Iberia: For the New Minecraft Player

One of the goals of Iberia is to preserve the vanilla feel of Minecraft. As such, it’s worth asking if it would be a good introduction to Minecraft for the brand new player. Well, it depends. If the brand new player is a five year old kid who wants to play Minecraft because she just got a Minecraft lunchbox, probably not. If the brand new player is an adult or an active gamer who is finally ready to try out Minecraft, definitely.

Let’s play this scenario out a little further. Let’s imagine that Iberia were baked into Minecraft and when you started you could select the easy introduction (vanilla) or the challenging introduction (Iberia). People like my thirteen year old son would choose the challenging one, just because it’s a challenge. And at that point he is dropped into a survival world with all of the challenges Iberia adds on top of that.

And so, of course, he would die. But first he’d knock down a few trees, build some tools, maybe even create a hidey hole. But within the first day or two, he’d be dead, as a new player. He’s not even going to face the challenges of finding your way or slow crafting with armor. And without natural regeneration, he may not even get to mining enough to experience hard stone. And so, he dies, the spawn point is changed and he respawns (reincarnates?) in a seemingly new world. At the start of a new day, though he may have died at night. So he now gets another 10 minutes to learn better how to start a new life in Minecraft. He’ll get further this time around, maybe even build a place to survive the night. But if not, he dies again, and gets more practice.

This repeated practice of the first day is a way better experience than my first attempts at Minecraft. Sure, I made it through that first day, and then died early in the night. And respawned in the dark. Then I had to run around blindly in the dark, hoping I could maybe find my stuff, but in reality just dying a couple more times till it got light again. Then getting a new start. But not really learning how to start well.

True, the new player using Iberia would likely repeat that first day experience more times because of the need to sleep to heal. And that could get grindy and annoying for a new player. But once he can survive through two or three nights, he’s got the basics down. Sleeping to heal will force the new player to do more early work during the day and he’ll have more time to build a home and base with early game materials (wood, dirt, grass, sand). Over time, this home base will be expanded and rebuilt using stone and other materials, giving him a greater sense of accomplishment.

Iberia: Death With Consequences Challenge

I love the concept of hardcore: you die, you have to start all over in a new world. It gives your play some weight – you have to make good decisions. One level beyond hardcore would be that when you die, your license to the game is revoked and you have to pay to play again. Yikes! I keep wanting to call that ultra hardcore, but that’s already come to mean a hardcore world where natural regeneration is turned off, so it’s harder to stay alive. Iberia already has natural regeneration turned off as part of the Sleep to Heal challenge. But there are some changes we can make to the hardcore concept, at least for single player games, that will make it even better.

That’s where death with consequences comes in. You essentially have the same consequences as in a hardcore game, but set up in such a way that you want to play again when you die, and each time you die the game becomes richer, even though you have to start from scratch. With that little teaser, let’s just lay it out. When you die, the world spawn is moved far away and you respawn there as if in a new game. No matter what time of day you die, you respawn at the start of a new day, 1000+ blocks from your old spawn, as naked and poor as when you played your first game of Minecraft. The twist is that instead of losing your old base, your old buildings, all the knowledge you gained exploring and great gear you built up, it’s all in the world.


But you have no way of locating it easily. You can’t just build a compass and find your old spawn, because the world spawn has changed. And because of the Find Your Way challenge, you can’t rely on debug coordinates to find your old base. You never knew where it was either, except in relation to waypoints and markers that you built. You don’t know which direction the old spawn is from the new spawn so while you could go exploring, you’re as likely to get lost as anything.

You’ve started a new game.

But it’s not like your other games of Minecraft. In this one, someone has already played. Maybe many people have. They’ve built a base, they’ve mined, they’ve farmed, they’ve set up markers and waypoints. And there’s a chance you could find those bases, those old buildings and abandoned towns. But you’ll have to build your own base, make yourself safe, collect resources, and go out exploring. Then, when you do find those abandoned constructions from your own previous lives, you can loot them, or revive them, connecting with them via marked paths, rail lines, or nether portals, or take TNT to these relics of your past failed lives.

Iberia: Find Your Way Challenge

This is the simplest challenge so far, and you don’t need Iberia to make it happen. The “Find Your Way” challenge is just that you have to find your own way in Minecraft – no coordinates are available in the debug view that you get by pressing F3. Really straightforward, really easy to implement, you don’t even need to install Iberia. But it’s part of Iberia because of how well it fits the goals.

