Beyond Minecraft: Notch On Fame, Pressure, Sequels

By Nathan Grayson on September 14th, 2012 at 3:00 pm.

Notch is Minecraft. Minecraft is Notch. A year ago, those statements might have been true to some extent, but not anymore. The man behind the most pervasive invention since the wheel (which he achieved by simply putting the corners back onto the wheel) hung up his pick axe late last year. That does not mean, however, that he’s escaped from the shadow of the monolith he created. Notch and his creation are still synonymous, for better or worse. And so, during PAX, I spoke with the quick-to-smile yet surprisingly introverted developer about the pressures of overnight fame, having people hang on (and quote) your every word, the current status of 0x10c, and tons more.

RPS: Minecraft has gone completely nuclear. It sort of did it overnight, though. Not overnight from the standpoint of when you started making it, but whenever people noticed it, they really noticed it. How has that been for you? To go from just making games at some company, to making games on your own, to having millions of people know your name and follow you on Twitter and quote every word that comes out of your mouth – including the ones you’re about to say?

Notch: I still haven’t gotten used to it. I’m slowly getting more used to it. It’s been weird to feel, because it’s a very surreal thing to have happen. I still feel like I’m just this programmer guy, but all of a sudden I’m involved in this big company with, like, 25 employees. To have people recognize me on the street is kind of weird, because it made me realize I’m not anonymous here anymore. But it’s fun. The fans are the reason I’m even doing this. I always try to make sure to take the time to say hi and all that. It’s kind of weird. But it’s fun.

RPS: Has it changed the way you do things at all? Because I’d imagine it’s very difficult not to be affected by that in some way or another. 

Notch: Huh. I have to think about what I do in public, because people could be watching. That’s basically the only thing. It’s changed me in that now I talk to more strangers than I did before. I’m actually kind of an introvert, where I prefer to be alone, really. I feel like when I talk to people, I’m spending energy rather than getting energy. I used to not talk to many people at all. But now I’m forced to talk to fans, because people say hi to me and I can’t really be rude. I think I’m slightly better at talking to other people now. I think my self-esteem has gone up as well [laughs].

RPS: Is there a flipside to that, though? Whenever something happens in a game that you’re working on that people just don’t like, do you get a bunch of people saying, “I can’t believe you’ve done this! You’ve ruined everything”? How do you deal with that side of it?

Notch: I used to take it really hard. Because the most vocal people are the people who are disappointed. When people are content, they’re just… They just go along and don’t say much of anything, unless they’re real superfans. I’m the same, I guess. Most people are the same. I’ve never sent letters to John Carmack or something. I haven’t done that, even though I love everything he does.

When people are vocal about something they’re disappointed with, it’s easy to think, “Oh, everyone hates it.” I took it really hard. But I figured out that’s not true. If you just look at the numbers, a lot of people play it. Even if I get like 20 e-mails, that’s a very small portion. So I started getting better at understanding the reason people send that and trying to ignore the insults. I got very good at that. “Well, it’s just some guy, and he’s upset.” I got used to it. But it took about a year.

And after a point, you realize that it’s just…people on the internet. The sense of anonymity. People can be ruder than they actually are. They probably don’t mean it as harshly as they say it.

RPS: You’re still really active on Twitter and things like that, though. In this day and age, a lot of developers take a very cautious stance towards those sorts of things. They won’t reveal anything new online. They’re very careful with their words. You, though, tend to be pretty open – even though it’s come back to bite you a number of times.

Notch: Well, I’ve always been like that. I’m fairly open. I don’t really like secrets that much. I think it’s more fun to talk about stuff, and hopefully people understand that you can say something and then possibly change your mind later on. Most people do understand that.

Gamers are very good at getting excited about things when there’s not very much to be excited about. I do that. I’m excited about Half-Life 3, which is never going to be released [laughs]. But I’m still excited about it. It’s a difficult line to walk because I’m dealing with very dedicated people. I try to make sure there’s at least some significant chance that something is going to happen before I talk about it, and when I talk about it I try to phrase it as, “My intention is…” and stuff like that.

