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The appetite for Minecraft seems pretty endless. Microsoft has to keep feeding fans with new content, and the latest thing coming in the portfolio is Minecraft Legends.
It’s a real-time action strategy game coming in 2023. I got a little preview of it out in Germany. During the recent Gamescom expo, I caught up with Minecraft Legends executive producer Dennis Ries and creative director Magnus Nedfors at Microsoft’s Mojang division.
They took me on a tour of Minecraft Legends in a demo and then entertained my questions. You play it from a third-person perspective, and it features both cooperative and competitive multiplayer. Minecraft Legends got going in 2018, and it was revealed during the Xbox Showcase in June.
As Nordfors says, Minecraft Legends is a story, a legend, told in the Minecraft universe. It’s a story about the Overworld and how the Overworld is invaded by piglins from Nether. You’re called to that legend as the hero to unite the Overworld, to fight the piglins, and make a lot of friends along the way.
Mojang is working with developer Blackbird Interactive in Vancouver to make the game. We’ll see if that appetite is going to be endless after all.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
Magnus Nedfors: I’m the creative director on the Mojang side. I say that because we’re doing it together with Blackbird Interactive in Vancouver. They have a team, and then we’re on the publishing side. We announced this a couple of months ago, and now we’re showing it live for the first time. It’s a new game for us. We’re trying to grow the portfolio of games we have, providing more experiences for our players.
Minecraft Legends is a story, a legend, told in the Minecraft universe. It’s a story about the Overworld and how the Overworld is invaded by piglins. You’re called to that legend as the hero to unite the Overworld, to fight the piglins, and make a lot of friends along the way. What you’ll see today in this speedrun demo is a bit of an intro to the game. At this point the player has gone through the tutorial, the introduction to the game, and then the initial part of the story has gone by. The hero has fought against the piglins, and the piglins have noticed that there’s someone here putting up resistance. They thought it was going to be easy. We’ll see a bit of how one of the bosses of the piglin force reacts.
At the core this is a strategy game, but we also have a hero character. It’s a bit different in that way. Everything you do comes out of that hero character. There are lots of materials you can gather in the world, and you use that to build troops, to build buildings and things like that. This is the action bar, showing different things you can do. That’s a counter of how many troops you can control. We have a big, open procedural world, so we have a compass to keep you oriented.
In this game, as I said, we want you to make a lot of friends. The people you encounter can become your allies and help you with different tasks, like gathering materials. In vanilla Minecraft, you interact block by block, but here it’s more thought by thought. It’s a bit bigger. I want to gather these types of materials. I want to build these types of buildings. The allies will help you with that. As you can hopefully see here, the art style is very Minecraft. It’s recognizable and familiar to players who’ve played Minecraft before. But this has a new attitude, you might say. It’s a bit more happy, if I could use that expression. We call it a fairy tale. It’s a story, a legend.
Here we are in a village. Again, it’s different from vanilla, but the villagers are very similar to how they look in vanilla. They walk around with their arms crossed and so on. They greet you with a happy “Hello!” every time you meet them. You can befriend the villagers as well, and they’ll help you fight by gathering materials for you, so we’ll reward you if you help them out. You get some materials, and that’s the way they help you.
Moving on to the world, we have several different biomes in the game. It’s fun to explore everything, to see new areas of the world. Again, it’s procedurally generated, so it’s different every time you play and different for every player. Every so often you’ll come upon a village inhabited by zombies. In this legend, everybody is living in harmony at the start. The zombies are not attacking you. You can befriend them and they will help you in the war with the piglins.
As I say, although it’s a strategy game, we have the hero as the center, so we have some kinds of action gameplay elements. We have some environmental effects. You can find different things in the world. Here we have “speed weed.” That buffs your speed. We have mushrooms sitting around that you can run over to gain a health buff. Another thing about the hero-centered way of playing the game, of course you have your trusty sword, so you can defend yourself a bit. The main thing you’re supposed to be, though, is the leader, the commander of the troops. You can take care of yourself, but you need more troops to help you defeat the piglins.