First, it makes the game more difficult. If you get lost, you’re lost. Second, it preserves the vanilla feel. I actually think this should be the default in vanilla Minecraft. Third, it enhances the gameplay. Now you’ve got to consider how to keep track of where you are when you’re traveling. Besides using the under-appreciated features of maps and compasses, you can use other tools to find your way: landmarks in the environment, of course. Waypoints that you build, or bigger structures that you build. Breadcrumbs that you leave, whether they’re as simple as torches or stone blocks. Beacons as well.

This is a good time to point out that none of these features is set in stone, not even hard stone. But “Find Your Way” is especially open to changing, whether through other ways to make it difficult to get information to guide you that wouldn’t be available in the real world, or more likely, by mitigating the challenge in the same way that quick armor swapping makes slow crafting with armor feasible. In other words, more tools for finding you way, measuring distances, discovering direction (especially in the End or the Nether), and measuring light may be added as a part of this challenge.

Iberia: Armor Slows Crafting Challenge

Wearing armor slows crafting … and chest access, and enchanting, and hopper/dropper/dispenser access, villager trading, etc. Basically, wearing armor makes it harder to do things. The exceptions are accessing your own inventory and accessing inventory when on a horse. The way this works is that if you try to use a crafting table, open a chest, look inside a hopper, dropper, or dispenser, or well, you get the picture, then there will be a delay and a wait indicator. The delay doesn’t exist if you’re wearing no armor. And it’s shorter with leather and gold armor than with iron and chain armor. Diamond armor has the longest delay, and it can be quite annoying. As, I imagine, trying to build stairs out of wood while wearing a full suit of diamonds would be quite annoying.

That’s the challenge, in a nutshell. By itself, however, this would just be annoying/dangerous. So there’s also a change to armor stands to make it easier to deal with this challenge. You can now shift-right click on an armor stand to swap the armor you’re wearing (including your off hand tool/shield) with the armor stand. That means that you can quickly remove your armor by shift-right clicking an empty armor stand, and quickly armor back up by doing the same thing a second time. As an added bonus, you can now place elytra on armor stands.

So, why handicap armor in this way? Well, mods galore have tried to handicap armor in interesting ways: slowing your walking or sprinting speed, accelerating hunger, making swimming more difficult. I’m not opposed to adding those if I can find the right mix of realism, gameplay, vanilla feel, and difficulty. But I wanted to start with something unique. And encouraging more use of armor stands while also making them easier to use is a great bonus.

Besides that, this challenge encourages other changes to your gameplay. First of all, when you are wearing armor and need to do some crafting, you’ll be more likely to find a protected place to do it. You’ve got a bigger reason to build a home. Or block yourself in when caving or mining. Plus, there’s an added reason to use leather and gold armor, because they barely slow down your crafting at all. And chain armor slows it down less than iron, so that’s also useful.

Finally, because you’ll want armor stands to swap out your gear, it will be useful to have them wherever you expect to do a sustained amount of crafting, redstone work, enchanting, or potion making. Something to consider as you layout out your base.

Iberia: Sleep to Heal Challenge

The challenges in Iberia are meant to make Minecraft harder, but also more fun and realistic, if possible. “Sleep to Heal” is directly related to the naturalGeneration gamerule. This gamerule is the key difference that makes hardcore into ultra hardcore, and it prevents the player from healing just because they’re full. In UHC games, whether multi player or single player, that means you would need golden apples, golden carrots, potions of healing or potions of regeneration to get well after being injured. The fact that all of these options for healing exist make it so that turning on this rule still allows the game to be playable, especially if you’re not playing hardcore. Sleep to heal turns this gamerule on, but also adds one more way to heal: by sleeping.

Specifically, for sleeping to heal you, you need to sleep without being hungry at all. Additionally, you need to wake up naturally (i.e. not because a monster attacks you). When those conditions are met, you will heal one heart. It’s not much, but before you have lots of gold, it’s nice to know you can slowly heal yourself just by making sure you get your rest.

Besides making Minecraft harder, it’s more realistic: rest is important in real life when you’re recovering from an injury or sickness. It doesn’t fundamentally alter the mechanics around health or hunger, or sleeping, so it keeps that wonderful vanilla feel. It adds an element to your gameplay decisions. If you’re hurt, you can stay closer to base, make sure you’re sleeping through the nights. Plus it gives you a reason to sleep. In vanilla, after the first few nights there isn’t much reason to sleep. You can fight off the nasty monsters, or just build within your base, or mine through the night. Now you have to trade off those possibilities with the need for sleep in order to heal up.

