Minecraft: my new favourite game

Later to the game than many, my first experiences of Minecraft were on the Xbox 360 in 2013 and Windows Phone in 2014. By the time the Windows 10 Edition came out I’d started many worlds on both versions, but I hadn’t progressed any of them very far.

At the time my biggest complaint was that there were multiple versions of Minecraft and worlds could not be synchronised between devices. The loss of my favourite world – when installing an update on my phone – made me give up until I could play anywhere.

It was fun, but I just couldn’t put up with the multiple versions and lack of backups.

Earlier this year I took another look at all of the editions of Minecraft available at that time and decided to take a bet on Realms for the Windows 10 and Pocket Edition versions of Minecraft.

Realms are essentially private servers hosted directly by the folk over at Mojang. This drastically improves on-boarding and allows for a seamless experience in-game. The world is hosted behind the scenes in the cloud, rather than on devices – resolving my biggest complaint with the game and allowing me to connect from mobile and PC.

In the summer of 2017, I created a new randomly generated world inside Realms and called it Scrumptious Kingdom with the intention of having a long-term space for my future wife and I to play Minecraft together.

We built a dirt hut on a hill right next to the spawn point, and since then it has progressed into an always-improving house with multiple rooms expanding out to the infinite world around it.

Scrumptious Valley comparison, June and November 2017:

I picked this version of Minecraft because I knew it had a future – the Windows 10 and Pocket Editions have since been unified into single codebase (Bedrock) and updated to all work together seamlessly (Better Together).

Now I can play in my world on my phone, tablet, PC, and Xbox One – instantly appearing wherever I left off.

Having consistency is exactly what I wanted. Now I have a world worth investing time in, improving the house, mining for resources, crafting new items, and taking on new challenges to progress the game.

Recently we defeated the ender dragon and gained access to more freedom with Elytra wings and more storage possibilities with Shulker Boxes. (Organising in-game items! Bliss!)

Every time I play this game I am impressed by what it has to offer and I’m excited about what is going to come in the new Aquatic Update, due Spring 2018.

Mavis Podcast

From pencils and paper, and each-others “weird quirks” to the current and future of technology, the hosts discuss whatever they like.

I thought this year would be busy for me, and I can safely say (in November) that it was even busier than I expected. Phew.

One of the new things I decided to take on this year was a podcast… and I’m really pleased with the results. While I haven’t had enough time to do as much writing on my website, I’m glad I have the podcast an outlet for some of my ideas… and excellent co-hosts to discuss them with.

I’ve enjoyed doing the first ten episodes of Mavis, and I look forward to doing more.

You can find out more about Mavis at mavispodcast.com, or follow @mavispodcast on Twitter.

Episode 1: I Hope I Won’t Be Dead in 5 Years

Starting with why Jules says “bing it” and doesn’t like Google, it doesn’t take long for the guys to discuss device authentication and Essential phone. Swiftly moving on to where the big-5 tech companies get their revenue from, and where it could go in the future.

Episode 2: A Coke Problem

Does a Lemsip count as a hot drink? The ongoing debate is sparked again, in a discussion of why Andrew doesn’t drink hot drinks. Then moving on to an introduction in to the hosts stationery, notebooks and daily-carries.

Episode 3: Package Full of Mess

Messy fountain pens, a Bing notebook, a review on the Kuru Toga Advance pencil and a discussion on how the hosts stay productive day in and day out.

Episode 4: Emojay

After clearing up some stationery follow up, including a revised review on the Kuru Toga Advance from Jordan, the guys discuss Windows Phones, Julian considering a temporary iPhone and a heated discussion on iPhone’s and Samsung Phones vs their release cycles.

Episode 5: It’s Not a Problem If You like It

Why wouldn’t someone clean out their tabs, and why would you use a handful of browsers at once?! Jordan and Julian try to explain. Andrew gets a new machine, but finds himself in a predicament. Slack vs Teams, why both and how do they compare?

Episode 6: Money Plus Sunset Deluxe

Recapping the Lemsip & hot drink discussion following Andrews brief illness, before moving on to follow up with the use of tabs, Jordans new Sharbo LT3 and the new Campfire Field Notes. Andrew then discusses his new iMac, the setup process and how he’s finding the trackpad. Finishing up with some casual talk about personal financial management, modern banking and how AI’s could help with management and investments.

Episode 7: The Notch

Julian fixes his Lumia 950 XL in a “smart” way. The iPhone 8 finally gets it’s discussion, back to Touch ID nightmares and more importantly, how will The Notch turn out?! Ending the show with a good old chat about gaming histories, feeling nostalgic and getting stupidly close to relapsing our addictions with games.

