Cave Time: Feeling Safe In Minecraft

By John Walker on September 27th, 2010 at 2:00 pm.

That's a new home, that is.

Perhaps you’re a bit like me, and when you hear about everyone else getting obsessively stuck into an obscure indie game you assume it’s not your sort of thing, and wait for the fuss to die down. I know I’ve been like that about Dwarf Fortress, never even giving it a go so sure I am that I won’t like it. And I was dangerously close to adding Minecraft to that list. My housemates were playing it, my colleagues were playing it – everyone in the universe was banging on about it. At a certain point it becomes tempting just to be an iconoclastic prick and not play it so you can say you haven’t. The noise is offputting. But during a recent RPScursion to London, Kieron showed me his Minecraft world, and despite needing to stay for another seven or so hours, I really just wanted to get on a train back to Bath and start playing. Because Minecraft, I realised, comes incredibly close to being a game I’ve wanted to exist my entire life. So I, eventually, have a request.

One of Minecraft’s most remarkable features is how different people approach it. Some see it as a giant Lego set, and set about constructing wondrous things. Others see it as a combat game, letting you create armour and weapons and fight your way through the nights. Me, I see it as an exploration and home-building game.

If you’ll forgive a strangely personal diversion, I’ve long suffered from anxiety disorder. It’s not a lot of fun, but you develop certain techniques for feeling safe in the midst of your irrational fear. One of those, for me, is to revisit the books of Enid Blyton. An absolutely abysmal writer of prose, but unmatched in her ability to create the spirit of adventure with a knowledge of what made children feel safe and yet excited. Mock me if you will, but there’s something protecting about those tales of kids making shelters in mountain caves, underground rivers, or remote islands.

In Quintin’s excellent diary series about the game last week he wrote, “The entirety of MineCraft taps directly into that part of your mind that made it so fun to build forts out of sofa cushions as a kid.” That’s precisely it. Because building a fort wasn’t only about construction. It was about sitting inside your creation, feeling safe and contained, in your own space within the larger world. That fort, whether a pirate cove, underground military bunker, or smuggler’s den, was sealed off from the rest of the world.

I’ve always wanted a game that was about surviving. But no game that I’ve played has ever gotten it right. Most, of course, focus on combat. Even if the rest of the world is aggressing against you, and you’re in a constant state of defence, it’s still about the fighting. Or they are about crazed time management, forcing you to juggle events in a constant frantic panic to not fall short in any area.

Most guilty of the latter is the DS game, Lost In Blue. I’ve only played the original, and neither of the sequels, but this was a game that presented itself as being exactly what I was looking for. You play a boy stranded on an island, who discovers a fellow strandee, a blind girl whom you must look after. Aside from being a game that ignored all notions of emancipation (the helpless blind girl sits in your cave and cooks for you), it was really a game about seeing how long you could last in its maniac panic. Making no attempt at realism, your characters were so idiotically hungry and thirsty that exploration was rarely an option, instead being forced to prepare a vast banquet of food for every meal, and sleeping like a hibernating bear. Rather than offering any notion of safety and adventure, it was instead about constant pressure. Fail.

What I’ve wanted, and wanted for so long, is a game that focuses on exploration and realistic basic needs. This does not mean no threat – in fact, if it’s to work, if my sofa fort is to mean anything, it requires a degree of threat. But not a world where you can be clobbered to death in most instances. And wow, does Minecraft come close.

Nothing has offered such a wonderful sense of fort-based safety, surrounded by the thrill of adventure.

Quintin has already thoroughly covered why the game’s cave building and crafting are so magnificent, so there’s no need for me to repeat that here. Just let it be said that I’ve spent most of the weekend, including hours more normally devoted to sleeping, with this game. Tunnelling, crafting, and nest building. Occasionally getting caught out a night, and deaded. Sometimes not being able to find the spot where I died, deep within my labyrinthine tunnels, and thus hopelessly searching for special equipment I’d been carrying. At one point falling into a pool of lava, and losing absolutely everything, and feeling so despondent I went to bed, and never loaded that world again. I’ve been decorating the mountain that contains my current home with so many torches that it glows like a beacon throughout the land. And leaving myself breadcrumb trails when prospecting deep underground, in the form of upright torches stuck into the ground. In four worlds, each time I’ve played I’ve refined my movements further, making a more secure, more permanent home, and then venturing outward in carefully planned routes.

