David Nisshagen smiles in delight as he leads his character's blocky body down the narrow, elevated platform that is flanked by violet flames. He's just discovered a hidden room in Minecraft Dungeons, and even being the executive producer of the game but he's not sure what's about to happen. Through our Discord chat, you can hear his smile.
He said, "This is very rare." "This is extremely rare. OK?" I laugh and inform my friend that he's excited.
"Yes," he replies, "I haven't seen it in this level. This is incredible. Actually you'll notice that there are several very scary and mysterious things in this game. I've discovered something that will prove useful later in the game, or if I decide to return to the game.
Minecraft Dungeons is an adventure game inspired by classic dungeon-crawlers like Diablo or The Binding of Isaac, but with the franchise's patented kid-friendly style. It supports online and local multiplayer with randomly generated levels and a myriad of familiar enemies such creepers, skeletons, and spiders. The whole thing looks a lot like Minecraft, but it represents an entirely new method of game development for Mojang.
Microsoft bought Mojang, the Swedish studio that developed Minecraft for $2.5 billion in 2014. Currently, it is under the Xbox Game Studios umbrella. However, this doesn't mean Minecraft Dungeons will be exclusive to Microsoft platforms. The full game is set to release on PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One and Windows on May 26th.
For more than 10 years, Mojang has been focused on Minecraft, the worldwide phenomenon that's introduced generations of youngsters and adults to sandbox style video games. Minecraft Dungeons is the studio's first attempt at a new category, and has been in production for at minimum four years.
The storyline of the game is simple but fittingly epic. An outcast villager, known as an illager, stumbles upon an orb of power which can be used to conquer the world of. He has a force of illagers under his command. Players travel through distinct areas, fighting the arch-illager's minions, until finally facing off with the orb-holder.
Mojang introduced illagers to the base Minecraft game in 2016, although Nisshagen claimed that these creatures actually started out in the Dungeons development room.
"We required an adversary that was humanoid, with a ranged attack and an easy-follow hunting system," he explained. In the end, Nisshagen explained that it was possible to just run from the zombies in Minecraft, rather than fighting them or fighting them, and Dungeons developers wanted something that would encourage combat. "They do pursue you with axes and chase you down, and this was so loved by the Minecraft team that they decided to implement it in that game before we had launched Dungeons."
Dungeons was actually an internal idea of the Nintendo 3DS.
"You cannot fit Minecraft, such a complex game, on that," Nisshagen said. This is the reason why the developers decided to use a top-down perspective, instead of the original game's first-person viewpoint and focused on building a world filled with possibilities for discovery and surprise.
"You can't take the whole Minecraft game," he said. You have to simplify it but keep it to its core. We have increased exploration and the feeling of adventure. The players need to feel like they're on an adventure. Then we consider the creativity that Minecraft players use to create all the amazing things in the game. We try to let them use it in our progression system, I suppose.
Minecraft Dungeons doesn't use a traditional progression system based on RPGs and doesn't bind players into specific roles. Instead of having rigid classes, such as "healer" or "tank" in the game, players can change their equipment at any time and combine items to infuse their weapons with the abilities are needed in the current situation.
"You could imagine our transforming that sandbox concept into the progression system," Nisshagen said. There are no boundaries. You can do pretty much whatever you want. There are some extremely unwise choices you could make. However there are many excellent choices and powerful decisions you can make.
There's no wrong way to play Minecraft Dungeons. This is essential for developers, particularly when considering the intended players that Minecraft is aimed at: children and their parents. As a brand, Minecraft is geared toward younger players, while dungeon crawler games are typically designed for adults, featuring extensive inventories and progression trees and a challenging combat arena. Minecraft Dungeons is an attempt to appeal to both these markets.
Nisshagen said that she believes parents will play with their children, or older siblings and younger ones together. The system has a lot of depth. Anyone with a little bit of gaming experience can discover some interesting combinations to look into, from a game mechanics point of view. There are also those who just want to go in and click-mash and have a great time.
The game offers drop-in multiplayer both local and online, and each stage adapts depending on the amount of players. There's no friendly fire except for TNT boxes, which can hurt both friends and acquaintances alike when they explode.
Cross-platform play won't be available at launch however it's "absolutely" likely to be available in the future, Nisshagen said.
He stated that "we're not a huge dev team." (Mojang's About Page lists 71 employees). "Just being able to launch the same game to PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, Xbox and Windows is quite the thing actually. In addition, if we can offer cross-play, we'd like it to make it available as soon as we can, however, we want to make sure that we provide a great experience with multiplayer on your own platform first."
In many ways, Minecraft Dungeons is the natural evolution of the Minecraft franchise. For many 2000s-era kids, Minecraft was the first game they played due to its being simple, engaging social, and easy to learn. Ten years later these same players are hungry for something more complicated and Minecraft Dungeons is an obvious, familiar answer.