Oh, and sleep is also used to set your spawn point, but a different challenge will take that ability away. Stay tuned …

Iberia: Hard Stone Challenge

I mentioned in my first post that one challenge I sometimes gave myself when trying to make vanilla Minecraft more interesting was to not allow myself to branch mine. This is a common rule in UHC matches, and I found that it generally made the earlier stages of the game take longer and be more challenging. With the new combat mechanics introduced in version 1.9 that’s even more true. And honestly, once you get the basics of branch mining, it’s quite easy to avoid exploring caves altogether. With branch mining you come across all the necessary ores and lava as well. Plus you avoid the majority of the monsters. The only inducement I can think of is to find dungeons, but I’ve found as many of those branch mining as I have caving.

So, if this is a good challenge to introduce, how would it be done? How do you encourage, or almost enforce the exploration of caves? To do this I came up with the idea of hard stone. Hard stone is stone that is surrounded by other stone, ores, or dirt, and it takes longer to mine. So any stone block (stone, andesite, diorite, granite) can become hardened if it’s fully surrounded. And any hard stone will revert to normal if it’s not surrounded. But there is a delay, otherwise, you could just branch mine, because as soon as a stone is un-surrounded it would become un-hard. So Iberia uses the same algorithm for growing plants to convert stone to hard stone and vice versa. On average a surrounded stone block will become hard stone in the same amount of time that a crop will grow one stage.

Now that we’ve got stone and hard stone conversion worked out, what about the mining speed? It needs to be long enough to discourage branch mining. And there’s not really any reason to keep it short. There is so much exposed un-hard stone in a world, that it’s still quite easy to get the stone you need for crafting. As such, I went with a default slowdown of ten times as long to mine hard stone. Of course, by encouraging more caving, Iberia shouldn’t then eliminate mining. It is called Minecraft after all. Given how easy it is to find iron at or near the surface, the slowdown needs to apply to iron tools. But gold takes much more work to get when caving, and diamond as well. So it makes sense to make gold and diamond pickaxes exempt from the mining slowdown.

Now that the feature is fleshed out a bit more, we can see how it affects your choices. Early game, you’ll definitely want to explore caves to get the ores you need. Although another option is to collect the necessary materials and mine using TNT. Either way, once you’ve found gold, you have an extra use for it and a legitimate reason to make a tool from gold. Given how quickly gold tools break, your gold pickaxes may be used only in certain situations, like when you can hear monsters through a wall, or want to mine around a vein of diamond ore to make sure you don’t lose any. Of course, if you find enough gold, you could do some limited branch mining with it. Additionally, the early game technique of mining out a hidey-hole for your first home will be difficult, unless you do it in a pile of dirt. So hard stone will push you to build a real home earlier, whether it’s with dirt, or wood, or cobble you mined from exposed stone. Finally, this feature will make it harder to rack up large amounts of stone the traditional way, which is branch mining. Instead it will encourage you to create a stone quarry, where you expose a large area of stone so that as you work to mine it out, there is time for the exposed stone to un-harden.

Now we can ask if hard stone meets our goals for the Iberia mod. Does it make Minecraft harder? Definitely in the early game it does, until you are able to get diamond tools. Next, does it preserve the vanilla feel? This is more subjective, but I think it does. No new blocks or items are added. Does it enhance the gameplay? Again, subjective. But all of the effects discussed above definitely add variety and choice to the game. And that’s better gameplay in a sandbox game like Minecraft. Finally, does it encourage the use of under-appreciated features or approaches? I say yes: TNT, exploring caves, gold tools, stone quarries, at a minimum.

Iberia: Goals

So, in my last post I outlined how I went from being a vanilla Minecraft player to deciding to create a mod of my own. In this one, I’ll lay out the goals for Iberia. In short, they are to:

  • Increase the difficulty of Minecraft while
  • Preserving the vanilla feel,
  • Enhancing the gameplay, and
  • Encouraging the user of under-appreciated Minecraft features

Increasing the difficulty of Minecraft

This first goal is really the core of the mod. After playing for a few months, vanilla Minecraft was just too easy. Even on hardcore, it’s mostly not hard to stay alive, which means that when you die its due to a stupid accident. That makes hardcore engaging in some ways, but once you’ve made that one misstep the whole game is over. I like a good hardcore game, but I also want to be able to keep playing (with serious consequences) after a death. So Iberia is trying to make Minecraft harder than hardcore in some ways: let’s make the actual gameplay take some thought, require some work and skill that just isn’t necessary in hardcore. But it’s also letting it be easier, in the sense that you can respawn after death.

