The Hardcore System is a series of challenging parkour, maze, puzzle, and adventure maps. It is the sole requirement to earn the Green (Builders) rank on the server.
The Hardcore System was released alongside the server upon launch. This makes Hardcore one of the oldest challenges in the history of Minecraft. The overall success rate of players making it through hardcore is less than 1%.
There have been 10 major versions of Hardcore, with tuning changes to balance difficulty, or to make adjustments for changing game mechanics.
Historically, it has also been called the rotation / the HC rotation.
Hardcore has difficulty elements not seen in FFA, such as:
- Limited quantities of food / no saturation.
- Item pickup being disabled to prevent food sharing.
- Having to play multiple maps without checkpoints in-between.
During this time period, Hardcore was iterating rapidly as new maps were created. Since these iterations used a similar design, they are grouped collectively under "1.0".
At this stage in the server's history, both the game and the server's identity were early in development. FFA and the blue rank did not exist; Minecraft was in the Alpha / Beta stages of development. The checkpoint system we use today was non-existent. Minecraft was a new game, and only a couple hundred-thousand owned it. At this time, spawn was in the TNT cube, but was shortly switched to the desert spawn.
In the beginning, there was only the trials found within the TNT cube at X. Player's spawned at the bottom, warped into the following lineup:
- 1. Skytop Labyrinth
- 2. Original Level 2 (No warp, the maps were linked)
- 3. Jiga's Claymaze
This is the earliest known iteration of HC, and lasted for less then half a year. Note that the maps were not all implemented simultaneously. This meant for a time Hardcore only contained one or two maps. The next iteration of HC (1.1) consisted of 5 Levels with no checkpoints in-between the maps. From this point forward maps would swap with one another to maintain the 5-map course design.
This layout was created a unique meta because it meant if the player died in any level, they had to start all the way over. This lead to a system of people starting the Hardcore system in groups, with unofficial "leaders" guiding people though the first one or two levels. If people could keep up with the leader, they could learn where to go for the beginning mazes.
In early 2011, HatterTheMad finished a lava maze, and that was quickly entered into the HC system as a replacement for the other lava themed level, lava parkour.
The second version of HC was created as the earliest greens had begun creating maps. There was a 7 level system that existed between the 5 and 10 level system. However, its existence was short, and the layout is unknown. It's worth mentioning that this not the same as the other 7 level system that was in place for 1.5+ years.
Minecraft had recently transitioned from alpha to beta. The blue rank and the point system did not exist yet. The border of the map lied somewhere in the 2000's-3000's. This was also the iteration of the server where MINR experimented with an economy. MINR was primarily a survival server at this time, instead of the semi-vanilla/creative realms that exist today.
The layout consisted of HC-1 and HC-10 being stand alone maps. For the rest of the levels, players could choose 1 of 2 courses. The maps were not named, and therefore it was semi-random process of picking the path. However, the checkpoints that existed between every level allowed easy switching between the two maps. At some point this was changed to include a rudimentary path system and help out with the balance. Some of the maps still didn't balance in difficulty, and because of this, certain maps were usually picked others. This lead to the chat being populated which questions such as "Which course is easier at HC-X?"
Towards the end of this iteration, an airship was constructed to house the maps that were not in Hardcore. This was later made public, and deems the "Free For All" area, or FFA for short.
Many maps used in HC2.0 have changed in some form:
- Sra was originally a cave-maze segment known as Srenmaze.
- Blitz was originally known as Chillers' Timed Maze, and was broken for several years due to the removal of a plugin known as Falsebook.
- Stone Maze cannot be found in FFA or the Valley, and has been broken by the removal of Falsebook.
- Mineco was originally known as Void42's Jump Map.
- Heaven Parkour was broken by the removal of Falsebook, but can still be found above Hell Parkour.
During this time, Minecraft was in beta, and saw its complete release during November 2011. This included the Ender Dragon and the 3rd realm of the game, The End. Many of concepts that now define the server were put in place during this version of HC. Most notably, FFA+ (Nov 2012) and the Blue Rank (Unknown) were launched at this time. All FFA Maps awarded one point, and the requirement to enter Hardcore was set at 5 FFA points.
This Hardcore design was in effect from August 2011 to May 2013, making it the longest time that HC has stayed the same at 21+ months. This version was designed by C_dric. This version also introduced the glass boxes are used in between levels. This version also introduced the "loop-back" mechanic, where players could play an extra map (Sky Parkour) in order to re-choose which HC4 level they wanted to play.
During update 1.3.1, Mojang silently changed how long the player was able to breathe for. This resulted in Aquarium and Elusion becoming unplayable. At that time, admins AJ and Yeroc (alongside PacksofPages as a moderator) proposed and implemented the following temporary solution:
- HC-3: Aquarium --> Wolly Mammoth
- HC-4: Wolly Mammoth --> The Face
- HC-5: Elusion --> The Big Egyptian
In one of the next updates to Minecraft this was reverted, and Aquarium was put back into the HC rotation in the 4.0 iteration.
At this point in the server's history, HC 3.0 had been mostly unchanged for over 18 months. Due to rampant cheating at the time, as well as large influxes of greens, the goal was to make HC much harder. With that in mind, themed segments of HC were conceived, based on the multi-pathed decisions used in HC2.0 and HC 3.0.
