As Minecraft's The Wild Update arrives, Mojang reflects on "scary" decision to delay Deep Dark biome to today
And how the Jason Momoa film might fit in.
Minecraft's long-awaited The Wild Update arrives today and finally adds the game's intriguing Deep Dark biome: a fresh slab of world for you to explore, underneath the game's previously-permanent bedrock. It adds new enemies, fancy new building blocks and some odd new structures, left by past explorers. It's something fans have been wanting to dig into for some time.
Mojang originally announced Deep Dark almost two years ago, back at Minecraft Live in 2020. At the time, the biome was set to be part of the game's 2021 Caves and Cliffs Update (an offering that was further reshuffled after Caves and Cliffs was split in two). So, why the delay? What's been happening with Minecraft in the interim? And what's going on with that Jason Momoa Minecraft movie? I sat down with Minecraft's game director Agnes Larsson and gameplay developer Ulraf Vakninthe to find out more.
"We felt for a while 'this is a risk but we might be able to do it'," Larsson told me, of Deep Dark's original intended release date. "But then when we realised [we had to delay], we tried to take the decision really quickly because we would risk making people in the team very, very stressed out. And we also communicated about it really quickly because we wanted to be as transparent as possible about such a big decision.
"It's scary to make decisions like that, even if it was for a good reason, but I think it went well. The community was super understanding and caring, which we're very thankful for. Minecraft is developed together with the community - but then it's important we are as transparent as we can."
Choosing which parts of the update to release and which needed more time - such as Deep Dark - was "actually quite easy", Larsson continued, since it was clear what was ready to launch at that point and which bits - again, such as Deep Dark - risked hitting the game's performance or breaking players' existing worlds.
When Larsson and her team decided a delay was necessary, they went to Mojang's other teams and quickly agreed fans should be told as soon as possible. The announcement, made by Larsson in a video update to fans, was ultimately well-received.
"When we record videos, or at least for me, I don't like to have scripts," Larsson said, recalling the video being made. "We know approximately what we want to say but it's better to just say how... how it feels, or what's happened. That's good, because then it's honest. It's better to just explain it, like if I would explain it to a friend or the team.
"I've recently been writing guiding principles for Minecraft development, and I added that Minecraft is community-fueled. An important part of that is this personal connection - we are humans and we are part of the community too."
Minecraft currently has 141 million monthly players - an astonishing figure which puts it among the most-played games in the world. And while still built by Mojang, the studio and the wider brand are owned by Microsoft. In a world where you can walk down the street and regularly see kids with Creeper T-shirts, backpacks and lunchboxes, it seems incongruous that the game is still put together by a team still in the hundreds.
"Mojang operates a huge game, but we're really not in the scale of other AAAs at all," Vakninthe explained, declining to put a firm figure on exactly how many people build Minecraft these days. "And that is very much on purpose because our size can really help us stay with that magic feeling of Minecraft, being close to the community, enabling us to work in a way that is not AAA.
"It's not about pumping features. It's about being very connected to a community, it's about being very quality-focused and making deep features that will live for a very long time with this game. Sometimes I want to tell the community that we are not that huge entity they look at. We're just a bunch of really passionate people who love this game so much, and just want to make it as good as we can."
The difficulty comes when Mojang wants to turn up to its annual Minecraft Live show and give updates to players on what to expect the next year - and it's here Larsson says the company has "definitely learned" from the Deep Dark delays.
"Sometimes you realise that thing should not be done - that it was not fun, or doesn't fit, and then you need to cut things. And that's always hard," Vakninthe added. "That's taking away someone's dream of what you said."
Archeology is another feature which was announced for last year's Caves and Cliffs Update but which is still not in the game. On this, Vakninthe promised it was still in development and not cancelled - but had no further updates to share on when it might materialise.
For now then, The Wild Update adds mangrove swamps, mud blocks, the helpful new flying creature the Allay, and that Deep Dark biome to explore. In it, players will find yet more structures left behind by some kind of previous civilisation - and potentially more clues as to the nature of Minecraft's world.
"With deep dark we definitely want to deepen the mystery," Larsson teased.
"Deepen and darken the mystery!" Vakninthe added.
So is there a story to Minecraft that Mojang is hoping players uncover? "We can't... we won't answer that," Larsson continued, laughing. "We hope players will have lots of thoughts - what was this for? What did this used to be? It's good that you ask these questions."
"The story is the player story, and that means we don't want to give any concrete answers about the story of the world, because then the story you came up with in your world is suddenly wrong, right?" Vakninthe explained. "Which is not true.
"So what we try to do is give a lot of pieces of mysteries or interesting things - for example, what are the Allays? Why are they in cages? How did they get there? And every time I'm asked this question, my answer is, 'what do you think?' We want you to be happy with your own stories, and not feel like you need to find the right answer."
So what about the upcoming Minecraft movie, or even Minecraft Dungeons, which does tell a story set in the same Minecraft universe? Jason Momoa has reportedly been cast to star in the upcoming Minecraft film in some capacity.
"I think it's fair to say that other projects are different," Vakninthe concluded. "Vanilla [Minecraft] has its own identity and approach to lore. Dungeons is still in the same universe, but it can be a game with quests. And the movie could have its own story. We are working hard to make sure they all work well in the same universe but it's fine if they feel a bit different, right? They're there for different experiences."