|By Shamus||Jan 24, 2011||Game Design||118 comments|
I’ve been playing Minecraft in single-player survival mode, with a self-imposed hardcore death. If I die, I delete the world and start over. (I’ve heard there is a feature planned that will do this for you, but I’d rather just play on the honor system. After I die, I like to go back and look the place over before hitting delete. I don’t mind losing the world, but I like to know what I did wrong.)
In survival mode, you begin the game empty-handed and homeless, and you have until sundown to scrape together enough resources to see you through the night, because the monsters will kill your fragile ass if you don’t have fortifications between you and them. You start by punching down a tree (no, really) and using your bare hands to turn the lumber into wooden planks. Then you turn the planks into a workbench. Then use the workbench to make a crappy wooden pickaxe. Use the pickaxe to mine some stone. Use the stone to make a better pickaxe. Find coal if you can, and make some torches. Build a house. You don’t have much time, so a simple shack will have to do. (I’m more of a Hobbit at heart, and I prefer to excavate my first home as opposed to building it.)
By sundown you should have a building to hide in, some lights, and some means of defending yourself. If you’re lucky, you might also have healing items or glass windows.
After the first night, You’ll expand your house. You’ll acquire armor. You’ll get better tools and weapons. You’ll get more torches, which will let you control the monster population. The game starts out brutally hard, and gets gradually easier with each day. It’s a very odd gaming experience.
On Friday I logged in to my hardcore game and and was at a loss for what to do. My building was strong, well-lit, secure, and well-stocked. I had all the armor, tools, and resources I needed. I couldn’t figure out why I’d stopped having fun. Suddenly I realized what the problem was: I’d won. Without realizing it, I had accomplished everything that was important to me and there was nothing left. In this state, I could hold the monsters off forever and everything from this moment on was just item hoarding. It took several tries to reach this point, but I’d done it.
Having logged a lot of hours on hard mode now, I have to say I’m not really impressed with the creeper as a foe. There are four major foes in the game: Zombies, skeletons, spiders and creepers. The first three all have their advantages and disadvantages, and they make for an interesting team. But the creeper so dominates the game that I rarely worry about the others.
The creeper is an exploding monster. If it gets within 1 block of you, it begins a 1.5 second timer. When the timer expires, it detonates, blowing a 4×4 hole in the world and (very likely) killing you. If you manage to get 2 blocks away, the timer will cancel and the creeper won’t detonate.
* Unlike all other monsters, the creeper is totally silent until it attacks. (I read that they supposedly have an ambient sound now, although I have yet to hear it. It must be very quiet compared to the moan of zombies or rattle of skeletons.)
* Unlike the other monsters, it is active during the day. Zombies and skeletons are killed by daylight. Spiders go semi-docile during the day. But creepers are a pervasive threat.
* Creepers are as durable as any other monster with no special combat weakness.
* The creeper is the only monster in the game that can kill you in a single hit. (I don’t think the others can kill in 3 hits, even on hard.)
* Unlike zombies, they can climb ladders and waterfalls.
* Unlike most other mobs, they have more complex pathing that lets them ambush the player instead of performing a mindless suicide charge.
* They are reasonably fast moving, only slightly slower than the player.
* They are the only mob that can destroy fortifications.
* They are green and blend in with grass and trees more than any other foe in the game.
* They can see the player through walls.
|A zombie forgets his sunblock.|
This seems like too many advantages and too few disadvantages to me. In my dozen or so hardcore games, all of my deaths were from creepers. My next leading cause of death is falling. (Perhaps I don’t practice the most safe building practices, but still.) Spiders and skeletons are probably tied for distant third. I don’t think I’ve ever been killed by a zombie. Creepers far outshine the other mobs in terms of danger. It’s like having a bestiary with a rat, a kitten, a peasant, and a Beholder.
I really like the idea of the creeper, and I think could work well as a siege-breaker. It can smash open fortifications so that the other monsters can move in for the kill. But as it stands the creeper doesn’t really need the help and the other monsters never really get chance.
Zombies, spiders, and skeletons are great fun. The sounds they make induce intense paranoia, and encourage the player to seek out the threat, in order to avoid being ambushed. But the creeper doesn’t really create that sort of excitement. If you get ambushed, all you get is, “BOOM! Game over.” That’s more of a let-down than a thrill, and it means the game ends right when it should be getting interesting. I have never been a fan of unexpected instant death. (I Wanna be the Guy is about as far from my area of interest as you can get.) Some players might say this sort of thing makes the game more “exciting”, but that strikes me as a bit of a paradox. Creepers can really only ambush you when you aren’t expecting them – and if you’re not thinking about them then they’re not adding excitement to the game. If you are expecting them, then they can’t ambush you so they can’t be that much of a threat. I’m usually only excited for the 1.5 seconds between the sound effect of the ambush and the appearance of the Game Over screen. For me, every other monster in the game does a better job at creating a sense of danger and paranoia, even though they’re all less dangerous. Perceived threat and actual threat are only very loosely related, and often the best way to increase the perception of danger is to decrease the real danger.
You could suggest making creepers louder, or slower, or having a smaller radius, but I think the best way to fix them would be to make them do less damage to the player and (perhaps) more damage to the environment.
It would be great if you survived a creeper explosion but had to deal with the skeletons, zombies, or spiders now flowing through the huge hole in your defenses. You could even tweak creeper behavior to prevent them from canceling the timer, which would force them to explode against the player’s defensive structures.
See, a common tactic is to build battlements and shoot or stab the mindless zombies, spiders, and skeletons with impunity. If a creeper gets near, you can play hit & run with it until it dies and it will never detonate. Once you reach the point in the game where you have battlements like this, monsters stop being a threat. The only way you can die is if you accidentally allow a corner of your base to be too dark (so that a creeper will spawn there when you look away) or if you get ambushed by a creeper when you come out at dawn. (Most of my deaths happened during the day from lingering creepers.) This makes fighting monsters more of a daily routine: Scavenge during the day, battle impotent mobs all night. Rinse, repeat. But if creepers didn’t cancel their detonation, then they would blow up against your walls. This would make battles unpredictable and dynamic, forcing the player to construct layered defenses and perform emergency repairs. If nothing else, it would force you to retreat from the walls when creepers got near.
|The great Creeper statue on the Twentymine Server.|
I know it sounds like I’m contradicting myself: Shamus, you want the game to be harder and creepers to be less dangerous? But I think creepers should be diminished so that other monsters can put up more of a fight. Right now survival mode is basically “creeper mode”, and it makes the game a little too 1-dimensional. Once your Minecraft base is established, the night attacks turn into a shooting gallery. Imagine the battle of Helm’s Deep if the orcs forgot to bring ladders. The monsters just don’t have a great deal of synergy. Making the creeper less of a threat to the player and more of a threat to their buildings would give the monsters a way to break through this stalemate and let the other monsters do their jobs.