Many levels from HC 3.0 remain in this rotation, with an expansion of the paths being the newest feature. Another feature that returned from HC1.0 was multiple levels without checkpoints. This meant that HC 8-11 had to be completed in 1 life. This concept would be retained in subsequent iterations of Hardcore.
In summary, 4.0 has significance in creating the three "legs" of hardcore that are used by almost every future version.
- Leg 1: Introduction to the different map types.
- Leg 2: Choosing a personalized path.
- Leg 3: An endurance run with no checkpoints at the end.
After this iteration was implemented, staff determined that the Path of Ice and Fire were easier than the others, so the following revisions were made in the 4.1 Patch:
- Snow Fort --> Snowstorm
- Satyrs --> Demon
- Hell Parkour --> Lava Parkour
This gave it sufficient difficulty to balance out the other paths.
It's estimated that approximately 70 greens completed this version of Hardcore.
This is first version that AJDJ lead designs for.
While designing 5.0, HC4.0 had seen most players use the fire/ice path, even after balancing. In order to remediate this, the path was removed and replaced with the path of Nostalgia. This would allow players to pick an easier path, but receive no middle checkpoint. Newer maps joined this rotation, replacing a few older maps whose age were beginning to show. It was around this time in the design process that those working on the HC designs shifted towards adding map-quality as a criterion.
HC 4.0 and HC 5.0 have been considered to be some of the hardest versions of HC conceived.
Towards the end of this version of HC is where server ownership changed hands.
The goal of HC6.0 was to make it slightly easier, as the pace of users beating the challenge had drastically slowed down. This was achieved by redoing the branching paths, and lowering the number of maps in the final sprint.
The thematic paths were replaced with paths oriented around map types. This allowed players to lean into their strengths for a portion of HC.
Shortly after the 6.0 launch, it was determined that the puzzle path was too easy. In order to balance this out, the following changed were made for 6.1:
- Remove the puzzle path.
- Replace Paradox with Viemort.
- 154 Returns to FFA (As an FFA+ map).
This version of HC saw the biggest change to the middle leg. The choices were now between 2 of the 3 map types, allowing players to lean on their strengths and completely avoid 1 map type if desired. Another goal of this system was to shift towards persistence rather than just difficulty.
This is last version that AJDJ lead designs for, ending his tenure as the lead admin for Hardcore design (HC 4.0 through HC 7.0).
HC 8.0 was intended to make Hardcore longer, and have a greater focus on persistence and uniform difficulty. The iteration consisted of twelve maps, with a mix of parkour and mazes. This was also the first version of HC that had automatic transfers into the new system; Manual transfers were no longer required.
This iteration was unique for multiple reasons. First, there were no puzzle maps on the main path (MYTH contained puzzles, but isn't technically a puzzle map). When players reached HC-4, they could either continue along the main path (of parkour and mazes) or opt for a shorter but much harder path that consisted of puzzles only. One of the puzzles, Miner's Millions, was considered one of the hardest on the server. Few players completed this path.
In addition, HC8.0 is the only iteration to date to feature two loop-back maps, one for switching between the two paths. Satyrs, had to be completed to switch from the main path to the puzzle path, and Minetech was required to switch from the puzzle path to the main path.
This was the longest version of Hardcore upon release, however many users do not consider it to be the toughest.
Due to the breaking changes in the upcoming 1.14 update and low usage, the puzzle path was later removed resulting in the first entirely linear structure since Hardcore's inception.
This goals in the changes made to HC9.0 primarily included:
- Expand the variety of map types to include adventure / puzzle maps.
- Allow users to lean into a strength in the second leg, and receive easier maps of the types the player was aiming to avoid.
In March 2020, the server saw a large increase in players due to the global COVID-19 pandemic changing most schools and jobs to be remote as people self-quarantined in their homes. This resulted in many players completing hardcore in March and April of that year. Staff determined that HC needed to be updated as soon as possible to account for the larger player base. While most HC designs are usually spread out over several months, HC 10.0 was designed in only four weeks, and implemented in another three weeks.
This design featured similar segments to 9.0, but changed the logic of the branching paths. Players could completely avoid one map type, but would play challenging levels that used the other two primary map types, as well as adventure maps of the corresponding types. Players could switch between the paths at any time without playing a loopback map. This version also adds a fourth section in-between the paths and the final gauntlet. It was named "The Big Three", since all 3 of the maps in that section are fairly challenging, with checkpoints between every level.
This design also saw the exit of two maps heavily used in Hardcore since their introduction in 2011:
- Lava maze returned to FFA, after having been in hardcore since 2016, and in every version of hardcore except HC 6.0.
- Elusion was retired from FFA, having been replaced by a remastered version. Elusion had been in several versions of HC by this point (3.0 through 6.0 & 9.0).
This design was lead by Hex and AJDJ.
Hardcore 10.0 was later updated to 10.1 to address balance issues with the three paths - with the path of Tenacity only having been completed once. Some other adjustments were made as well including replacing Paisley Prison with Construction, and making the entire final section no-sprint.