. The only building block is End Stone, making it feel a little like I was on the moon. The outer islands are sprawling and can be sinuous, sometimes connected by isthmuses and sometimes separated by gaps large or small, all hovering over the endless Void. After poking around for a few seconds, I decided that I really didn't want to risk falling into said Void and losing all of my equipment and my 70 levels of XP, so I returned to the main island, picked back up the gear I'd stashed their long ago, and jumped back into the portal.

At this point, the game glitched out on me. I stayed in the End, and could continue moving around, but all of the Endermen stopped moving or reacting. Any time I would try to open my Inventory it would immediately close. I wasn't able to press Escape to bring up the menu. After a minute or so I finally Alt-F4'd out of the game, the first time I've had to do that. I've since learned that I should have been seeing the so-called "End Poem" and closing credits that greet the player, but obviously something happened. It might have been a server glitch or a client bug or who knows what.

After restarting, I was returned back to my bed. That's another asynchronicity between the Nether and the End: Nether portals enable you to go back and forth, while End portals are always a round trip. (Which, I've realized, means that I'll be accumulating a surplus of minecarts in my End Portal station if I don't manually return them.)

So, yeah! Despite missing the credits, that was a really nice milestone. I was the first person on our server to beat the Ender Dragon, and it was a fun accomplishment. I've continued playing the game since then, but at a slightly more relaxed pace.

I splurged my XP on finally anviling together my ultimate helmet, gaining Thorns III and some other benefits, and also anvilled up all of my tools. Almost immediately I regretted it: I should have spent such a high XP on enchanting, and only anvilled once I got down to 30 levels or so. I could have gotten 14 top-level enchantments, cycled through 40 enchantment options, or some combination thereof, instead of just a few expensive combinations. But, at least I got to spend those levels!





I returned to The End and continued searching for its unique treasures. On my second trip I found an End City pretty close to the portal; but it was a small one with just a single tower and no ship. Still, that was a good place to practice fighting Shulkers, and I collected enough shells to make a couple of boxes.



Like fighting the Ender Dragon, the big risk with Shulkers is fall damage. When possible, I try to always have a roof over my head so I can't float too far away when hit by their levitation attack. You can block the levitation with a shield, but that isn't always reliable. One technique I like is to race inside the building, then mine through the wall and attack the outside shulkers from within. The levitation is sometimes nice, especially when ascending through a tall tower, so in a few cases I'll intentionally take the hits so they can bring me into range. Instead of keeping up Slow Falling the whole time, I put a potion in my quickslot and chug it if I start to float without a roof above me.

I continued exploring, and it took me over a real-world hour to find another End City. I navigated similarly to what I do in caves, always hugging the right edge of the "coast". When a gap to another island seemed small enough (less than 12 blocks or so) I would build a bridge and continue exploring there.

The next End City I found was much larger than the first, with a whole complex of towers, plus an End Ship. I took a long time to carefully work my way through here, collecting a ton of Shulker Boxes and other treasure chests too. Loot in The End is insane, I got a bunch of highly-enchanted Diamond gear better than what I usually get off the Enchanting Table. The End Ship was a bit dicier: I'd accidentally aggro'd an Enderman on the ground far below who was causing me trouble, plus I kept getting hit by a Shulker that I couldn't spot, and it was hard to even descend into the hold without floating up. But I finally claimed the great prize, an Elytra, so I took that and my dozens of shulker shells back to the Overworld.



I've since learned that "flying" is a bit of a misnomer of what you can do with an Elytra; it's really more of a glider. The main hurdle is that you need to get up high off the ground for it to be effective, like a tall mountain or tower. Once you are, you can jump off and coast in the air for a long distance. It's really fast, too, both because you don't need to navigate obstacles and because movement itself is faster; traveling on foot from my place to Rick's usually takes about 5 minutes, but with the Elytra it's more like 30 seconds.

Elytra get a lot more useful once you add firework rockets: You can craft these with gunpowder and paper, and they propel you at a much faster speed and add momentum while flying. This can extend your range and flight time indefinitely as long as you have rockets. Much like Phantoms, I've now started viewing Creepers as more of a resource than a threat: I really want to get those rockets!

Even without rockets, though, it's come in really useful. One recent upgrade I made to my castle was a launching elevator: I built a glass chute along the entire height of a tower, put a block of Soul Sand at the bottom and filled it with water. Now I can get to the top of a castle in a few seconds, then leap off the tower and start flying. I felt a little like Batman the other night: I was working at the furnace around midnight, looked up, saw that there was a full moon, thought "Slimes!", jumped into the elevator, glided to a nearby swamp, and collected 40 slimeballs before daybreak. That wouldn't have been possible before; just making it to the swamp in time would have been challenging, plus navigating all the hostile spawns between here and there.

In between the time I started writing this post and now, I've done a few more post-end-game things, mostly messing around but some more gameplay-y. These include:

I found a vast ocean west of the Stronghold, and have spent a lot of time exploring it. I entered it via a Nether Portal opened near my Blaze Farm; it initially opened in a cave far under the ocean, I built a new portal on a nearby island and broke the original portal, hoping to reestablish the link in my base. But the horizontal distance must be too great, because while exiting the island portal takes me back to the same place in the Nether, re-entering that portal now puts me on an obsidian platform at a Y elevation of like 200, suspended waaaay above the ocean. It isn't terrible, I just cannonball down into the water whenever I arrive and exit through the portal when I leave.

I'm now having fun setting up these mini-bases near points of interest like the End Portal and the ocean. I can bring a stack of starter supplies (building blocks, wood logs, seeds, etc.) and get a basic structure up by nightfall and a self-sustaining base by the next day. Numenor is a little different from Fort Blackstone; I don't have any livestock here, but do have a full brewing operation including a nether wart farm. Its biggest utility is as a location to drop off all the loot I find while exploring.





