Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Minecraft Random Thoughts

Why is Minecraft fun? And how can we use this in MMORPGs? Some random thoughts.

First, what I don't like.
1) I don't like the crafting. Trying arbitraty combinations of items in the crafting window to eventually find something useful is the kind of exploration I don't really enjoy. (Un)Fortunately, there is the internet. So I can look up all of these combinations. I don't agree with this game design. Not at all. Due to internet and an always open Wiki in the background it works for me. But this feels wrong and if you transfer this kind of mechanic into a MMORPG, nobody would not have opened the Wiki in the background. In my opinion this game mechanic is superfluous and should be replaced. E.g. "A Tale in the Desert" (smithing)!

2) I don't like the combat, but then, this is not a strong point of Minecraft, anyway :).

3) I wish monsters would have more tools to enter my fortress. So that having a thick and high wall made of stone, instead of dirt, makes sense.

What do I like?
1) I love building, creating, anything. From a small farm outside my home to a private tree inside my cavern.

2) I like redirecting a river to flow through some hole into my castle and make my wheat inside grow faster.

3) I like trapping monsters. At night they fall into my moat and are pushed into the sunlight by the masses of water. In the morning I can loot them without swinging my sword once.

4) I like exploring underground, discovering caverns and searching for iron, gold and diamonds.

5) I like the surprisingly smart mobs!

How can we put the fun spects into an MMORPG virtual world ?
1) Firstly that is not trivial. Part of Minecraft's fun is the speed. The speed of the daylight cycle, the speed of digging. In an MMORPG you cannot allow people to dig that fast. They would have removed the entire world within a few weeks. Digging would need to be slowed down considerably. Different digging speeds in different situations are a possibility.

2) You cannot make the cubes that big. It makes the game look terrible no matter how great your artists are. They need to be smaller. You could have some 'skills' affect more than one (smaller) cube.

3) Your graphics/programmer team might come up with a way to smooth a surface once it is 'finished'. Thus allowing players to enjoy the advantages of great graphics within a perfect sandbox. A very distinct style, I guess ;)

4) You cannot have another player just digging through your home while you are offline. So you need borders that regulate what one can do. Many different systems are possible. You can 'tax' payers (or communities) for every m² they thouch. Thus, rich and big communities can influence more of the world. They also will try to use as few m² as possible to create what they want to create. Thus you create a meaningful choice. In combination with some limitations to the height and depth of buildings people woudl come up with wonderful things. A guild might create a secret tunnel towards another place and flee with supplies through that tunnel when they lose their fortress in some (controlled!) PvP. Guilds can build machines that pound the surface to make tunnels break down. Endless gameplay options are suddenly in our grasp. I know, ideas are cheap, but suddenly some of them are technically feasible.
You can give players rights to change cubes. So some players can dig through your cubes, and others cannot. You can make these rights the carrot of (limited, controlled!)  PvP.

5) Don't pay graphic guys to make stuff. Empower your players to build that fortress; a thousand times and always different.

6) Don't copy/paste whole Minecraft. What can be copy/pasted is the idea to make a world of cubes and to treat everything inside as a cube. This easily allows a developer to have breakable things, like a fortress wall. But not such an arachic system like in Wintergrast. Use cubes! The big question is, how the size of cubes effects the game. Could you cut the size in half - what would happen? Since current Minecraft runs in a browser window on java, I guess graphical limitations don't apply that fast ;)

What did Minecraft teach us:
1) Having a real sandbox is technically feasible if you are willing to make some compromises elsewehere. How far can we push this concept?
2) Building itself is fun !!
3) The real world is to games what it is to science: Endless inspiration.
4) Never say never.
5) Games can sell over a million times even though there is no skinner box at all.


  1. Any time I think of Minecraft as a MMO all I can think is how easy it is to ruin everything. I think such a game would need some form of 'carebear protection'.

    I can't think of a good system for claiming land, so let's just pretend we have one. That land would only be the space for structures, not the full territory where we would be out farming for animals or trees. Players could have the option to turn on or off protection of their structures, making them immune to player attacks, but at the cost of a much slower gathering rate. So you can build slowly and protected or you can take some risk to build faster.

    Building and destruction would need to be balanced to prevent a permanent sprawl or a permanent barren wasteland.

