Camen Design

c share + remix

Where Can Minecraft Go?

Minecraft is a thing of beauty. I won’t link to it directly though because it will probably destroy your marriage, lose you your job and turn you into a recluse. Google ahead if thou darest. I respect that its author—Markus “Notch” Persson—has managed to create something so good thus far, and therefore is exactly capable of proceeding without fears and worries the game won’t include everybody’s opinion on what’s right for it.

A long stone bridge crosses a gorge with stone gate houses either side
I made this. Night shot

Listening to too much direct “change this to this” feedback is exactly what ruined the Tomb Raider series. The first game I consider to be the most all-round perfect game ever made. People complained it lacked action and it lacked other humans to kill. So instead of finding a mellow middle ground, Core swung the whole ship upside down and made Tomb Raider II incorporate almost all action (and not enough puzzles) and almost entirely a human cast to gun down. It ruined everything that was good about the first game—the sense of loneliness and the sprawling and nonlinear level design.

Mainly, when people give feedback they are just moving ornaments around the room. They want one thing changed to something else. Few question why the room is decorated in the first place, or why the room has to be the size it is. A lot of feedback lacks scope and perspective to rise above petty colour choices and look at the emotional aspects that tie us to the games.

Therefore, I’m not aiming to provide feedback, but rather to ask big questions that Markus may be able to answer in terms of the emotional response I get out of Minecraft when I play it.

Of Rooms and Spaces

The first thing you have to do when you start in Minecraft is to find shelter. When the night rolls in, the monsters come out and you won’t last long. This desire to seek safety and comfort pervades Minecraft. Once you have built yourself a small bunker, you seek to reinforce it to protect it against creepers blowing holes in your walls. Once you have a strong hidey-hole, you then go about making your shelter look nicer, function better and overall allow yourself to be more productive during the night, rather than sitting around waiting for the sun to come up and it to be safe to go outside again. If you’re like me you spend your time building elaborate structures so that you can move around with as little risk as possible from the nasties (I need to work on fencing off a forest so I can log at night in peace).

After initial fumblings I managed to work out a set of tactics for starting off in a world to avoid being blown to smithereens from the offset. Beyond building for safety the game provides much in the way of customising one’s space according to one’s taste. I’ve noticed that everybody usually likes to build nice rooms to be in, like a bedroom, or library or just generally furnishing the place.

A small room with a fireplace and bookcases either side
A cozy fireplace away from the winter cold. I made this on a server, so had access to unlimited resources

This is where I feel a strange disconnect in the game. Whereas I’m happy building fortifications to keep out the zombies and the like this kind of building serves a direct purpose, building nice rooms and crafting to suit a personal aesthetic is not so meaningful in the game beyond the personal gratification and also being able to show off your creation to others. We build rooms to serve personal ideas of purpose that the game has no purpose for. Why do I have books, and bookcases, if I can’t write or store information in them? Why make a bedroom, if I can’t sleep in it?

It feels that in the rush to go build something new, that which I’m building isn’t serving much of a purpose beyond running through it to get from A to B. Perhaps it’s just me wanting more from the virtual spaces I craft. You can make a reasonably productive room with workbenches, furnaces and chests, but I’m the kind of person who wants somewhere nice to sit in the evening and chat with friends.

Generally speaking, once you have a few cobblestone walls up you’re pretty safe from the outside (most of the danger comes from the dark places underground; turning around and coming tête-à-tête with a creeper is not good). Beyond the night and day cycles, the world outside doesn’t communicate with you much. If you are outside it’s usually for one of three reasons: logging, finding new resources, or finding new vistas.

I think it’s asked of often, and even on the books, that Minecraft should have seasons (worlds can be either summer or winter at the moment, but don’t change over time). This I’m fully in accord with. Beyond just aestehtics I feel there’s a lot that this can add to the how the player feels for their world, how they plan and execute their projects and also with rooms and purpose that I talked about earlier.

I would imagine that over over autumn, trees would loose their foliage (and have none in winter) thus reducing the availability of seedlings to plant new trees and forcing you to either stock up on wood, be more reserved over winter or farm trees in light and heat-controlled areas instead. The player would enact different kinds of priorities and tasks depending on season, helping to extend gameplay. I believe an in-game year should be very gradual, giving you time to prepare for seasons and enjoying the best of them whilst they stay; maybe a week of real time, or even a literal 365 day-cycles in-game (though that may prove too long on the scale).

A panorama of an autumn colour scene

There are some good fan-made texture packs already available that replicate seasons, this one covering the whole year. I especially like the blossom in February.

