It's been 12 years since the release of Minecraft and the subsequent launch of what can only be described as "minecraft mania." Despite this, the king of the sandbox genre has no intention of leaving the throne. It still bravely holds onto the list of most popular games alongside slightly newer rivals like Fortnite, Roblox and Warzone 2. The prowess of this brand is also evidenced by subsequent spin-offs set in this cuboid universe. Just under three years ago, we got Minecraft Dungeons, thunderously hailed as a clone of Diablo, and now comes Minecraft Legends, which will... Exactly...
Legends is supposed to be a strategy game, which seems like a very bold idea, given the stereotypical opinions about fans of these two genres. Furthermore, it's supposed to be something different than a traditional strategy, because instead of a classic RTS, we'll get a "strategy action game." It gets even more interesting if we remember that the creators of the great Homeworld from Blackbird Interactive are responsible for the tactical layer of this game.
The official website provides quite general information about the upcoming product, so I wanted to personally ask the authors about what a "strategic action game" really is and what the current popularity of the franchise looks like. Lee McKinnon Pederson is the Executive Producer at Blackbird Interactive and Dennis Ries is the Executive Producer at Mojang Studios, and they both told me more about Minecraft Legends.
This is not a classic RTS!
Darius Matusiak: Your previous game, Minecraft Dungeons, evoked clear Diablo references. It was basically a hack'n'slash in the Minecraft convention, and this combination of two, seemingly completely different, elements gave a very interesting end result. And what about Minecraft Legends? What was your main inspiration? What other title is it easiest to compare Legends to?
Dennis Ries: As we were developing the game, we were asked that question quite often, and every time, we couldn’t really come up with a good comparisons. Frankly, it’s tough for us to do it because if I give a name, then you’ll start thinking it’s very much like. This is a very unique game, it’s very different and the way that we think about it is action strategy.
Action comes because you directly control the character; you can go out and do take direct actions and attack Piglins yourself with your sword, or enter PVP you can attack the other players for example. And strategy comes from being able to control your mobs, whom you can give resource commands. So, with the two combined, we do not call it a traditional RTS, it’s not at all like that – it’s Minecraft Strategy Game. This is kind of how we talk about it.
Lee McKinnon Pederson: We partnered with Mojang because they looked to our strategy background, but this really went a lot broader than just strategy. Many of us have RTS background, including myself, yet this is quite different from anything I have ever made. It certainly has elements of strategy within it, but then you have a hero, and your hero is on a battlefield. There is resource gathering, there’s building, unit control. Those are all very strategy-oriented, but then there are lots of other things in the game that don’t cleave to the RTS model.
DM: So, how does it actually work? Do we have our own army that we give orders to, are we the main character ourselves and do the main jobs alone?
DR: In Minecraft you have your mobs because they are part of this game. In the original, you have mobs like creepers, zombies, skeletons, which you actually fight in the “vanilla” Minecraft (as we call the base game). In this game, you’re asked to unite all of those mobs, which are aggressive in the vanilla, and unite them to help you fight the Overworld. Your supporters are the Minecraft mobs that come to help you as well as a few other new ones – new friends that you’ve met along the way. You can issue either very broad commands, like just “go fight a structure,” or you can issue specific commands like “fight that particular unit.”
DM: Is it mainly about defeating an opponent, like in a series of individual skirmishes or battles, or will we find a storyline in Legends to follow?
LMP: There’s a story element to the game. It’s not linear and the player isn’t required to follow the exact steps in order to push the story. But there’s a strong story component, there’s a bunch of cinematics supporting the narratives as well.
DR: It’s a procedurally-generated world, so every time you’re going to play through it, you’re going to get new experience. For example, one of the large hordes you’re going to fight, the Piglin horde, may be located in a mountain area the first time. But the next time you play, it can be a desert area. So, generally speaking, the gameplay experience from a narrative standpoint kind of shifts, but your overall story is a narratively driven campaign, so you’re kond of encouraged to go and do specific things to progress through the story. But it happens at your own pace.
A challenge even for hardcore strategy fans?
DM: Minecraft Legends is also supposed to have a full-fledged PvP mode, allowing players to test their strategic prowess in this most demanding form of competitive play. But this, it seems, will be a mode that combines PvP with PvE? As I understand it, you will have to fight both other players, and the typical mobs from the single-player campaign, right?
