Felix Jones

The 2022 April Fools’ update is still my favourite for some Minecraft philosophy reasons, but in particular I snuck my darling Minecraft idea into the joke update.

This is my own personal story, and opinions expressed are not representative of Mojang Studios, nor the Minecraft team. Also, some of this story I probably made up and isn’t true.

The Story of the Wearable Barrel

The Cave Update

This idea actually originated from my first team off-site back in early 2020 during the ideation of what would later become the Caves & Cliffs update.

A chunk of the Vanilla team stayed overnight at some fancy castle to discuss what a “Cave Update” would look like (back then, the community were talking a lot about wanting a “Cave Update”).

By this point, I had already created my Twitter persona of coming up with goofy Minecraft ideas, and I figured that the same process would probably result in some actual ideas related to caves, so I started throwing ideas at the wall to see what would stick.

The Barrel Room

My memory is fuzzy on this one, so some of these details will be made-up for the sake of narrative.

Part of my goofy idea process involves tying the idea vaguely back to a common Minecraft player complaint that I would have seen on Twitter. I remembered one of the complaints being the Wandering Trader appearing at the worst of times, and never when you want him.

You know what? That’s still a genre of Minecraft joke I still find fresh.

To address the Wandering Trader not being predictable, I came up with the idea of a ‘Trader Storehouse’ structure, similar in size and generation as the Monster Room, but all dingy, likely smelly, illuminated by a single lantern, and absolutely stuffed with barrels.

Of course, there’d be all sorts of trader junk in the barrels to steal, but most importantly there was a counter with a countertop bell conspicuously in the centre, inviting the player to give-it-a-ding. Doing so would instantly teleport the Wandering Trader to that bell in a puff of smoke, kind of like when Naruto’s shadow clones appear in that one anime that I can never remember the name of.

The player would be able to take the countertop bell back to their base and have an instant Wandering Trader summoning device.

The idea was about as well thought out as any 40 second Minecraft idea, so was destined to fail, but the image of a dingy room crammed with barrels stuck with me.

An illustration of the Wandering Trader swinging a punch towards the viewer. Behind them is a dingy room filled with jars on shelves.
Clearly I find something about traders in dingy rooms appealing as I'd later create this artwork.

The Barrel Armour

Again, my memory is fuzzy, so excuse the probably made-up details.

During the entire off-site I was making frequent call-backs with my colleagues to ideas that I had brought up earlier in the day. At some point, I was at a table where we were discussing ideas for armours, or hats, or something that the player could find in a cave and slip into for a more comfortable caving experience.

With barrels still fresh on my mind, I suggested the idea of players wearing Bankruptcy Barrels, a joke item of clothing that represents an individual so devoid of Minecraft ores that they can’t even afford real armour.

Surprisingly, this idea actually got some positive reception, and it was enshrined as an idea for our table to present to the rest of the Vanilla team on the off-site.

Why is the wearable Barrel interesting?

I think what sparked the positive reception was that this idea played with the concept of what is a block versus what is armour. Minecraft has wearable Carved Pumpkin helmets, so the precedent was there, but generally we don’t see much blending between the concepts of Blocks, Mobs, and Items.

Minecraft Steve with a Carved Pumpkin helmet.
Image courtesy of the minecraft.wiki.

The simple premise of wearing a Minecraft Barrel also has potential for interesting mechanics: The Barrel is a storage block, so perhaps there’s a concept for carrying a large number of items prior to acquiring Shulker boxes, with the drawback being the player’s arms are inaccessible. We’ve all played stealth games, so perhaps there’s a concept for hiding in a barrel whilst skeletons and zombies creep around you in a cave.

For myself, I had been watching Yogscast TTT videos and find a lot of joy in their usage of the prop-disguiser tool. The idea of disguising as a barrel to confuse other players in multiplayer was very appealing. I also used to play Prop Hunt on Garrys Mod, and playing that in Minecraft with block disguises sounded very fun.

The Only Prototype

The idea was initially thrown into the pile of ‘good’ ideas, and I even went ahead and made a cheeky prototype of what I had in mind.

However, these type of gimmicky toy-ideas tend to be left behind in favour of features that actually have an impact on players for more than 5 minutes. Plus: this not exactly having anything to do with caves (nor cliffs) meant it was an obvious thing to drop.