The game offers a lot of what I want. Get injured and you need to heal. And this tends to involve work. Find some pigs, chop the poor squealing fellows up, and then roast their meat on your stove. That’s rewarding itself. Also, why not try penning in a chicken. If it can’t go anywhere, all its eggs are yours. A chicken coop of your very own! And of course that most important element: being scared of the dark. Darkness means enemies spawn, and enemies tend to mean death, unless you’re quick with your sword.

But it’s not quite there. So this is my request: someone, please make exactly the game I’m after.

The difference is slight, but important to me. It’s slightly more of the basic needs. What I want is Minecraft, but with a need to eat, drink and sleep.

Adding this element in seems to send most developers completely stark-raving bonkers, either offering day/night cycles so fast that the Earth gets dizzy, or requiring your character eat enough for a village at every meal. They also have absolutely no comprehension that most people can get by on a few hours sleep for a couple of nights, before needing to catch up. I don’t want to rush. I don’t want to panic. But I do want to have to do some basic tasks in my day.

Knowing I need to find food before night time arrives – that’s not a crazy pressure, but a simple responsibility. Ideally I’d like to see the day/night cycles slowed down a good deal too. There’s no reason for night to come around so frequently, and adding in sleep would see pass a lot of that added downtime sensibly. There’d also be lots of excellent new reasons to craft – water filtration systems, perhaps even irrigation from the rivers to your home. You could build larders for food, and of course a bed. Build a better bed, get better sleep, perhaps even need less of it.

I don’t want the Sims here. Goodness knows because it’s more guilty of incessant nagging and panic than most. Just enough to make my fort feel all the more important. If I could hole up for the night, eat my evening meal, and curl up in bed, I think that would make waking up to a new day of mining and exploring all the more thrilling.

So could someone make that for me, please? I don’t want elaborate multiplayer. (Although I’d be very happy to see an Animal Crossing-style option for having friends come visit and spend time in my world – I think I’d set it so they had no block-destroying ability, or goodness knows it could be awful.) I don’t want extra combat, or more challenging enemies. I don’t want to have to budget my time so I can’t explore as much as I’d like. I want the utter freedom that Minecraft offers, but with a little bit more need to have a home. And sure, if you’re caught out by the sunset, dig a quick shelter for the night. It wouldn’t be as effective for rest, but it would do.

I think that would be thrilling. It would take Minecraft further in the direction that so enormously appealed to me when I glimpsed Kieron playing it. It would tap into all those safe-places of mine, those Blyton-esque adventures, the childhood den built out of household furniture and bed sheets, the sense of being in control in a wild world.

So someone get on with that please.

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191 Comments »

  1. Megazver says:

    “And sleep would be a perfect solution to the short day-night cycle. Double the length of day and night but let you sleep through some of the night, but not all of it, and only an hour or two if you wanted. Let you pull an all-nighter with no gameplay penalty but maybe start to give you distorted graphics if you went more than one night without any sleep at all.”

    Yeah, apply more and more filters to make it look like LOVE. Seriously, I could not see shit in that game.

  2. pupsikaso says:

    You know, I think this game called Wurm Online is possibly what you are looking for, John.

  3. draknir says:

    Sorry but this is an awful idea. Minecraft should NEVER become a simulation.

  4. Torgen says:

    I’ve become bored of Minecraft, and haven’t played in over a week, because it is TOO safe once you’re past day 2 or 3. Once you have a shelter, forge and worktable set up, you don’t really *need* to do anything else, and boredom sets in. I start building caves near my home to spawn more monsters to play with.

    You’re a soulless, tireless machine that can work full-tilt every second of every day until eternity passes. Multiplayer gives you someone to talk to, but is more boring than single player because nothing can harm you. I built a 40-block tall tower with a ladder up one side, and put torches down the other three sides by jumping off and placing them as I plummeted to the ground.

    Like some of the fellows above, I’d like to see needing to eat, needing to sleep, the day/night cycle slowed down some. Dwarf Fortress, for instance, would be exponentially more boring without needing to feed and alcholically-irrigate your dorfs. Peaceful mode is already in MC for those that want a giant first-person Lego set. Please make Survival more… survivally.

