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.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

The Butler Did It

 It's a tough year for dystopias! One topic I've toyed with in recent years is what kind of fiction speaks to us or feeds us in different environments. In particular, when the world seems very hard and sad and scary, do we want stories that allow us to explore and dig in to those feelings? Or do we crave escapism and move towards lighter, irreverent works?

I think I personally tend more towards the latter, more so as I get older. So I might not have picked up Parable of the Sower on my own, but I'm very glad that my sister gave me a copy over the holidays. The book ended up hitting uncomfortably close to home: my sister read it during the BLM protests last summer, while my reading overlapped the insurrection on the Capitol. It's tempting to say that Octavia Butler was prescient when she wrote this book nearly 30 years ago, but really she was probably just paying closer attention than the rest of us.

MINI SPOILERS

This novel is set in the far-off distant future of 2024. Octavia presents an America that is almost unrecognizable: global temperatures are gradually increasing, sea levels are starting to threaten coastal communities, water is growing increasingly scarce, rainfall in California is unreliable, the federal government fails to meet the needs of its citizens, the police are far more interested in themselves than the communities they ostensibly serve, a demagogue wins the presidency by promising harsh treatment for the undeserving, corporations pay their workers a pittance while denying employment protections.

Somewhat like The Plot Against America, the big-picture story is very compelling, but most of the narrative is hyper-local. For the first 2/3 or so of the book we're restricted to a single cul-de-sac on the outskirts of Los Angeles, where a multiracial group of neighbors have banded together for mutual cooperation and defense against the outside world. The story is told by the narrator Lauren Olamina through a series of journal entries, describing the events she sees in her home, her neighborhood, and the little she can see of the world outside. Along the way she also spins out her home-grown philosophy-slash-religion of "Earthseed", finding a focus and destination for the horrors she sees approaching.

There's a lot that I love about this book, but one of the biggest things may be its depiction of how the dystopia arrives. In a lot of sci-fi, it's the result of a single catastrophic event: a misfired nuke or rogue virus or ecological calamity. In cyberpunk it tends to get hand-waved as something that just happened. Parable of the Sower is, I think, the best representation, as a steady progression of tiny incremental cracks that go unaddressed for too long until it's too late to meaningfully address them. It isn't JUST the environment, or JUST the politics, or JUST the culture, or JUST the crime, or JUST the drugs; any one of those might be solvable if the rest were in good shape. But they all reinforce each others' degradation. Crime gets worse because people are more desperate because it doesn't rain any more; people don't trust the cops because the cops don't serve justice; the government isn't accountable to the people so it can't focus on solving the climate problems.

Lauren is unique within the book for being able to recognize that things are going to get worse, and prepare herself and others in her community to prepare for it. She has an interesting background, as the daughter of a Baptist preacher who is one of the main cornerstones of the cul-de-sac; she is also in a mixed family, with a Hispanic step-mother and several step-brothers. You can see how a childhood of study and sermons has primed her outlook and disposition towards the world.

One of the most science-fiction-y aspects of the story is the thing I kept forgetting. Lauren's birth mother was addicted to a drug called Paracetco, which seems to be an Ecstasy-type substance that allows the (ab)user to physically sense what another person feels. Lauren has inherited the effects of this drug, which live in her system all the time: when another person is beaten, she feels the blows; when she sees someone bleed, she can start to sympathetically bleed as well. She calls this "sharing", though we learn later that others call it "feeling".

MEGA SPOILERS

The story kicks into very high gear on a chaotic night: after several earlier sallies against the neighborhood, they are abruptly overrun by a vicious gang that murders and abuses virtually everyone. Lauren escapes on her own; the next day she comes back to the ruins, carefully collects some emergency supplies that her family had hidden, and finds a couple of other survivors.