This is a piglin base. This group is called the Horde of the Bastion. We have several different Hordes for you to encounter. This Horde is all about building walls, towers, fortifications and so on. Other Hordes in the game build their bases in different ways to provide different kinds of challenges, and to provide some variation in gameplay. How they behave is very different. As you probably saw there, there was a swirling purple thing in the middle. That’s a Nether Portal, where the piglins come from. When you attack the base the goal is to destroy that portal.
Dennis Ries: Now I want to get a better view of the base so I can find the right way to attack it. I’ve found this platform up here, and that will give us a chance to take a look at the base and survey it.
Nedfors: As you can see, the Horde of the Bastion likes walls. They have a long wall around the base. It’s all about structure in their base. Here you have what we call the Nether Spread. It spreads out into the world. That’s poisonous to your troops. You can’t attack it with basic troops. There are different towers that shoot arrows at you. This particular base, you can also see that there’s a force field guarding the portal. You need to destroy these towers to take down the force field and then attack the portal.
Before we start the attack, though, it’s always good to build a little bit of a base of your own. This is what we call a well house. It’s a basic building for yourself. It provides you with a spawn point and with a fast travel point if you want to quickly go back there. We can build some defenses around that, a few arrow towers. Sometimes when you launch an attack against the piglins, they’ll launch a counterattack back at you, so it’s good to have some defenses. Again, building is also thought by thought rather than block by block. Putting up more buildings will get you more allies.
We’ll need some troops to attack the base. We’ll need some spawners. That’s a spawner for plank golems. They’re traditional ranged DPS units. We also have cobblestone golems. They’re more sturdy melee units, good for tearing down structures. They can attack the walls down there. And then we’ll also need some healing units. This will spawn a couple of each. As I say, there’s a lot of structures down there, so it’s good to have a bunch of cobblestone golems. As we build these stone units, they cost you stone as a resource. What you can build depends on what kind of materials you’ve gathered.
And now we’re gathering up the troops. With the click of a button you can call all the troops around you to follow you. Jumping down means you take some damage. That’s not the best way of moving around, so let’s see if we can find another way of crossing that moat. We have an extendible bridge here. That’s a combination of a bridge and a stair, so it can be used to cross moats or climb up the sides of buildings as you lead your troops into battle.
Now we can head straight into the enemy base here. We’re putting up what we call a focused attack. By taking this thing and pointing it directly at that building, we focus all our energies on attacking that building in the base. Now all your allies are attacking that structure, and you can help them a bit until they succeed in taking that down.
With the basic controls, you can make everybody attack the same thing. But you can also send the melee units over to attack these enemies, while I want my arrows to shoot at this other thing, and I want my healers to stay in reserve over here. You can give much more fine, detailed orders to organize your troops. Now we’ll take out one of the enemies defending the portal.
GamesBeat: I like how the art has that familiar blockiness, but you have all these great effects to go with it.
Ries: The cinematics are really awesome. They’ve all been created by the team at Blackbird Interactive.
Nedfors: Now that boss is even more mad and he’s coming after you. We’ll release the game next year on Game Pass and all the big platforms, although not on mobile.
GamesBeat: Do you see this as aimed at a very different audience? Maybe an audience that you can serve better than with what you have, people who might be more interested in a game like this?
Nedfors: We do want to broaden the audience a bit. We’re aiming at players who aren’t familiar or actively playing now, but also people who used to play Minecraft, who like the game and know about the brand. Oh, there’s a new game, I want to try that out. Then we also want to reach people who are more interested in a new strategy game
Ries: It’s similar to what we do with Dungeons. It’s a dungeon crawler, but we made it a simpler experience that’s easier to introduce to new players.
GamesBeat: Is the art style also part of that approach?
