When someone starts a world in “Minecraft,” the game uses procedural generation to create the forests, rivers, caves and mountains across the map. Over the past 12 years, “Minecraft” has introduced environments like deserts and oceans for players to explore but the developers at Mojang are now expanding the upper and lower limits of the world in order to generate peaks and valleys that previously were not possible in the game.
More than a 100 million people play “Minecraft” every month. The blocky, low-fi game is a decentralized collection of servers players can join and build from. Students at UC Berkeley once held a virtual graduation ceremony inside a “Minecraft” server during the covid-19 pandemic. Players have built and rebuilt the famed Harry Potter castle of Hogwarts, Notre Dame, the Empire State building and even ancient Rome. It’s hard to find a well-known building — real life or fictional — that doesn’t exist somewhere on some “Minecraft” server.
“For a whole generation of kids, that’s kind of where they go,” said Kurt Squire, a professor at University of California Irvine who studies how games can be used to help students learn. “It literally is the playground, the sandbox that they grew up in.”
“Minecraft’s" booming success is due, in part, to the game’s simplicity. There are no objectives or tasks in “Minecraft.” (There is a final boss, but it is totally optional.) You decide what to explore or build. But with every update, there’s an inherent risk that the game becomes too complicated for first-time players to understand. Agnes Larsson, “Minecraft’s” game director, said this is something about which the team at Mojang Studios spends a lot of time thinking. The team wants to continue to develop “Minecraft” for “many, many years” but Larsson said they need to maintain the bedrock principles of the game — to keep it “Minecraft-y,” so to speak.
“We have something that’s amazing,” Larsson said. “It’s a lovely game but we can, of course, still add more things to it in the right way.”
Larsson is currently working on a creative direction for the game “to really help us evolve,” while protecting the simplistic beauty of “Minecraft.” Larsson often talks about “intrinsic motivation,” encouraging players to build or explore by providing the right setting for their imaginations.
“What are new ways we can inspire our players to be creative in their own ways and come up with their own goals?” Larsson said. “How can we inspire more exploration or more storytelling?”
In addition to expanding the world height, the “Caves and Cliffs” update is redistributing how ore, like iron, copper and gold, will be generated throughout the game. Spelunkers who love to dig into “Minecraft’s” caves will now find massive, multi-tiered caverns with aquifers, hanging vines and dripping stalactites, depending on where they are on the map. And, Larsson said certain biomes will now combine so a forest or desert could populate on the side of a mountain, for example.
Fans are referring to the update, technically listed as version 1.18 of the game, as “Minecraft 2.0.” Rob Clark, a 35-year-old from Somerset, England, said he’s looking forward to playing the update on the same server with his brother and nephew. The three of them have been playing together for a year now, since the United Kingdom went into lockdown for a second time because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“He’s quite young,” Clark said, referring to his 9-year-old nephew. “He’s very happy just to mess around with villages and dig little holes through a rock. ... But, you know, I’m spending time with my nephew who lives four hours away. It’s nice family time we wouldn’t otherwise have.”
Dash Marley, a 27-year-old who lives in Maine, has already tried out an early release of the update to test out the updated terrain generation. Marley, who’s played “Minecraft” off-and-on with friends for over a decade now, said it’s the most dramatic, “most sweeping change” that “Minecraft” has ever made to the game’s overworld. (Yes, there’s also an underworld.)
“I flew over a dark forest and it opened up into a multi-tiered series of lush caves,” Marley said. “In this new world, I can’t travel for more than 10 minutes before I see a place that makes me want to invest hours and hours transforming the place into a new base.”
Larsson said that, with every update, the team at Mojang Studios attempts to provide something new for every type of fan — like, the builder, the explorer or the survivalist. At the 10th annual “Minecraft” Live in October, Mojang announced next year’s update, “The Wilds,” will introduce even more biomes, animals and blocks to the game, including a lost underground city called the “Deep Dark.”
But, Larsson said they don’t want to introduce too many premade towns and structures. Doing so would take away from what the players could create on their own. Larsson wants to make sure that the world remains wild for a player to explore.
“We should inspire but we should never dictate. It’s up to the players to craft their own goals,” Larsson said. “When you come up with the goals yourself, it’s super inspiring.”