The event is shocking, but the response is not: for years Lauren has had a plan to move north, to Canada if possible, Washington State otherwise. While the world up there has problems as well, at least they still have reliable water sources. This stretch of the book was probably my favorite: it's intense and more dangerous than the earlier portion, but also feels liberating and uplifting. Lauren isn't living in the shadow any more and dreaming, she's out in the world making those dreams real. Honestly, this section felt a lot like a video game - I mean that as a compliment! Lauren collects her party, manages an inventory, defeats enemies, collects loot, buys better equipment, moves on to a new zone, fights tougher enemies, and so on. The game-designer part of my brain can't help thinking of how smoothly this would all translate to a fun game structure.

Unlike a lot of games, Lauren exclusively acts in self-defense; but it's a very wary and proactive self-defense. She shows off her pistol and rifle to scare off attackers before fights can begin, and once a fight does break out, she aims to kill her attackers as quickly and painlessly as possible. It's a tough but fully rational posture: with her condition, she's debilitated and unable to protect her people when someone is in pain, so she needs to do what she's going to do before then.

Lauren is profoundly driven throughout the whole book, primarily by her vision of Earthseed. Most of her journal entries open with verses from Earthseed; when she is still at home she quietly keeps her thoughts to herself, but once she is out on the road she begins quietly and calmly proselytizing her companions, and by the end she has formed a community around her. It's interesting to see the birth of a new faith depicted like this. Lauren seems to view Earthseed as a religion, and nearly every verse invokes God. To many of her followers, it's more of a philosophy. One person compares it to Eastern wisdom traditions. It seems both modern and universal: it is explicitly oriented towards space travel, seeing mankind's destiny among the stars, but is focused around the individual's capacity to change themselves and to change the world around them.

I have to admit that I don't totally get Earthseed, despite its prominent focus and repeated explanations. But that's cool! We see a variety of responses to Earthseed among Lauren's group, and I like to think that different readers will have their own responses as well.

END SPOILERS

As I mentioned above, this has been a hard year for reading dystopias, and there were some days when I could hardly bear to pick up Parable of the Sower. I'm really glad that I stuck with it, though. While the world it depicts is grim, it ultimately shows the best aspects of humanity: resilient, adaptable, brave, intelligent, resourceful. This is the first novel of Butler's that I've read; apparently there's at least one sequel to this book, which I'm very curious to check out. While we're far closer to the 2024 depicted in this book than one would like, we do still have time to change the course that we're on, and this book offers both motivation to make those changes and encouragement that, at least on an individual level, we're capable of doing so.

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

A Political Post

In 1932, the National Socialist party won a plurality of seats in the Reichstag. The other political parties in Germany refused to join in coalition with them, leaving a minority government in control through the end of the year.


That changed in 1933, when Franz von Papen, the head of the conservative Zentrum Party, agreed to join in coalition with the National Socialists, raising Adolf Hitler to the post of Chancellor. Papen believed that Hitler was a useful fool, a buffoon, who he could manipulate and use to secure his own political position. Hitler had other plans. After the Reichstag fire, Papen supported the Enabling Act, ending representative democracy in Germany. Papen was shoved aside, along with the rest of his party, once the Night of Long Knives had passed and the Nazification of Germany was complete. Democracy would not be restored until more than a decade later after tens of millions of people had been killed.

History does not repeat itself, and America is not on the same course as Germany in the 1930s. Our poor are less desperate, and we do not yet have ubiquitous paramilitary forces. But we would be foolish to ignore the lessons of history.

Fascists always start out as political minorities. As long as they are shut out of power, they will stay that way: the tools of the state are sufficient defense against a dangerous and violent internal force. But once they are let in to power, they will not retreat or surrender. Fascism ultimately believes that the people must be subordinate to their rulers, not the other way around, so votes are meaningless. Fascism thrives on conflict, seeking glory in conquering enemies. And there will always be enemies. Fascism is predicated on differentiating the pure from the "other", and has an existential need for someone to fight.

One advantage the United States has at the moment is a relatively unified left. By its nature, the left will never be as united as the right; but we are in a much better situation historically than Germany was. If the left parties in Germany had managed to work together, a great crisis might have been averted.

