Recently, I've been thinking about originality. Is anything really original? What is originality? Is anything real? Just kidding for that last one, of course nothing is you foolish mortal.
As you probably have noticed if you've looked around the least bit on this website, a lot of my attention has been going to my latest minecraft map called "Cake Break". The game essentially is a four team skyblock survival, where teams have to survive in harsh skyblock conditions and try their best to prosper with the little they have. On top of this, they have the most meager resources to make cake, which is an essential part of the game: when you die, you lose 10 points, and when you have no more points, your team loses. To counter this, you must eat cake, which gives you 3 points per slice.
I didn't come up with this idea out of the blue. My friend and I, after having played on a survival map with some other friends for a while and craving a real game where you can build a base and essentially survive while also having to fight others, decided to make a map where this was possible. The original concept we came up with was making a few chunks of the overworld with a big line in the middle; two teams then have to mine and survive as they would do, then attack each other. However, there was a lot that could go wrong with such a map, and we did not think it was so much fun. I then started to brainstorm more on my own.
(I added headings because this is a really long blog post. If your attention span has been shredded by the internet, then you can skip to different headings, but I recommend taking a deep breath, putting away your phone and spending a few minutes reading this to understand what I'm trying to say.)
Developing "Cake Break!"
I came up with the idea of using skyblock rather than a normal overworld simply due to the harshness of the game in terms of resources. In skyblock, losing a bucket heavily handicaps you, and losing your lava block will force you to make dirt-wood hybrid houses, which aren't the best. This would force teams to take extreme care of their resources and benefit teams with both better defense and better hijacking tactics. I talked to my friend about this idea, and together we came up with an awesome concept: having an essential resource that decides who wins the game, for example, an object that is a "flag" in a capture the flag. We came up with an idea of each team having a cow, and teams would have to steal each other's cow, making extremely stressful games where you need a dumb AI to follow your wheat while your friend tries to hold off the enemy. We thought this was a great idea, so I started building the map during the weekend.
However, while doing minecraft command block research, I encountered a few problems. There wasn't a way I could find that would eliminate the risk of players killing their own cow, or possibly killing other team cows. So I narrowed onto the idea of breeding cows, since that would force teams to keep their cows alive. At the same time, I found that the scoreboard in minecraft could count different achievements, so I considered making the scoreboard check for how many animals were bred in the game, letting people get more score as they breed more (I imagined around 150 points for a cow bred, and 10 points removed for death). However, I encountered problems. In terms of game flow, there was a problem with giving people score for breeding cows, since it's pretty much a positive feedback loop: the more cows you breed, the more cows you have available. This would mean that some teams would make thousands of points while others make none, and as a hardcore socialist, this didn't sound like a fair game.
Scrolling through the possible counters that the minecraft scoreboard option had available, I came up with another great concept. Players would get points based on achievements they received, initiating a drive for progress, but also providing a limit to how many points players can get! However, this idea broke down fast after I noticed I would have to create one command block for every achievement per team, resulting in way too many considering the small command-block-and-redstone space constraints I had set for myself back then. I ended up picking an ideal stat counter for the game: cake slices eaten. This meant teams had resources that they had to keep safe, and struggled to bake cake as soon as they could to get an advantage on the enemy. I developed this version of the game with another friend who I met online, who helped me redesign a few concepts in the game, for example ditching the space constraints on the redstone (allowing for fancy graphics and stuff!), etc. I find this version extremely successful with few setbacks, and it really is a ton of fun to play. (If you want to play with my friends and I, you're very welcome. Just ask me and I'll invite you the next time we play, so far we've played with 5 players, and we'd really like to try with more.)
Anyways, back to the point on originality.
