The Making of Valley of Kings
Qwerty tells the story behind the CTF map
Valley of Kings minigame illustrates the epic, eternal struggle between those two irreconcilable forces of the universe: Archaeologists and Ancient Egyptians. It’s not entirely clear what prompted this conflict - maybe the archaeologists dug too deep and too greedily, disturbing the Egyptians from their slumber - but the result is a bitter war over the location of certain inexplicably precious flags. Each team must grab their opponents’, and carry it back to base to score points, all the while dodging the instantly lethal fire of human enemies and AI minions.
It’s intense stuff and really rather hard. You'll need keen cooperation to break up and circumvent the opposing force, as well as precise aim and solid shield tactics. Oh, and being adept with the Elytra is pretty essential, too: the placement of these scarab-themed gliders gives players the option of swooping right into the heart of battle. Why not find out for yourself? Valley of Kings was recently added for you to play on PC Realms.
"It’s intense stuff. You'll need keen cooperation, precise aim and solid shield tactics. Oh, and being adept with the Elytra is pretty essential, too. "
It turns out that this map is itself, appropriately enough, pretty ancient - a minigame excavated from the bones of a much older map. To get a bit of background about how it came about, I chatted with Qwerty, the key redstone engineer who worked on the project as part of the Broken Buttons build team.
It was originally commissioned by PlayMindcrack way back in 2013: “They wanted us to build a set of PVP mini-games for their server,” says Qwerty. “There was a lobby, a desert map that wound up being Valley of Kings and a wintry map. But they wound up never using them and, since then, PlayMindcrack died. I was a passive observer at that stage because the maps were plug-in based but as soon as we realised that PlayMindrack was never going to take them, I figured we’d take what we were going to build anyway and do it with redstone instead.”
It was no speedy resurrection, however. Qwerty describes the project “just sitting on a shelf” for several years. Production resumed only after the 1.9 update, when the addition of command blocks simplified much of the redstone execution. 1.9 also brought the elytra, which, given some Egyptian scarab-beetle styling, quickly became a key component of the map.
“As I was testing the level, I realised that players only used the bottom lane, the cave lane, because it was shortest,” says Qwerty. “I figured I needed some way to encourage them to use the upper lane - and then I realised we had elytra. The map was built in its entirety before elytra were even known about, so it was a really great coincidence that it worked so well with the elytra. They’re even called elytra so I didn’t have to rename them!”
"I quickly realised that it was really fun during the early tests to have that arcadey instant kill. You always have to be on the lookout."
Another of the maps key features is also a happy accident: the lethality of the weapons. A single swing of a blade or fully charged bow shot can fell anyone - making caution, flanking and shield tactics a must.
“I am not very good at balancing weapons,” explains Qwerty. “Initially, I had placeholder weapons left over from another, space-themed map I was working on - so, for a short time, the weapons were lightsabers. But I quickly realised that it was really fun during the early tests to have that arcadey instant kill. You always have to be on the lookout. This is where the 1.9 mechanics really came in handy, because without the shield it wouldn’t be very fun, it’d just be reflexes. With the shield you get a chance to think about it. Am I going to drop my shield and go in for a melee attack?”
While you may have a chance to sneak around human players as they make their way to your base or patrol the middle-ground, you’re guaranteed to need combat skills to take the flag: each is guarded by a cohort of AI skeletons who are every bit as lethal as you are.
“The skeleton AI weren’t originally in the first pre-releases,” says Qwerty, “but when I realised I wanted to release on Realms, I thought it was a good opportunity to make the map work for fewer people: on Realms you may only have two or three people on the server. Obviously Valley of Kings is a very large map, designed for rounds of ten-versus-ten players. For it to work with just two people there needed to be something interesting when you attack the enemy base - otherwise no one’s ever going to be defending their flag, and you can just walk in and take it. So I figured I’d have some AI that have the same power-level of the player that just spawned there. It worked out pretty well I think! If you try to sneak up on the skeletons, they can switch to their melee attack which can kill you even if you’re holding up a shield. So there’s a lot of strategy involved when you’re fighting those AI.”
"If you try to sneak up on the skeletons, they can switch to their melee attack. So there’s a lot of strategy involved when you’re fighting those AI."
He’s not wrong: which probably explains why I barely ever make it to the flag, let alone carry it back out again. Are there any tips to help me improve?
“Know where your teammates are,” says Qwerty. “If you have the AI enabled, it’s going to be a lot harder to take an enemy flag if there’s only one of you. You’ll be outnumbered and with instant-kill weapons they can easily sneak up behind you. If you coordinate with your teammates and all attack at the same time it greatly increases your chances.”
Wise words! Go and put them into practice on your own realm right now!