But ultimately, it's the right in America that will have the more important job over the next decade. Will they give in to temptation like Franz von Papen, welcoming the energy and support of ultra-right nationalists? Or will they remain true to their stated principles, following the tradition of the post-WW2 GOP, and denounce the antidemocratic pull?

So far, the signs are very discouraging. It feels like a dike is bursting. The most powerful and influential leaders in the Republican Party are not using their power to defend representative democracy: they are pouring gasoline on the fire, parroting false grievances, systematically eroding faith in the democratic process itself.

I'm not one to impugn motives; I can't see into anyone's soul. They may think that desperate dictatorial measures are necessary because they fear what their foes may do in power. They may truly disdain democracy and think it unnecessary. Some might even have become unmoored from reality, believing the ludicrous conspiracy theories spun from the darkest corners from the Internet.

While I don't judge motives, I do judge actions, and far too many politicians have taken a dangerous plunge on the road from democracy to fascism, of overturning the voters' will and imposing their own. My goal over the next 2-6 years will be to get as many of these people out of office as possible. In some cases that might mean holding my nose and supporting a primary challenger. More often it will mean supporting their opponent in a general election.

While many are guilty, the senators who falsely claimed electoral fraud and opposed the peaceful transfer of power have the greatest responsibility for our decline. They are:

Marsha Blackburn
Mike Braun
Ted Cruz
Steve Daines
Bill Hagerty
Josh Hawley
Cindy Hyde-Smith
Ron Johnson
John Neely Kennedy
James Lankford
Kelly Loeffler
Cynthia Lummis
Roger Marshall
Rick Scott
Tommy Tuberville

Of all of these, Josh Hawley is probably the one that concerns me the most. He is the vanguard of a social-nativist movement, akin to the National Front in France, the AfD in Germany, or the PiS in Poland. While a big responsibility of the right will be to expel fascists and reaffirm faith in democracy, a big responsibility of the left will be ensuring people like Hawley cannot outflank on economic issues and create an enduring nationalist bloc. In my view, one of the biggest bullets we dodged during the Trump administration was Steve Bannon's failure to realign the Republican Party along economically populist lines. Folks like Hawley are picking up that cause, and it may be one of the biggest risks of our era.

We have a lot of work ahead of us, but it's incredibly important work. I hope you will help if you can.

Sunday, January 03, 2021

I Capture the Castle

This will probably be my last Minecraft post for a while. Here, as promised/threatened, is the base I've been building. I think the exterior is probably about 90% done, the interior maybe 50% or so, and I'm not sure how much more I'll want to do with the grounds.

Before getting into that, here's my current loadout.


I've been rocking diamond gear for a while. I really lucked out on this helmet with a crazy good enchantment roll. I kind of want to hunt down the Monument on my Ocean Explorer map while I still have this Respiration.


My first Chestplate was just a Protection III, but I stepped it up a notch with this one.



I think I Anvil'd two Boots together to get this. Depth Strider doesn't sound all that useful, but it's been kind of game-changing in practice.


I believe this was another anvilled piece, from a villager selling words with Sweeping Edge II and Knockback I.


This pickaxe has been insane. I tunneled out an entire railroad in what felt like five minutes, just gently tapping each block as I plowed my way through. Using Silk Touch on that would have felt silly, but by now I have three Silk Touch Diamond Pickaxes, so why not? As a bonus, it saves me a step on smelting Cobblestone back into Stone.


My castle, approaching from the village to the northeast.


The grounds out in front, currently just consisting of two rambling pastures, one for horses and one for llamas.


The main gate, with the portcullis open. The overall footprint of the castle is about 29x30 on the ground, with the highest towers rising about 30 more. Laying down the outline was pretty quick, but building up the whole thing took a while!


View from the south. The castle was very heavily based on a tutorial from Grian. I've seen a few of his videos and am really impressed, he has a great eye for aesthetics in this game. I made a few alterations to what's shown in the video. These changes were primarily motivated by me playing in Survival mode rather than Creative, and secondarily by me wanting to make a functional base to live in.