RPS: I imagine you get, like, a billion emails. Do you try to respond to every one?

Notch: Oh, I’ve given up on responding to all my e-mails. I kind of skip through them, because there’s so many, but I can’t reply. I wish I could do that. You have people like Gabe [Newell], who actually replies to random emails. Which is a pretty cool thing. But it takes up too much time. Another thing I had to do is stop going on forums. It took up all my time. I’d just be on forums all day. Now I’m actually on Reddit a bit too much, I need to scale that back. But Twitter’s fine, because you can go in and spend 20 minutes and be done with it. But forums… Reddit takes up a whole day if I do it.

RPS: A lot of the bigger companies, especially, don’t feel like there’s a human component to them. You get a lot of people who are like, “EA and Activision are evil,” and stuff like that. They’re still being run by human beings, and there are actually people there. Just, you know, lots of them. But I think it’s even possible for the people in those companies to lose sight of that. And then you’ve got Mojang, which isn’t exactly tiny anymore. But obviously, you still have a very human, underdog-ish image. Is that intentional? 

Notch: Yeah, we’re not that small anymore. We try to make sure we feel like we’re small. And we definitely want to have a personal touch to it, where we talk to the fans. We try to develop games that way. We’ll talk about them and release them and try to get the fans’ feedback involved. It’s hard to use that feedback in a good way. We don’t let the crowd decide everything about the game. It’s a difficult balance. We want to be the ones designing the games. I guess that’s actually what the fans want too, the games that we’re making. It’s an interesting balance to deal with.

Sometimes the fans are right, too. Like ladders. I did not want ladders in Minecraft at all. Ladders are never fun. They’re not fun in Minecraft either. But they’re a very good utility. It’s an easy way to get straight up without having stairs going back and forth. So I added them anyway because the fans convinced me.

RPS: In a lot of ways, Minecraft also gave a face to the burgeoning smaller and independent games movement. So that’s also on your back. It’s sort of amazing to me, because you have all of these different sides. You have Minecraft, which is its own phenomenon. You have the whole independent community. And yet you still seem relatively, well, sane. Meanwhile, there are tons of other developers who nearly need straightjackets while simply keeping track of their own games.

Notch: Yeah. I made Minecraft because… Back when I was doing hobby games, we were called “garage developers.” Then it kind of made a big breakthrough again, but we were called “indie developers” that time. So I’m inspired by a bunch of other games, like Mount & Blade, Dwarf Fortress, two of those games, they’re an inspiration for why I did it. If I can inspire even more people to try and finish games and charge for them, instead of just making prototypes, that’s awesome. There’s so much room for interesting games, in addition to triple-A games. Well, there are interesting triple-A games, but usually they kind of play it safe.

RPS: Right. Is there any component, though, of being afraid of messing up on such a big stage? Doing something that makes… I don’t know, that upsets a bunch of people and tarnishes the legacy of your game, or what you’ve done so far? 

Notch: I’d rather make those mistakes than censor myself. I mean, I made a bunch of mistakes. I’ll have to own up to them and move on. It sucks when you make a mistake and you have to try to fix it, but that’s life I guess.

RPS: That’s led to you being very open with your development process. Here’s a weekly build of this game, it’s an alpha, it’s going to be buggy, but everyone play it and see what you think. Now it’s becoming a norm instead of an exception. Valve, for instance, is encouraging that mentality with Steam Greenlight. Do you think that’s good for everyone, though? Or does it put some kinds of games at an immediate disadvantage? 

Notch: I think it depends on what kind of game you’re making. If you’re making a story-driven game, it doesn’t make any sense, because you’re going to spoil the story immediately. I don’t think I would want to play LA Noire that way. But for more open games, I think it’s the perfect way to do it. I took the idea from roguelikes, where the first release is really early, really buggy, and then they do upgrades to it based on feedback and bug reports. Minecraft is very complex, like a roguelike is, so that’s the way that Minecraft was being made. It’s probably going to be the same way with the space game [0x1oc] as well. But if I ever do a story-driven game, I don’t think I could do it that way.

