Meet the Warden
Minecraft’s most terrifying mob?
Do you remember when Minecraft used to be plain old scary? When witches cackled through the walls in your mining tunnels, mysterious ambient sounds would give you shivers, and phantoms terrorized you with screams from the sky? Aaah, those were the days!
Now, that was all before we decided that Minecraft shouldn’t be scary – but absolutely terrifying (at least a tiny little part of it). With the introduction of the warden in The Wild Update, players brave enough to explore deep dark biomes will soon be in for a whole new experience! “Hold your horse mobs, why in Jeb’s name would you make Minecraft scarier, and what is a 'warden' anyway?!” I hear some of you ask. Let’s address that!
“A warden is this unstoppable force of nature and a challenge that you must overcome in ways that you may not be used to in traditional Minecraft gameplay,” says Brandon “kingbdogz” Pearce, Vanilla gameplay developer. “It represents a new style of overwhelming obstacle, but if you’re able to outmanoeuvre it, you should be able to obtain some interesting rewards!”
Those rewards surely won’t come easy, because the warden is unlike any other mob you’ve ever encountered in the world Minecraft before. A hostile and incredibly powerful being that resides in the secluded and all-new deep dark biome... sounds like it should be a boss mob like the Ender Dragon or the Wither. But according to Brandon, it isn't.
“The reason we decided not to approach this new mob as a boss was because a boss is meant to be fought in combat and defeated. With the warden, we felt we had an opportunity to introduce a different, yet challenging gameplay that focused on stealth and sneaking. For some people, that might not be your sort of gameplay, but the great thing about Minecraft is that you have a choice in what mechanics and what content you want to engage in!”
A blind stalker
So the warden may be something that you will have to face if you explore a deep dark biome. But the concept was originally intended for the Nether Update.
“We had this post-it note for a new biome and one of the things we wanted to include in it was a blind piglin that could only respond to sounds,” Brandon explains. “We didn’t have time to explore it at the time, but we ended up revisiting that concept of a blind mob again when we did a gameplay summit for Caves & Cliffs. I got assigned that note and had to come up with the concept.”
A “gameplay summit” is a gathering where the Vanilla game teams meet as a group to spawn ideas for features in upcoming content. I myself have been barred from these summits after my last great attempt to change dolphins, which of course is their loss if they don’t appreciate my unrivaled gameplay talent. But enough about me and more about that post-it!
“I think it might have mentioned 'scary' as well. I started to think about why I enjoy playing Minecraft, and what has always been such a compelling part of it to me was that first night experience of feeling vulnerable. Maybe it’s because I’m so used to playing this game by this point, but it feels like I’ve lost that sense of vulnerability. So, we started from that concrete idea of ‘How can we reintroduce 'scary’ and bring it to the late game?’ and ‘What does it mean to have a mob that cannot see?’”
The “scary” aspect also proved to be especially important due to its lifelong history in Minecraft, and so it became a central theme in the development of the new mob.
“Despite its charming exterior, reflecting on the game's history has made it very evident that horror is a part of Minecraft's DNA. The feeling of stepping down into the depths of a dark cave for the first time; hearing the clink of a skeleton's bones or a zombie's anguished growls – all these aspects create an experience that probes your imagination. What is deep beneath your base? Why is this world so filled with monsters trying to kill you? That push and pull of fear in a world you are encouraged to reshape is what makes Minecraft a unique experience.”
"We needed something for the warden to continuously stick around you – not pursue you – so that you’re constantly on edge and think 'How do I sneak away from this mob without alerting it'?"
The final iteration of the warden may lack eyes, but it makes up for it with heightened senses, using both sound and smell to track down any intruders that might stumble upon its home. The trick to avoiding an encounter with this menacing mob lies in your interaction with the deep dark biome itself. Besides an abundant amount of deepslate, there’s also the “sculk family”, alien-looking blocks with unique properties.
Among these blocks is the sculk sensor which, if you make any sort of sound in the environment, alerts its sister block, the sculk shrieker. The sculk shrieker in turn, does exactly what its name implies: shrieks. After four shrieks... we’ll, let’s just say that you don’t want to overstay your welcome – unless you’d like a 45-damage punch or a sonic boom in your beautiful, blocky face. Luckily for you, all you need to do in order to avoid summoning a warden is to stay quiet.
“Initially, we were going to have the warden randomly spawn in the deep dark,” says Brandon. “After some internal discussions we came to the realization that the players didn’t have a choice in that and that there was no way to avoid it other than just never visiting a deep dark biome. But with the shrieker mechanic, you’re the one at fault for spawning a warden.”
The concept of sound-themed blocks and mobs is a new venture for Minecraft and has not been an easy mechanic to implement. Brandon elaborates.
"We needed something for the warden to continuously stick around you – not pursue you – so that you’re constantly on edge and think 'How do I sneak away from this mob without alerting it'? We came up with a sound concept called 'vibrations'. The problem with 'sound' is where you draw the line. When you’re drawing your bow, should that create a vibration? It was difficult figuring it out on an engine and design level, but we decided to focus on a significant motion. A motion must be completed for it to create a vibration. For example, placing or destroying a block will create a vibration, but starting to mine a block won't – it’s only when you complete an action. It really created a challenge for us to figure out how we could create some sort of interaction between a mob and the sounds and its environments.”
The art of sneaking is something you will have to master if you aim to properly explore the deep dark. The warden itself may not offer much in terms of experience points and loot, but the ancient cities might. These mysterious megastructures are rumoured to contain a wide variety of enchanted books, including the new “swift sneak” enchant that allows you to walk faster while sneaking – a perfect tool to avoid being detected by a warden or to create an air-bridge twice as fast. Then there’s "echo shards", a resource that allows you to create a recovery compass, a special type of compass that points to the last place you have died in. So, are these rewards worth the effort? At the end of the day, maybe the real treasure isn’t the loot, but the wardens we will meet along the way. Right Brandon?
“I think what players really want to get out of facing or overcoming the warden is just the whole new immersive experience, having to rely more on being careful and listening out for things like vibrations you make. That alone is something that is very intriguing to me, and I hope it is going to make players ask themselves “Am I up to the challenge?”
You know what, I think I’m happy with dodging phantoms and listening to those cackling witches. Fortune favors the bold, and I’m not that bold. You, on the other hand, might be.
Best of luck to you when you decide to explore your first deep dark biome in The Wild Update on June 7!
- Per Landin