The most obvious difference is that I used stone bricks instead of gray concrete as my main building block. The thought of gathering and casting that much concrete powder in Survival makes my head hurt; but I generated a ton of cobblestone during my mining, and it was kind of fun to go digging for ores, end up with some extra stacks of cobblestone, smelt them into stone, cut the stone into bricks, add another story or two to my tower, then go back digging for more ores.


In the back of the castle, to the west, are my animal enclosures. I don't think I've done anything with the pigs since putting them in here. For a lot of these pens, I took advantage of natural hill rises, so in a lot of places like this, I ended up with a 2-tall dirt wall on a few sides, and a wooden fence on the others. This makes it a lot easier to lead new animals into the pen without letting others escape, and also lets me get in and out without using the gate. (I typically put one section of ladder on the topmost dirt block, so I can jump and get out while the livestock remains below.)


Here are my chickens. I was so mad when I woke up one day and discovered that a fox had gotten into the henhouse and murdered all my chickens! That is the downside to my dirt-barrier design; other animals can just as easily get in, which usually isn't a problem, but can cause issues with wolves or foxes. (Fortunately, monsters don't seem to care.) Like the pigs, I mostly ended up ignoring the chickens; I was planning to use their feathers to craft arrows, but I've enchanted a couple of Infinity Bows so that's become far less of a priority.

In the rear and slightly to the right you can kind of make out the sheep pen. I don't need a ton of wool, but it's super-handy to have them close by for that.

In my first post I'd mentioned the huge farm by "the office" that Charles built. It's an awesome farm, but it also has all of the livestock mixed in together. My pens in total are a lot smaller, but it's been nice to have each dedicated to its own animals, which makes it a lot easier to collect what I need, and also keep a closer eye on the population levels to discern whether I need to breed more of a certain animal or not.


My sugarcane farm is on the right. Harvesting sugarcane is one of the most satisfying parts of the game. Harvesting crops in general is super-satisfying. On the left and slightly further back is my cactus farm. I'm far from the desert, but was able to buy a single cactus block from a wandering trader and have built up a nice little patch. I mostly use the cacti to make green dye, which I use to dye green carpets that blend in with the grass when I need to cover something unsightly.


Here are my cows, which is the livestock I use most often: Leather is super-important for books and other stuff. A good amount of my wheat production goes toward feeding cows. A little tip: a Looting sword will make cows drop more leather.

Food-wise, my serious phase of the game started with me mostly eating bread. After setting up these farms, I switched over to baked potatoes. Now I'm mostly eating cooked steak. I wasn't specifically looking for steak, but I get so much of it while collecting leather that I decided to just eat it, and it is significantly more filling than the starchy foods I was eating before.


A side entrance into the castle. The structure is big enough that it was kind of time consuming to exit from the inner bailey to the outer bailey and run around to the back of the castle, so I dug a couple of access tunnels for multiple exits. We'll get a closer look later.


Welcome to Gourd Central. These are probably my main cash crops. I just recently enchanted a diamond axe with Silk Touch, which has significantly increased the profitability of my melons. I'm using the center strip for half of my honey operation. Bees are awesome: they pollinate crops as they fly (after gathering nectar from flowers), which speeds up the maturation of plants.


The northern face of the castle. On the left are my newest fields; at first I planted crops in rows for faster maturation, but now I'm taking a more monocultural approach and solidly planting fields so I can just collect a specific crop when I need it. In this case it's potatoes in the foreground, wheat in the background.


This is where that tunnel we saw before comes out. After coming out in the morning, I can hop up the ladder to reach my crops, or go through the tunnel to reach the livestock. There's a double iron door to safeguard against intruders (and accommodate human visitors with uncouth manners). The door uses pressure plates on the inside and a stone button on the outside. I'm thinking of swapping in a wood button for the stone. On the server, lag can sometimes make it hard to get through the door in the short time it's open. Apparently wood buttons can remain depressed for many minutes if shot with a skeleton arrow, which ordinarily would be a concern, but this particular button is tucked underground so I feel like it would be much less of a risk.


