Thursday, June 11, 2020

Behind the Scenes: RealmsCraft Questing 1

By Ryan "Orion" Welch
Picture credits noted in captions

Pat “Saka” Bobell, Ryan “Garen” Keller, and I are immensely grateful to everyone who came to play at RealmsCraft Questing 1. With 4 staff and 16 players across 8 hours (plus 6 test players a couple days earlier), the event was even more successful than we had hoped for! We would like to give you a peek behind the curtain and share some of what we did to create this atypical quest.

Warning: Potential spoilers ahead! If you are in one of the groups which we have allowed to do a make-up run of the quest, proceed at your own risk.

At the Virtual Reg Desk (Pat Bobell)

We wanted to build an environment which felt immersive and familiarly Realms-like. Normally when designing a Realms event we are constrained by prop availability, budget, and the basic laws of physics; while Minecraft has its own limitations, we were able to do things which we would never be able to pull off at Ye Olde Scout Camp. No black tarps here--our lava hazards are the real deal!

A Bridge Over Troubled Lava (Ryan Welch)

Of course, caves full of lava are pretty standard fare in Minecraft. We needed something which would bridge the gap (pun intended) between the blocks of Minecraft and the feel of the Realms. That’s why we came up with our Player Abilities system.
Part of the Ability Selection Process (Pat Bobell)

Essentially, every player can choose from three classes: Fighter, which comes with heavy armor and strong weapons; Skirmisher, which has light armor, a decent weapon, and a little bit of magic; and Spellcaster, which has the weakest weapons but the most magic. The two classes with access to magic could take spells from the Support, Mage, or Seer paths. We chose spells to emulate based on how applicable they would be to our quest and partly our ability to recreate their effects in a virtual setting. In this domain, Ryan K. put his past experience with Minecraft command blocks and adventure-mode maps to very good use! Some spells were relatively easy: Divine Aid sends a chat message to online marshals and Magic Missile is more or less an exploding snowball. On the other hand, creating other spells like Ward: Undead and Light required a great deal of creative engineering. Minecraft lets builders program and execute a single code function using "Command Blocks". You can see most of the Player Ability command blocks in this photo (the stacks of purple and green cubes.)

Chains of Command Blocks Drive Spell Effects (Pat Bobell)

The spells were hardly the only thing we used command blocks for, though. We needed to be able to reset encounters between questing parties without having to do it all by hand every time. In other cases, we used them to create stop-motion animations, spawn monsters, trigger special effects, or control puzzles. All of the rooms are fully automated and do not require any input from a marshal. Of course, manual controls are still available in case something doesn't work as intended, or if a marshal needs to adjust an encounter to account for party composition.

Back-End Controls for the First Room (Ryan Welch)

Despite the new medium, we still implemented many of the same strategies we would use to design an in-person Realms event: first we outlined the general flow of the event, then we identified the concepts or mechanics which would be featured in each encounter. Each room was created semi-independently, and we used a tool called WorldEdit to copy and paste the builds into their final positions. After adding some connecting pathways and other finishing touches, we had a complete quest!

Arial View of the Quest Layout (Ryan Welch)
Running the event itself also had a lot in common with normal Realms questing, which frankly surprised us. We still needed to make sure that people had properly “checked in their spells” (read: successfully passed through the ability selection process), we tweaked difficulty and responded to marshalling requests on the fly, and enjoyed watching from the sidelines as players conquered our content.We even did some NPC combat and roleplaying! Overall, it was an excellent digital substitute for a proper Realms event and we're looking forward to running another in the future.

Peaceful Mining Camp (Ryan Welch)