Design Bites: Minecraft - Feed The Beast

The "Design Bites" series is about learning or appreciating just one design element of one game. It's about applying an analytical eye, even if it doesn't touch on everything.

What's Minecraft - Feed The Beast?

Minecraft is a Sandbox developed and released by Mojang in 2011 (Kinda, it was in beta for a long time). The player roams a procedurally generated world building things and collecting resources with a variety of tools. Feed The Beast (FTB) is a collection of Mods for Minecraft, which add new items, creatures, resources and other features to the game. There are many different Feed The Beast modpacks, each with their own goals and focuses. This article is specifically about "Feed The Beast: Infinity Evolved". I would encourage anyone curious about FTB to head on over to the Feed The Beast website or Forums and check it out!

What's Awesome?

Deep inside all humans is the burning desire to build a nuclear reactor.

No? Just me?

Alright. To be completely honest - I didn't have the strong urge to collect uranium and design a reactor cooling system until very recently. While we might not all share my newfound passion, one thing that we do share is a strong desire for progress.

FTB is incredibly effective at stoking this desire and it does so in many ways. One that i'll talk about briefly here is a technique to make players feel good about progression: by showing the player that previously challenging things are now easy. Let's compare FTB to vanilla Minecraft.

You begin Minecraft by struggling to acquire some basic resource. This could be a precious metal, a plant, or an item dropped by some hostile creature. Whatever the resource is, the payoff for acquiring it is usually the ability to acquire rarer resources: an iron pickaxe can retrieve diamonds, a stone one cannot. In regular Minecraft, this climb tops out at Diamond gear, which really isn't all that difficult to acquire if you know where to look: an hour or two of gameplay is enough to find enough diamonds to deck your character out. There are other things to do beyond this: enchanting and various other items to build, but in terms of the core gameplay - mining & crafting - once you've got the diamonds you're pretty set. This is where a modpack like FTB comes in.

Feed The Beast turns minecraft into a lengthy ladder climb. The core game loop for Minecraft is simple: Collect resources to build tools... to collect new resources to create better tools. FTB alters this loop by adding a key element: processing of collected resources. Add a take away pizza and a good skype call and repeat until you pass out at 4am.

FTB not only adds a heap of new materials to attain far beyond the diamond tier of equipment (thus extending and strengthening the existing minecraft core game loop), it stresses a different kind of progression: efficiency. It's not longer just about whether or not you can acquire a few diamonds, it's about how many diamonds you can acquire and how fast you can acquire them. Furthermore, it's about whether you have all the machines necessary to make the most out of the diamonds that you have acquired. The latter of which sends you cascading through a series of branching requirements that give you mountains of things to do.

The beautiful payoff is that after you've put some time into things you can step back and look at the insane chain of contraptions that you've built and measure the benefit: when you started it took you hours to acquire a handful of diamonds, and now you're pumping them out of the ground at 800 blocks per hour. This stretches each material tier in the game loop into a player defined journey of advancement. You're not done when you've collected a diamond, you're done when you feel like you will never need to worry about collecting diamonds again.

There's so much more to talk about regarding FTB, but i'll try and reign it in here before things get scattered further. I'll conclude by saying that Feed The Beast devoured 130 hours of my life by revitalizing a game that I had long since put down. That, in itself, is a fantastic thing.

Design Bites: Mirror's Edge

The "Design Bites" series is about learning or appreciating just one design element of one game. It's about applying an analytical eye, even if it doesn't touch on everything.

What's Mirror's Edge?

Mirror's Edge is a Action Adventure First-Person Platformer developed and released by DICE in Late 2008. The player free-runs across city heights, jumping between rooftops and scaling walls. Occasionally you fight enemies with timing-based attacks but mostly it's about running away from things.

What's Awesome?

Games often instruct the player directly, spoken or written in UI, but the majority of instructions are actually given indirectly - A muzzle flash means "find cover", even without gruff military voiceover. Good level design is not just about what's challenging or fun, it's also about communication - it's a direct channel between the designer and the player.

Mirror's Edge showcases some awesome ways of getting your players attention and feeding them information. You might jump ahead here and bring up "Runner Vision", a mechanic that highlights objects in the world. This is a great feature but it's not what i'm talking about. I'm talking about how the game feeds you lore.