I would go further and add that weather would also add additional gameplay mechanics but in tighter time cycles. Rain would water crops and trees, raise water levels after prolonged periods and reduce visibility. Fog could also occur, slowly thickening to reduce visibility to a few feet. This would throw in an extra challenge to keep the player on their toes and help shape the difficulty curve (as I was saying, it’s too easy to completely master the outdoors). If a bad fog settles in and you’re out logging, either you need to have lit the path back with torches, or dig in and make a temporary bunker until the fog passes. Strong winds could restrict your speed of movement in a particular direction. Snow of course buries things, but fog / wind + snow could cause a white-out blizzard. I want to feel that my world is not always predictable and always ready to throw me a challenge that I can deal with with the right preparation, experience and tools to hand.

As your resilience and crafting skills increase so should the threats (and opportunities). Dragons have been cited as a possibility in the game and I would welcome this. When I found my first dungeon it was spawning skeletons, which are extremely deadly on their own let alone several that respawn. I had to go smelt some armour and a good sword to tackle those which gave me a good purpose to invest in armour and weapons since otherwise I could get by without in my usual rounds.

A dragon would represent a high-level boss that would require you to work towards several crafting goals, not least armour and weaponry. Dragons themselves, I would assume, would live in caves located in high mountains and would guard a large hoard of gold (a worthy prize). At night, the dragon could come out and represent an ariel threat (currently lacking in Minecraft) as well as the ability to breath fire and potentially burn down your trees and nice buildings. This would be a nuisance, of course, but would help motivate the player to focus on terminating the dragon (and all the prep work required in crafts the player may not normally be interested in) and let them know that they’re not invulnerable from mobs just because they’re three blocks off the ground. We all need a good reason to crave a diamond sword :)

Travel is discordant in Minecraft. Whenever you die you always return to the original spawn point, so an infinite map is not much use if it takes you a long, long time to get anywhere. Often, the only reason to travel far over ground is to find vistas, and it’s always a chore to set up base a long distance from the spawn point (especially when getting murdered a mile underground, six miles from the spawn).

Home is where the heart is and that shouldn’t necessarily always be the spawn point. The difficulty is that there is simply many easy ways to solve this problem; arbitrarily allow the creation of spawn points, even using beds as spawn points has been suggested. The difficulty is in finding something that feels right (and encourages me to build mile-long transit systems to move around). If you could jump from one place to another instantly there would be little reason to build elaborate walkways and bridges.

An isometric map showing two very long perpendicular bridges
Had no idea that sea was there

A spawn point is only ever used when you die. It could be argued story-wise that each time you spawn it’s a different person (or a different iteration of them) and that when you entered the world for the first time you (the player) are just jumping into a person who is there because the previous person had just died, for whatever reason. Therefore I would theorise that if spawn points could be travelled between, that like Terminator no possessions could travel with you, and (incoming geeky fact) like the teleporters in Star Trek, a new body is created and your old one thrown away in the transport operation in much the way returning to the spawn point by death has the same effect. By this reasoning the creation and moving of spawn points should not be a light or easy matter in the game (perhaps requiring a rare, particular natural resource to be located at the spawn point).

You can create minecart tracks, and these allow quick travel, but only under the force of gravity. Whilst changes to minecarts could see them being used more for high-speed travel across the land, they seem to fall short of the usual purpose of a minecart. When I am very deep in a cave system, and mining away, it is time consuming to keep heading up and down the mine to drop off resources or achieve other tasks. Should a minecart not allow me to fill it up with ore, then send it on its way back up the mine to dump its contents and automatically come back again? Building track systems are time-consuming and complex and thus should have some big pay off for actual mining. Not just rollercoasters :P

I love exploring newly uncovered cave systems (and hate bumping into zombies and creepers). Once these mazes have been completely stripped of anything not-rock and fully lit they can be cripplingly samey, making it very easy to get lost. I should perhaps just put up signs to direct myself but once a mine is nothing but outcrops of rock they get boring and there’s little reason to go through them again. I suppose that’s unavoidable.

As one’s capabilities expand and the need to travel further to hunt out new resources and new building projects so should one’s world-view expand much like the explosion in cartography and exploration in the sixteenth century. Once I’m travelling between several main sites and looking to expand my empire I want to be able to get a better grasp of my surroundings for larger scale projects. You can do a lot of running around but it’s easy to get disorientated and lost. If we could create maps (compass + paper) then I could begin to have a bigger impact on my world and really begin to expand into the infinite. A sign + map could create a “you are here” sign-board.