RPS: Do you think you’d ever do a story-driven game?

Notch: No, I’m not much of a storyteller unfortunately. I would want to, because there’s something very appealing about the concept of telling this epic story. But I’m not much of a writer.

RPS: What about if you could hire on a writer to help out?

Notch: Yeah, maybe. I’ve been thinking about that. I think there might be some frustrating conflicts between the game design and the story if it’s not the same person doing it. Maybe? I don’t know. I haven’t tried it.

RPS: You’ve done Minecraft, and you’ve passed the reins on that. A lot of people in your position would say, “Okay, I’m going to keep doing stuff in this vein. I’m going to do a sequel.” That’s obviously not what you’re doing. You’re moving off in a very specific direction – something a lot more niche. Obviously it’s something you want to create, but did the thought ever enter your mind, “Maybe I should do a sequel? Maybe I should keep doing this thing that people adore me for?”

Notch: That would probably be the sane choice. I’m interested in making games and exploring game design. I don’t think I’m the most edgy game designer out there. I think I can manage some of the crazy things. If I have an idea and I want to do it, I just do it. A lot of people can do that too, but… I don’t know.

The space game is a game that I’ve wanted to play because I’ve been frustrated with… A lot of games focus on the spaceship and not the person in the spaceship, which is something I’m frustrated with. I think I could change that. And I want the spaceship to be a personality, where you feel like, “This is my ship. It has these quirks and these other things about it.” That’s why I wanted it to have a programmable computer. That’s what spaceships do. They have a computer. It kind of works. Also, I really like it when games allow me to be very nerdy about a specific component of it. It’s an actual working computer. It’s very niche, but it’ll probably be fun for the people who enjoy it. I hope so [laughs].

RPS: Whenever you’re making something like that, how much do you consider the audience? Is your impetus for making things more like, “Here’s this thing that I wish would exist for everyone,” or “Here’s this thing I want to be able to play, and I also have the ability to make it, so obviously, I’m going to do it”?

Notch: It’s the latter. I would like this game to exist, and I’m making it. Usually, when I start something like that, that I want to exist, I talk about and people say, “Well, there’s this game and this game and this game.” It already exists. There are cool spaceship games out there. It has been done before. But I’m still going to try to make something with my own personal touch on it.

RPS: How is 0x10c coming along, by the way? We haven’t heard much about it in quite a while.

Notch: It’s been… I haven’t really touched it for months now. The summer has been kind of rough, privately. So I’m just trying to take it slow and deal with corporate stuff and PR stuff instead. Now things are slowing down, so after PAX I’m going to be able to get started again. Obviously, as soon as it’s fun, I’m going to release it, but we don’t know how long that’s going to take.

Check back tomorrow for part two, in which we discuss Minecraft clones, the sorts of games (or, potentially, not-games) Notch wants to design next, Steam, Linux, Windows 8, and pretty much everything else ever. Maybe even you. OK, OK, I’m lying. All we talked about was you.

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54 Comments »

  1. Gap Gen says:

    Like, me?

  2. Hisui says:

    I hope the discussion of Minecraft clones includes major credit-giving to the game Minecraft is a clone of, Infiniminer.

    • zeroskill says:

      Notch himself said multiple times that Dwarf Fortress and Infiniminer are his main inspirations for making Minecraft. There is no problem with that.

      However the obnoxious Minecraft-Fanboy hordes that think that Minecraft invented pretty much everything in existance on the planet, it’s just painful.

      You can’t even talk to those people on a reasonable level.

    • Hisui says:

      My main concern is really just Zachtronics. He’s probably a way bigger man than I and takes it well, but personally I would be pretty miffed at Minecraft’s success after that unfortunate Infiniminer source code incident. The game could have been sooooooo big.

