I am making some changes to the way the Texturejam web app works to improve the clarity of attribution in remixed texture packs. Here’s how the new system works (or will work, when it is done), and why.
Background: Texture Packs and Attribution
Texture packs are collections of image files. Images are created by artists using tools like Adobe Photoshop or Acorn from Flying Meat. While the artists allow others to download their packs and use them to play Minecraft, they generally want to be assured that (a) they credit for their work, (b) other people do not pass of their work as their own.
It gets more complicated when someone wants to create a variation on someone else’s pack. This can be
- because they want to use a pack designed for Minecraft Beta 1.2 in Minecraft Beta 1.6,
- because they want to exploit alternative tiles the artist drew,
- because they want to tweak or recombine textures from multiple packs (‘best-of’ packs).
With conventional tools, the only way to do this is to open up the files in an image editor. This is problematic for some punters—they don’t have Photoshop, or don’t have the skillz—and creates a problem of attribution: the resulting graphics files have no way to indicate who created which texture.
You see the evidence of this problem in anguished threads in the Minecraft forums (at the time I write this the server is down).
The Texturepacker library is supposed to be a solution to this problem by allowing the creation of remix packs by combining the unmodified original pack (or packs) with a recipe. This mostly addresses the attribution issue: the recipe writer can claim authorship of the recipe, while still acknowledging ownership of the source packs.
The problem with this is the recipe format—while based on plain text—is a little bit elaborate. What we need is a UI for creating recipes.
Texturejam, a UI for Texturepacker
This is where the Texturejam web site comes in. It does not (yet) have a way of creating arbitrary recipes; instead I have been working on the two most useful special cases:
- upgrading old packs to work with new Minecraft releases, and
- using alternative textures in packs that have them.
The first of these works by using a set of recipes hand-crafted by me to work with a special ‘component’ texture pack called Patches, which contains just those tiles that have been added for the new versions. The second works by using a map (which tells it what alternative tiles are available) to generate a form automatically. You click on the form to choose which alts to switch in and which to leave as their default. Texturejam then creates a recipe for you based on your choices.
Texturejam, Ownership, and Attribution
The first version of these two features required that things created by users of the site (the recipes and remix packs) all be tagged with who created them—this way the owner of the remix can edit the description if it no longer makes sense. This means you have to log in. This is problematic for two reasons.
First, it is a barrier to entry. I tried to make logging in as painless as possible by exploiting Twitter’s system instead of creating my own. But it is still a problem if you have to log in before you have even tried to make something.
Second, because the person who created the remix is arbitrarily given ownership of the remix it obscures the correct attribution of the remix (which is still mostly the work of the original artist). It also creates needless duplication if more than one person asks for the same remix.
For these reasons I am working towards not requiring the generated recipes and remixes to be stored in the database at all—removing the need to give anyone ownership over them.
For example, the form for creating alt packs has been simplified: the label and description fields have been dropped, and instead they will be generated automatically. Internally there has been changes so that instead of creating a recipe, the information needed to recreate the recipe is encoded in the URL. Here’s an example:
The 8 identifies the map, the 36 the source pack (Eldpack), and the
a__a part says to use the alt tile for the first and fourth items in
the list of alts, and to leave the second and third as defaults.
For the upgrade recipes, I have started moving towards a similar system. On the front page, you now see a simpler list of upgraded packs. You can see more info on a new Sources page. The idea is, instead of creating remixes explicitly, to infer which upgrade recipe to use based on the Minecraft release the source pack supports. This will remove the need to create the remixes as database objects in their own right.
I need to follow through on the changes made for upgrade packs.
Next, I need to work out how to keep the list of sources up-to-date. There are several lists of texture packs out there on the web, and I need to gather information from all of them and merge it in to my database.
In the distant future I plan to come up with a UI for mixing multiple packs together to support the desire for ‘best of’ packs. It will also allow people to make their own upgrade recipes that use nicer substitute textures than the ones I use. So far it is not even worked out on paper, so don’t hold your breath. :-)