Memories of Minecon - Grid Runners
Hi Noxcrew Community!
It’s Minecon week! We’re all really excited at Noxcrew HQ to see which biome wins the biome vote and what new toys we’re going to get this year! What are you hoping for? (I really want ravens or crows at some point, but that’s just me)
Continuing ‘Showcase September’ and to celebrate Minecon Live 2019, I’m looking back to Minecon 2018 and the small contribution we made to that event, Grid Runners! I’ll be exploring it’s inspirations, the changes we had to make to it during development and the shenanigans that took place when Noxite and Avondale went to Minecon Earth 2018 to play it live on stage!
I hope you enjoy it and I’ll see you all next week!
Back in 2018, to celebrate Minecon Earth, we were approached by Microsoft and Target to develop a free map that could be given out to players in honour of the event. Of course, we leapt at the chance to make something fun and exciting that absolutely everyone could enjoy.
We wanted to create something that anyone could play, from hardcore fans to players who had never picked up the game before. It needed to be bold, striking and highlight the joys of Minecraft in its purest form. From building to combat, crafting to mining, all of the fantastic features that makes Minecraft unique needed to be shown off. Trouble was, how were we going to condense everything that Minecraft is into one, easily accessible map?!
Luckily we have a little bit of experience with mini-games, and so Grid Runners was born.
The idea of creating a quick-paced mini-game highlighting the scope of Minecraft’s mechanics was nothing new to us. Way back in our Noxcrew Gameshow days, we specialised in creating exciting yet approachable mini-games that players would be able to pick up quickly. We didn’t always succeed (don’t look at the Sheep Game!), but our experience helped us while we were concepting the idea, inspired by past successes.
One mini-game layout we kept returning to during concepting was one of our oldest Gameshow games: Sprint. As the name implies, Sprint is a race between two teams, both trying to get from one side of the course to the other the fastest. The courses ran side by side, separated by a pane of glass and consisted of different obstacles, all based on mini-game style mechanics such as parkour or mazes. These obstacles were designed to be challenging enough to slow players down but not be so hard that they couldn’t be completed. The addition of the glass panes to see but not interfere with the opposing team often served to ramp up the tension and heighten the sense of competition as teams tried to catch up with their opponents. We felt this was an essential part of creating the atmosphere we wanted for Grid Runners, encouraging competition amongst players who were playing the map together.
Sprint wasn’t the only mini-game that inspired the map’s initial design, however. Gridlock and Linelock were also vital in the development of Grid Runners. Designed as courses with separate rooms each filled with different challenges, teams raced each other to reach the end of the course and ‘lock’ the opposing team in the arena. The idea of having players race against each other while solving challenges to advance seemed like a perfect premise to introduce new players to how Minecraft works. It also allowed us to have each room focus on one particular mechanic, rather than make puzzles that required multiple skills to complete.
With this base idea in hand, we set to work developing the different rooms to fill our racecourses. We initially wanted to have randomised courses, with each run being different to the race before, so we had a lot of rooms to create! To do this, we listed every interesting mechanic in Minecraft we could think of and tried to develop an exciting challenge around it. For the base functions of Minecraft, this was relatively straight forward, but as we moved towards the more intricate mechanics, our ideas very quickly got out of hand!
There were ideas to incorporate ender golf, redstone wiring and piston mazes into the rooms. There were even ideas to have a stealth room where you had to get past endermen without looking at them or be sent right back to the start!
Eventually, we remembered the old adage - Keep it simple, stupid.
While we might find those sorts of mini-games exciting or even easy to pick up, players who don’t play 8 hours of Minecraft a day might not. Adding all these complicated puzzles would also have slowed down the tempo of the game, making it more likely for players to become frustrated and abandon the race. This realisation caused us to completely strip back the project to its core ideas. We removed having randomised rooms for the courses as it would have made speedrunning, something that we wanted to promote with Grid Runners, difficult to track. Instead, we knuckled down on creating 18 engaging rooms without delving too deeply into complex mechanics.