    • Clovis says:

      With the difficulty set on the highest setting, I would think that spelunking is still quite dangerous. I usually switch my goal from just surviving to getting as much gold, diamond, and treasures as possible. Impose a “only 1 life” rule on yourself and you have a pretty challenging game. Or even just a “never go back and get your stuff once killed” rule. That makes going into a random cave like nethack or something.

  5. Hundred says:

    I really like the anxiety angle here, but my interpretation is slightly different.

    The caves in the game terrify me. The haunting sounds, dark tunnels going into every direction, and the chance that a monster could hide around every corner really get my adrenaline up. I seem to have a stronger and sometimes more lasting reaction to those things than most, but for some reason I can’t help but to seek out these thrills anyway.

    As a personal compromise, I started spending most of my time in Minecraft building stairs and torches in caves, and restructuring the walls to make them look safer. Not because there was an economic advantage, but simply because it allowed me to explore those caves without having to keep the light on before I go to sleep.

  6. Ninja says:

    I agree 100%.

    Right now Minecraft is a game that is very focused on exploration, but there’s no real need to go back to your fort, at least not immediately.

    If it starts going towards night, and you aren’t close enough to your house to make it, you can literally dig a hole in the ground and wait for day time, or even dig a basic hole in a cave with a window to wait for the daylight. However, if you add in a need to sleep and a need to eat/drink, suddenly building a good fort in a good place becomes very important.

    Not much, like maybe eat 2 things a day, depending on the thing, drink a few times a day, and even sleep like a once every few days. Nothing big and drastic, but enough that you can’t simply explore at will without bringing supplies at least. It would also make farming MUCH more useful. Right now I don’t see an actual use for it because killing a few pigs isn’t very difficult, and requires little tools. Whereas crops require you to spend time. However if you absolutely HAVE to eat, building a small farm outside a fort or even inside a greenhouse-fort thing, would be useful actually, as if for some reason you were mining all night, and you resurface to find out that it’s night time, you can simply grab the crops just outside your house/cave and eat, but if you don’t have them then you might be in trouble.

    However there’d have to be a slightly more severe punishment to dieing when you die of starvation. Maybe a few items get destroyed randomly. But overall I agree that Minecraft could be a game I’d LOVE to play. fallout new vegas’s extreme mode or whatever looks like it might be another fun survival game, as I always liked the idea of a post-apocolyptic survival game.

    And towards the people that say “the game you are looking for is…real life” there is a huge difference between exploring in real life and exploring in a game.

    In minecraft you can dig into a massive cave system, find a vein of Diamonds, and kill a few zombies in a few hours. In real life if you try to “explore” you’ll need far more than a few hours. And you’ll put yourself in real danger.

    The problem isn’t that people want a game where you simply eat and drink, but the need to eat/drink/sleep should be a natural addition to a SURVIVAL game. Without it, survival is too easy. That’s the reason that the need to eat/drink/sleep is such a desired feature for survival games, because many of them become about surviving by killing stuff, which becomes easy over time. There are two extremes in survival games, extremes where you can simply survive by killing everything else, or the extreme where you CAN’T fight everything and have to hide. Right now Minecraft is the closest to not being in either of those extremes, and adding need to eat, sleep, and drink would make minecraft difficult without reaching either of those extremes.

  7. Kungfumassa says:

    Also wanted to chime in about Unreal World. Something of a steep learning curve (I USED to think it was the most difficult roguelike to learn, but then Dwarf Fortress showed up…and yeah I know DF isn’t a roguelike but it is etc. etc.) but when mastered, endlessly rewarding. When you finally build your first cabin and fill it with furniture and you’ve caught yourself some cattle and adopted a dog and fended off those red bad guys and …it’s so sweet.

  8. Jimbo says:

    You know that game with the dinosaurs? It had the flashy video not so long ago. What you’re describing is exactly what they should do with that game.

    I’m sure some people here will have read ‘Hatchet’ when they were younger? I basically want that crossed with dinosaurs and Minecraft.

  9. Berzee says:

    @Barefoot: “That game that he is searching, is called reality. And it’s the most awesome game ever! ”

    Duh. Mining, in real life, is Hard Work.