Episode 8: I’m Actually Daredevil

Follow up with RuneScape, did the hosts play it? Take a guess. What’s the difference between Redstone in Windows and Minecraft? Given the news of Microsoft and Amazons collaboration, how will Alexa and Cortana mingle? What are the pain points and how we’d prefer to interact with them. Jordan and Andrew are having sleeping problems, what’s good for sleep and what’s bad for sleep? How can we resolve our sleeping problems?

Episode 9: The Functionality? Stupid.

New Apple TV, Apple Watch, iPhone 8 and iPhone X. Issues with iOS 11 GM. Jordans new Baron Fig notebook set. Finishing up with some stories on how we got in to software engineering.

Episode 10: That’s When I Stopped Doing Birthday Cards

Welcome to the 10th Episode of the Mavis podcast! After the celebrations, we turn to hating on Facebook and discussing our issues with their stupid notifications. We also discuss the social ethics of birthday messages. Jordan picked up a new iPad Pro 10.5”, In which we then hate on iOS 11, or at least Jordan does. Initial thoughts for the first 2 episodes of Star Trek Discovery and finishing up with a surprise Field Notes review!

Avatars 2.0: ready for Mixed Reality

Nintendo was the first of the big three video game companies to have an avatar system on the market. Where Nintendo lacked in online services, they excelled in social and party games and the Mii avatars were used in games like Wii Sports, Wii Play, and Wii Fit in order to provide a consistent multiplayer experience across games.

Microsoft’s take on avatars were first added to the Xbox platform a couple of years later in 2008. Xbox Live Avatars were created by Rare as part of a wide reaching revamp of the user experience labelled as NXE (New Xbox Experience). The NXE brought aspects from the Media Center (and Metro) into the dashboard and it paved the way for the Xbox experience we know today.

Unlike Nintendo’s early attempts at connecting friends (12-digit numbers) there was already a well-established community on Xbox Live and the new avatars were quickly integrated into basic features like the friends list, but it was no coincidence that Microsoft’s avatar system came just before the Kinect came on the market.

Many of the games for the Kinect acted as direct competitors to Wii games and avatars were used in Wii-competitor games like Kinect Sport, as well as more online focused games like 1 vs. 100.

Arguably, the Kinect seems to have died with the Xbox One and the original avatar system has been left exactly as it was. Today, you get the same functionally we got ten years ago, essentially.

Existing avatars are pretty basic and there is a limited set of skin tones and hair styles. My avatar wears a hat… because there isn’t the right kind of bald, for example.

Fast forward about ten years and Microsoft is gearing up to launch a huge upgrade to their avatar platform and this time it’s coming to Windows first.

Watch the new Xbox Avatars announcement

These new avatars look incredible and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they are revamping their new avatar system at a time when Virtual Reality and Mixed Reality are starting to become a big part of Windows and Xbox.

We’ve seen examples of abstract avatars used as part of the Fluent Design System materials as well as the original introduction to the Windows Mixed Reality experience.

More recently, we have also seen less abstract representations. The examples above use live telepresence with Kinect and a basic scanned 3D representation.

You can easily see how these new avatars will fit right in into this spectrum of available avatars, but that’s not where it ends.

The new avatar system allows for a previously unseen amount of customisation and seem to be more human focused than anything we’ve seen before.

Human beings are most definitely a spectrum – we come in all ranges of sizes, genders, abilities, and conditions (temporary or otherwise). Having no choice on the number of limbs and only 17 choices of facial hair just doesn’t represent the beautiful range we have in reality.

You want to wear a floral dress?
No problem – Microsoft say there are no restrictions based on gender.

You want to have pink-but-slightly-purple hair?
No problem – Microsoft say there will be a free range of colour selection.

While I can’t find evidence that Microsoft has explicitly stated that these new avatars will also be used for Windows Mixed Reality, I think the very inclusive nature of the work they’ve done just proves that they understand the problem and are trying to solve it.

that the new Xbox avatars have been added in advance of a mixed reality push.

These new avatars have been created in Unity, which is one of the favourite development platforms for Windows Mixed Reality development.

The question of how someone wants to display themselves in Virtual Reality is an interesting one. Some prefer to see controllers floating in mid-air, others prefer to see renderings of arms.

Hopefully a range of abstract, realistic, and playful avatars will provide people with the choice they need to express themselves when using Windows Mixed Reality.

One thing is for certain: these new avatars are brilliant and I can’t wait to see what we can do with them.