Take a look at this elevator sequence:

You hit this elevator button to advance, it's a mini tutorial on interacting with objects. It could have been empty, but instead there is a screen with a couple of short news articles. As you bend down to press the button, a small section of the screen is right there in view. You catch a glimpse of a headline, which just happens to be about a character that you're about to meet.

Some players may completely ignore the screen, others might stop and read, but no matter the choice the player has been signaled - directed towards an optional nugget of information. This example is quite direct: text on a screen in a closed space but, even so, not all players will stop to read this. The game is filled with mindful placement of objects - both key to platforming and as a tool for imparting story.

Many games do this, so the next time you're exploring Tamriel or Azeroth, take some time to appreciate how conveniently features of the world are laid out for you to see.

Design Bites: FTL: Faster Than Light

The "Design Bites" series is about learning or appreciating just one design element of one game. It's about applying an analytical eye, even if it doesn't touch on everything.

What's FTL: Faster Than Light?

FTL: Faster Than Light is a roguelike top-down space-sim developed and released by Subset Games in Late 2012. The player manages a small spaceship and crew, arranging them on the ship and adjusting power levels for various systems like shields, weapons and engines. You jump from area to area, where you may encounter other ships or answer distress calls. All the while, the rebel fleet advances on your position, making areas behind you dangerous.

What's Awesome?

Permadeath, an important element of the roguelike formula. When used correctly it creates a bond between the player and their character. It immerses us by making our decisions carry more weight and encourages us to care for the characters we're controlling more deeply - emotionally. FTL is great example of these things.

As a new player, FTL excels at creating a feeling of desperation - every choice carries tension. Each time you jump to a new location, you are presented with a choice. This could be the choice to avoid or engage a hostile ship, but it could also be to answer a call for help, a trade offer or any number of other things.

These, sometimes moral, choices have a large impact on your ship both immediately and for the long term future. You need resources like fuel to make the trip, and missiles to defend yourself.

You may begin the game by fighting all slave ships you encounter on moral grounds but, eventually, you might reach a point where doing business with a slave trader might be the key to your survival. You are put into positions where you may need to take advantage of someone, fight unwillingly, or give away precious scrap just to avoid dying and losing all your progress. 

Moral choices in games often amount to a choice between some absolute "good" and "evil", where the only difference is who gives you quests and what color your eyes glow. In FTL they are about doing the right thing versus doing the smart thing, and I found myself agonising over both.

Design Bites: Cubetractor

The "Design Bites" series is about learning or appreciating just one design element of one game. It's about applying an analytical eye, even if it doesn't touch on everything.

What's Cubetractor?

Cubetractor is a tower-building action puzzle game with bullet-hell elements developed and released by Ludochip in mid 2013. The player character pulls cubes along the ground, combining them into structures like turrets, barricades and many others. The goal is to destroy all enemies, either with turrets or by crushing them.

What's Awesome?

Games with levels will often feature a grade system, where the player gets a star rating or grade letter at the end of each level based on their performance. This feature is often used to motivate the player to replay levels to beat their old performances. Most of the time this amounts to encouraging players to take on restrictions to increase multipliers, or find point-maximising strategies. Cubetractor makes great use of this feature with cleverly designed optional mechanical difficulty. Here's an example:

Early Cubetractor towers fire very. slowly. So their bullets are very easy to dodge. Because of this, it's trivial to get past most of the early levels with a little patience.

But if you want to get that Master Rating, you're going to have to live a little more dangerously.

Pulling the cubes in quick succession, all while dodging the odd tower shot, makes Cubetractor a lot more challenging. Moving cubes hurt you if you touch them so you essentially create more projectiles for yourself to dodge - especially true in later levels where the hail of bullets really kicks in.

The key here is that the level is not hard on its own, instead it becomes hard when the player chooses to make it so. It's not a discrete difficulty setting - the player makes a choice to increase the mechanical difficulty for themselves and they feel damn cool doing it 

Design Bites: Ikaruga

The "Design Bites" series is about learning or appreciating just one design element of one game. It's about applying an analytical eye, even if it doesn't touch on everything.