    And more seriously, games are different because they’re self-centered. Even the stuff that “just goes on” in the world around you, even the NPCs that tell you to get lost — they say and do those things for YOU. In real life, not so much. =P

    (You can argue whether all these games where everything exists for you enjoyment is good or bad, but I think it’s at least a significant difference. It would be interesting to see more games where there was a ton of amazing stuff that you were just never meant to see, or to see from afar and know it would never be yours…interesting, but maybe not fun. I know not =P)

  10. laikapants says:

    It would definitely need to be toggle-able, but those aspects would go a long way into giving my Minecrafting a greater sense of purpose.

    Though even more so I crave a sense of society, even if you start way way away from it. I would love to one day open up a small Recettear-esque shop on the outskirts of an NPC town and sell them goods I acquire from my mine below. Again, this aspect should also probably be a completely different mode or not required. Still, it could help evolve Minecraft beyond the I Climbed/Built/Killed It Because I Could aspect of it.

    • Clovis says:

      Notch is definitely working on “mob villages”, but it seems like it would be just as easy to create an NPC village. That would definitely be cool. I wouldn’t want to start in one though. I’d want to have to find it. But yeah, maybe you could sell gold and stuff for something you can only get from NPC villages.

  11. Vodyanoi says:

    The game you want exists. It’s called Stranded 2.

  12. arioch says:

    My advice? Download Exile and play some Ultima 7…

  13. Temple to Tei says:

    The one and only spoke once and we heard the words.
    We went, we saw and it was good.
    (But with an aspect of pvp unfortunately)

    haven and hearth for when the link fails

    http://www.havenandhearth.com/portal/

    http://www.havenandhearth.com/portal/howto
    (useful start guide -very basic and out of date)

    Have not played in a while but it has regular updates

    Lots of crafting skills, stay in the early stages and nothing attacks you, but you can still build a house, farm, make honey etc.
    Eating is required and increases skills.

  14. Skinlo says:

    Not a fan of this idea, just like having to eat in GTA SA, it slows you down, and ruins the flow of gameplay. It won’t be fun, just tedious and boring.

  15. Spliter says:

    I Support this Idea!
    I loved Minecraft while I still had trouble surviving through the night. In the end I dropped it because it was too easy, and I didn’t feel like creating something in it (I have my good old 3d modelling software and photoshop if I want creativity).
    Making survival a bit more survival-y would be awesome. In fact a few weeks ago RPS showcased a small game about survival that was really great , except it was too easy because if you didn’t go to the dangerous creatures they wouldn’t come to you. (forgot the name of it).
    But it had some interesting notions like weather changes,losing health while in rain/snow, and having to eat periodically.
    Minecraft would be really awesome if there was a srvival mode that made the suvivaling a bit more difficult.

  16. laikapants says:

    @Clovis: Oh yes yes yes, Mob Towns are among my most eagerly awaited additions (along with Biomes). And I wouldn’t want to start in an NPC (or Mob) town either. It would rob you of the joy of discovery. So long as I’m speaking in terms of Mine-hopes and dreams, it would also be kind of awesome if I built an Inn/Farm/Shop somewhere along a road, NPCs started to settle near me. Slowly and organically a new town is born.

  17. Vinraith says:

    That would be an absolutely wonderful addition to the game. Make it optional for the folks that want to play another way, of course, but making the game more survival focused would vastly increase its replay value IMO. The closest I’ve gotten to the game John’s describing is Fallout 3 with the Wanderer’s Edition mod, which forces a need to eat, sleep, and drink upon you in a world full of irradiated food and water sources. The amount of fun, drama, and self-created story that added to the game is incalculable, I’d never play FO3 without it, and I can only imagine what it would do (minus the radiation, natch :)) for a game like Minecraft.

  18. jboy_2009 says:

    As soon as I can figure out how, I’m modding in polar bears.

  19. sana says:

    LOST IN BLUE?! I love you, man. You’re the best out of the rps bunch.

    It was so satisfying to play when you finally managed to cook enough fish and drink enough water to have everything on 100% for both characters, though! And… the girl was blind?! How did I never notice? How can she cook if she’s blind?

  20. Magical Melvin says:

    I created a profile just to reply to this one post.

    I sympathise wholeheartedly, Minecraft provides me with a space away from the real world – it is escapism at its finest. The suggested additions I feel would be most welcome, as, when night time draws near, I find myself left on my hillside retreat with little but a few rocks to melt down – which takes no time at all – and thus end up sitting in darkness, waiting till morning.

