Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thoughts on Minecraft

I thought about writing an article about this for some time. Now some friends(@AstrorEnales) are building a game in that genre, and this is enough motivation for me to write down my take on this game, as this might help them with some design decisions.
Generally i think minecraft is a genius achievement. It's a great idea to have a sandbox world randomly created in what you can do whatever you want to do. Exploring, building, fighting, it all seems aaaawesome. Until you've done it all, at least once. Don't get me wrong, i still play it from time to time, and i still enjoy it. But i have a bunch of issues with it that makes me think of this game more like a broken product than a finally released game.
So lets start.

I always found the beginning of minecraft the most rewarding. Spawning with nothing but your hands. Farming the initial resources, mostly wood, to craft your first tools.

And this is where the trouble starts. The crafting system is nice. I really like drawing out the tools and objects you craft. But where do you learn the recipes? Obviously you'd head over to the wiki and check what's there. This is a major problem! We're only able to play the game to the fullest if we resort to outside resources? As if that isn't bad enough, you easily end up reading through the whole wiki, spoiling your gaming experience, because it's damn interesting to find out stuff, right? Nothing wrong with that, except you should find those info ingame, right where it belongs. I'm not saying implementing the wiki into minecraft is a good idea, but there needs to be an information interface of some kind to learn about the recipes you can craft.

So we built our first wooden shovel and pickaxe and built our shelter for the night. To get through the night we start digging a hole into the ground, our first mine shaft. This is were the next problem starts.

You're basically 5 minutes into the game, and already tier 1 (Wood) equipment is inferior to what is available to you now (Stone). Nowadays when starting a new game, i head for a tree, chop it down for a pickaxe, farm some stone and whoop, i'm in tier 2 within one minute of gaming. This makes wood tools virtually useless, apart from the initial 3 stones you need to get a pickaxe. Oh and what is that shimmering in the distance? Is that iron? Oh right, in the later updates you find iron in such an abundance and accessibility it's not even funny. Tier 3 within less than 5 minutes of gameplay? This would not be so bad if it was a game you would just play for an hour. But you're trapped in this for days or weeks. So after the initial 'whoo upgrade' phase it's basically no progress anymore, only sustaining your stock of iron and diamond. This really ruins a big part of the game for me and i was hoping the leveling system that was anounced for 1.8 would adress this issue, like requirements which must be met to be able to upgrade your equipment.

Farm 2 stacks of stone with a wooden pickaxe before unlocking the recipe for the stone pickaxe. At this stage you could easily implement the recipe info aswell. "Hey! You unlocked a Stone Pickaxe. Here, it's built like that, have fun!"  

We've been digging for some time and found a nice big cave. Theres Zombies, Skeletons, and ... BOOM. You very well know what i'm refering to.

One hit kill. Seriously. By a stealth unit that only makes a sounds if you virtually have no time to react, or hectically jump down a cliff or step into lava. Don't get me wrong, i like the idea of creepers. They are an interesting unit which is difficult to handle with, that's fine. What i'm not fine with is that it instantly kills you, spraying your items around, often into lava. Yes, you can build armor, and it pretty much seems required in the latest versions if you don't like to be one hit killed. Oh, why did we have custom skins again? Ah yes, to hide them under a set of armor, of course. This is really crucially important to me. You are able to design your own skins, and people do and love it. What use is it if you're required by the game to wear armor that obstructs anything but your face, making everyone look the same again. Although the need for armor does explain the amount of iron you are able to find lately. What about the other enemies? Zombies? Skeletons? No threat at all, if you have at least a wooden sword. You need around 12 hits with your fist, but only 2-3 with a wood sword? What kind of balancing is that. Why would you even upgrade to stone or iron, except for durability?
The ai is a joke. Zombies and creepers heading straight for your position. No pathing at all, eventhough a trivial a* should be working good enough on that kind of grid based terrain. Skeletons stop at a distance, shooting their arrows in your face, and don't feel too bothered if being beat up by a sword. You can basically mow through enemies if you're not reckless.
One thing that i found really thrilling were the cave spiders. The poison was not deadly but brought you down to half a heart. It was action, it was horror, it was what i was expecting from deep cave exploration. Then they changed them from being a threat to only being really annoying.  

Now you're several weeks into the game, built awesome monuments and intricate redstone circuits with your friends. So what is left to do? Oh, yes you can enchant your equipment or brew potions.

Dig faster, longer. Run faster, dive deeper! This is a good way to still increase your gaming experience. Decide on a task and prepare for it with enchantments and potions. But then you realize, you need levels to enchant equipment. Not only do you need to reach certain levels for certain enchantments, but you also lose all your levels depending on the level of the enchantment, and you are not even guaranteed a good enchantment. So what is left? Grinding? Just no! This feels to me like a cheap way of procrastinating game time. I agree that you'd need a high requirement of something to get an improved tool or weapon. This could aswell be worked out through experience and leveling. Better potions and enchantments over the amount of things you brewed or improved in total. Ton's of games did it that way, and it works! Don't tell me you did it different just for the sake of doing it different. We're spending loads of time in minecraft already, don't make us waste time by grinding monsters for eventually not getting the enchantments we're hoping for.

That said, i must say i still love minecraft for what it is and what it did for the indie dev community. There's obviously a ton of things that could be implemented to make it even more awesome, but i think these are important points that need to be adressed at some point. Enough rambling now!

Now, back to work on Into Beyond! (Now on Indiedb too! :D)

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