Friday, May 17, 2019

10th Anniversary of Minecraft

If I have to name my all-time favorite games or game series, it would be The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Unreal, but also Minecraft. Rarely ever had a game captivated me as much as this one and while I haven't played it in some years, it still has a very special place in my heart, where I have many fond memories of playing Minecraft both alone and with friends.

And by now the game is already ten years old, celebrating an entire decade of existence. Well, I haven't played the game before 2011, where I first tried the Beta and was already fascinated by its atmosphere. However, at the time the game didn't run as well on my computer, so I hadn't played it for long at the time. But with version 1.1 in the following year things changed, where Minecraft became my biggest gaming addiction for two years, until Hyrule Warriors came in 2014 and stole my attention.

While I've played on some multiplayer servers, for the most part I was dedicated to my own world, building a second home there, where you can find some glimpses of this in the screenshots of this post. And this is part of why Minecraft was so fascinating for me: it's your own world.

I love playing Zelda games for the exploration, but Minecraft takes things further by randomly generating a world and letting you change it piece by piece. While there are some templates of how the worlds are created and you have certain repeating constructs like villages, mine shafts and so on, it's all always unique and exploring in Minecraft never gets old. And it never stops, because the worlds are potentially infinite. You can spend a lifetime exploring everything in one world and still won't be able to see it all.

For me it was the first real open world game that I've played, several years before Breath of the Wild, and it was so good because it just puts you in the middle of the world and lets your own curiosity take over. The early Survival game is quite exciting, where at night monsters come out and you want to create a shelter to stay safe. Slowly, but surely you get better gear and are ready to explore more, fight stronger foes and so on.

But once you've found a place that you like, you can settle and build a house, a farm, a village, an underground facility and whatever you like. I've dedicated my main area to farming everything possible, where I have a mob, sugar cane and slime farm under my house, a villager trading center, collections of all animals, fields for all plants, flower farms, an Iron Golem farm and so much more. You could say that I've overdone it, but that was part of the fun and Minecraft really lives from your own goals.

This special combination of exploring, fighting monsters and building your own world is even something that I've wanted since the GameBoy Color games, where I liked playing Link's Awakening, Oracle of Ages & Seasons, but also Harvest Moon. At the time I've imagined how nice it would be to build my own farm around Mabe Village on Koholint. And Minecraft kind of gave me this in a very ambitious way.

Simply reminiscing about the game makes me feel really nostalgic, where I even went back to the game after all those years for the 10th Anniversary. But I've stopped playing when version 1.8 came out, where by now we have version 1.14 and lots of things have happened since then. It's amazing how they keep adding to the game, still developing it after all this time, improving it on all ends.

But it also feels quite overwhelming, if you haven't kept up with it... Some of my aforementioned farms and creations don't work anymore due to the (recent) changes to villages and other elements, where I really need to study all the changes in detail to make decisions on how to go on here.

Sometimes it feels like it would be the best to simply start over, enjoy a fresh game in a new world without all the weight of all what was done before. But at the same time I've achieved so much in my old world, like an Enderman farm in the End for near endless Ender Pearls supplies, where I would have to do so many (sophisticated) things a second time, instead of focusing the new things.

And there are so many new things to discover. I really like the additions from the "Update Aquatic" for example, especially the new Trident weapon - it's so good that I hope that it will be part of the moveset for Steve in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, if he really makes it into the DLC... And it already inspires new projects, where I want to build a Drowned farm using a Zombie spawner.

Village & Pillage

Last month the "Village & Pillage" update just got released and I've tried some of its additions in a New World, where chance had it that I spawned right next to one of the new Pillager Outposts, not far from a village, so I could try the new Raid mechanics:

It's really crazy and the village gets swarmed with all sorts of hostile "Illager" mobs. It's nothing you could survive early in the game, but a fun idea nonetheless.

