posted by Thom Holwerda on Wed 4th Apr 2012 21:04 UTC
IconNotch, creator of the immensely popular and successful Minecraft, has announced his next game project. It's a multiplayer and single player space simulator with all the usual stuff like resource mining, combat, exploration, and so on. However, a very unique aspect is that each player's ship has a custom fully programmable 16bit CPU which uses a custom, hand-made instruction set. The possibilities are amazing.

Notch's new game, called 0x10c, is incredibly ambitious, and will certainly appeal to programmers and regular gamers alike. The backstory alone is delightfully geeky - we're in a parallel universe where the space race never ended. In 1988, a new deep sleep cell was developed which tapped into the popular 16bit computers of the time. That's where things go wrong.

"Unfortunately, [the deep sleep cell] used big endian, whereas the DCPU-16 specifications called for little endian. This led to a severe bug in the included drivers, causing a requested sleep of 0x0000 0000 0000 0001 years to last for 0x0001 0000 0000 0000 years," the backstory reads, "It's now the year 281 474 976 712 644 AD, and the first lost people are starting to wake up to a universe on the brink of extinction, with all remote galaxies forever lost to red shift, star formation long since ended, and massive black holes dominating the galaxy."

Notch is focussing on 'hard' science fiction, preferring to keep the science in the game as firmly grounded in theoretical reality as possible. Furthermore, expect derelict ships with loot, a working economy for both single player and multiplayer, space battles against other players and AI players, planet exploration, mining, and more.

As fascinating as that sounds, it's not the real innovative feature here. The big thing is that each player's ship is fitted with a custom-built virtual 16bit processor called the DCPU-16. Version 1.1 of the specification has already been released, offering insight into how to program for this custom virtual CPU.

This opens up a whole Pandora's box of possibilities. For instance, you could program a game for this virtual CPU, so you can pass the time during a mining operation. The CPU can also be used to control all aspects of the ship, which is where another defining element comes into play: each ship is fitted with a generator which can only output a fixed wattage. This means that yes, you could outfit the ship with a cloacking device - but it will most likely suck so much power that you'll have to turn off the engine, lights, and everything else to power it.

The possibilities of this CPU and generator are... Fascinating. For instance, users players (see, lines are already blurring) can exchange programs, so you can expect a lively scene of people exchanging programs. There's a nefarious side to this as well - Notch will not stop anyone from making viruses, so even computer security becomes an element of play. A virus could, for instance, disable a ship's weaponry or shields.

The game won't be free, obviously. "The cost of the game is still undecided, but it's likely there will be a monthly fee for joining the Multiverse as we are going to emulate all computers and physics even when players aren't logged in," 0x10c's site explains, "Single player won't have any recurring fees."

As a huge Minecraft fan and science fiction geek, this new project has me very, very excited. All we need now is a pronunciation.

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