Some of my original row-planted crops; here it's beetroot and wheat. Each field is a 9x9 plot, surrounded with fencing or natural barriers, with a single block of water in the center. It's a lot different and more efficient than my original wheat farm!


Looking at the portcullis from the outer bailey. This was another variation from Grian's castle design, which featured a fixed door: pretty, but not practical for Survival. I saw a lot of designs for portcullises that looked cool, but most of them were way too tall for my build. I ended up finding one from an Indonesian YouTuber that I really liked, which was simpler and more compact than most other designs: It doesn't have any slime blocks or complex circuitry, just one set of sticky pistons on the bottom to push it up and another set of sticky pistons on the top to push it down. I ended up having to raise my front wall by a single block, not too bad at all.


I covered up most of the redstone, but if you climb the access ladder you can see part of it from the side. This is the only redstone thing I've made so far, and it was really fun to do. From what I understand, redstone is incredibly versatile and powerful in Minecraft: You can even make logic circuits like NAND gates and people have built Turing-complete computers inside the game, which is pretty insane. I haven't messed around with it much yet, but it could be fun to explore it more deeply in the future and try to design my own stuff.


This is part of the 10% that isn't complete yet. I'm on top of the outer bailey here, just below the top of the front towers, and I don't know what I want to do with this big wall. Grian put another door here, which might be cool, but if so I'll want to build up the inside a bit more so it actually connects to something. I could maybe do something with banners, or just more detail work.


Looking east from one of the towers. Another difference is that Grian used cobblestone walls as "windows", which confused me a lot at first. I think it was so they register as windows without actually letting you see inside, which would maybe look a little weird since it's gray concrete everywhere. In my case, I really wanted to look outside, so I put in more transparent windows. At lower elevations I generally used iron bars for a more defensive appearance, and higher up I used wooden fences for a more friendly look.


One of my map rooms. This is a start at a 1:8 map. Still a ways to go!


Another map room on ground level. On the left is a 1:1 map with a fairly detailed look at the castle grounds; you can even make out the animal pens and crop fields there. On the right is a 1:4 map that I'm still working on.


And, to the right here is the 1:2 map, which shows the nearby village and the western part of the main office development area.


Here's the main courtyard, where I spend most of my working time at the base. I have a layer of "scaffolding" up at the battlements level which I initially built to make it easier to move around between towers; it's less necessary now so I may take it out at some point. Grian's castle is solid blocks on top, but I thought that would be too depressing, so I added some glass blocks so I can see the sky. I ended up using diorite to separate the panes; I usually hate how diorite looks, but it's a much lighter-colored rock, and I liked having the ceiling be a lighter color.

So, yeah... lots going on in here. Storage chests, a guest bed in the foreground, my personal bed in the background. At some point I'd like to move these into the towers, but for now it's really convenient all just being in the open. My work station is against the far wall, including the crafting table, a blast furnace, regular furnace, stonecutter, smoker, and lots more chests.

Oh, and lots of cats! Like many things in this game, getting my first cats was hard, but now I can breed more whenever I want. I've read that Creepers are scared of cats, which would be awesome, since the biggest annoyance at this stage of the game is a Creeper blowing up and wrecking a thing that I'm building. I'm vaguely thinking of distributing cats around construction zones to form an anti-Creeper defense force. I need to clear this plan with PETA first, though.

I really have no idea what I'm going to do with this space. If I put all the work stuff into towers, I might make this a more natural courtyard, with paths and plants and things. I might add another ceiling at the level where I currently have the scaffolding and divide this space into multiple rooms. I really don't know. 


While the courtyard is where I spend most of my time at base, most of the space is in the towers. Each tower has seven stories, plus the open top, which adds up to a lot of room for activities. I'm only using a fraction of it now. The most interesting is probably the middle of my northwest tower, which is my enchanting area. On the fourth story, I keep a grindstone, an anvil, and a chest with previously-enchanted items that I may want to combine in the future.


