Friday, August 17, 2012

Let's Talk About Minecraft - Nether Edition

The other night when I ranted about Minecraft, I mentioned the Nether in passing, but since I have been watching a -lot- of Minecraft videos, it's still been on my mind, so I wanted to go into that with a little more detail since it honestly is a rather big point.  And with this form, talking specifically on this one point, I can give all the detail I could possibly want, which is a -lot- since it is just so much nit-picking here that is to be done.  Nit-picking like you have never -seen- before.  Well, you have if you've read my other posts where I nit-pick but that is entirely beside the point - the point is that the Nether, as it is, even with the update it got with the Adventure Update, is still so much unfulfilled potential.  It's an in-between thing where the two sides are 'good idea' and 'why is this here, again?'.  Though it does, as you'll see me point out, heavily lean towards the latter point with pretty much everything it involves, but not -exactly- since everything in it leans to the former conceptually at least.

The Nether, when it started, was meant to be this Hellish landscape that offered two things to the player:  A new area to explore, theoretically, and a way to 'fast-travel', as time and space is fairly different in the Nether.  Every one Nether Block is the equivalent of 8 blocks in the overworld, so a short jaunt in the Nether translates into a rather long walk in the Over world, and an epic journey in the Nether sends you out into what might as well be the other side of the Minecraft 'world' in the Overworld.  Whether you want to connect your far-apart bases in a slightly shorter way, or use the Nether to branch out and -make- faraway bases (to generate new chunks, most likely), the Nether serves that purpose and it does it fairly well.  This is basically the only thing the Nether does fairly well, with the only other thing being "being completely too dangerous to the player".  Which doesn't increase the challenge, so much as it rewards your patronage with burning, item-destroying death.

I mean that, of course, as exactly how I said it.  If you hadn't noticed in the screenshot at the top, the Nether is an unforgiving place full of lava and fire and by that merit, fiery death.  And, if you're not in the know about Fire in Minecraft, well here is the thing:  Anything in item form (as in, when your items drop from you upon death) touched by fire will instantly disappear forever.  So say you get hit by a fireball from a Ghast who shoot them from the sky, die, and your items pop out in the crater that is about you.  Any of those items that hit fire created by said fireball are gone and you're just screwed in terms of regaining them if and when you can return to that spot in the time allotted.  It's meant to be abrasive so that you don't actually want to stay; simply use it as a shortcut for the overworld.  Apparently it was er....'inspired' by the Wheel of Time series which has a similar thing full of danger, but good for fast travel.

Since it was implemented in the game proper, only one real big improvement has been made to it, which is the inclusion of Nether Fortresses. the things that generally house the other new bits added to the Nether on the Adventure side of the Adventure Update:  Nether Wart and Blaze Rods, both things used in potion-making.  This is sort of when it starts undermining the entire reason that it existed in the first place, since you made this -thing-, this dimension, that exists solely as a way for you to get from Point A to Point B in a faster way, and then also added things that you have to explore to find, negating any sense of 'urgency' that might have been created.  It creates a muddled message, which when there is very little that is specifically stated to begin with, is a rather dangerous thing.  Now, when you spawn into the Nether, not only do you really not know what to do (much like with the game proper, which basically simply instructs you to explore, destroy and create in that order), applying the same rules could end poorly as you might suspect, and without knowing otherwise, these are the only rules that you will probably apply.

With the message going both ways, the thing you want to do is clear it up one way or another.  If the message is that you don't want to be in the Nether unless you have to be, then add some urgency.  Put the amount of time you can spend in the Nether on a timer and bring the exploration stuff from the Nether to the regular world.  Make portals one-way so that you -have- to go in and establish another one to get out as, making the player work to get out will make them remember it, to not want to repeat the exercise.  This might complicate the fast-travel message in a sense, but no more than it already has been.  If the message is that you are supposed to explore the Nether, then give the Nether more that is worth exploring for.  As a means of offering you something, anything, to look at, the Nether Fortresses do the bare minimum, offering empty rooms and hallways with the very, very slight chance of having stairways that also house Soul Sand and naturally growing Nether Wart and, on even slimmer occasions, a Blaze spawner.

Beyond those things, all the Nether offers is a paltry sum of blocks that barely breaks the double-digits, and only thanks to the Adventure Update for that matter.  Netherrack, Soul Sand, Nether Brick (In fence and stair form, as well as block) and Glow Stone are the only unique blocks, with only Soul Sand and Glow Stone serving purposes beyond the cosmetic.  This is a realm that you are apparently expected to explore around in and it, at present, completely lacks things that incentivize your exploration.  Mods are already in place to fix this, most notably with the "Nether Ore" mod that adds Ore blocks for you to search for and mine in the Nether, but Mods should never be taken into account for a game's whole itself, no matter how mod-friendly the game is or appears to be.  You have to be able to point out what it offers at its basest level, what everyone has access to without anything extra, so it's something you can speak of in broad strokes.

Something that I think the Nether lacks in this same train of thought is sustainability; regardless of the newer intent for exploration, the original message of "You do not want to be here" lingers on, as the realm offers absolutely no means of survivability on its own.  You cannot have water in the Nether.  Trees do not spawn naturally in the Nether, so you have no wood with which to make tools.  There is no way to gain iron to create a flint and steel in case your portal gets shut off.  Think the realm is frustrating on its own merits?  Try and spend half an hour or better searching for a Nether Fortress, finally find it, manage to gather Blaze Rods and Nether Wart and Soul Sand, get back to your portal and have a ghast ruin it with a fireball.  Most will call you an idiot for not bringing flint and steel into the Nether to begin with, but if you are simply intending on going from Point A to Point B, there is a chance that you might just not bring one and then get sidetracked with a fortress or something similar.  In mechanical matters, it's usually hard to blame the player, is what I'm getting at here.

An easy solution would be to...well, simply add what is lacking.  Trees.  Some form of water.  Things to mine for.  Honestly, just taking about half the blocks that exist already and making "Nether" versions of them is the lazy solution, but is definitely one that works.  Beyond that, the issue of Zombie Pigmen constantly wandering the sprawling expanse of nothingness still needs to be addressed as well.  Which....would honestly be best served by taking the Village templates that exist and making them work for the Nether and for the Pigmen.  This is not really things that are all out there in the thought process.  I don't think this is something I should have to present down as an idea, a theory, instead of something that is actually in the game proper.  But as is, the Nether is just a waste - some more things in it (as I have said with Minecraft in general) could do so much to fix that up.  With any luck, there will be some thought given to the Nether and soon.  We're on the road to 1.4 after all.

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