I said in my review of Nethack and other rogue-like or near-rogue-like games that, although I’ve enjoyed Minecraft Dungeons a little, it has its problems. But there’s something it gets partially right. You can always complete a level without worrying about the secrets at all. Most of the secrets are revealed automatically rather than requiring special action. There are flaws in the level design, many of which you’ll see in bad tabletop dungeon-crawl design, too. But since the age range includes young kids who are easily frustrated, the game tries to avoid things that are frustrating.
We could learn something about tabletop RPG module design by thinking about the Minecraft Dungeons level design.
- The level consists of special areas connected by plain, randomly generated routes.
- Special areas are visually interesting, inviting players to come explore them.
- Routes sometimes contain loops, allowing choices on how to proceed to the next goal.
- Routes also sometimes contain branches that either dead end or lead to sublevels, some of which may be shortcuts to another part of the map.
- Secrets are usually discovered automatically when an area is entered (not as good for video game level design, but a much better idea for tabletop level design.)
- All “rooms” are decorated in some way, and there are multiple variants on the decoration theme to keep the level from appearing too boring visually.
- Traps (minecarts, lava pools, pits, blades, crushing walls) are almost all clearly visible, giving players plenty of warning.
- Decorations are almost always non-interactive… except when they aren’t.
- Too many branches are dead ends rather than leading to something interesting, like a sublevel.
- There aren’t enough loops, leaving the levels too linear.
- There aren’t enough kinds of special areas, especially those that are puzzles or goal areas.
- Some things aren’t clear, such as when water is safe to enter and when it isn’t.
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