A Brief History of Minecraft Modding

7 min read

Minecraft modding has been around since nearly the beginning. During that time it has gone through several transformations or “eras.” The early days and early mods looked very different from today. I first became involved in the community during Mid-Beta, so everything that happened before then is second hand knowledge. A great deal has been lost to the sands of time, but the important stops along the way are remembered, as we shall explore.

Minecraft has gone through several development stages over the years. Interestingly, these stages also correspond to the various “eras” of Minecraft Modding. Minecraft Survival was first experienced as Survival Test during Classic, then again in the Indev stage, which gave way to Infdev, then to Alpha and Beta before finally reaching Release. But before all that was Classic.

Classic was released in May of 2009 and development continued into September of that year. Classic saw the introduction of Survival and Multiplayer. During this period of Minecraft’s history, modding was in its infancy. On the one hand, Server modding thrived during this stage with several different Server mods available. (These mods were the predecessors to Bukkit, which we will cover later.) Generally, the purpose of these mods was to give server admins more tools for maintaining their servers. On the other hand, however, Client side mods, ones that add new content, didn’t really start appearing until the Alpha stage.

Alpha was released in late June of 2010, and it would continue for the rest of the year. Prior to Alpha, came Indev and Infdev, but there isn’t much evidence of any mods during that time period, possibly because of the lack of Multiplayer in Indev and Infdev. Alpha brought the return of Multiplayer, and during this time Minecraft began to see its first simple Client mods. Initially it was just simple modification of existing content: adding support for Higher Resolution textures, new arrow types, bug fixes, compass modifications, etc. The mods were simple and small.

This began to change, though, beginning with the creation of the Minecraft Coder Pack, which was later renamed the Mod Coder Pack, commonly known as MCP. (One of the primary creators of MCP, Michael “Searge” Stoyke, now actually works for Mojang.) MCP saw its first release for Alpha 1.1.2_01 sometime in mid 2010. Despite being easily decompiled, Minecraft code was also obfuscated. Obfuscation is when you take all the meaningful names and words in the code and replace it with non-human readable nonsense. The computer can still make sense of it just fine, but humans have a hard time. MCP resolved this limitation by applying meaningful names to the code, making modding significantly easier than ever before.

At the same time, but developing completely independently, was the server mod hMod, which gave some simple but absolutely necessary tools to server admins. However, hMod was in trouble as the main dev was MIA. This situation eventually led to the creation of Bukkit, a server mod designed from the ground up to support “plugins” and do everything that hMod couldn’t do. Bukkit was created by a group of people who were also eventually hired by Mojang: Nathan ‘Dinnerbone’ Adams, Erik ‘Grum’ Broes, Warren ‘EvilSeph’ Loo, and Nathan ‘Tahg’ Gilbert. Bukkit went on to become possibly the most popular Minecraft mod ever created. Many in fact believe its existence is largely responsible for the popularity of online Minecraft servers. However, it will remain largely incompatible with client side mods for some time.

Not to be left behind, the client saw another major development late in the year: Risugami’s ModLoader. ModLoader was transformational. Prior to the existence of ModLoader, if you wanted to use two mods, you would have to manually merge the code, line by line, yourself. There were many common tasks that couldn’t be done without editing Minecraft’s base code, things such as adding new blocks and items. ModLoader changed that by creating a framework where simple mods could hook into ModLoader code to perform common tasks that previously required base edits. It was simple, and it would never really expand beyond its original scope. Still, it led modding into a new era.

Minecraft Beta, what many call the “Golden Age” of modding, was released just before Christmas in 2010 and would continue through 2011. Beta saw the rise of many familiar mods that are still recognized today, including my own mod, Railcraft. Also IndustrialCraft, Buildcraft, Redpower, and Better than Wolves all saw their start during this period. These were major mods that added many new blocks and features to Minecraft. Additionally, the massive Aether mod, which recently received a modern reboot, was also released during Beta. These mods and more redefined the meaning of “Minecraft Mods”. They existed on a completely new scale, sometimes completely changing the game. But there were still flaws. Mods were still painful to create and painful to use. You couldn’t use IndustrialCraft and Buildcraft at the same time; they just edited too many of the same base files. ModLoader only covered the most common base edits, barely touching the code, and not enough for a major mod. Additionally, to use a mod, you still had to manually insert code into the Minecraft jar, a task that turned many players off of modding.

Seeing that their mods couldn’t be used together, the creators of several major mods launched a new project. They would call it Minecraft Forge. Started by Eloraam of Redpower and SpaceToad of Buildcraft, it would see rapid adoption by many of the major mods of the time. Forge built on top of ModLoader, greatly expanding the number of base hooks and allowing many more mods to work together than was previously possible. This ushered in the true “Golden Age” of modding, which would continue from Beta and into Release.

Minecraft 1.0 was released in November of 2011, heralding Minecraft’s “Official” release. Around the same time, client modding was undergoing a shift. Many of the most prominent developers were moving on to other things, including the entire Forge team. For the most part, their mods would survive without them, but some would not. Redpower, for example ceased all development in late 2012. Eloraam, SpaceToad, and Flowerchild would hand the reigns of Forge off to LexManos, a relatively unknown name at the time. The “Golden Age” was at an end, but it was replaced by an explosion of new mods and modding was becoming even more popular than ever. The new Forge team, consisting mainly of LexManos and cpw, would bring many new innovations to modding. Eventually they even developed a replacement for Risugami’s ModLoader, naming it ForgeModLoader and incorporating it into Forge. Users would no longer be required to muck around with Minecraft’s internals to install mods. Innovation has continued to the present day, and mods for Minecraft have become too numerous to count.

However, the picture for server mods hasn’t been so rosy. Bukkit, the long dominant server mod, suffered a killing blow in 2014. Licensing conflicts developed between the original creators and maintainers, largely revolving around the who “owned” the project after the primary maintainers resigned. Ultimately, one of the most prolific maintainers used a technicality to invalidate the rights of the project to use his code, effectively killing the entire project. A replacement has yet to develop, leaving the server community limping along on increasingly outdated code. But one shouldn’t be too concerned about the future. There have been challenges in the past, but nearly every time a project died, it was soon replaced by something even better.

Minecraft has one of the largest, most vibrant, and most mainstream modding communities ever to exist. It’s had a long and varied history, and this has been just a brief glimpse into that heritage. There are many more events, both large and small, that have helped shape the community. May the future of Minecraft continue to be as interesting.

About the Author

Aaron Mills was born in 1983 and lives in the Pacific Northwest, which is a land rich in lore, trees, and rain. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science and studied at Washington State University Vancouver. He is best known for his work on the Minecraft Mod, Railcraft, but has also contributed significantly to the Minecraft Mods of Forestry and Buildcraft as well some contributions to the Minecraft Forge project.


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