Minecraft is a sandbox video game developed by Mojang Studios. The game was created by Markus “Notch” Persson in the Java programming language and released as a public alpha for personal computers in 2009 before officially released in November 2011, with Jens Bergensten taking over development. Minecraft has since been ported to various platforms and became the best-selling video game of all time, with 200 million copies sold across all platforms and 126 million monthly active users as of 2020. In Minecraft, players explore a blocky, procedurally generated 3D world with infinite terrain, and may discover and extract raw materials, craft tools, and items, and build structures or earthworks. Depending on the game mode, players can fight computer-controlled “mobs” and cooperate with or compete against other players in the same world. Game modes include a survival mode. Players must acquire resources to build the world, maintain health, and create a creative mode, where players have unlimited resources. Players can modify the game to create new gameplay mechanics, items, and assets. Minecraft has been critically acclaimed, winning several awards and being cited as one of the greatest and most influential video games of all time, being inducted into the World Video Game Hall of Fame in June 2020. Social media, parodies, adaptations, merchandise, and the annual MineCon conventions played large roles in popularizing the game. It has also been used in educational environments, especially in computing systems, as virtual computers and hardware devices have been built in it. In 2014, Mojang and the Minecraft intellectual property were purchased by Microsoft for US$2.5 billion. Several spin-off games have also been produced, such as Minecraft: Story Mode, Minecraft Dungeons, and Minecraft Earth.
Minecraft developer Mojang Studios has announced it will partner with UK supercomputing startup Hadean on a project that will see the game reinvigorated by a series of new modes and experiences. Mojang will use the firm’s spatial simulation engine, Aether Engine, to augment the existing Minecraft experience and facilitate new game modes with far larger player counts. For example, in an earlier trial, a single developer could use the engine to expand the game’s standard 99-player lobby limit (in place for a decade now) to support more than 1,000 players. In essence, the Aether Engine integration will allow Mojang to breach previous technical ceilings – in place because of the game’s legacy codebase – and open a host of new design opportunities. Minecraft gameplay itself will not be altered, but the change will afford developers the chance to create a wealth of new in-game features for players.
Minecraft system change
The demand for massive, multiplayer gaming experiences has expanded dramatically in recent years. This shift has also perhaps been accelerated further by the pandemic. Players turn to online games as their primary source of social contact. However, supporting a multiplayer experience at scale is no simple task for development teams, who must navigate a gauntlet of technical bottlenecks while preserving gameplay quality. Historically, developers have been asked to trade-off scale in exchange for performance gain. This ensured players enjoy a smooth experience, but also limited the potential scope of in-game interaction. According to Hadean, however, Aether Engine dynamically provisions resources as and when required, bypassing excessive middleware and other architectural complexity forms. In effect, this means developers no longer need to choose between scale and performance; they can have their cake and eat it. “Hadean’s Aether Engine is a game-changer that opens up a range of new design possibilities – not just for games like Minecraft, but for streaming platforms, developer communities, and even enterprise applications,” explained Michael Weilbacher, Mojang CTO. “Introducing Aether Engine to Minecraft opens up an array of exciting new experiences, events, and game modes for our players. Aether Engine is adept at handling increased connections and computational complexity, which will allow us to create larger and more immersive experiences than ever before.” Mojang has so far been tight-lipped on the exact changes and new game modes that will come to Minecraft due to the new partnership. Still, early signs suggest players have plenty to be excited about.