We were pleased to have the opportunity to speak exclusively with David Nisshagen, executive producer of Minecraft : Dungeons, to ask him some further questions about what the common thread in the upcoming game of Mojang will be : the multiplayer dimension. We wanted to focus on the future DLCs, the challenges the team had to overcome and their inspirations in the creation process, their upcoming projects and cross-play.
The game is scheduled for release on May 26, 2020 on Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch and PC.
XBOXYGEN : Creating a game for 1 or 4 players is quite different. What was the main challenge in allowing this in-game flexibility ?
David Nisshagen :
At first, our goal was to create a game that was completely different from Minecraft and designed for Nintendo 3DS. But we soon realized that it would be difficult to carry out our ideas for a multiplayer-oriented game with regard to the limitations associated with Nintendo 3DS. As a result, our ideas evolved to try to get as far away from the basic Minecraft game as possible, and that’s when the team’s desire to create a project that evolved around exploration arose, and the idea of the dungeon crawler followed. That’s how a new project was born, entirely driven by the team’s passion.
During the first experiments, we thought : why not adapt the game to PC ? Following positive results, we wanted to incorporate the possibility of playing the game with a joystick, and soon after, we simply decided to adapt the PC version to the Nintendo Switch, the Xbox One and the PS4.
We were fortunate enough to be able to test our first versions with volunteer gamers at GamesCom and Xfest. Our main goal with the game was to create an environment where it would be more fun to play together, whether it be in local cooperation or online. We incorporated elements such as increasing the difficulty or featuring buffs when you are close to your companion, or even being able to teleport next to each other if you are not side by side.
One of the biggest disappointments during player testing was the game mechanics we had spent the most time on : being able to resurrect another player who had died or been knocked down. We thought we had a solid system until we saw the players testing that mechanics. We realized that the system didn’t work, because the player still alive didn’t go back and help his companion, but rather explored on his own. The former would never come back to help his companion and the latter would be stuck on the ground, dazed, unable to continue playing.
We realized that while this system was a good idea, we needed to find a way to « reward » the rescue of an ally, and without the initial testing, we never would have realized this huge problem.
As far as level design goes, some parts of the levels are fixed like where you start, some points along the way, and where you finish your level. In between that, there are multiple fixed points that are called anchor points or points of interest. These anchor points represent puzzles, arenas, boss fights, etc., and they will allow players to get together to cooperate and complete a challenge that might be a little too difficult for a single player to complete alone. Apart from these three main points, everything is random so that the players’ experience is different every time.
The game is designed to be played with several players so that they can increase their powers mutually, have an increased difficulty proportional to the number of companions gathered and obviously, a greater number of mobs. Therefore, staying together will increase your chances of survival and will only increase your fun tenfold. If you are knocked down, or a challenge is too difficult to do alone, playing together will allow you to overcome these difficulties.
For the moment, we did not want to include PvP and we only focused on PvE. However, if players are keen to have access to it, we’d be happy to work on it after the game launches.
XBOXYGEN : Why didn’t you include matchmaking, let’s say for a player who doesn’t have any friends that can be reached but still wants to play with others ?
David Nisshagen :
That’s a great question !
Minecraft : Dungeons is designed to be suitable for all ages, from 7 to 77. For Mojang, Minecraft, and Microsoft, the safety and well-being of the player is paramount. We don’t want a child to be able to play with a total stranger and that’s why the game can only be played with friends.
Then, from a game design perspective, I have a question for you : do you know of any big games where when you join a team of total strangers, you really have a good time ? *(laughs)
In my opinion, only a few licenses like the Left 4 Dead one managed to find an ideal balance. But often, the gaming experience is a thousand times more enjoyable when you play with friends you know and trust and can tease in order to have a laugh together. Experiencing it with friends seems much more fun than playing with a stranger, watching them go exploring on their own and not being able to communicate with them. So the watchword for Minecraft : Dungeons remains : a fun and safe cooperative experience.
XBOXYGEN : As a game designed for multiplayer, when do you plan to open it to cross-play ?
David Nisshagen :
One thing’s for sure, there will be cross-play. We wanted to have it for the launch of the game, but with the amount of work we had to do and the small size of our team, we quickly realized that it would be too difficult to implement right away. For us, it’s already a big deal to release the game on Xbox One, PC and PS4. Integrating cross-play is no easy task, especially in these difficult times we’re going through with the COVID-19 virus, which complicates everything.
In our offices, we usually have access to several development kits for each platform, on which we can test our ideas without bothering anyone, but unfortunately, not everyone has a kit at home. It’s not like you can take the kit home and drop it off the next day, our security doesn’t allow it. Having to work from home delays the integration of cross-play into the game, but we absolutely want to do this after the game is launched.
XBOXYGEN : After Minecraft and then Minecraft : Dungeons, could the Minecraft universe be extended to yet another genre of game ? It’s hard to imagine an FPS, but a card game or an adventure game would be plausible, wouldn’t it ?
David Nisshagen :
Yes, that’s an excellent question as well. Minecraft, as a brand, is growing spectacularly, even after 11 years since the release of the base game. It’s never been more popular. We have charts that show us on a daily basis the investment and the love that players have for the game. We’re doing well and the good things aren’t going to stop anytime soon ! Right now, we have two things in development :
- Minecraft Earth which is a free mobile augmented reality game that’s extremely entertaining to play. You should try it out !
- Minecraft : Dungeons which brings a different angle to the genre it embodies.
Exploring uncharted territory is something we think about a lot, because our main priority is to give players what they want. But it has to be something that can’t be done in the Minecraft game, because why would players want to go to another game if they can already do it in the base game ? To make a long story short, we’re expanding with our current products, but if we decide to go into a new project, it has to be something that’s different from the base game.