DR: The Piglins are in PvP matches and they introduce an interesting dynamic because you can’t ignore them. They actually will come and attack your base, but they’re also attacking your opponent’s base. So, you do need to pay attention to them. And you also need to go and take the battle to them in order to get some specific resources for upgrades. So, it’s an interesting dynamic mixing PvE and PvP.
LMP: PvP is a totally separate mode, and you can play it whenever you want. It doesn’t rely on you having progressed in the campaign in order to understand how you play. That can be the first thing you can do as a new player – just hop into the PvP. It has its own tutorial, you can also play with your friends if you are not comfortable matchmaking with the wider community.
DM: Minecraft seems to have a fairly common reputation as a kids game. This is the title which hardcore players often don't take seriously. Does Legends somehow break this stereotype and the strategic gameplay will be a challenge for seasoned players not only in PvP mode, or is it rather a very gentle entry into the world of strategy for beginners? And is it true that only kids really play Minecraft?
DR: If you’re a hardcore strategy player, you will certainly be able to find a challenge. Blackbird Interactive has made sure of that. I do think, though, that the game is more approachable than traditional strategy games. The perception that Minecraft is for kids is just that – a perception. I think the reality is that if you look at demographics, Minecraft is played by people of all ages. Sometimes its parents playing with children, sometimes it’s just older children who may have played when they were younger, but then came back as they entered high school or college, even as adults, I guess we’re near 15 years-old on average now. So I think this game will probably appeal to all ages; I would guess maybe a little bit older than traditional Minecraft, we will see.
"Working on Minecraft is a privilege"
DM: How did Blackbird Interactive come to be chosen to help develop Legends? Was the experience gained from working on Homeworld crucial here? How different is creating a science-fiction game set in space from the fairy-tale, quite specific universe of Minecraft?
DR: It was a combination of things. When we first started thinking about what we wanted to do for the next game in the Minecraft universe, people around Mojang really loved the idea of creating a strategy game experience. So, we started looking across the industry of different strategy developers and had some good conversations. Ultimately, our conversations with Blackbird were the ones that we found the most intriguing. Their passion for Minecraft was really strong and was really shining through in everything they showed us. So, we selected Blackbird to move forward and it was a really great partnership. They’ve really done a great job creatively by leading a large portion of the game. We loved where the game was headed.
LMP: It was definitely an interesting shift. The core team that we started with was really small. We build up a prototype team and we went on much larger development team and we really have as Denis said, a lot of people who love and admire Minecraft. And so, being able to move away from more traditional, rigid spaceship RTS – which is a great genre, by the way – and open ourselves up creatively to move more into this action-strategy area and get to live within Minecraft was such a privilege.
DM: What was the biggest challenge you had to face while developing this game?
DR: The difficult thing for us was trying to understand how we can help Blackbird Interactive making Minecraft a strategy game. We knew that we didn’t want to make a strategy game just with Minecraft in it. We wanted a unique experience, a Minecraft experience within a strategy game. And Blackbird Interactive was able to pull it off. It was great partnership.
LMP: For us at Blackbird I think it was less about the creative direction of the game because I think we aligned with our partners in Stockholm and in Redmond pretty quickly, and developed a great working relationships to figure out what we wanted or our direction to be, what our creative direction was. I think for us, it was stepping into the giant franchise that is Minecraft and facing the pressure that comes with that, of having to bring a product to a beloved franchise and a beloved IP, and really passionate community. This was probably the scariest thing for me and for us.
DM: Looking at the pictures from Minecraft Legends, you can see that the game is getting prettier, although it still looks like Minecraft. Aren't you tempted to crank up the quality a bit and take the graphics to a new level? And then: what is the future of Minecraft?
DR: A lot of people think vanilla Minecraft is pretty. Sometimes we talk about vanilla Minecraft as sort of “ugly-cute.” When we talk about Minecraft Legends, we use a term “dangerous-cute.” If you look at things like the Piglins, they’re super cute, they really are; they have their oversized heads, almost look like you want to go hug them. But you can’t because they will kill you, so they’re quite dangerous as well. It does look different, it’s a very pretty game, and for us, it was really important to make sure that when people looked at Minecraft Legends, they knew it was Minecraft – but not the vanilla.
The Minecraft universe is still growing, it’s still a very popular game. We still continue to support it and add content to the vanilla. Creating new Minecraft experiences is a natural progression for the franchise. Something that we are really excited about and looking into. We did Minecraft Dungeons first and now we’re doing Minecraft Legends – both are important new products in the franchise. We do have plans to continuously support Minecraft Legends. You will see new fresh content coming shortly, at launch and afterwards.