What's Ikaruga?

Ikaruga is a Japanese arcade bullet hell shmup developed and released by Treasure in Late 2001. It features a color-swapping mechanic where the player can switch between blue and red, making them impervious to bullets of the same color.

What's Awesome?

When we play games, we often try to "outsmart" them. We look for broken spell combinations, overpowered guns, experience farming tactics and other things to give ourselves the edge.

In Ikaruga, the story is the same: "By staying in blue form forever I can ignore half of the danger on screen! All I need to do is kill off all red enemies."

About 2 minutes later you're presented with a pair of alternate colored enemies that slowly but surely push you to switch, as you are placed in a position where simply dodging one color is impossible. The game doesn't really tell you that you need to switch, it just sort of lets you slowly realise it yourself. Soon after you are pummelled with a wide array of different bullet patterns that require you to switch frequently.

The cool thing about Ikaruga is that it likes to gently dispel notions like these with small challenges before hitting you with the hard stuff. It's a good lesson in tutorial design.

Further encounters teach you to use color switching strategically even when its not necessary to switch, one instance is killing off the small opposite-color enemies in the first boss fight to make switching during the bosses alternating patterns uninhibited.

Tabletop - Gangs of West Rosell - 5 Maps

I've been playing a lot of Dungeons and Dragons 5E, more specifically i've been DMing for a few groups. Recently one of my players has moved house, so we'll have to play digitally from now on. As a result i've started making maps for use on various online Tabletop tools. I've decided that i'll share the maps as I make them on this blog.

These maps were created in Illustrator, are print friendly black and white and have low opacity borders so that they can be overlaid on top of eachother.

You are, of course, free to use the maps independent of the intended adventure. However, I have only mapped locations where combat is likely to happen in the adventure, so it might be helpful to at least skim through the scenario even if you're going to change it up. Although this was built for 5E, i've tried to keep things largely system agnostic by leaving out system specific details.

Rosell West

[Download - Rosell West - 5 Maps]

These maps are for an introductory adventure, and in total represents roughly a ~3 hour session, give or take a couple of hours due to beginner training wheels. This adventure is very much on-the-rails as it is a beginners session.

All NPCs share some common knowledge unless otherwise stated.

Common Knowledge

  • Lord Dent runs Rosell, his tower is in the center of town
  • The streets are dangerous, people have been attacked in broad daylight

Wettler's - Floor G

Wettler's - Floor G

This adventure starts in a Tavern, like all good cliche introductory adventures. Generally I encourage players to chat and generally roleplay to ease into the session at this early stage.

Key NPCs
  • Barkeep, Mr. Wettler - 33/Male/Human
    • Personality
      • Charmingly giggly, generous, accommodating.
    • Knowledge
      • Lord Dent has a daughter, Raquelle - she's a regular.
      • The glum guy over there is Hamil, he runs Plait & Plate.
      • I've had a few kegs stolen by bandits, but i've been lucky compared to other store owners.
  • Patron, Hamil Plait - 58/Male/Half-Elf
    • Personality
      • Gruff. Currently upset about his business.
    • Knowledge
      • My store was robbed by a group of bandits wearing grey cloaks.
      • Lord Dent should hire more security for this side of town.
    • Quests
      • Stolen Plait: Find and recover the stock stolen from the Plait & Plate.
        • Reward: Monetary
        • The crates stolen should be marked with the P&P emblem.

You may also want other NPCs to mention that they feel unsafe in town, and unless Lord Dent hires more security they will consider moving. The tavern also has a downstairs storage.

Wettler's - Floor B1

Wettler's - Floor B1

After about 30 minutes of in-game time (I like to set a 5 minute real-life timer), you should interrupt the players with something like this:
Suddenly, you hear a scream from outside. Followed by several dull thuds.
Raquelle, Lord Dents daughter, is being beaten in the middle of the street by ~3 grey-cloaked bandits. Raquelle is unconscious moments after her cry for help, and dies if no one intervenes. If the players choose to intervene then this is a combat opportunity, potentially taking place in the tavern and outside it.

