I might have mentioned this before, but to reiterate, I’m a huge fan of the sandbox computer game Minecraft. (That game and Sid Meier’s Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword currently take up about 95% of my gaming time.)

Today, I want to focus on one aspect of Minecraft, which is map making. Using a variety of third party world editing utilities, such as World Edit, players can generate gigantic, epic-looking buildings, landscapes, and other structures that would otherwise be too burdensome or impossible to build by hand. And when they’re satisfied with the quality of their map, players can upload their creation online to allow others to play it.

And there’s one mapmaker who has turned into a superstar.

That person would be Vechs. His Super Hostile series has become the most popular custom-made map or map series of all time, with well over a million total downloads, countless videos of his maps on YouTube, and spawning a new generation of Minecraft map makers who aspire to create similar maps as he. I’ve put a screenshot of the forums on August 16, which indicates that his topic has over three times as many replies as the one with the Skyblock map. Click for a larger view.

Whenever he updates or uploads a new map, hundreds of players download his map on the same day. He has become so good that Minecraft fans couldn’t ignore him. In fact, even a few developers of the game tried out his map. (They didn’t succeed.) Vechs’ source of map making success comes from creating essentially a new genre of Minecraft, called Complete the Monument [CTM] maps. Vechs started his series by making a variety of adventure maps where players could play like an ordinary Minecraft map.

But his series didn’t start to take of until he added the salient feature of a Victory Monument. Players now have to gather 19 different blocks scattered around his maps to successfully “complete the monument” and beat the map. The catch is that those blocks tend to be heavily guarded by enemies and ingenuous traps, hence the naming “Super Hostile.” To put things in perspective, beating the most difficult maps in his series is orders of magnitude more difficult than playing through a normally generated Minecraft map on hard difficulty.

So why am I discussing about him now? And why is this entry filed under computer science1?

I think I see a deep connection between what he’s done and what I hope to achieve in my computer science research. Substitute “Minecraft” for “computer science” and “Map Making” with any field of computer science, and my point gets clearer.

Vechs took a field of Minecraft — mapmaking — and specialized in one thing, CTM maps. His experience has unequivocally made him the current world expert on creating those kind of maps. There are other “fields” of Minecraft that people can become famous in. Examples include creating “Let’s Play” Youtube videos, popular modpacks, creative mode structure work … the list goes on. But stripping away most of his other options let Vechs maximize his focus on the one aspect that made him famous in the Minecraft world. His latest maps show significant improvement over the first few, indicating that even the best have room for improvement. But he needed time to practice on his map making skills before he got really good at it.

So what should I do?

Right now, simply based on my current research experience, my favorite field of computer science is machine learning. So over the next year, unless I suddenly experience an epiphany and fall in love with complexity theory, I should aim to learn as much machine learning as possible. Consequently, that will be the topic I hope to explore in my next REU project. And since I’m actually taking a course in machine learning in the spring 2013 semester, I know which of my four spring classes I should expend the most effort towards.

That is my mindset. I want to eventually get to the cusp of current knowledge in one field (not two, not three) of computer science — machine learning. Then, I hope to make an impact by making a leap in my field. As others have noticed, that’s how many new discoveries are made. Vechs created a “leap” in the map making community by inspiring a new genre of maps. Hopefully, I can help create generations of future research projects.

  1. Well, it was filed under computer science, under the old blog system (before May 15, 2015).