Can you believe it’s been five years since the first version a Minecraft crept out across the world and changed the face of gaming forever? We sit down with the game’s lead designer, Jens Bergensten, to celebrate Mojang’s blocky milestone, before chipping away at it to reveal what future secrets are hidden within.
Minecraft is 5 (or will be when people read this). How does it feel to be overseeing Minecraft at this point in its life?
The development of Minecraft is in a very “technical” state at the moment. All our efforts are towards making the game more flexible and data-driven, in order to enable mod support some time in the near future. It’s very different to when I started at Mojang, since the focus was on gameplay features back then.
Does 5 seem significant in any way? If so, how?
I haven’t really thought about it. I guess it’s unusual for a game to still attract new players so long after its conception.
It’s natural to look back at an important milestone, but how much of your time is spent going back over features compared to exploring new ones?
Every once in a while we look back at old features to see if we can improve them, but we’re also always trying to keep the game updated with new stuff, too. Right now our work is very technical, so we’re not working much on new features until after the 1.8 update is out.
Do you ever fear the onset of Minecraft fatigue?
I always feel fatigue when working on the same thing for a long time, but thankfully I can help out with other projects at Mojang too. Designing game rules for Scrolls is particularly fun.
For a couple of years there was a wave of direct imitators, FortressCraft et al, now there’s a second wave of games appearing that move away from the Minecraft aesthetic and apply the gameplay to darker themes or different genres. What do you think of this “second wave” of Minecraft-inspired games?
I think it’s great, but often the projects are overly ambitious. It’s easy to think that you can make a Minecraft with extra elements added on to it. It can easily turn into trying to make two games at once.
Do you ever feel that other games are racing ahead, in the sense that you are becoming inspired by them as much as they are by Minecraft? Or does it remain the case that you look more towards the community and what they want for inspiration?
I think the Minecraft modding community has a lot more to offer than other games. The SurvivalCraft app is really neat, but it looks a bit weird and lacks multiplayer.
How important is community, not just to the ongoing success of the game, but to development? It must be almost impossible to keep up with everything that’s going on and deafening when it comes to the features that people want to see. How do you filter it all out and stay focused?
The community is obviously very important, as it’s our main inspiration to keep working on the game. I can’t say I keep up very well with everything, but I know Nathan (Dinnerbone) has close ties to a lot of the famous youtubers.
Having gotten past the “difficult second album” phase with Scrolls, is the pressure now off the company to have to produce a game that exceeds the success or impact of Minecraft?
I guess so. I think Scrolls is a great game and I love working on it, and I think people have understood that there’s no point for us to do another Minecraft game.
Minecraft has become an important teaching tool, which I know is something Mojang is immensely proud of – and rightly so. How has that happened and is it something you’re keen to build upon; to inspire kids to explore, experiment and question for themselves?
It kind of happened on its own. We’re very happy about it, as it makes people take us, and gaming in general, more seriously. However, we want to focus on game development, but try to help projects that use Minecraft in education or similar.
If there was one feature you could go back and erase from existence or alter in some fundamental way (knowing there would be no record of your temporal tampering) which would it be and why?
I get this question a lot, but honestly I’m not afraid of cutting things from the game if I feel it’s necessary. For version 1.8 we’ve done a couple of changes to “fix” things from the past.
The next-gen consoles could really do with some new games, right? So how is the enhanced 60fps edition of Minecraft coming along?
Well, it’s delayed, if that is what you mean…
Is it important to create something “next-gen” or are you wary of not wanting to get too far ahead of the flagship PC edition?
Oh, we don’t have any “PC master race” pride here. We want to make the best game possible, and the editions have slightly different goals. We know players get very upset when “their” edition lacks certain features, but for us it’s more important that the editions don’t slow each other down.
Can you reveal some of the features of next-gen Minecraft?
I can say that the worlds will be larger!
Did you ever expect the console and mobile editions to be quite so successful? To what do you attribute the success of the mobile version especially?
I must admit I greatly underestimated the success of Pocket Edition. When we started working on it we put our ambitions way too low, only offering a very limited creative mode experience. This is something we are paying for now, in the sense of tired typing fingers. When it came to the console versions I think everyone underestimated the success, because we’ve beaten Microsoft’s lifetime prediction by over 100%.
Can you imagine a time in the future when you can declare Minecraft game complete, that there’s no more that can be added?
Not really, but I expect the modding community to carry the torch in the future.
It’s May 2019 and Minecraft is ten years old. Of course you have since moved on to lead <insert dream franchise here>, but what features would you expect to have been established by your successor?
Full mod API, a quest system, player-constructed world elements sharing à la Spore, portals between player worlds, maybe?
On the recent decision to pull the VR Edition of the game: Assuming Oculus/Facebook will keep the Rift on its original track, is VR an option you’d still like to pursue, either on Rift, Morpheus or both?
I’m not personally interested in a VR edition, so it’s a question for the modding community and/or Sony.
What are the challenges of developing a VR Minecraft?
I guess the problem right now is to run the game at a stable FPS at 4k resolution. Conceptually Minecraft already works on the Oculus Rift.
Finally, can you reveal the game that has most inspired you either as a gamer or developer – and why it has done so?
We were talking about this the other day, and I realised that I’ve probably been the most inspired by the Games Workshop range of tabletop games. I really enjoyed reading rule books, and liked their idea of simplifying games over the years. One game that I particularly liked was Necromunda, which had really clean character development rules.