As our readers know, we here at Geekosystem love Minecraft. We write about it, we discuss it amongst ourselves at Geeko HQ, we have our own private server, and we even have the occasional Minecraft get-together. Much of what we discuss, however, starts with the qualifiers, “I wish” or “You know what would be cool?” So, we decided to transcribe a conversation between two of our many Minecraft alums, James Plafke and Max Eddy, for your reading pleasure. Head on past the break to see how our Minecraft-related brains work, and what we’d most like to see added or changed about Notch’s blocky masterpiece.
Things to Alleviate the Now What? Syndrome
James: A core “problem” with Minecraft, however engaging it may be, is once a project (or projects) is completed, many players aren’t quite sure what to do next. Build yet another impressive structure that generally doesn’t have much value beyond “Look at what I built” after its completion? Mine for hours on end just for the sake of it? Start an entirely new map, abandoning previous labor and projects, just to have a new goal of building a base all over again? This eventual loss of focus and motivation is what I lovingly call “Now What? Syndrome.” Sure, the player can build another building, but they serve no purpose other than being on display. The player can build some kind of farm in order to easily gather resources, but that somewhat defeats the purpose of exploring the world, or playing in survival mode. So, basically, now what?
Max: With Minecraft, if you don’t have a pretty active imagination or a freakish attention to detail, you wind up in an end-game state pretty quickly; once you have four walls, a roof, and a door, its up to you to supply motivation to keep playing the game.
James: Exactly, and eventually, you have such a cushy, safe world, that motivation becomes a difficult thing to find. Even though Minecraft is such a unique experience, and one of its many strengths is that it is so unlike more traditional games, ironically, adding in more traditional game mechanics can actually help alleviate Now What Syndrome.
Max: What kind of game mechanics are we talking about here? Like character levels and boss fights?
James: And superfluous map packs and collectors editions with art books! The first real thing that comes to mind is some kind of small character progression. For example, after PlayerA crafts 1,000 sticks, said player then gains a 1.1x multiplier on stick returns. The increments would be small, and would take huge crafting numbers to increase, so as to prevent ridiculous multipliers and progressions. Some kind of simple incremental progression would keep it from getting too absurd. 1,000 crafted sticks adds a 1.1x multiplier, 2,000 crafted sticks adds a 1.2x multiplier, 4,000 crafted sticks = a 1.3x multiplier and so on. Adding this kind of multiplier onto each and every individual craftable item would give the player a kind of side-progression for quite a while.
Max: That’s all well and good, James. You’ve got some numbers there. But doesn’t the level playing field of Minecraft make it more accessible and enjoyable? In this game, a novice can jump in and create something amazing without having to grind for a billion years to get the arbitrary permission from the game to do so.
James: The level playing field of Minecraft is indeed a central aspect to the core idea, but on the flip side, my character being able to craft sticks 1.2x more quickly than your character doesn’t really disrupt any kind of balance. This kind of player progression could also open up non-defined job classes. My character can be the stick guy, but your character is 1.4x better at making bread. However, on certain competitive servers, this kind of character progression would eventually erase the even playing field aspect. It would have to be a new mode: Progression (which can then be added to survival single, survival multiplayer, etc.), or some such, so players can toggle it on or off.
Max: Do adding these features really make the game more playable though?
James: Not exactly more playable, but some kind of character progression would at least provide new goals, and could also lead to reduce some of the toil required to build large structures.
Max: Well who gives a damn about what you think, James?
James: My parents, sometimes.
Max: I think it would be great to up the amount of player interaction. Maybe it’s because everything you build in Minecraft reminds me of an old Half-Life map. I wish there was some kind of shooter-type game mode. Snowballs really don’t cut it.
James: Totally agree. Minecraft could definitely benefit from greater player interaction. Quests, goals, achievements, something. Eventually, when a player builds his pork and wheat farms, the game isn’t really dangerous anymore, and the player needs some kind of risk and reward. Quests, with quest-only rewards may hit the spot. Certain items are already attainable solely within dungeon chests, so unique items resulting from some kind of unique completion or action isn’t too farfetched.
Max: Smarter mobs, and mobs that grew more dangerous as the player progressed would be useful as well. Building is a pretty perfect defense, and I think Notch is aware of this. Making spiders climb walls is a start, but there needs to be something that can counter your walls and aparpets. I think what we’re getting to here is that Minecraft needs something besides endless toil. So much of the game ends up like a coal-mining simulation.
James: Or on the flip side, but in the same vein, so much of the game ends up in a “sit in your base while your pork farm automatically gives you free heals, so you aren’t afraid of monsters and aren’t careful anymore” situation.
Max: That complacency is a big problem. The easiest way to combat that is to give players more of a reason to explore the map. If there were specific loot that could only be found on the other side of the map from your location, you’d bet people would find a way to get there. Or if there were specific mobs, or dynamic events like animal migrations, all that would give you a reason to uproot and move on.
James: The oft-rumored NPC villages would be a great place to start, with specific resources and loot that can only be obtained for a village raid.
Max: The game doesn’t make it easy on explorers, though. A fixed spawn point is a real hindrance. I’d like to see a craftable device that lets you move your spawn point. Maybe a special torch that has limited uses, in order to keep it balanced. Dying in Minecraft is more of funny inconvenience, and it should stay that way.
James: Also, all of those hallways from the spawn point to the base are pretty unsightly. There also probably shouldn’t be any kind of “word of recall” or “town portal” business, as exploring and getting back to safety during the expiring clock of daylight is a pretty important aspect of Minecraft risk.
Max: Adding faster, fun ways to get around the world would open up the world a lot. Fast-travel through The Nether is, in a word, terrifying. And expensive.
James: And doesn’t work in multiplayer yet.
Max: Exactly. I’d like to see a craftable motor that you could slap onto any creation to make it move. There needs to be some kind of vehicle, and making it open-ended and player-driven would be pretty in line with the overall Minecraft feel.
James: Which would also allow for player-created vehicles to add extra seats, so one player can drive his buddies across the map, whereas currently, with boats for instance, each single player must have their own boat and everyone must navigate separately of each other. Some kind of exploration tools would also promote people from getting out of their cushy base. We have climbing boots and spyglasses in real life, I don’t see how they’d break the game in any way. A spyglass, specifically, would save a lot of players a lot of time; they wouldn’t use up all of their daylight to travel to some desert island with no resources. Yeah, the uncertainty of exploration is an important part of the game, but we have spyglasses in real life, and exploration is still pretty darn uncertain. You know, not counting satellite connections and smart phones. Future update: Minecraft Foursquare.
Max: One way to help stave off boredom in the game would be, to cop an idea from my favorite Soviet revolutionary Leon Trotsky, keep the game in “permanent revolution.” Notch’s pushing wacky secret updates are a powerful motivator to keep playing the game, and could be used to encourage players to try new strategies and new ways to play the game.