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Because It’s There


I first cribbed this story about a Minecraft player walking to the “end of the world” because there’s something kind of wonderful about that adventure, based as it is on a wondering about just what does happen at the edge of a procedurally-generated landscape. The so-called Far Lands exist because of the way the Minecraft map is generated and stored :

They’re not infinite, but there’s no hard limit either. It’ll just get buggier and buggier the further out you are. Terrain is generated, saved and loaded, and (kind of) rendered in chunks of 16 * 16 * 128 blocks. These chunks have an offset value that is a 32 bit integer roughly in the range negative two billion to positive two billion. If you go outside that range (about 25% of the distance from where you are now to the sun), loading and saving chunks will start overwriting old chunks. At a 16/th of that distance, things that use integers for block positions, such as using items and pathfinding, will start overflowing and acting weird.

So not only will the world begin to look strange, but acting within it will be strange — the further you go, the less reliable the very rules will get.

Felix Gilman’s The Half-Made World is another take on a similarly allegorical but less mathematically-built premise, in which the western edge of the world has yet to be built and is continuously contested by violently warring metaphors.

There are some predictably snarky comments to the story about gamers needing to go outside in the real world once in a while and how disappointed Edmund Hillary must be, but despite the haughty criticism of Strangers on the Internet, Kurt Mac has turned his Far Lands trek into a full-time job in addition to a funnel of charitable donations for Child’s Play, via ads/merch on his web site and youtube channel, where he broadcasts regular episodes of the adventure.

His relatively recent rise to success (since early 2011) is in contrast to the trajectory of many more YouTube entrepreneurs who are being squeezed by rapidly dropping ad rates1 and less generous sponsorship opportunities. Having aggressively encouraged producers and with content volume now exploding, Google can’t maintain the high ad rates:

Some executives of media companies that post videos to YouTube and other sites make basically the same point: YouTube is uploading videos so quickly that it can’t sell enough ads to fill all the potential spaces. It is especially lagging, they say, in selling ads to its two fastest-growing audiences: those coming through mobile devices and those overseas.

A DIY Let’s Play channel posting weekly is ridiculously low-cost against the high-value programming that Google and YouTube are pushing to create increased advertiser interest, and so much easier to be profitable — compare to the film equipment, writers, editors and other staff, and sets required for productions that more closely mirror TV. And I don’t know about US compared to overseas, but the heavy gamer audience that is feeding views and revenue to Far Lands or Bust may be particularly unlikely to be going mobile because they watch while gaming or coding. 2 So while it’s kind of amazing that a long walk in Minecraft ever had a chance at becoming a business, that particular niche — low-cost, dedicated consumer base, desktop-based — may be slightly more sustainable than big, fancy ventures. Right now, it’s hard not to wonder if Google killed the goose by building shiny production facilities and pushing expensive content when so many home-studio enthusiasts were already making stuff that people wanted to see — and that advertisers wanted to get in on.

  1. The Times’ featured producer, Olga Kay, started quoting $75 per 1,000 views in 2009; current average rate for a 30-second ad spot is now less than $8 per 1,000 views. [return]
  2. Even Notch watches! [return]