High Street

High Street

The maps are designed to be overlaid, so you can overlay Wettler's - Floor G on this map if you so wish. Also, if you want to describe the scene here its helpful to point out the Plait & Plates large emblem above the store front. This can serve as a hint should the players recover P&P merchandise accidentally without having spoken to Hamil.

If the players choose to fight off the bandits, they will defend themselves, but when only 1 bandit is left it will chose to run. Should the players choose to capture a bandit, they have certain knowledge

  • Grey Cloak Bandit, [Any] - 22/[Either]/Half-Elf
    • Personality
      • Cowardly & Shifty.
    • Knowledge (Easy Intimidate / Medium Persuade)
      • I work for Mannequin (Organization)
      • They pay us to knock some heads around.
      • Our hideout is under the Rosewater Inn
    • Knowledge (Medium Intimidate / Hard Persuade)
      • There is a crossbow trap at the entrance it can be disabled by turning the doorknob in a specific way.
    • Knowledge (Hard Intimidate)
      • There is a secret entrance to our hideout in the alleyway next to the Inn, its unguarded.
At this point, the players might have chosen to interrogate a bandit, or assist the unconscious victim. If they inspect Raquelle's body.
She's covered in blood and badly bruised. You can see that she is still breathing, but just barely. She won't last very long in this condition.
The players can try to stabilize her with a (Easy Medicine) skill check. If they fail, then she dies without a heal. She wakes up after a few hours.

  • Lady of Rosell, Raquelle - 22/F/Half-Elf
    • Personality
      • Normally snooty, currently very grateful for being saved.
    • Knowledge
      • My father is Lord Dent.
      • Bandit attacks across the city have my father stressed and overworked.
      • I investigated myself, my search led me to the Rosewater Inn, but I was attacked before I could get there. 
    • Quests
      • Bandits of West Rosell: Get rid of the bandits plaguing West Rosell and, if possible, find out why they've started attack so frequently.
      • Reward: Large monetary, Rosell Renown

Either due to Raquelle or Bandit interrogation, the players will likely want to visit the Rosewater Inn. Alternatively, if they enter the alleyway next to the inn they can discover the secret entrance (Hard check if they don't already know about it).

Rosewater Inn - Floor G

Rosewater Inn

The Rosewater Inn is largely empty except for its owner.

  • Innkeeper, Lara - 28/F/Half-Elf
    • Personality
      • Normally Bubbly, currently very visibly on-edge.
    • Knowledge (Hard Intimidate or After a promise of protection)
      • The bandits are doing something in the basement.
      • They told me they would kill me and my brother if I didn't let them use it.

The door at the bottom of the stairs triggers a crossbow trap if it is opened. Players with high perception can notice that something is coiled around the back of the doorknob and attempt to disarm the trap (Easy).

Rosewater Inn - Floor B1 (Secret)

Rosewater Inn - Floor B1 (Secret)

There are 6-10 bandits, including one slightly tougher Bandit Ringleader, on this floor, but none in the room on the left side where the players enter via the secret entrance in the alleyway. There are two crossbow traps connected to doors, one in the storage room on the far right (Easy detect & Easy disarm) and one at the main entrance at the staircase from the ground floor. 

  • Storage Room
    • Boxes are clearly marked with the P&P emblem & contain light armor, hammers, cloth.
    • Barrels contain Ale
  • Bedroom
    • Chests contain Grey Cloaks and various trinkets
  • Bandits
    • One of the bandits is carrying a note.

The note being carried by one of the bandits reads:
A sum of (Large Monetary) to be paid to each volunteer per day served. Show Dent that his town needs "The Daggers". - Z
After clearing out this hideout, the players can get rewards from Hamil Plait, and upon requesting reward from Raquelle they are told that she will take them to Lord Dent in the center of town for payment once she is done investigating a little for herself.

This is the end of the first session, but only the beginning of the story for the town of Rosell: Who are "Mannequin" and "Z"? Why are they stirring up trouble in Rosell? Who or What are "The Daggers" that Z was referring to in the note?

In the next session we'll meet Lord Dent to try and collect our reward, look for answers to some of these questions and hopefully make Rosell a safer place to live!

If you have feedback, would like to see some specific maps or have suggestions or guesses as to what might happen next, feel free to leave a comment. Otherwise, i'll see all of you adventurers next time!