XBOXYGEN : We took note that the adventure would last about 5 hours but that DLCs will add some lifespan to the title afterwards.
- Will they be free ?
- How many hours of gameplay will they add, approximately ? 2 hours ?
David Nisshagen :
Mojang is a bit of an old-fashioned studio, and we want to keep a traditional approach in the way we handle additional downloadable content. They will be paid for, but there will be substantial content in each DLC. We don’t want to incorporate a handful of elements, but rather a whole bunch of new things to do and discover.
Indeed, we were not interested in the micro-transaction and content per unit aspect. We wanted DLCs like before that provide an extension to the game, new areas to explore, new treasures to discover and so on.
At the same time, we wanted to give free content to everyone. We will be releasing the « Hero Edition » which will contain 2 DLCs, which will act a bit like a “Season Pass” and adjacent to that we will continue to update the game with other free stuff, level changes, bug fixes etc. The goal is to keep the game going by continually combining paid content with free content. The special feature we offer is this : if a player buys the DLC, another player can join him and play with him. The second player won’t be able, as you can imagine, to launch the game itself if he doesn’t own a copy of the DLC. I find this approach quite honest, as it allows a player to try the DLC before buying it for himself.
The lifespan of the DLCs will be shorter than that of the campaign. Our DLCs are not designed to provide narrative content, but rather to be more fun.
Indeed, we want to give them a different spirit from the basic game, a little « je ne sais quoi » as you say. They are designed to make players want to play them over and over again. You will even be able to transfer your content from the DLC to the base game (ed. : unfortunately, David could not give more details about this intriguing feature). The interest of the DLC will be to discover all kinds of new things like secrets, loots, puzzles, zones etc. The spirit of the studio is not really oriented towards the narrative side as you can imagine.
When we developed the Minecraft game, we designed it as a « sandbox, » a space where anyone can modify, integrate, develop, or create as they wish with the tools provided. We tried to apply this sandbox principle to Dungeons, but instead of being able to change the environment around the player as in Minecraft, we built in the ability to change the character ad infinitam.
All the gameplay will revolve around your present equipment, the loot you will find and the combination you will create between your weapons - armor - enchantments - artefacts in order to be as free as possible in your decisions. We have no strict rules, no classes, no abilities per se. When you gain a level, you will only get a new enchantment point that can be spent on your equipment to improve it or make it magical. You will always be able to get your enchantments back to replenish your points and put them into something else. You will be able to retrieve all the elements of your environment without any restriction regarding your level or class. The watchword is : you find something nice, so you equip it, and you continue your adventure.
If, for example, you encounter a difficult situation in the game and need to adopt a different strategy to deal with your opponent(s), such as increasing your speed or having specific types of damage, you can just swap your light armor for heavy armour or trade a bow for a big sword and reconfigure your character to maximize your chances of success.
If you find a handy item in the DLC, you’ll surely be able to combine it with other equipment in the basic game to finally do that mission or area that was previously inaccessible to you. The fact that you can mould your equipment to infinity will, surprisingly, substantially increase the complexity of the game in terms of possible combinations. Since there are no restrictions, players will surely find a way to design mind-blowing and fearsome combinations, and that’s precisely our goal with this « sandbox » side of the game. We prefer entertainment over perfect balance, controlled grind experimentation etc. In this way, we make the player the designer, and you « become what you wear ».
XBOXYGEN : Minecraft Dungeon is obviously inspired by the Hack & Slash genre, so the Diablo license comes to mind. What elements of the Blizzard title inspired you, and what aspects of it are intentionally different ? How is this game different from any other dungeon crawlers ?
David Nisshagen :
Another excellent question.
Being a project born out of our shared passion for dungeon-crawler, we were necessarily inspired by games like Diablo or Torchlight. But on the multiplayer side, we were thinking about creating some of mechanics close to the ones of FPS like Left 4 Dead (again, yes) which we thought was a great model.
Without wanting to criticize other games, what probably differentiates us from the rest is that we encourage exploration and experimentation with your character, compared to other titles in this genre.
Our game is also a little more « accessible », as you can simply grab your controller and dive into the game quickly for a good time. The level of complexity in the possible combinations will be the spearhead of the game, as there will always be something new to try and experience. « What if I this ? ... What if I that ? ... » will be sentences that you will often say as you create combinations.
Games like Diablo or Torchlight include a lot of numbers and values that you have to constantly take into account when creating your character. Often, you have to think ten levels ahead for this or that power, or wait for this or that level to have access to x things. Waiting for these conditions is detrimental to the entertainment you should experience. With Dungeons, the main difference is : "The entertainment happens right now”.
We don’t « punish » your character’s experimentation or exploration, as you can get back all the enchantment points you’ve used rather than lose them forever. If you make a bad choice, you can go backwards, unlike other games that are less forgiving and sometimes even cause players to restart all over again their character from scratch.
XBOXYGEN : The game’s map offers a lot of expansion possibilities. Until when do you plan to support the game in DLCs ? For one year, two years...?
David Nisshagen :
That’s an excellent question, and the answer is simple : we don’t really know yet. The studio has a habit of sustaining its games over time (just look at Minecraft, we’re still updating it 11 years after it was released). That’s something we’d love to be able to do with Dungeons, but it depends on the players and their desire to keep the game going over time.
We have a saying that goes like this : we’ll see what the players want. It’s the DNA of our mindset and the Mojang way to do it.
« See you in the game ! » says David, to conclude this interview. I’m doubtful, knowing that you can only play with your friends... To be continued.
Interviewed by : KieferO