    What some others have said about realism is, however, interesting. I agree that games don’t have to be realistic to be enjoyable, but with something like Minecraft there needs to be a certain degree of realism. The brilliant thing about Minecraft is that its a world that is fairly easy to navigate, and is easy to understand. The rule is: to survive. So now, if we apply that rule to the world in which we currently survive, we suddenly have to think about the economy, about capitalism, about politics and others – we have to bring in ethics, which in turn bring in metaphysics. We have to worry about oil prices, and our children. Our world is a complicated place (and perhaps unnecessarily so at times) and there are far to many issues out there to solve.

    In Minecraft we are reduced to the core of our humanity, we have to work with the environment in order to survive, and it is normally the most simple things that invoke this feeling of safety. In Minecraft you can feel that you’ve really achieved something, whereas, in the normal world, we may have achieved something – but it is usually dwarfed by the achievements of others, or pushed out of the way by further issues.

    Minecraft should not be ‘realistic’ – there should not be markets and trade and coins and jet engines etc, but it needs a realism that fits its environment.

  21. dayeight says:

    Robinson’s Requiem anyone?

  22. wedge says:

    Right on the money. This game makes me feel like a happy little kid again. In the real horrible world, it’s nice to come home and relax mining away.
    Thank you very much for covering this game and inspiring me to make the best game purchase of 2010.

  23. wererogue says:

    I just want to be able to really mod minecraft. I want the source, just for the game logic. I love all these ideas people come up with for how their ideal minecraft would work, but they’re never all going to work together.

  24. John Walker says:

    To respond to an awful lot of people, I’m really not suggesting changing Minecraft! I only suggest /another/ game doing the things I want. Of course, if Minecraft included these ideas I could die happy. It’s fascinating to see how defensive people are getting – this game clearly means a lot to people, in whichever form. But I think the angriest responses are perhaps a little misplaced.

    If what I’ve always wanted from a game were to appear within Minecraft, then I would seriously hope that they’d be options, not requirements, as they’d obviously spoil it for many.

    Thank you very much to everyone who has suggested other games to try. I will check them out and report back. I can imagine a series of Cave Time articles (the term my girlfriend uses to describe when I need to disappear and be on my own for a bit), each looking at games of this sort.

  25. IAT says:

    There’s Haven and Hearth, which is a survival-type MMO. You don’t need to sleep or drink (but you can to reduce travel weariness or regain stamina) and you will be in danger of starving unless you can find a source of food. You have to dig holes or build fires until you have enough experience to get the skills to hunt, fish, or farm, though. It’s fun, but it is a lot easier if you have other people to help you out.

    http://www.havenandhearth.com/portal/

  26. the wiseass says:

    @John: So basically what you want is dwarf fortress with minecraft graphics. Now go play dwarf fortress and tell me if I’m right.

  27. DestinedCruz says:

    Pretty much everything you wanted is planned for the game in some fashion, especially the ‘drop-in/out’ friend play.

    You have to remember this game is still in the really basic alpha testing stages.

  28. dragon_hunter21 says:

    Knowing the devs, I would not at all be surprised if this was a feature in a year’s time. An alternate mode, perhaps.

  29. Matzerath says:

    I respect your reasonable, interesting suggestions for improving Minecraft — though I must admit that at the same time you evoke, in my mind, what the Minecraft forum might sound like after several years of Electroshock Therapy.

  30. The Hon. Reverend Fred Gherkin says:

    @Clovis: same! Minecraft Survival is 3D Spelunky for me, right down to the procedurally generated caves. The ultimate goal: filling a chest with pure gold blocks. Aw yis. Screw Obsidian ore, though; that business takes like 15 seconds to mine with a diamond pickaxe.

  31. Corion says:

    John, have you played ADOM? You needed to eat in that game, but the best part of it wasn’t HAVING to eat, it was WHAT you could eat. You could basically devour the corpse of any enemy you slew, and some would give you special abilities and such. It was AWESOME.

    Additionally, if you overeat too much, you get hungry faster. In one game, it got to the point where I had to devour entire Ogre armies for breakfast.

    I want a game that mixes ADOM and Minecraft … with multiplayer.