Nedfors: I wouldn’t say the art style is targeted at a specific audience. It’s an art style that we think–again, it’s called Minecraft Legends because we wanted to to be a legend or a story that’s passed on in this world. A fairy tale. It’s a little more crisp, a little more colorful. It’s more about fitting that story rather than reaching a specific group of players. We also wanted to differentiate a bit from both vanilla and Dungeons with the art style. When you see it, you know it’s Legends.
Ries: But when you look at any of these games, you know it’s Minecraft. It all feels Minecraft, but in a different way.
GamesBeat: How long of an experience are you trying to build?
Ries: That’s still in development. It’s an open world sort of game, so you can go out and explore for a very long time, or you can rapid-run it and go for a very quick experience. It’s tough to say.
Nedfors: If you run through it in the way we did in this demo–maybe a good QA person could do it in 10 hours. A normal player might be closer to 18 or 20. A player who wants to explore everything, look behind every tree and so on, they could spend many hours in the world.
GamesBeat: How long have you been working on it?
Ries: 2018 was when we really sat down with Blackbird Interactive and figured out how to get started. It was a small team at Blackbird at the time, only a few people. Now our team and the Blackbird team are both focused on the project. This is an interesting one for them, because they’ve traditionally built more classic strategy experiences. We’re looking to them to provide that strategy game experience while we figure out how we can blend it in with Minecraft. That’s where Magnus and the rest of us at Mojang come in. We want to build a vision of what a Minecraft strategy game should be.
GamesBeat: Is it modeled after any particular strategy games in the past in any way? I don’t recognize this exact kind of game – it seems pretty original – but I don’t know if you’d point to a particular inspiration.
Nedfors: We’ve drawn inspiration from a lot of games, but I’m happy to hear that you think it looks different as well, because that’s what we’re trying to do. There were some games in a similar vein in the ‘90s, but combining a strategy game with a hero character feels relatively fresh and unique. Mixing those two types of game into one has been a little bit of a challenge, but also a lot of fun. In the Minecraft universe, so to speak, we want the player to feel that they’re part of the world, not just observing the game world from a distance. In a strategy game, maybe you’re not a god, but you’re clicking around with your mouse and observing from far away. That’s something we felt very strongly about from the beginning, that you should be in the game world. It’s paid off, I think. It’s a lot of fun.
GamesBeat: It looks like a heavy investment to make when you could probably get away with a lighter one.
Nedfors: This is more of a production question, really, but it’s always a balance. Where do you want to place your bets, so to speak? In every way, we want to have the core of the Minecraft universe at the center, but we want to have different games. That includes art. It includes gameplay. It includes story. Every game should have its own feel, but it should feel like it’s part of Minecraft.
Ries: That fantasy experience that we have here, it required higher quality art than you’d usually see in the universe. It’s really come through. This is beautiful.
GamesBeat: Is this going to work with the Minecraft Marketplace in a different way?
Nedfors: I don’t know how much you’ve played vanilla Minecraft, but it’s similar to what we do here. There’s nothing gated behind anything. We’re just extending the experience for the player through additions to the games. We’ll talk more about the Marketplace content closer to the launch.
GamesBeat: What do you enjoy about working on Minecraft?
Nedfors: For me, my background comes from a lot of action, shooting, driving cars, games like that. I don’t have anything against that type of game, but I’ve been doing that for a long time. I thought it would be fun to do something else, a different type of game. I’ve done a lot of open world games in the past, so I could use that knowledge in a new type of experience. The playfulness, how creative it is for players–people play our games in a different way. It’s like playing with toys compared to playing with games. Sometimes with Minecraft it feels like I’m playing with toys in a video game world. That’s a lot of fun.
Ries: In the same way, I came from Halo, which is very shooting-focused, obviously. It’s a very different experience. Minecraft is a unique experience.
Nedfors: I feel honored to be a part of this world. It was a massive game and now it’s a massive franchise with several games. That’s also been a privilege, to be part of that expansion.
GamesBeat: It’s amazingly resilient.
Nedfors: That’s a good description. Again, we’re broadening the world by providing more experiences for the players. That’s a lot of fun.