  2. I agree, Klepsacovic. You cannot have hundreds/thousands of players be able to dig your great castle into a pile of dirt in half an hour. Obviously :)

    Let's start with a very simple, conservative concept:

    Once you have earned some gold in the game you can go to the king to buy some of his land. He gives you a map of his kingdom. You venture forth with that map. Later you return and are able to buy any land that you have explored. Some regions are excluded, of course. They are already owned by other players or the king imself.

    You buy the land by drawing a 2D box around it. Every m² costs some gold. Now you have rights to change these cubes. You cannot change any other cubes.

    You can dig down until you reach water/lava. You can build up, but the higher you go the more prone to damage due to wind/storm the building becomes. Damage is very easy in a world of cubes. Just make a cube have a chance to fall out of the structure when it is stormy.

    Since you can only change the cubes on the ground you buyed, this system is quite well protected from misuse.

    You can try to relax the limitations a little to see how much fun you can introduce without introducing possibilities for misuse. You could buy some materials (stone/dirt whatever) from the local market. For example.

    Allow players communities to buy a place together and give different players different rights. For example no player in the community can change more than x cubes per day, safety precautions, etc etc.

    The really brilliant thing about Minecraft is actually the idea to make a world of cubes. You know, for some time now Bizzard tries to allow us to damage walls and stuff (Wintergrasp). In a world made of cubes this is shockingly easy !!

    A simple minecraft creeper has more impact on the world than Deathwing. He can make a hole!

    I wouldn't make a MMORPG out of Minecraft, but I'd build a MMORPG inside a world made of cubes, instead of polygons. If some smart guys can come up with techniques to make the cubes smaller and perhaps to 'flux' the cubes with less edgy graphics once a player hasn't touched them for a while, MMORPGs would finally be able to become a sandbox even if not in space! The possibilities are mindblowing.

  3. I like your look at it . Especially part about letting player create castles

    I myself created pretty decent looking house in about 3 hours (and I am not an artist in any shape or form)and I saw quite impressive stuff on other servers

    Of course it all very primitive as blocks are very big . If blocks could be made much smaller and better looking while retaining the build speed you could actually
    gets lots of "free content :)

    You could give rewards to players designing best things (e.g. visited by most other people). Some of the designs could be dungeons! (heck dungeon keeper was one of my favorite games)

  4. Max, as powerful as extrinsic motivation (rewards) is, if it is not necessary, don't use it. It destroys the much better intrinsic motivation.
    See here for a well known experiment about his.

    About dungeons, yes, I'd love that, too. I drown in ideas at the moment ;). I think for any MMORPG that makes use of this concept the most important thing would be to start small, careful, conservative. Creating itself and showing off your creations to others is so much fun that you can probably rely on it alone to have a good game already.

    Unless you have some $50mio minimum and a designated testing team you probably don't want to risk destroying the game by adding stuff that is not fully worked out.

  5. I think that a real sandbox world could benefit from a non-static layout.

    Imagine that the world is divided into zones. When you leave a zone you venture into the "wilderness" where you can explore and find new zones which are created with random terrain (and monsters).

    If you know of a zone then you can travel there through the wilderness. People can work to set up transportation between zones like blimps or carriage rides to speed travel between frequently used zones. If a zone falls into disuse it eventually gets dropped from the world.

    The starting zone would be static so that some basic introductory quests (tutorials basically) would be there for everyone, but every other zone is up for grabs. You can hire NPCs to guard a zone to prevent others from messing with it when you aren't there, or you could just not tell them where it is so they can't find it easily.

    This way even monsters don't have to respawn. If you want to level by fighting monsters, find a fresh zone, fight them there and then leave it. The game will drop it. There could be an explorer profession that helps you find zones with certain traits (such as mineral deposits, or dragons) with more consistency so that you can either find a dragon for your guild to kill that week or sell information about how to find the zone to prospectors.

    Eventually players would build their own cities populated by other players as well as by NPC vendors and possibly even something like daily questgivers (kill 10 foozles is pretty easy to generate randomly - and certain kinds of more complex quests could be developed with enough resources).

    But if you wanted to have a solo play experience, you could always find your own new zones, clear them yourself, build your own little forts on them or do whatever else you want to do in them. If you used the same zone over and over you could eventually even share it with other people (maybe when you've completed your working 8-bit processor?).

    When people talk about the problems of sandbox games, they usually come down to there not being enough sand for everyone - someone comes and wrecks your stuff. So maybe the solution is to take away the box from the sandbox, and just have sand as far as the eye can see.

  6. These are thought provoking ideas. Thank you, Sthenno.