Here's my current stock. Man, I remember what a big effort it was to finally mine and craft my first set of diamond gear. Now, it's a lot more accessible. I've trained up Master Weaponsmiths, Master Toolsmiths, and a Master Armorer in my village, all of whom will sell me enchanted Diamond gear for Emeralds. Most of the enchantments are bad, but that's OK, I just grind them off and then apply my own. 


Up on the fifth story is my actual enchanting room. I had to be very precise in where I placed everything to fit it all in here while keeping maximum enchanting power, and am happy with how it looks. I typically run back here soon after I reach Level 30 and capture that XP in a thing.


For convenience, I keep a chest here with unenchanted gear and Lapis Lazuli so I can easily grab it all and flip through available enchantments. My current MO is to pick whatever seems to be the best and/or rarest enchantment on any of my equipment, instead of, like, picking the best enchantment for a specific item.


Standing on top of the castle at night. I lit most of it as I was building, but had a few dark spots, and had a few nights when I had to kill zombies or skeletons that spawned in my area. I think it's all secure now, though.


Looking down at my crops. One of the most recent changes I've made is to the center of each plot: I used to put a lily pad on top of the water, which looked nice and kept me from falling in (realism!!), but I think the center of the plots weren't getting enough light to continue growing at night, so now I'm putting scarecrows in with jack-o-lantern heads. (Plant growth in Minecraft is based on light level, and not necessarily sunlight, so hydroponic farming is totally viable given enough light sources.)


Looking to the west. As you can see, I have not really lit up my grounds at all, so I'm careful not to go out there at night. I should probably do that sooner rather than later. There are some monsters visible here to the right of the sheep; fortunately, monsters don't attack animals.


Looking south. I'm not sure what that light on the horizon is!


And now I'm looking east. You can see the bridge over the river near the center. Another item on my agenda is upgrading it; currently it's a simple cobblestone path that crosses a deep river, I'd like to make something prettier.


Whoa, a full moon! I should have gone slime-hunting tonight.



This is the highest point in the castle.


From here, the draw distance is far enough that the llamas aren't rendering.


Walking along the lower battlements. One negative side-effect of my materials switch from gray concrete to stone bricks is that the polished andesite doesn't pop as much as it did in Grian's original video: it still looks nice, but is far less of a contrast. I kept the polished andesite for the crenelations and battlements, but tried to find other materials for other places. One thing I liked was using spruce logs as reinforcing pillars, which does have a much stronger contrast with the brick. 


Looking back up at the battlements. I've had a couple of fun encounters sniping pillagers from up there.


So, the stairway to the left leads down to... lots of stuff. I have a semi-finished basement below the castle, and an Elevation 12 mineshaft a lot further down, and in between it hooks up with a rambling natural cave system. To the left of the archery target is a ladder leading down... somewhere that you'll see soon. And the right is my side exit leading to the crops.


Here's my "basement". I dug this out pretty early on, but haven't done much with it yet. I mostly wanted to make sure that there weren't monsters spawning in areas that would mess with my sleep.


More recently, though, I needed a safe place to put something secure, so I added an iron door and dug out a new room.

Inside that room: a Nether Portal! The door on the right has a ladder behind with direct access to the courtyard. This whole room is fireproof and secure against extradimensional invaders.

The Nether seems... challenging. I was happy to see that my new portal does not link up with the one by the office, despite being closer than 1024 blocks distant. The bad news is it still opens into a Basalt Delta biome, and after quite a lot of time exploring I haven't found any piglins or nether wart or blazes or fortresses or bastions. But I guess it wouldn't be exploring if you could easily find everything!

Anyways, that's my current home in Minecraft! It was really fun to build, and has been a comfortable space to live in and operate from. I feel like my most pressing needs are now taken care of. Of course, there's lots more that I still want to do, but I'm pleased with where I'm at for now.