    • The Hon. Reverend Fred Gherkin says:

      Consuming rotting Kobold flesh is a fast track to rolling a new character. Those were the days.

  32. ShawnClapper says:

    I think doing that would be good if instead of making it a requirement, give bonuses for doing those things. Having to sleep during a long exploration would suck and eating requirement would get annoying. Instead give your character additional stats/abilities or something for doing those tasks. So you can pretend to eat if you like and have reason for doing so, but not be annoyed by having to do it during the entire 5 days it takes to construct your palace or whatever.

    • JellyfishGreen says:

      It could work like the Overcharge shield in Halo 1. A bonus to speed or strength while it lasted, like the tools, and I’d bet some people would get so addicted they’d want to stay fed all the time.

      OVERCHARGE. Just wanted to say it again.

  33. Brian says:

    I’ll tell you what would make minecraft more fun: more mining and more crafting. Put in 200 different materials to mine and come up with a fairly open-ended way to combine them to make things. add fire and cold to the crafting matrix (aside from having things that are purely hearth or table creations) and change the end products based on melting, freezing, or otherwise processing them. since it has a very large adventure/exploration aspect, why not add in sights to see if you brave the open world and go to another island? just as in the real world, make some elements extremely rare on one island, and less so or even in abundance on others. that way you have to get out there and explore. only in that context does the addition of a need to eat, drink, sleep make any sense. if you go somewhere that has pigs in very short supply, you have to take your provisions with you or develop a staging area so you can go farther. if a generated land type can be desert, you need to carry water.

    on the blog, there is talk of adding whales, which would make traversing a sea more interesting. how about a kraken or crocodiles or pirate ships of mob guys; something that adds just a touch of peril to it aside from the imminent danger of nightfall?

    the basic elements are already in the game. all it needs is more of them.

    • The Hon. Reverend Fred Gherkin says:

      I think Notch is already building the framework for many of those ideas with the upcoming biomes.

  34. Muzman says:

    Interesting to note that Minecraft is to blame for the podcast being not long enough.
    It’s the new WoW. Expect dodgy stats on lost productivity within a few weeks.

  35. Harry Williams says:

    Play Wurm Online ^_^

    Its interesting that Notch was one of the former founders of Wurm Online. I see Minecraft as being basically a massively faster paced version of Wurm, with far more control and focus on the terrain sculpting sandbox elements. I cant wait for 1.0, but i get the feeling that it could be a long way away yet.

  36. MrEvilGuy says:

    I agree with Matt. Those were the most terrifying spiders I have ever come across. I couldn’t sleep for days.

  37. willcodejavaforfood says:

    I’ve not played and I am not going to, but the game does seem to have a certain charm. I like the food/sleep suggestion as it would add purpose to the game. Also need women walking around that you can club and bring back to your cave for extra realism.

  38. HappyWulf says:

    I would say eating and drinking are good requests, but none of us play video games to watch ourselves sleep. Omit sleeping from the request and you just might get your wish.

  39. Wraggles says:

    I don’t know about sleep, it would negate a lot of scary monsters only at night thing. Unless they did something clever, so you’re not actually afk during sleep, your character just closes their eyes and you can hear everything around you.

    Food and drink, and their need is something I’d LOVE to have added. it wouldn’t even impact exploration much at all, it would just be another preparatory step. Rather than just making sure you have enough tools/wood/torches when you go mining, you would also add food and water to that kit.

    But to add it, Notch should really tighten up a few other mechanics. A way to entice animals into a pen? Some chairs and a table at which to eat.

    Another question is what penalties would there be for failing to eat/drink/sleep?

  40. Tulse says:

    Wizard! I’ll craft some macaroons.

  41. Mirqy says:

    Does John’s motivation for building forts remind anyone else of Durlag’s reason for building his tower? Beware the doppelgangers, John!

    In fact, someone should build Durlag’s Tower in Minecraft. If they haven’t already.

  42. Justin says:

    This game is awesome, but face it, nobody is going to pay over 30 dollars for this game, when they could buy the game garrys mod for only $9.99 , which offers pretty much more. id say you need to add a couple more things

  43. NAZIUFOCOMMANDER says:

    Don’t be daft, go download Unreal World, it’s exactly what you’re looking for.

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