Preserving the vanilla feel

The goal of preserving the vanilla feel comes from my own enjoyment of vanilla Minecraft. I don’t want a big mod with so many esoteric changes that it requires a whole new wiki to document everything. I want to spend my time playing Minecraft, not reading a wiki. Where possible, Iberia should be usable without knowing anything about it, just by playing the game and adjusting to the challenges that naturally present themselves to you.

Enhancing the gameplay

The goal of enhancing gameplay is really about recognizing that making Minecraft harder should never make it boring, or a grind, or just plain silly. Enhancing gameplay is about making Minecraft more fun and more realistic. But not too realistic. Because perfect realism would make Minecraft as boring as real life. The challenges in Iberia should be challenges that make you grin and say, “yeah, let’s do this!”. When you fail, you still feel like it’s possible and want to try again, because it’s fun no matter the outcome. And if you accomplish them, you should be proud, more so than in vanilla Minecraft.

Encouraging the use of under-appreciated Minecraft features

While it’s clear that mods greatly expand the number of cool things you can do in Minecraft, Iberia should point players to all the cool things in vanilla Minecraft that are under appreciated. It’s so easy to start a new world, start your mine, get all the stuff you need, and build a base, while not ever enjoying significant parts of the game. Have you ever built an armor stand? If so, have you ever used it? Have you ever dyed leather armor? Have you ever gone caving for diamonds? Do you ever write in books? If we can make those features fun to use and fit into accomplishing new challenges, all the better.

So, how does Iberia do all this? Well, it’s still a work in progress, so your ideas are welcome. But it does exist, with at least a few unique challenges already available. Plus, I’ve got a decent backlog of ideas that I’m excited to add and then use when I’m playing. But I’ll save the challenges for future posts.

Iberia: Genesis

After playing Minecraft for over a year, I thought I would never use mods.

So how is it that less than a year later I’m now developing a Minecraft mod?

Well, let’s go back about a year. At the time I really enjoyed playing Minecraft single player. I was building cool stuff, and just enjoying myself. To add to the challenge of the game I would limit myself in certain ways. For example, I might start a new world and not allow branch mining until I had diamonds. Or I just wouldn’t allow branch mining at all. Combine that with hardcore mode, and you’ll have good incentive to stay on your toes.

Even so, I was getting a little bored with it, so I decided it was time to try out multi-player. I found a great vanilla server and joined and played for quite a while. When looking for a server to join, I knew I wanted vanilla. Vanilla Minecraft has plenty of complexity and I was excited to change up my gameplay by doing it with other players. The server I joined was resetting when I happened upon it, so I got to be there on day one, and helped build out the spawn area, and then built up a nice base for myself in a mega taiga. I found a double spawner near my base, tackled an ocean temple, helped defeat the ender dragon, etc. Life was good.

And then I quit the server. Well, actually, not officially. I may go back at some point. I keep an eye on the forum, and love to see the cool stuff they’re building, but my time got sucked away when I set up an SMP world for me and my three sons. And it was awesome. And it was vanilla, of course. We built our own spawn area, conquered the ender dragon, defeated a wither, etc. I started a nice base, and helped them work on their bases. But after doing all the “achievements” the boys slowly lost interest, and we stopped playing together.

So, because my kids lost interest in Minecraft I was on the lookout for a way to renew it. The only mods that had ever appealed to me were biome and terrain generation mods. But I stumbled on Quark one day and it felt like the perfect extension of vanilla Minecraft. We restarted a new world with two mods: Quark and Biomes O’Plenty. And it’s really cool. There’s all kinds of new stuff to explore, and all kinds of new stuff we can build.

As a software developer, I was impressed with the rapid releases of Quark, and, after looking at the github repository, how well organized and clean the code was. So I decided to go back to my original attempts to make Minecraft more interesting and see if I could make a mod in the style of Quark that was focused on upping the difficulty level without losing the vanilla feel of Minecraft.

Even better: what if I could up the difficulty level in ways that encouraged people to more fully explore the opportunities present in vanilla Minecraft?

And thus Iberia was conceived.