It is quoted here Notch saying that perhaps something should be involved in floating islands generated in the game (like the presence of obsidian). My suggestion for this is that perhaps what Minecraft needs is another block type: lodestone—inspired by the lodestone in Gulliver’s Travels :)

Having a magnetic resource would also make more sense for constructing compasses. Also, mining it would require using a non-metal pickaxe as the loadstone would pull the pickaxe out of your hands if you struck it. It would also be pretty rare, being found reliably only in floating islands.

Facilitate Possibility

More than anything a sandbox game needs the vision of one person to decide where the die is cast. I like Minecraft because like a few games that came before it allows you to do the thing you’re interested in most. Like Elite, you were dumped into a vast world and left to decide what to do. Not all aspects of Minecraft’s features I’m interested in. For example, I’ve not done any farming yet, and have seen very little reason to do so.

Players who enter Minecraft are going to fall on a circular range of preferences (building, crafting, mining, farming, combat) and a scale of casualness to anal-retentiveness. It is too easy, given the early-adopter userbase and the “change this to this” nature of feedback, to go down a path where only geeks are catered for.

Notch has suggested that adding achievements to the game would be a good idea and I’m all for anything that gives me a good solid reason to make an awesome farm, but the last thing I want is never being able to get the magic 100% number because some achievements can only be attained through OCD. I think Notch is in agreement with this and I would add the suggestion that a couple of games of note have used hidden ‘skill points’ to mask the anal-retentive achievements from the main score.

I think Minecraft can succeed in forging a path catering to both the casual and the anal retentive. It’s awesome that someone has built a working 16-bit math processor inside Minecraft but it’s obvious that shouldn’t be expected of everybody. Instead of catering directly to these things Minecraft can facilitate the possibility of all kinds of content that Minecraft itself is not internally aware of. That is, Minecraft is not aware that it’s running a 16-bit ALU, it just facilitates the possibility by providing rudimentary circuits. This, I believe, can be taken much further. Here are some examples:


The following is known:

  1. Minecraft has a multiplayer mode
  2. You can craft weapons

Therefore Minecraft could facilitate the creation of a rudimentary FPS mode without having to specifically cater to it. Since weapons fired at you hurt you and what you fire at mobs hurts them, the code already exists to have this work between players. I suspect it’s already a regularly requested feature that server admins can set a default set of resources that the player enters the world with (and this feature would of course see practical merit outside of facilitating an FPS anyway), thus an admin could set players to enter the world with a default set of weaponry.

Multiple spawn points would be required of course, but again, this will likely have to be solved as part of the main game anyway—facilitating the possibility of an FPS for free.

Creating an FPS would give a world owner a real purpose and design for crafting their world. This would help greatly with the question of room purpose and decoration / advanced crafting features like redstone.

Minecraft Server would need to add the feature of respawning objects, but this functionality already technically exists in one of the third party servers: unless granted permission by admins, the server can replace any block you remove—preventing you from crafting. This same feature could be used to place an item on a square, and cause it to remain (or spawn again after 30 seconds) once picked up. This would be a reasonably minor feature to add to Minecraft Server, whilst opening many possibilities.

In thinking about multiplayer + room purpose I had the idea that if Minecraft Server included the option to disable crafting upon entry to the world (an oft-requested feature already for existing survival purposes) then the world-owner could construct a rudimentary dungeon-explorer computer game in the vein of The Legend of Zelda. A player would enter the world into a series of carefully crafted rooms or locations and have to collect weapons and items and solve puzzles the owner has crafted. The owner would need the ability to place mobs and mobspawners, but that could just be a simple extension of the ‘creative mode’ already planned for the game. One major change would be that each player that enters the server would have to have a copy of the map, rather then everybody co-habiting the same space (though this could be used for the very purpose of multi-player teamplay). This feature could simply be a flag on the server that asks the client to download the map locally and play it rather than playing it over the wire in a co-habited space. Not hard to implement IMO.

I’m sure there’s plenty more genres that could be bent to fit Minecraft but my express purpose is that these shouldn’t require Notch to put in such a mode himself, rather that with just the right selection of options and capabilities in the regular survival mode, world-crafters could build these games themselves—or whatever fanciful contraptions they can conjure up. You never know what someone might build in Minecraft, the variance in individual taste and design is as infinite as the maps.

An enclosed lake with steep sides and a rocky overhang
A particularly nice spot

What I feel when I play Minecraft Alpha is that there needs to be more here, passively, egging me on. Not in my face, “you must do this now”, but just there—should I be interested, should I need to complete A + B first to earn C, should I want a new career option in the game. I want to be able to connect with my world emotionally rather than just on a technical building level. What is the lore of the world that I inhabit? How did such and such a feature in the landscape come to be? Why do the monsters come out at night and why are they here? There should be much to ask, and many answers to be found through the long labour of exploration, ingenuity and perseverance.