For my old game world, however, I had to go back to version 1.3.2 to complete my villager trading center project for Enchanted Books - something that wouldn't work the same way in version 1.4 and beyond, at least not way I intended it to. I even will have to figure out how to keep trades going in 1.4...

But overall I like how you can now directly influence the profession of new villagers now by placing the profession blocks and how villagers are now looking for beds instead of many, many doors. It just feels like they completely overdid things here and some of the profession blocks seem somewhat unnecessary or weird. Like, why would we need a "Smithing Table" without any functions for a Toolsmith, if there already is the Anvil in the game?

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate x Minecraft - Challenger Pack Concept

If you're talking about adding Minecraft contents to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in form of one of the five Challenger Packs, you often get met with anger, because it seems that part of the Smash community really doesn't like the idea of the Minecraft avatar as a playable fighter in their favorite game, mostly because of the aesthetics.

The bargaining often ends with saying that a stage should be enough, because the possibility of Minecraft contents being added to Smash Ultimate is still in the air, ever since Vergeben first mentioned this about a year ago - the guy who accurately "predicted" Ridley, Simon, Isabelle, Ken and Incineroar. He couldn't place the Minecraft contents, which were missing during the release, but has heard about a boss, where it's possible that they might add the Ender Dragon as another boss to the game with the DLC.

But even without the words of so called leakers, it's not unlikely that both Nintendo and Sakurai might want Minecraft in Smash. Nintendo loves Minecraft. They have released a Creeper Edition of the New 2DS XL and Minecraft is on the three most recent Nintendo console with lots of Super Mario skins. Miyamoto openly wishes that Nintendo had made the game (source) and Sakurai loves to play Survival Minecraft (source).

And I personally love Minecraft myself. I have very fond memories of playing the game both alone and with various friends during my time at the university. It was my first real open world game before Breath of the Wild and I wouldn't want to have it any other way, because Minecraft embraces complete freedom. The freedom to explore as you like, to do what you want and to make your own mistakes while facing the dangers of the dark. The freedom to build your own house, underground facility, farm or island in the sky...

It's such a complex game with nearly unlimited possibilities, but yet so simple at its core. It's a game to be enjoyed by audiences of all ages, where it has become the childhood favorite of an entire new generation of gamers. Minecraft is today what Super Mario used to be for my generation. So, it would be a great honor for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate to have one of its Challenger Packs devoted to this successful game, which has the charm of Nintendo's old classics. And with the 10th Anniversary of Minecraft coming up, it would be the perfect time for this crossover.

While it's possible that they might add only a stage or some other small collaborations in the form of additional Mii Fighter outfits and Spirits, the core of the DLC for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will be the five Challenger Packs, bundles of a fighter and a stage. Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS / Wii U offered similar bundles for whenever they had added a fighter from a new franchise (Street Fighter, Final Fantasy and Bayonetta), where it's likely that most, if not all of the five Challenger Packs will be for 3rd party franchises, considering that most of Nintendo has been covered by Spirits already.

So, if they are really working on Minecraft contents for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, it most likely will be the full package and might even receive the best efforts from Sakurai's team. A stage alone also wouldn't be entirely satisfying. While it certainly could capture the essence of exploration and the magic of Minecraft's randomized worlds, it could not properly represent all the things you can do in the game. Only a fighter can do that.

In the following we will discuss the possible contents of a "Super Smash Bros. Ultimate x Minecraft" Challenger Pack:

The Stage: New World

Like the Super Mario Maker stage, it would be randomized, starting you in a different biome each time you play on the stage. This part would be a walk-off stage with a randomized layout and a day and night cycle, where at night different monsters come out, like Zombies, Skeleton and of course Creepers. Players can destroy the block based terrain and even pick up the blocks like items to place them somewhere else.

This would be the simplest concept, but they could take it even further by scrolling or morphing the stage. Players could potentially dig their way into a randomized cave system. This could either be a normal cave, a mine shaft or a part of a Stronghold. The transition could even happen in different ways, e.g. the Ender Dragon swooping through the stage, erasing the ground.