So we stuck to the core of Minecraft, developing challenges based on crafting items, defeating enemies, building structures and completing parkour. As the player progressed through the courses and developed their skills, so to would the courses become more difficult. This helped make the map more of a test of speed rather than of ability, removing barriers that may have prevented new fans from enjoying Grid Runners.
By stripping the mechanics of the map back to basics, it also helped us to focus more on the presentation and how we were going to lay out the courses. Initially, Grid Runners was going to include areas based on Minecraft’s biomes. Using this format, the races within these biome zones would have contained challenges using the blocks and mechanics found in those areas. For example, parkour sections in the frozen realm would use ice blocks or fishing challenges would be set in the aquatic zone.
However, when we scaled back the project, we found that this biome idea didn’t quite fit and so we had to think of a new presentation for Grid Runners. Eventually, we decided to go back to our original inspiration, the Noxcrew Gameshow.
Gameshow has always had an industrial theme to the project being set in a factory designed to build gameshows while also hosting TV series. Gameshow areas are typically filled with mechanical gadgets, ‘designed” to make production more straightforward, yet painted in primary colours to create a set like atmosphere to the factory. This bold and busy style has helped us create exciting aesthetics in the past and, for Grid Runners, it allowed up to develop a visually interesting and colourful aesthetic for the map, as well as create clear distinctions between the two teams, using the old Gameshow colours of blue and yellow.
As well as making Grid Runners approachable and visually interesting, a big priority for us, when developing the map, was to try and make players feel rewarded for participating in runs and want to try and get the best score possible. As such, the scoreboard was developed.
We were always going to include a timer in the map to ensure that players could keep track of their times and try to beat them. However, by adding an overall course leaderboard to the lobby, showing off the best times that the players of that world had achieved in a particular course, we hoped to create a sense of pride in those who had achieved the run and inspire the determination to beat it. It was also an easy way for players to photograph and share their times with the community at large
Another reward system we also wanted to add into Grid Runners was a currency system, where tokens would be dropped by any mob slain during a player’s run. These tokens could then be used to unlock and upgrade gear, potentially granting buffs to get through the courses faster. However, this idea was removed pretty early on in Grid Runners’ development as we did didn’t want to over-complicate the map with inventory management. We had already tried to tackle this by resetting player inventories with the items required for each room as they entered it, and didn’t want the potential confusion of adding tokens into the mix. As such, we used the idea of unlockable outfits to develop hub activities, hiding buttons around the hub world that unlock 3 different suits, the Chicken, the T-Rex and the Bobble Head Steve outfits, for players to find.
These hub activities expanded to include kart races, a parkour puzzle which allows players to explore the upper levels of the factory and areas to watch the races as they’re being run, further enforcing the Gameshow-like aesthetic of the world.
Grid Runners proved to be a success with Minecraft fans new and old, helped by the changes we had made and the accessibility of the game mode. In the run-up to Minecon Earth 2018, Grid Runners was given away for free in Target stores, with codes also being handed out to players via Twitter. It would eventually go live on the Marketplace for everyone to enjoy, regardless of if they got a code or not.
Grid Runners was also celebrated at Minecon Earth itself as Noxite and Avondale played a live-action version of the map, completing challenges set by the always lovely InTheLittleWood (also known as Martyn.) Avondale and the Blue team would come out victorious, thanks to some shenanigans against the Yellow team. Noxite had no idea those tricks were coming, by the way. Both of the boys knew which challenges they were going to face, but Noxite had no idea that his run would be altered so dramatically.
Grid Runner was a fun little project for us to give back to a community who has always supported us, as well as a lovely way to look back at an older project and update it, in a way, for a new audience to enjoy.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little glimpse into Grid Runners and our contribution to Minecon Earth 2018. We hope you all enjoy Minecon Live 2019 on Saturday 28th of September. Keep your eyes peeled for Avondale’s Marketplace panel over on the Minecraft Youtube Channel where he’ll be sharing all our secrets with our lovely friends Jigarbov, Eneija,CDFDMAN (Imagiverse) and Skywalker (Pixel and Blocks)