I was, admittedly, late to the game on picking up Minecraft, and only started with 1.2.5, but it doesn’t take very long for you to “get” it and see that it’s a very persuasive game. It’s simple in mechanics, yet deep in possibility. You harvest various things to make tools, to make buildings, to defend yourself from the native mobs and other players (if that’s how you play). As this very well known Penny Arcade comic (and it’s follow up) suggests, it’s a concept that will immediately click with a large subsection of gamers. It’s a game that takes a very minimal amount of training to pick up and play, but will reward those that learn a bit more. It’s even something I can play with (or just around) my six year old daughter and not have to worry about it showing up negatively in her subconscious years later too – a major bonus for a gamer dad used to the fare of killing demons with increasingly powerful weaponry or headshotting virtual human beings.
However, being an engineer, when I see some sort of technical complexity – like Minecraft’s brilliant crafting system – I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to take it to the next level.
Enter Tekkit, a collection of mods designed around adding a huge amount of technical complexity to Minecraft by integrating a huge number of machines and components, new concepts and recipes. From simple electric circuits, improved redstone, to computer blocks and nuclear reactors.
Where tekkit succeeds
When I first got going with Tekkit, I thought I was in nirvana. There are so many conveniences. The macerator to grind up ore and get double the ingots from a block. The electric appliances powered by wind or solar or geothermal devices connected with wires. The lovely amount of complexity of the electrical systems. The improved redstone. The automation potentials. This basic improvement in minecraft life is great and addicting. New ore and gems to tantalize you when you’re deep in the earth. New plants, new crops. New gadgets like automatic miners and jetpacks. New weapons and armor. There isn’t a single area of vanilla that isn’t expanded on.
Where tekkit fails
Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for you to reach a point where the resources you’re going to need for your planned projects are going to be insanely vast. For example, my first goal was going to be to setup a force field to defend my little area. The recipe to create a force field doesn’t look too bad but its energy requirements are steep (as you would expect) when you’re protecting a large area. So, instead of tackling the complexity, or following a blueprint for a nuclear plant, I decided I’d just craft a HV (high voltage) solar array which would power my force field and charge a battery to keep the power up at night. Simple enough, this was all based on theorycrafting.
However, to create a single HV array would require 512 (8x8x8) solar panels. Each solar panel requires a generator, two circuits and some other easier to get components. Each circuit require copper wire, iron, and redstone. Copper wires require rubber. Generators require batteries, furnaces, and machine blocks (8 iron). The recipes aren’t hard, but for a single HV solar array I’d need something like 5000 iron and 3000 copper, 1500 rubber. These are rough, the tekkit wiki probably has real numbers, but the point is that it was clear from the get-go I wasn’t going to be harvesting these myself. To get 5000 iron I’d probably spend days of play time in mines.
And so I discovered the Equivalent Exchange (EE) part of Tekkit. It’s mod that, at its core, lets you echange many lesser valued items for one higher valued item. It’s a great concept because it means that all of that extra garbage you get from mining you can convert, losslessly, into another type of item. I can’t tell you how many stacks of cobblestone I’ve had from mining that just sit in a large chest waiting for me to use them because I can’t bare to let them go. With EE I’d be able to convert them into something I actually need. Sounds fair. After all, it’s in the title: equivalent exchange.
But EE also comes with energy collectors that are able to absorb EMC (the “currency” of items) from sunlight. It becomes clear that when you can absorb enough EMC to basically replicate an iron ingot in a couple of seconds that this is probably the best way to get 5000 iron ingots without strip mining the planet.
So it seems all right then. Sure you’ve got uber expensive items, but you’ve also got a way to convert time spent doing anything into items. Just be patient and you’ll have enough EMC to pay for your ingredients. Problem solved, right? Sure, but at what cost? What reason do you now have to play the game if resources are meaningless with a little effort?
Why explore? Why face danger? Why delve into the caverns and discover underground strongholds and dungeons if you will never return with anything that you couldn’t have replicated? Why spend more than two minutes in the nether if you only have to get one glowstone dust forever?
You know what the most efficient strategy for playing Tekkit is, after you’ve got an energy collector and a condenser up to a certain efficiency? Go do something else and leave your character to idle nearby. Zero effort, guaranteed reward. I generated more diamonds in my sleep this way than I would’ve ever mined in days of gameplay otherwise.
I’m sure that I can afford the reagents to make that HV solar array now, but what’s the point? There’s no achievement left in creating it except for building a machine to crank out solar panels so I don’t have to put up with the tedium of thousands of steps I’d have to take by hand to create one myself. And I understand that designing such a machine is pleasurable, but if creating the components of the machine is just a waiting game for ingredients, why not go to creative mode and design it there? Similarly, if having 1000 diamond blocks is your goal for building your mansion of unparalleled wealth, why not just skip the few days of waiting (or less, likely, if you have a better collector/relay/condenser setup) and just do it in creative mode? Because you want to be “challenged” by sitting around waiting doing anything else for long enough? Because it’s an achievement to have replicated a mansion?
In short, by forcing us to get around resource gathering by making end-game level items insanely expensive, Tekkit has obviated the whole point of playing the game in survival mode.
Perhaps I’m unfortunate in being too obsessed with efficiency. Tekkit has a lot of great additions to vanilla, but I can’t bring myself to ignore the gamebreaking ones. If I can have access to unlimited resources, I can’t help but take advantage of them and, eventually, it makes more sense to keep upgrading your replicator setup than it does doing pretty much anything else. Perhaps I can just remove the EE mod (I am running a personal server after all), but then I don’t know how I’d deal with the insane amounts of material I need to pursue my grand plans. Maybe I could just force myself to ignore collectors, and only convert “honest” items into more useful ones? I don’t know. All I know is that, right now, the simplicity of vanilla looks a lot more challenging, rewarding and, thus, appealing.