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.