      • zeroskill says:

        Personally I believe SpaceChem is a much better game than Minecraft. Even if it might not be that commercially successful.

    • tomeoftom says:

      Hisui – you realise RPS interviewed Zachtronics? He did express some disappointment. It’s not the sort of thing you can afford to kick yourself about anyway. Besides, very very long ago Minecraft became much more than just “cubic voxels which you can remove and place”. I mean, Notch worked on Wurm Online before that, which had a similar voxel terrain and building system. It’s a very tenous link. SpaceChem was brilliant, and it seems a success – consider it in isolation rather than instead of Minecraft.

    • woodsey says:

      I thought Infiniminer was even more basic than Minecraft’s most basic version (or basically equally in basicocity)? Correct me if I’m wrong on that, but calling it a clone now given all the stuff in Minecraft is pretty disingenuous.

      To dust off the old comparison, it’s like calling every FPS a Doom clone because you shoot shit with guns.

      • abandonhope says:

        Indeed. Infiniminer certainly deserves the credit that Notch gives it, but it was little more than an abandoned sketch when Minecraft became a thing.

    • hosndosn says:

      I actually checked out InfiniMiner and its history and Minecraft isn’t a “clone” of it at all. Not in the way the half dozen XBL Minecraft games are.

      InfiniMiner is a multiplayer team-based FPS with, as I understand it, a class system like TF2. It has a goal and is played in matches, it is underground-only. It also was discontinued before Minecraft was started (apparently due to a code leak that led to excessive cheating and kinda destroyed the game for everyone). Guy who did it also moved on and eventually made SpaceChem (!), so it’s not like the original inventor of block-games is now starving in the streets.

      All Minecraft took was the deformable macro-voxel style engine. That’s essentially it. It’s a completely different game. And Dwarf Fortress is so absurdly different from Minecraft (except for the mining, duh) I don’t even know why he even mentions it as an inspiration. It’s incomparable to the Zynga-EA situation or things like that. IMO Notch doesn’t owe creative debts to anyone.

      • Filden says:

        And Dwarf Fortress is so absurdly different from Minecraft (except for the mining, duh) I don’t even know why he even mentions it as an inspiration.

        Graphically to be sure . In scope, certainly (DF is much broader in scope). But the notion of of mining blocks out of the earth, and using them to build structures and fortifications to defend against monsters is at the heart of both games. I don’t see how it is “absurdly” different, conceptually speaking.

        In any event, all art builds on what has come before. I don’t see the need for any fuss, especially when he acknowledges the inspiration.

  3. Enikuo says:

    That ladders comment was funny – I never knew that was a thing.

  4. ankh says:

    I wanna know if he is scoring heaps of chicks now. HEAPS!

    • Radiant says:

      Well he did mention he had a rough summer personally.

      That usually means death or bitches.

      Notch: Rap game’s John Walker

      • JB says:

        He tweeted recently that he’d become single. I believe it was a fairly long-term relationship.

        • Boothie says:

          Wow really? seems like it was yesterday he got married,

          • paddymaxson says:

            It wasn’t a very long time ago, I’m fairly sure it was less than 12 months ago in fact.

  5. lordcooper says:

    This Minecraft game looks kinda interesting. If anyone here has actually played it, could you rate it out of 10 so I know whether to buy it or not?

    • Gap Gen says:

      It’s not very graphics, but you have a lot of cubes to carry. Pigs? Yes.

      Out of ten, I would gift nine but put the one in its Special Box.

    • Mattressi says:

      It’s a good game, but like all games (ever), it is pretentious and made for consoles. It definitely has graphics, I’m not sure whether you could say it has 10 of them, but it definitely has some. Overall, I’d give it 0.1954/0.2286 for goodness, 0.01680/0.02001 for pretentiousness, and 438/400 for console portation. I still haven’t worked out what to do in it, though. I spawn and hit dirt with my giant peg, but there’s no waypoint markers anywhere, so I think it’s broken. Definitely a 10/3 for brokenness.

