perfectly spherical

Game Design In Theory

Endgame Content (MLHRWM part 4)

☰ Table of Content

Let’s talk about Breath of the Wild.

It’s a damn good adventure game, is what it is. Between the simple-yet-satisfying combat, the immersive-sim-esque interactions that let you bypass that combat, the deep and interesting cooking mechanics, and–most of all–the many useful traversal mechanics, Breath of the Wild is pretty damn close to perfect.

Why do I bring this up? Because Minecraft does exactly the opposite of what Breath of the Wild does. Yeah, bet you thought this was gonna be about a game I liked, huh?

What does “Gating” mean, anyway?

To be clear: When I say some piece of content is “gated” behind something else, what I mean is that you need that something else to get to the content. This can come in the form of needing an ability (i.e., a large part of Super Metroid is gated behind having the Morph Ball), clearing a certain amount of content (parts of Super Mario 64’s castle are gated by star count), or–in Minecraft’s case–it can be gated behind killing a boss.

The Elytra are the best thing that has ever happened to Minecraft. And, because we’re not allowed to have nice things, it’s gated behind the final boss of the game.

Fuck you, kill the Ender Dragon.

You wanted a decent exploration option? Go fuck yourself. Your options, until you defeat the Ender Dragon, are:

  1. Railways, which require such a massive amount of iron that they simply are not practical in vanilla;
  2. Horses, which suffer from worldgen that was simply never built to have horse-riding in it;
  3. Boats, which trade the iron cost of railways for the time cost of filling in moats.
  4. Ender pearls, which not only are a rare drop, but also hurt you each time you use them.

Now, this isn’t the only mechanic that’s gated behind some lengthy process; potions are also gated behind a series of dimension-hops and murderous rampages. However, there’s something particularly awful about this one, because Minecraft was at one point a game about exploring things and the Elytra fill a desperately-needed niche.

For those who are blessedly free from this accursed game, the Elytra are a glider that you wear in your chestplate armor slot. You can use a fireworks rocket to boost yourself around with them, but your main source of momentum is gonna be swooping around like a maniac, and it genuinely feels awesome to fly with these things.

But, because you have to jump across two dimensions and fight the final boss of the game to get them, they feel like kind of an empty victory. Doubly so when you realize that, eventually, they run out. Because they burn through durability as you fly, and because of how Minecraft’s repair system gradually increases the XP cost of repairing an item, you are guaranteed to eventually no longer have a working set of Elytra. And by the time you get them, you’re already in Minecraft’s endgame. You have nowhere else to go, except maybe to those deep-woods mansions or whatever.

This is a particularly annoying decision because Elytra also intersect neatly with one of those things that Minecraft is supposed to be all about: building. Because Elytra are a glider, not full flight, you are encouraged to build tall structures to swoop down from. This would’ve been utterly fucking radical if you got Elytra early in the game.

We can fix it with mods, but…

The thing about Minecraft’s modding community is that they have this weird obsession with vanilla’s balance. I don’t understand it, partly because I’ve talked at length about how much I hate Minecraft’s vanilla balance.

There was a mod for Minecraft 1.7.10 called OpenBlocks. Among other convenience features, it added a hang glider. It didn’t operate the way Elytra did, but it was still an incredibly useful early-game transport option, since it only cost a few leather and iron.

Then 1.9 came out and Elytra were added. Eventually, mods began jumping to 1.12, and by that time the community had decided that hang-gliding was officially a Post-End feature. The hang glider was eventually made into its own standalone mod, but suddenly it was OP, because it granted the ability to glide, and the word of Notch God was that gliding is a thing you get after killing the Ender Dragon. It was nerfed, with random variation added to its flight path, and then it was mostly ignored.

“We can fix it with mods” is nice and all, but at the end of the day, the community takes cues from what you build into the game. This is an extreme example, but nobody is going to create a mod that radically readjusts your weapon balance, no matter how much of a slog your early-game combat is, because at some point modders are going to use the base game as a reference point.

Why I Mentioned BotW earlier

So there’s a specific thing that Breath of the Wild does, which I wish Minecraft did: Breath of the Wild gives the player all their tools by the end of the tutorial. There’s upgrades to those tools, sure, but at the end of the tutorial you have everything you need.

Including the hang glider. Which remains one of your best traversal options well into the lategame, even after you’ve tamed a high-quality horse. Because Breath of the Wild is about exploration, and it is fully aware of that, and designed around it, unlike some other games I could mention.

This is part of a series! In the previous post, I talked about godforsaken loot tables.

Update: 2021-10-11

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