A Short Guide for Library Computer Labs Wanting to Use Minecraft: Part 2
The following is a guest post by Chris Markman, Senior Librarian at Palo Alto City Library in conjunction with PLP’s 2018-2019 Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant, “Cybersecurity for Youth Using Minecraft”. This project is supported in whole or in part by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act, administered in California by the State Librarian. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services or the California State Library, and no official endorsement by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services or the California State Library should be inferred.
Short guide, long title! As discussed in my last post, Minecraft offers a slew of installation options. More than most video games. Some of those options are more practical than others, and in part 2 of this guide I’m going to cover the different ways a library (or any public computer lab) might deploy a Minecraft game server or leverage multiplayer gaming. These options are split up into 5 categories which match different Minecraft game modes. In part 3 we’ll compare costs—the goal here is to just demonstrate the different factors behind each option.
As a bonus, I also wanted to highlight a blog post I found recently which covers Minecraft Education Edition in depth. This is written by Sam McNeil, an employee at Microsoft. If you’ve already decided on Education Edition (for example, maybe you’re a school librarian at a district already using Office365 for Education) this is your one stop guide. For everyone else, read on!
The Ultimate Minecraft:Education Edition Guide – Getting Started
Hardcore mode is a subset of survival mode in Minecraft, where you game character does not respawn or reappear when they die. Game over is really game over. The following options require some IT skills to pull off effectively.
- Cloud hosting with AWS and/or Docker Images
- Self Hosting your own Server
One funny thing about Minecraft is that you don’t need to buy the game to download or host a server, and it doesn’t require a super fast computer to get started (maybe thrown in some extra RAM as the game world expands). You are however on your own as far as ongoing maintenance and security with these options, including some sort of backup plan for the data, which makes self hosting a server one of the most time intensive options in the list.
Survival mode is what most people associate with Minecraft, and in a way represents the “core” gameplay experience. Similarly, these options represent the most common server configurations.
- Managed Cloud Hosting (there are literally hundreds of commercial options, pick what fits your budget)
- LAN Play / MCEE
If the prospects of hardcore mode seem too intimidating, or too time consuming, then your next best bet is managed cloud hosting if and only if you want your server to be available outside the library’s network. If that’s not a requirement, local area network (LAN) is a free alternative. These two options are equal in terms of usability but have some trade offs. Most libraries networks do not allow connected machines to “see” each other on the network for security reasons, so LAN play might not be an option. Managed cloud hosting typically costs a few dollars per month, so there’s an added cost for running otherwise freely available server software.
It’s important to note that Minecraft Education Edition only offers LAN play with the instructor’s computer acting as the “host” machine. From what I’ve heard, this is by design, and not likely to change in the future.
Creative mode is the “MS Paint” version of Minecraft where players have the ability to fly around and do whatever they want without fear of death or angry mobs of zombies. Usually means more time to focuses on the 3D design / building aspect of the game.
Realms is the official, managed hosting solution from Microsoft, and requires very little technical skill or security configuration (just keep your passwords safe). Similar to the split screen version, everything you need is available through the game itself with no additional downloads or complex installation instructions.
Adventure mode is similar to survival mode, but with more limitations. These are multiplayer options that might work if the conditions are right, but don’t represent the full game or multiplayer experience.
- Shared Save Games (copying game files between computers)
- Shared World Seed (multiple single player worlds using the same start point)
It important to mention that Minecraft words are procedurally generated, using a random string of alphanumeric characters to “build out” a world as you explore it, and in real time. If everyone is using the same version of the game, it’s possible to explore the same randomly generated world together on separate machines in parallel—a Minecraft multiverse in a sense. This isn’t the same as having a multiplayer sever where players can interact with each other, but just like adventure mode, these limitations also allow for different types of gameplay.
Spectator mode allows a player, typically an administrator, to watch what’s happening on a multiplayer server from afar, not unlike the giant floating stone heads in the movie Zardoz (that’s a joke by the way).
Similarly, did you know it’s possible to play a time-limited version of Minecraft before you buy? Only requires a valid email address. Try it for free and keep an eye on this blog for part 3 when we look at the cost breakdown for all of the above.