      • Theevilpplz says:

        “Made for consoles”

        The hell you on about?
        Minecraft isn’t a “console port” like any big budget game seems to be this day.
        It was made on PC for several years (well, 2 or 3 but still), then Microsoft offered them a lucrative deal and an in-house team to develop an Xbox version. And it’s still being developed on PC.

        It’s a PC game that they got paid to allow someone to recreate on console, while they still worked on the PC game. Not a console game ported to PC.

        • Boothie says:

          you are aware that he practically got “sarcasm” written across a billboard behind him?

        • Yar says:

          Someone unfamiliar with the predictable cliche RPS humor.

  6. The13thRonin says:

    I cannot help but continue to be disappointed in the state Notch left Minecraft. Several promised features were never delivered:

    - Proper villager AI.
    - The experience feature.
    - Expanded height-cap.
    - Proper modding API.
    - A multitude of other features.

    Minecraft could have been great and even though Notch has left it in the hands of another developer at Mojang I can’t help but feel as a very early customer he basically abandoned it (even before he officially abandoned development on it development slowed to a snails pace).

    • Dominic White says:

      Yes, Notch didn’t deliver those things personally. Instead, he went and hired an entire development team to do those things. And you’re still complaining, ages after most of those features have been fully implemented. Doesn’t that sound just a *little* crazy to you?

    • Devrey says:

      I agree. It’s the modding scene that’s keeping me somewhat interested in Minecraft. Like the TechnicPack. They should just focus on the modding api and dial Minecraft back to it’s most basic form (drop the village stuff, experience etc). The modders will deliver the game that Notch should have made.

    • InternetBatman says:

      What are the other features? How much more is he supposed to add? When does it end?

      The only two I wanted that haven’t been delivered (I haven’t played in a bit so this could be wrong) is a modding api and clouds that don’t pass through buildings. But I think it’s important that he kept adding features up until the final release, even though Beta’s are supposed to be feature complete. He never sold this game as a Dwarf Fortress type situation where it undergoes constant development for years and years.

      And I think it’s a bit rich to demand more features when the game has more content than most $60 games, and was already pretty unique and entertaining as an alpha.

      • hello_mr.Trout says:

        well, i don’t know about the api stuff, but clouds still pass through buildings… looks very odd also

        • Gap Gen says:

          Yeah, they solved that by moving the clouds above the buildable height, but then they increased the buildable height but left the clouds where they were. I suspect the maths to keep clouds out of closed structures isn’t *too* hard (with a bit of umming and aahing about what counts as “outside”), but I guess no-one’s implemented it yet.

    • tomeoftom says:

      Minecraft has been a very, /very/ generous purchase. That said, I agree that it would have made more sense to leave the team to working on /just/ the engine and the modding API. If you don’t agree with me, I suggest to go take a look at the MC modding forums. Sandboxes like this and Garry’s Mod are completely transformed (Trouble in Terrorist Town, Wiremod, Spacebuild, DarkRP) or just plain better (all the minor improvement mods) by a healthy modding community. The game would benefit hugely from easy modding and easy mod usage, no question.

    • FriendlyFire says:

      I’m disappointed that Minecraft has fallen victim to the “new stuff” syndrome. I know it very well, most programmers do, too.

      It’s simple: new features are much more fun to implement than fixing old ones. This is why Minecraft updates have mostly centered on adding a bunch of new stuff, usually at odds with what’s really needed, just because the developers liked the idea and ran with it.

      Making jungle temples and tripwires is fun. Making a modding API and fixing boats or clouds isn’t. Large developers have a structure that stops the “fun” stuff from taking over the “not fun” stuff, but Mojang being what it is, it doesn’t really have that.