Shipwrecks and buried treasure have been especially fun; I think I have like 10 Hearts of the Sea now. One of my main goals in the ocean was to obtain a Trident, which can only be gotten as a rare drop from a Drowned. I'd actually started hunting for one before the Ender Dragon fight without any luck; since then I've finally gotten one and enchanted it up. I'd gotten a Loyalty III book and taken an Unbreaking III enchantment on the actual trident, and was bummed when it also picked up Impaling IV (good) and Riptide II (bad, I thought). But, once actually using the trident I realized that Riptide was perfect for me.

Specifically, I was using the trident to finally defeat an Ocean Monument, which is filled with tons of Guardians. The Impaling enchantment does bonus damage to these creatures, but more importantly, Riptide let me immediately close distance with them, doing damage and putting me (briefly) into melee range. This breaks the attack charge of all nearby Guardians, and forces the targeted one to swim away. If I do get another trident I think I'll put Loyalty on it for ground-based combat, but for doing stuff in the water, Riptide seems way better.

Clearing the first monument was pretty challenging. I've been brewing tons of extended Night Vision potions (thanks to that 1-emerald 3x Golden Carrot hookup from my farmer) which helps me see inside. I'd also brought a few extended Water Breathing potions, but ended up instead placing Magma Blocks to create bubble columns. And I had a whole stack of cooked steak, and ate like half of it.

I found and beat the first two Elder Guardians pretty quickly, but it took me ages to find the third one; navigating a three-dimensional maze is a lot harder than I expected. If I were to do it again, I think I'd bring honey blocks or something and wall off dead ends, I kept inadvertently retracing my steps and going in circles. I finally found my way up to the top and killed the last one, thus lifting Mining Fatigue and making everything way easier.

Specifically, I was now able to mine a ton of Prismarine out of the structure. Separately, I got an eighth Nautilus Shell from a Drowned, so I could finally craft and activate a Conduit. This made the second Ocean Monument a lot easier. (Why a second monument? I wanted sponges, and had only gotten a couple from the first Monument.) The activated conduit gives permanent Water Breathing and Night Vision while underwater, along with some other minor benefits. I can construct a Conduit on the top of a monument, then take my time exploring and conquering it, really only limited by my food supply.

The second Monument contained a Sponge Room, which was awesome. It also has so many Guardians, and they keep respawning aggressively; I think I got from level 20 up to 33 while clearing it. There are still another 7 or so Monuments left in that ocean, but I think I have what I need for now. If I can somehow get a lot more Nautilus Shells I might try creating a whole network of conduits spanning the ocean, or look into setting up a permanent underwater base for fun, but for now I think I'm ready for a water break.

Oh, except for exploration! While paddling around the ocean I found my first-ever Badlands biome, which is one of the more visually striking and cool sights in the game. I also found my first Desert; I haven't done much there, but may come back in the future to explore. Still no Jungle, though.



My other big silly project has been terraforming The End. The End is alien and eerie, but also oddly peaceful quiet, with no inherently hostile mobs. Unlike the Nether, you can place water in the End, which opens up a whole world of possibilities. I've set up a homestead on an outer island, my overworld-away-from-the-overworld. So far I have the main structure up along with some farms (wheat, potatoes, and pumpkins), trees, flowers, bees, and chickens. This project has mostly involved carrying a ton of dirt blocks over to the End and laying them down, but once you get this going it is pretty easy to continue: Grass naturally spreads, trees grow given enough light, and while there's no natural water you can create a limitless supply once you have some there. My latest big project there was building a lake, which I've stocked with tropical fish, kelp, seagrass, and turtles. This is mostly just for fun, but if I ever decide to respawn the Ender Dragon, it will also give me a very comfortable base to retreat to, heal, restock and brew from.



Some other things I'm thinking of doing include:

Filling out more of my map. Now that I have an Elytra I can cover ground even more quickly than I could on horseback.

In particular, I've been meaning for a while to track down the Woodland Mansion that's somewhere far to the northeast; it's outside the range of my 3x3 4x map, and I hope it's within my 5x map. There are a bunch of enemies in there that I haven't even seen before, and I'd also like to get my hand on a Totem of Undying.

The Nether has been a lower priority, but there's still a lot more for me to do there. At some point I should probably summon the Wither and get a Beacon going. I've also found my way to a Soul Sand Valley, but my attempted entry resulted in a fatal fall. I want to go back there with a Slow Falling potion and build up a safe entry, then explore it some. It seems like visibility is a lot clearer there than in other Nether biomes, and I'm hoping I can find another Bastion Remnant, and maybe hunt some Ghasts for Tears. And I'm also pretty interested in building speculative Nether Portals at far distances back into the Overworld, hoping to eventually find a Jungle or Mushroom Field or one of the other biomes I haven't been able to locate.

Gameplay-wise, other than the Wither the other thing I want to get is more Netherite. It seems pretty tedious to get; Rick has been blowing up beds for scraps of debris, which works but doesn't seem really fun, hence my desire for another Bastion Remnant. I'm getting to a point now where I'll have a full set of other enchanted diamond armor that I should be able to risk in the nether while keeping my hard-won primary set safe in the Overworld, and having diamond gear should make future Bastion remnants a lot more manageable.

That's it for now! Even though I've "beaten" Minecraft I'm still having a lot of fun playing around in this sandbox: building structures, seeing what other players are building, exploring, doing more unique achievements and things. My gaming backlog has grown a lot over the last couple of months and I'll probably switch over to something else before too long, but in the meantime I'm still having a blast in Minecraft.