... now with 35% more arrogance!

Monday, February 17, 2020

My Favorite Games, Part 2: Minecraft

In my first post on which video games were the most like old school RPGS, I said I had one answer that would probably surprise people. The game I think has more of an old school feel than Skyrim?


It’s surprising to some because Minecraft doesn’t seem to follow any of the rules people associate with D&D, tabletop RPGs in general, or even computer RPGs. There are no classes. You don’t gain additional powers or fight better when you gain levels. Monsters are pretty simple. There are no stories to unravel, no NPCs sending you on quests. There are plenty of monsters to fight, but fighting monsters isn’t really what the game is about, and even on the hardcore setting, it’s possible to avoid monsters almost entirely.

But anyone who closely read my post on Skyrim probably isn’t surprised at all. I said that what I liked the most about Skyrim, and what makes me feel it’s closer to old school tabletop RPGs than many other video games, is the immersion, especially immersion in the world. When you combine Skyrim with a mod like iHUD, you can pretty much ignore game stats and quest pointers and just play as if you were a person living in this fantasy world of Tamriel.

Minecraft actually feels way more immersive than that, to me.

First, the world is huge and procedurally generated. It’s not designed to look like a carefully-crafted adventure area that funnels you towards various story goals. You can play it any way you want.

People who play in survival mode often play it like a wilderness exploration and settlement simulator: find a good spot for a camp, build temporary defenses, and then start setting up farms and planning your house. The recent upgrade to villages helps to expand this playstyle, turn it into a colony-building game.

Other people focus more on treasure and trophy hunting. Dungeons and temples in Minecraft are no where near as elaborate as in computer RPGs, and the much larger and varied mineshafts, strongholds, and fortresses lack built-in storylines, but there are also no limits on what you can do in such dungeons and locales. Aside from the fundamental limits of the game as a whole, you can do anything you imagine: find the entrance and explore in a linear fashion, dig shortcuts, clear out the dungeon or leave it intact, even take it over and rebuild it. When oceans were expanded, shipwrecks, sunken ruins, and buried treasure expanded the treasure-hunting options. And there are some random dungeon and structure mods or datapacks that add even more variety to the kinds of adventures you can have.

Can’t stand to play a game that’s so open-ended? Need that story line to guide your roleplay? There are people who have made adventure or puzzle maps that work more like what you’d expect. Which leads to another point: Minecraft is easily more mod-able by the average player than almost any other video game. Not just with mods written in a computer programming language… the game keeps expanding its data-driven features, making it extremely easy for people to load in their own custom structures, trigger events, or alter the way existing game features work.

I played something like 1,200 to 1,500 hours of Skyrim over the past six or so years. I have no hard numbers for Minecraft, but I started playing almost five years ago and have pretty much played every day. I’m certain I’ve played way more Minecraft than Skyrim.

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  1. Yea... Minecraft. The joy and bane of my existence (because it sucks so much time from my minis painting/terrain building/zine writing/podcast making/game playing/etc... LOL)

    I did not know that there were mods to add in adventure like things! Any that you'd recommend? I am exploring and establishing a road of bastions/keeps as I attempt to find the boundaries of this continent, which runs forever. Ideally, I'd like to add those in, but I'm not opposed to starting over...

  2. There was a map tool (modifies existing maps) called MCDungeon I liked a lot, because it creates pretty elaborate dungeons... but it hasn't been updated since Minecraft v1.12, which is sad.

    I used a datapack-based mod called Tyruswoo Game Changer for a while. This will add dungeons on the fly as you explore new areas, and you can protect areas already built up. I haven't tried the most recent version, but it is updated for 1.15, and it was pretty fun even on the earlier versions.

    I keep looking around for other such mods, especially datapacks, since they don't require changing the actual game code and can be added or removed from existing worlds. I'll let you know if I find a good one.

    1. Unfortunately, I just discovered that because I bought the Windows version, I can't add mods. I haz a sad...

    2. Actually, you CAN has mods. Just not the same mods.

      Bedrock Minecraft (Mobile/Console version and the Windows 10 version available on the Microsoft store) uses a data-driven mod system, usually called Add-Ons. MCPE DL has some, but so far I haven't been able to find one that adds new dungeons the way Game Changer does on Java. I swear I saw someone on Reddit say they made one... but perhaps no one has yet, because structure blocks are a pretty new addition to Bedrock and may still be in beta.

      Since I've been playing a lot more Bedrock than Java recently, I've been toying with the idea of writing my own.

  3. Hey, thanks for mentioning my Game Changer datapack for Minecraft!

    I'm going to check out MCDungeon. It looks like great stuff! I especially like the pyramid structures!

    I do have a nice procedurally generated structure in the GC3 for 1.15, now, but I'm looking to add more. Here is the Crypt:

    Procedurally generated dungeons I'm considering adding include a Nether Invasion dungeon (near bedrock, anywhere in the overworld), a Wooden Fort (an early-game dungeon on the surface of the overworld), an island/continent in the sky (rarely found in the overworld, probably usually above ocean), a Notch Pyramid with rooms inside (I already have the pyramid, but need to add the rooms; to appear rarely in the Overworld), and a space station (in the End). I'm waiting to see what else Mojang is adding to the Nether in 1.16, but I'd like to add a Giant Worm Shell/Remains procedurally generated dungeon to the Nether, and some nice Pigman villages (big missed opportunity by Mojang in 1.15...but maybe they'll add it in 1.16?). Also, the Nether Invasion structure from the Overworld could probably be reused in the Nether.

    Let me know if you have suggestions for improvements I can make to the Game Changer. If you have suggestions, the best way to send me a suggestion is by joining as a Free member on my website, and messaging me there.

    Also, you may find it interesting to know that one of my team members, Rob, is both a D&D dungeon master extraordinaire and a contributor of some of the more impressive builds I'm now putting into the new version of my Game Changer datapack. Here is Rob's D&D world's website: https://valian-chronicles.com/

    I definitely recommend you try to get Rob to send you a copy of his D&D campaigns, if you get a chance. Earthwound is my favorite.

    1. Thanks for the info on that, Tyrus! Sounds interesting! I haven't tried GC 3 yet, because I've been playing a lot more Bedrock lately, compared to Java.

      I really wish Mojang would open up the jigsaw block more so that people could use them to make bad-ass procedural dungeons.

  4. @Talysman - you've said you use the GC datapak... how do I "tone down" the number/frequency of monsters? Is there some way I can get back to that portal to turn things off?

    1. I'll have to get back to you on that... haven't used it in a while, so I'll have to try it out again and test.

      There's probably a way to do it from command line, too.

    2. Did a quick check of the Game Changer code and I'm not seeing anything that adjusts the frequency of monsters, only the frequency (density) of structures.

      So that should be governed by the standard Minecraft difficulty settings (Esc -> Options...) From what I remember from previous versions, the monsters are usually generated by spawners, so you can either break spawners in-game or light them up to reduce spawning.

      If you've accidentally turned on doom mode or the mob transformer, you can use a command to reset this.

      /function tyruswoo:rules/reset

      or to deactivate just the mob transformer:

      /function tyruswoo:mt/deactivate

    3. Trying to think of the easiest way to get back to the hub... when you start the gamechanger and it installs, it sets your current location as worldspawn, creates the install hub at Y-level 3, and then teleports players there. Problem is, I'm blanking on a way to figure out how to find worldspawn, other than breaking your bed and then dying in-game. If you do that, you will respawn at worldspawn, and this command will work:

      /tp @a ~ 5 ~-4

      That's the command GC uses to get you in the hub the first time.