      • Gap Gen says:

        To be fair it’s much better than it was a few versions back before jeb took over. Now *most* of the features work as intended, and the pre-release stuff has allowed the devs to kill a lot of bugs in new features before they appear in the final version. I can’t think of any game-breaking bugs in the latest version, aside from the Steve thing I saw underground that appeared and then disappeared that had white eyes or something, which was weird.

    • mineshaft says:

      Mojang did a PAX panel on the new dev team and future state of the game. Try to see it somewhere. The basic message is that they are now going balls to the wall on
      1 a Halloween update
      2 performance/engine rewrite
      3 the modding API

      They hired Team Bukkit to get this work done.

    • BrendanJB says:

      -Villager A.I. has been implemented, with a trading system, children, and village protectors.
      -There is an experience system in place that ties directly to enchanting items.
      -The height-cap was doubled in v1.2 earlier this year.
      -Modding API is currently in development.

      I’m not saying the game and it’s development process don’t have issues – they most certainly do. But those specific things you mention have been addressed.

      • The13thRonin says:

        The height-map is still disappointingly low. Jeb and co seem to be doing an alright job of continuing the development but sometimes it feels like Minecraft (through no fault of Jeb I should point out, it was going on long before he was in the picture) has been entirely dragged in a different development direction to the earlier updates/releases.

        As for the how much game is enough… Minecraft has more features than a $60 game, etc, etc argument… BOLLOCKS… Worst argument in the history of all arguments… First of all Minecraft doesn’t have more features than a $60 AAA game it has different features. You can hardly compare the Minecraft graphic engine to the Crysis-like graphic engines of AAA games or the cleverly designed AI of AAA games nor would you want to. Secondly Minecraft made a ridiculous sum of money. When you put it into perspective taking into account the development budget to profit ratio it is probably THE MOST PROFITABLE GAME OF ALL TIME. Now I’m not saying that Notch has to continue development on it forever but hey I think the level of support the game received suggests perhaps that the game might receive some love for the foreseeable future… This is a game people don’t put 20 hours into and abandon, this is the type of game many people stick with.

        With that said I guess Notch didn’t entirely abandon the project because as stated he left people in charge of updating it etc so I don’t think he’s a bad guy or whatever. I just respect the genius of the guys earlier direction for the project and am saddened/disappointed that he did not feel the need to personally continue developing the world. I remember when the transition to an infinite flat world was made and it was something that basically no other game had ever done before. I mean that’s pretty special… I thought that maybe that world would continue to be fleshed out instead of potions/mooshrooms/other crappy gimmicks etc… Things I was looking forward to seeing was more sea life, greater height-map, more blocks, better mob AI, better Nether world, biome exclusive animals, more use/function of different biomes, expansion of machinery/redstone etc etc. Hopefully eventually Jeb gets around to adding these features.

        • Hmm-Hmm. says:

          Do you know how many people watched the Titanic movie? How much money it made? Surely, as movies go it’s hardly as good as minecraft is as a game. Do you know how many 50-plus euros games delivered far less than satisfactorily? Compare that to minecraft in terms of content for cost.

          Of course you still don’t have to like it, but that’s rather irrelevant.

  7. Batolemaeus says:

    Needs “staring blocks”-tag imo

  8. InternetBatman says:

    That giant Notch head needs to light up and breath fire.

    • misterT0AST says:

      Well, it comes to life and cries lava. I’d say it’s close enough.

    • The Random One says:

      Wait, you mean that’s not Heavy Weapons Guy?

  9. AmateurScience says:

    Whatever happened to Scrolls?

  10. Moonracer says:

    Minecraft has definitely been one of my better game purchases over the years. It is amazing how much content still comes out. And the mod community is churning out amazing things. Better Than Wolves is my favorite. Adding a very complex and balanced tech tree.

    The next big patch (1.4) should be interesting.

  11. goettel says:

    The one feature I want in Minecraft is a proper survival mode.
    Let’s call it Ray Mearscraft. Or sumtin.

  12. allancepellet says:

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