I learned a lot from designing this map. I think concepts of a map are more important than looks or anything when it comes to how well it plays. The original skyblock, even if it might have taken the builder 30 minutes to build, possibly took them hours to come up with and optimise for the best play. Little details like what one has in the starting chest is crucial to the game. I learned that if I continue building custom maps or PVP maps in the future, I will have to do a lot of conceptualising ahead of time. Because I have school at the moment, I only play minecraft on weekends, and the fact that I take the train for an hour and a half a day (while staying away from my phone so that I can have some time to think to myself and come up with stuff like this) helped me realise this.
Copying or improvement?
I don't know whether it's my confirmation bias due to me only noticing this now rather than before I made the map, but it seems that ever since I have posted my Cake Break map on planet minecraft, many new projects seem to be based on skyblock, or even worse, "sky wars". One post I found that was created this morning made me laugh due to how similar it was to my map. Here's the description on the post:
"a 4 team skyblock with a custom villager shop you will compete with your friends to complete all the challenges. the first one out of your team is the best skyblock survivalist in the world "
The other maps mostly are just other versions of skyblock. However, even if they are not very original, I am not in any way against changing a map to spice it up. I think this kind of inspiration is important to all kinds of art; a few of my favourite songs are covers of originals that I don't like as much. This is also why I am against strict copyright regulations, because it actually reduces competition between industries (or any other competing parties, for example: me vs the 4 team skyblock with a custom villager shop guy). However, what I find saddening about minecrafters "copying" or "inspiring" themselves off of maps is how little creativity they put into their remakes. People ask themselves "what is missing from skyblock that I could improve?" and immediately resort to "Diamonds! Gold! Villagers!" and whatever else. The problem with this is that they do not fully understand the reason why skyblock is such a successful map (so successful in fact that I would prefer to call it a game mode of minecraft!). The lack of resources is the ESSENTIAL part of skyblock, and what makes the map so much fun. It makes the map such a different and memorable experience compared to normal survival.
The key to success
The skyblock is just an example for a larger issue. I think people need to understand what concepts are needed to make something successful. And by successful, I don't mean something that will make you famous, I simply mean a good quality map, (possibly) original, that is fun and memorable to play. To do this, people should analyse what makes maps great, the same way you would analyse a book in your high school english class to find out what makes it a good book. This analysis is used predominantly in literature and visual arts, which helps people create more great material. I started using this for minecraft maps, thinking about what concepts in a map make it successful. (It can be applied anywhere though.)
One thing that is important to note: the more abstract you get in your analysis, the more freedom and originality you will have. In other words the more "outside the box" you think, the more freedom you have. When you find a fun map or even a fun game, you may think it's due to something physical in the game. Using the skyblock example again, people might think it's fun because you're in an island in the sky. However, you now know this is not the true reason the game is fun; the game is fun due to the harshness of the environment and the large amount of thrill one gets for such simple minecraft achievements, like building a house or growing wheat for the first time. There is also disproportionate amounts of value on objects like dirt, which would usually be completely useless in normal minecraft. The value of items in this strange context is what makes skyblock an amazing game.
Back to Cake Break: I actually didn't base the original idea of Cake Break on skyblock; as I explained, I was searching for a way of making players care more about themselves than killing others, and thinking of a way to make players make more intense decisions based on what they have and what they want to take from their opponents. Thinking outside the box made me grab a whole lot of inspiration from skyblock, which has exactly these conditions. Even if my map is very similar to skyblock, it is for the simple reason that common items have a whole lot more value up in the sky than on the ground.
All this just to say that I encourage any content creators out there, whether your field is graphic design, visual art, engineering design, cooking, music, planking, or whatever else, to think deeply about the real reason why some things are successful. I wish you all good luck in your artistic endeavours.
Links to Cake Break:
Minecraft Maps: http://www.minecraftmaps.com/pvp-maps/cake-break
Honestly, give this map a try with your friends. It's so much fun.
The Yogscast playing my map: http://www.youtube.com/yogscast/4dEfn!laLe/?/
I'm going to start writing more blog posts, they're a really good way for me to look back at my life