I remember the prototype didn’t match the expectations of designers: I wanted just the player’s legs to be visible, but the consensus was that the charm is the visual of the player’s head poking out the top, with perhaps their arms stuck out the sides in a T-pose - so it was clear that the amount of discussion and exploration needed here was beyond the value it would provide as a toy.

Other Features of this Prototype

I added a cute little detail where whatever was on the player’s head slot would be balanced on top of the barrel: so you’d know if the player under it was wearing a Diamond Helmet, or a Carved Pumpkin.

I even made it expandable to any block with the “disguise” tag. This looked cool; with combinations like the Hay Bale with the Carved Pumpkin on an Armor Stand making a sort of scarecrow looking thing.

Mobs could also wear disguise blocks, but they couldn’t attack you when doing so. It was funny being chased by a gang of zombies all trapped in Barrels - even if it had no practical purpose nor balance in terms of combat.

(If I can find a screenshot I’ll edit it into here).

The Fate

The idea was completely killed when it was brought up for technical discussion. At the time, I was new in the Java Edition team, so I wasn’t very clued into the myriad of technical concerns that an idea like this would have, especially for Bedrock Edition.

For instance, players hiding in a block? How would you code that? Is it a new block that remembers which player is hiding in it? How would that block work with resource packs that change textures? Would it reveal all blocks containing players? If it was just a normal block, how would the server remember there’s a player in it? What if another player mined that block? Maybe it should be an entity? But can another player stand on this entity? How do we do that?

And then there’s the concerns for player animations. My prototype hides chunks of the player skin, how does that work for items they are holding? What about other armour pieces? How should these edge cases be coded? What about marketplace items that add geometry to the player? What decides the visible parts?

Now that I’m a tech lead, I would reject this idea for having far too much complexity, given that it was a toy with no natrual interaction with current Minecraft mechanics. The development effort on all fronts is better spent elsewhere.

One Block At A Time 2022

Silly ideas tend to get a second chance to live on in the April Fools’ updates, so I saw a great opportunity to really shoe-horn this one into One Block At A Time.

A Minecraft Creeper staring at a conspicuous Barrel.
Sneaky block? What sneaky block?

The Design

Ulraf would be the right person to talk about this, as this April Fools’ was his brainchild, but his guiding principle for us Java devs was “We can pick up Mobs, so just start adding as many Mob-holding abilities as you can think of!”.

I needed to make sure I was shoe-horning a shoe that vaguely fitted with the spirit of these words, so I expanded the inventory from one block in the hand, to also one block on the head (ruining the purity of Ulraf’s vision…), and added the complication of Block-wearing abilities.

Ice on the head would freeze the player, Magma would instantly cause burn damage, and the Barrel would provide the disguise ability.

Extra Details

I hacked in the barrel to disable mob aggression when the player was crouching with it, and also added this hilarious inside-barrel overlay that would instantly appear and confuse the player as the Barrel landed on their head.

Staring at some Minecraft Cows from the Barrel.
Combined with the sound effect, it made everyone smile the first time they saw this.

The easiest way to get a block onto your head was to throw the block directly upwards, so chances are the player is looking straight up at the sky when this overlay appears, plunging them in darkness as they wiggle the mouse to figure out what happened.

The underside of the Barrel showing the open texture.
The other small detail that I like is how the Barrel "open" texture is used.

Where is the Wearable Barrel now?

The joke has been told now, so I’m satisfied leaving it in One Block At A Time. The Java Edition April Fools’ updates remain available, so we can always go back and play around with it.

Part of me was hoping the community would light up with joy around the Barrel, but that did not happen. Actually that was a learning point: The community explored the April Fools’ update as far as video content creators took them, so a lot of the features ended up being missed for a number of months afterwards as most video content creators only explored about 10 minutes before moving onto more timely/relevant Minecraft updates.

Pixlriffs has a most epic playthrough of One Block At A Time that I can’t recommend enough. I feel that he exposed a lot of what I believe makes this one of the more important Minecraft updates with the extremely emergent mechanics that he constructed around the raw limitations of only holding One Block At A Time.

Unfortunately the Barrel didn’t make an appearance in his video series, showing how orthogonal it was to not just Minecraft, but also the spirit of One Block At A Time (a toy idea to the very end!).

As for the idea within Mojang Studios: Whilst the Wearable Barrel is unlikely to return, some of the ideas and concepts surrounding it have been mentioned in passing. In particular, hiding from mobs seems to evoke a bit of that classic feeling of walling yourself in from a Zombie underground and hiding in pitch darkness until it is safe to flee.