The stage could take the players even into the Nether or the End potentially, where in the background Steve shows up and opens the respective portal. The End would be more like a traditional Smash stage with a platform in the dark void and probably would feature the Ender Dragon as a stage boss. The Nether part will have a lava floor similar to Norfair. Both realms then lead back to the beginning via portals, where everything starts over.

Overall there is enough potential for multiple stages here, where a randomized Minecraft overworld stage would already be amazing enough.

The Fighter: Steve & Alex

The big DLC fighters that come bundled with a stage all seem to offer some sort of new gimmick. Ryu had the Street Fighter inputs, Cloud had Limit, Bayonetta had Witch Time and now Joker got Arsene. Three of those are even triggered by the Down Special. If a Minecraft fighter gets into Smash, this gimmick should be obvious: placing blocks. The Down Special would here be used to place blocks below you and pillar up. These blocks can be destroyed by other players with attacks, but you can do so quicker with your pickaxe (Neutral or Side Special).

Ender Pearls could be used for the Up Special, where you throw the pearl in an arc and then get teleported to where it hits at the cost of some percent. The trusty block sword could be used for his normal attacks, where a Diamond Sword could deal the devastating Smash Attacks. Other tools and weapons from the game like the bow, shovel, axe, trident or even potions are available to fill any remaining moves, so there is lots of potential for a moveset here.

The Final Smash could ever be lighting a pile of TNT or summoning the Wither, where both would be equally devastating to your surroundings.

The main issue people seem to have with a Minecraft fighter in Super Smash Bros. usually isn't the moveset potential, but the overall look, despite the fact that we have characters like Mr. Game & Watch playable already. But if you take a look at the Minecraft Dungeons trailer, seeing a Minecraft fighter properly animated doesn't feel so alien after all and could still fit into Smash with its own charms. He would stick out for sure, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, making this a truly unique entry.

The fighter would have "Steve" as a the default skin, much like Minecraft itself does, but there are countless possibilities for alt costumes here, including those from the official Super Mario Edition, where you have a majority of the Mario characters including Mario, Luigi, Peach, Bowser and Toad, of course. But they could go for other Nintendo characters like Link or Zero Suit Samus, which all would be easily distinguishable from the actual fighters thanks to their blocky appearance. And even other video game characters altogether are possible, like Master Chief or Banjo...

The female default skin, "Alex", should be part of this as well, but with so many options for alt costumes of both genders, they might even go as far and make her an Echo Fighter. In this case the Challenger Pack would come with both a new Fighter and an Echo Fighter similar to Simon and Richter in the main game. She wouldn't have to be all that different from her male counterpart, but it would be worth it for the possibility of having 16 Minecraft skins together alone.

Another good reason would be the Classic Mode...

Classic Mode & Spirits

With a Classic Mode route for Minecraft it's clear, where it ends: in the "End" with the Ender Dragon as its boss. Well, if they are cheap yet again, they could just use Rathalos on Final Destination to emulate the battle, but depending on how much effort they put into the Minecraft DLC, both the End and the Ender Dragon could become a boss stage of their own.

(If they are planning on adding a Boss Battle mode later on, this could even be the reason, why they are holding it back: the game doesn't have all its bosses as of yet.)

The rest of the Classic Mode could use other parts of the Minecraft stage, depending on how much the stage actually offers. But existing stages could represent certain parts of the Minecraft world, e.g. Norfair could be used to represent the Nether and the Great Cave Offensive as an underground cave.

As for Spirits, the typical / most popular Minecraft enemies and mobs would do the job here:

  • Zombie
  • Skeleton
  • Creeper
  • Villager
  • Wolf
  • Enderman
  • Ender Dragon
  • Ghast
  • Wither
  • ...

There's lots of iconic entities in the game, so there is more than enough material for potential Spirits.