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Why and how Minecraft should redo structures

posted 2022.01.18

I’ve been playing a lot of Minecraft lately. It is an excellent video game. For the most part this is the virtue of the core game mechanics: the endlessly modifiable world, the progression of resource gathering, and the fascinating natural landscape. That is to say, Minecraft has basically been a great game since it was in alpha. It’s a lot more pleasant and has a lot more content to explore, but the heart and soul of the game has always been there.

I believe the “content” is what could use the most polishing, because most of it is far from living up to its full potential. One specific type of content Mojang has consistently failed to do well is the structures. This includes dungeons, strongholds, nether fortresses, end cities, and probably a dozen more features strewn across the world.

The main purpose of structures is to make the world feel lived-in. A ruined portal is a relic of a past traveler; a village is a living town with inhabitants you can talk to (sort of). Structures inject new sights and the promise of loot into an otherwise natural landscape. Seeing them on the horizon is still fairly exciting, especially early in the game. But actually exploring structures is usually a letdown. Here’s how it typically goes:

  1. You see a structure on the horizon. “Oh cool! A desert temple! I’ll go check it out!”
  2. You walk over to it.
  3. You look for chests.
  4. Once you’ve looted everything of value, you leave.

There are a few exceptions to this rule. Namely:

Other than those exceptions, every structure follows this format exactly. Mojang has used this format basically every time they add a new structure to the game. Unfortunately, it gets old very quickly. The main drawbacks:

To better appreciate what’s wrong, let’s look at what certain structures get right.

What they get right

Ocean temples are an exemplar of the excitement of looting. For one thing, the game recognizes that mining blocks trivializes most structures: you are not allowed to mine until you kill the Elder Guardian. And the structure is underwater, encouraging you to get special gear to prepare for it. This adds depth to the task of looting the temple; the mobs you have to fight add extra difficulty, although combat against guardians has never been particularly exciting. The building is sort of a maze until you find the “final boss” (also not super exciting, but better than nothing), and once you’ve defeated the Elder Guardian, then you can safely loot the chests / gold blocks.

End cities are an exemplar in having good loot. Foremost, they are the only way to obtain elytra; they also contain diamond gear, often with Mending attached. Beyond the loot, shulkers are a challenge unlike the ones players have to face anywhere else. And searching for an end city is its own challenge, much more difficult than looting it once you get there.

Strongholds are exciting to locate, as well. Following the eyes of ender is an event in itself, and one that requires loot from mobs in two different dimensions to prepare.

Pirate ships give you a scavenger hunt to find extra loot, which is a fun challenge.

Nether fortresses, ocean ruins, and woodland mansions offer a sense of danger by having fairly difficult mobs.

Igloos let you cure a zombie villager. That’s cute.

Well, that’s all the successes. Let’s see how we can apply these to other structures.

What they should change

Firstly, the loot in every structure needs to be upgraded. They don’t all have to be on the level of end cities, and in fact they shouldn’t, but they should all reliably be worth your while. You can pad the chest with knickknacks, but every structure needs at least one of the following:

If the loot does not contain one of these, it will be worthless by the time the player makes an enchanting table. Note that the list doesn’t include items like saddles and Heart of the Sea; while you can’t obtain these by any other means, you can basically ignore them. Unless you’re into horses or something.

The motivation for better loot is simple: It’s more exciting to get better stuff. But just as important, if the loot isn’t any good, challenges you throw at the player won’t be worth attempting. Could you imagine searching for end cities if the best item you got was a nametag?

Once the loot is better, some of the structures should be made into a real challenge. Bastions should have their own boss; witch huts should have more witches. End cities should be thin and hover over the void, threatening you with the possibility of falling. Abandoned mineshafts should put their loot next to the cave spider spawner, so you actually have to deal with it. Dungeons… I guess they could spawn mobs faster? Ok, dungeons kind of suck.

There are some that are basically not challenges as is, and they could remain as such. I count jungle and desert temples in this category: traps basically don’t work in a world where you can break and place blocks wherever you want. But it’s ok to have a few structures that just contain loot, so long as they look interesting.

Still, if Mojang got creative, they could spice even these ones up. What if jungle temples asked you to make sacrifice gold ingots in exchange for their loot? What if ruined portals led to their reward only if you repaired the portal and went through it? There is plenty to spice up both present and future structures.


Structures in Minecraft are cool buildings you find and then look in the chest and find jack shit. But they could be more. If the loot and the challenge was amped up, each of these structures could function as their own exciting challenge, instead of something to just pass by. Mojang basically never changes old structures, but I hope they will at least learn from their mistakes and improve whatever new ones they add.

It seems like they’re on the right track with cave cities, coming out in 1.19. The warden is a legitimately scary and unique boss, which forces players to approach the structure differently than any other. But if the loot is iron horse armor and redstone, well… I may only attempt that challenge once.

  1. Protection IV+, Sharpness IV+, Efficiency IV+, Silk Touch, Fortune II+, Silk Touch, Unbreaking II+, Looting II+, Fire Aspect II, Depth Strider II+, Feather Falling III+, Aqua Affinity, Respiration III, Infinity, Mending, Luck of the Sea III, or Lure III. I’m probably forgetting something, but the point is, something you would not send straight to the grindstone.