Why Minecraft Dungeons Is the Perfect Next Step For the Minecraft Universe
There’s a moment at the beginning of every new Minecraft save that approaches divinity. When you awaken on your newly generated island, the world literally unfurls before your eyes; for one golden moment, you bear sole witness to its creation.
Minecraft’s appeal is its promise of discovery. Tall mountains on the horizon conceal sprawling desert plains while deep underground caverns host bright festivals of lava, water, and gemstone. Its vistas sing with mathematical beauty, meted out in perfect, cubic bundles of pixels.
That’s in large part because of the actual math behind Minecraft — specifically, the procedural generation that drives the formation of such scenery. Procedural generation ensures that every new Minecraft save is ripe for a unique set of adventures, performing a delicate balance between randomness and order.
The same is true for Minecraft Dungeons, the new dungeon crawler and action-RPG from Mojang Studios that’s set in the Minecraft universe. Though Minecraft Dungeons adheres to a distinct narrative path, its levels are procedurally generated, allowing it to foster new experiences of discovery with every playthrough — just like the original Minecraft.
As an action-RPG, Minecraft Dungeons guides players level after level full of belligerent mobs and treasure as they seek to stop the evil Arch-Illager. There’s no mining or crafting, however; instead of a pickaxe, players will be spending most of their time swinging swords and battleaxes. Unlike the traditional RPG (but similar to Minecraft), Minecraft Dungeons encourages players to forge their own play style and character through customization of items and wearables — no classes or set layouts.
It’s a completely new format for the Minecraft universe, but that doesn’t mean the game has abandoned its roots. “Minecraft covers many different playstyles and player motivations,” Senior Producer Nathan Rose said. “In Dungeons we've tried to narrow that down and focus on two of those in particular: the adventure elements and the exploration elements.”
One of the primary ways in which the game achieves this is through its level design. Minecraft Dungeons takes place across a number of biomes, each distinct in their look and feel. While many of these environments — a desert temple, a cavern rich with redstone, an underground forge lined with rivers of lava — will be familiar to Minecraft veterans, others will be new.
Take the Creeper Woods, a dark, forested environment that, true to its name, houses many an explosive green mob. Careful lighting and pleasing, geometrical environmental features give the woods life. “What I love in particular about that level are these little patches of mushrooms that kind of get this little bit of a glow as you walk through them,” Rose said.
Whether tucked into valleys or buried underneath dozens of layers of rock, finding natural features in the original Minecraft is one of its greatest joys. The more structured nature of Minecraft Dungeons allowed its developers to design these features even more deliberately, making every level feel hand-crafted.
But that’s the other special thing about Dungeons’ levels: They’re only partly hand-crafted. While certain puzzles and narrative moments are locked in place, much of each level’s structure is procedurally generated, randomizing aspects of the room-to-room layout, placement of enemies, and yield of loot.
Procedural generation was appealing to the Minecraft Dungeons team as a way of encouraging mastery of the game’s systems via multiple playthroughs. “It allows for a high replay value and allows also the player to adapt and refine the way that they play,” Rose said.
Part of the Minecraft promise is that no two playthroughs of a game are ever identical. Minecraft Dungeons, however, manages to retain that principle while still telling a story and guiding players through sculpted narrative moments.
Ultimately, Minecraft Dungeons uses procedural generation to replicate that same feeling players experience when they load up a new Minecraft world — excitement and wonder in the face of endless adventure.
Minecraft Dungeons will be available for PC on April 30, 2020.