Minecraft can be a tough game. The controls are kind of blocky, the
best resources are hidden deep in the map alongside deadly lava
rivers, and the night hosts monsters that will kill you just as soon
as look at you (or, in one case, just
as soon as you look at them). But it's not that tough. All that
terrain is generated by algorithm. It's not like the random number
generator is trying to kill you.
But there's this guy named Vechs who is trying to kill
you. His "Super
Hostile" series of custom Minecraft maps offer challenges that
prohibit or subvert every survival strategy you learned in vanilla
Minecraft. Even in his easier maps you'll find bottomless pits,
world-spanning ceilings that block Minecraft's all-important sunlight,
swarms of monsters pouring from hacked spawners, and TNT in
unfortunate places. Just getting your first tree is a
challenge. Complete a Super Hostile map, and vanilla Minecraft will
But Vechs' maps are not just tough: they're creative, fun to play, and they
look great. Vechs uses landscape features and lighting to grab the
player's attention, direct the flow and pacing of their playthrough,
and give them a spectacular environment to build in once they've
conquered the map.
I've raved about Super Hostile a couple times
before here on NYCB, but with the release of "Spellbound Caves", the
tenth entry in the series, I knew it was time to get
serious. I sat down with Vechs (I assume he was sitting down, anyway)
and interviewed him over minecraftforum.net's private message
feature. My goal was to pick up where
this interview from July 2011 left off, with in-depth questions about his style and his mapmaking wish-list. The interview contains some Minecraft jargon, but anyone with an interest in game design should get something out of it.
Leonard: You play a kind of character on your maps, an
angry trickster god who hates his players and taunts them by writing
things on signs. But clearly you're not actually like that. I've
played maps made by people who really did hate me, who wanted me to
farm cobblestone for an hour or dig through obsidian without a tool,
and I said "screw this" and quit the map. I don't think you'd ever do
that, right? What's the difference between you and the "Vechs" in your maps?
Vechs: It has to do with challenge. There is a difference
between making the player use skill or ingenuity, and making the player
do something tedious. Sometimes a solution to an area can involve
using lots of blocks (Like the player making a cobblestone tube for
them to safely move through.), but these are usually just one option
of many the player can use to conquer an area.
Sometimes the "Vechs character" in my maps is pretty mean, and just
downright spiteful, especially when it comes to traps. In real life,
I'm not like that at all.
In the Obsidian Block interview you say that you
recently graduated from college and are looking for a career as a game
designer or world designer. What did you study in college?
I am a Media Arts major. I studied everything from
digital image editing, video editing, to stage lighting, to writing
scripts and screenplays for movies, and more. I'm glad to have a
diverse background, even though my passion is still game design.
What would be your ideal job? Would you rather
work on a big-budget project with high production values, or an indie
project where you have more creative control?
My first choice would actually be to have my own
studio and bring to life some of the game ideas I have. One idea I've
had for a while, and as far as I know, nobody has ever made a game
like it. I wouldn't mind making it all myself, but that means I would
have to re-learn a lot of programming. I've programmed some text-based
games in C++, but programming is not my main forte.
That said, I also wouldn't mind working for a major company. Like,
for example, Valve. Love those guys.
What other games have you made maps for? You
mention Duke Nukem 3D in the Obsidian Block interview; what
Just off hand: Red Alert, Warcraft II, Warcraft III,
Neverwinter Nights, Total Annihilation, TA:Spring, Terraria, Command
and Conquer (and several sequels), The Elder Scrolls series, and
obviously I'm the world designer for the RPG games I've worked on,
using the XP and VX engines.
Are you currently making maps for any games
other than Minecraft?
At this moment, no, but I have been meaning to make some maps
for Team Fortress 2.
Have you ever heard of ZZT or Megazeux, or am I just incredibly old?
You're old! *grins* I looked them up, and I think my version of that would be the RPG-series of game engines.
There are a lot of memorable set pieces in the
Super Hostile series. Now that you've put out ten maps, would you mind
taking a look back and sharing some of your favorites?
The first 15 minutes on just about any of my maps. I
love that feeling of just starting off and scrambling for resources. I
like the rail station in "Sea of Flame II", and how it goes out in the
area with the huge pillars, and "Spellbound Caves" is just full of nice
vistas and "scripted" events.
Most of my maps feature at least one "death fortress" as an
end-game area. These are intended to be where the player gets to use
all the resources and items he has been collecting through the whole
map. TNT, lava, swords, bow and arrow, even TNT cannons... bring your
whole arsenal and have some fun!
Can you describe the evolution of your design
philosophy over the course of the series?
Try to improve in at least one area every time I make
a new map. Push the Minecraft engine to its limits. Make an awesome
and memorable experience for the player.
What are the biggest challenges in re-balancing
Super Hostile for Minecraft 1.0?
Armor and blocking.
Does 1.0 have anything to do with the fact that
you recently flattened the difficulty levels in your map descriptions, so that
"Sunburn Islands" and "Legendary" are now both considered "Easy"?
Yes and no. I feel that recently I have been drifting
away from the theme of "Super Hostile" and I want to get back to my
roots. Being able to respawn forever, over and over kind of takes the
risk out of a map. Even in "Legendary", unless you really mess up and drop
all the wool in lava or something, you can just set your bed spawn
near an area, and try over and over until you get it right. I think
that's pretty Easy on the player, even if the area you are attempting
Call me nostalgic, but I kind of miss (sometimes) the GAME OVER
screens from older video games. Modern video games, in the name of
convenience, typically feature unlimited lives, save games,
checkpoints, the works. But beating a modern video game, I have to
admit, is much less satisfying than beating some of those old NES
games. You can just bang your head against the game until you get
lucky and get through an area. Heh, man this makes me feel old! "In my
day, we didn't have all those checkpoints! We had three lives! One hit
deaths! And we were happy!" *shakes cane*
Anyway, I do think this is a legitimate point of concern on modern
game design, is risk versus reward. It is possible to make games so
easy that they are very unsatisfying...
I'm an admirer of your ability to create new
genres of map. Have you made experimental Minecraft maps that just
didn't work? What's in your "abandoned projects" folder?
The only thing I've actually stopped on, is "Race for
Wool #3: Common Ground". Because it basically became "Capture the Wool".
Have you ever made maps for a game that
featured scriptable events? If so, do you miss that capability in
I have used C++ to code some text-based games. I have
also used various scripting languages in the process of making mods or
making my own games with existing engines. You do have some limited
"scripting" ability in Minecraft, using redstone. Check out the
Rumbling Caverns in my tenth map and you will see what I mean. :)
But yes, I would love some even rudimentary scripting in
Minecraft. I believe a while ago, I proposed invisible effector
blocks, that you can place with Creative or MCedit, that modify the
immediate environment around them. Like, an invisible block that makes
monsters not spawn within 50 blocks. Or one that doubles monster
spawning within 50 blocks. Or one that makes it snow. Or one that
makes a ray of sunlight always be shining on that spot. Or one that
makes the temperature freezing so any water turns to ice. Simple stuff
like that. They would show up faintly in Creative mode, but be
invisible while in survival mode.
What would you like to see added
to Minecraft? On your forum thread you mention that
you'd like to add sharks and underwater plants to "Endless Deep". What
Bow enchantments... more mining enchantments, such as
area mining. Check out episodes 04 and 05 of my
Spellbound Caves Dev Commentary.
For bow enchantments, I would like:
- Piercing (Arrows go through monsters and cause damage in a straight line.)
- Toxic (Arrows cause poison.)
- Fire (Arrows ignite enemies.)
- Knockback (Arrows cause knockback.)
- Phantom Spreadshot (In addition to your one normal arrow, you fire out additional ghost arrows (higher ranks provide more) that act like normal arrows, only you cannot pick them up, and they quickly vanish after hitting the ground.)
- Explosive (Arrows cannot be reclaimed and cause a small explosion, could possibly be combined with the fire enchant, so arrows function like ghast projectiles, causing an explosion and leaving fire.)
- Charge Speed (You charge your bow faster.)
- Unbreaking (Your bow lasts longer.)
I think these enchants for bows would make bow combat much, much
more fun. It's currently fairly slow paced, and a bit boring. Imagine
a bow with Toxic, Piercing, and Phantom Spreadshot on it! It would be
so much fun to shoot groups of enemies with a bow like that.
You have a creative relationship with some of
the people who do Let's Play videos of your maps. It's a kind of
relationship I've never seen before: the way people play your maps in
public affects the way you design later maps. How did these
Very organically. Zisteau agreed to LP my very first
map, "Sea of Flames" version 1.0, and ever since then, he's been
involved in playing my maps, and giving feedback.
There's a very clever trap in "Spellbound Caves",
[location redacted]. It's clever for many reasons, but I'm
asking about it because it doesn't seem to have any triggering
mechanism. I went in afterwards and took the walls apart and couldn't
figure out how it works. What's the secret? Or is there a pressure plate somewhere
that I missed?
I has a seekret. Oh, also, I hate you, die in a fire.
POSTSCRIPT: With my interviewee uncooperative, I had no choice but to load a fresh version of "Spellbound Caves" into an editor to get to the bottom of the mystery. What I found was a trigger that did not shock me to the core of my being. But it is a cool design.
The trigger is a proximity sensor: a shaft behind a wall, with a creeper spawner at the top of the shaft and a pressure plate at the bottom. When the player gets within 16 blocks of the spawner, it activates and spawns a creeper, which drops onto the pressure plate, triggering the trap. The resulting explosion obliterates both creeper and spawner, leaving no trace of the trigger.
And that's what you get with Vechs' maps: MacGyver-like use of everything the game engine provides, to create confounding and unexpected effects. Seriously, game studios: hire this guy. Everyone else: play his maps.
PPS: Hey, people from minecraftforums.net, thanks for coming over. I've written other articles about Minecraft (1 2 3 4), and if you like my stuff, you might want to check out my novel about alien video games.