Hardcore (Commonly shortened to HC) is a series of challenging parkour, maze, puzzle, and adventure maps. It is the sole requirement to earn Green (Builders) rank on the server.
There have been 11 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, or the gauntlet.
Hardcore has difficulty elements not seen in FFA, such as:
- Limited quantities of food / little to no saturation.
- Item pickup being disabled to prevent food sharing.
- Having to play multiple maps without checkpoints in-between.
Levels within hardcore are notated with a dash (Ex: HC-1), and versions are notated with a dot (EX: HC 1.0)
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 players owned the game. At this time, spawn was in the TNT cube, but was shortly switched to the desert spawn.
In the beginning, there were only the trials found within the TNT cube at X. Player's spawned at the bottom, and 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 created a unique meta because it meant if the player died in any level, they had to start over at the beginning. This resulted in a strategy of people starting Hardcore in groups, with unofficial "leaders" guiding people through the first one or two levels. If people could keep up with the leader, they could learn where to go for the beginning levels.
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.
There was a 7 level system, HC 1.4, that existed between the 5 and 10 level system. A diagram does not exist for it yet. Like 1.3, its existence was short, and not all of the layout is known with certainty.
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 around the 4000 block range. This was also the time 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 in-between levels, players could choose 1 of 2 un-named courses at random to play. Checkpoints existed between every level, allowing easy switching between the two maps. This was later revised with 2-map segments in order to balance out the difficulty. Even with this change, some map choices were not balanced. This resulted in certain maps being picked more often, and players asking which map or path is easier in chat.
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 deemed 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 in November 2011. Many 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, marking the longest period of time without a version change (21+ months). This version was designed by c_dric. This version also introduced the glass boxes that are used in between levels for several versions. 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.
In Minecraft 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 AJDJ and Yeroc (alongside Packs 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 unchanged for a long time. Due to rampant cheating popularized by hacked clients, as well as a large influx of players completing HC3.1, 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 3.1 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 levels 8-11 had to be completed in 1 life. This concept would be retained in subsequent iterations of Hardcore.
In summary, 4.0 has created the "legs" of hardcore that are iterated upon 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 players completed this version of Hardcore.
This is first of several versions that AJDJ led designs for.
While designing 5.0, HC4.0-4.1 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. It was around this time in the design process that those working on the HC designs shifted towards adding map-quality as one of the criteria for HC maps.
At the time, HC 5.0 was considered to be one of the hardest HC versions conceived.
Towards the end of this version of HC is where server ownership changed hands.
Around this time, the server's activity had slowed significantly, and very few players had cleared HC5.0. The goal of HC6.0 was to make the overall difficulty slightly lower. This was achieved by revising the branching paths to use map type rather than theme, and lowering the number of maps in the final run.
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.
This version of HC heavily reworked 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 the layout towards persistence based maps rather than just difficult maps.
This is the last version that AJDJ lead designs for, concluding his time 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. Previously, there was a time period where users had to request transfer into the equivalent level of the new design.
This iteration was unique for multiple reasons:
- There were no puzzle maps on the main path.
- (MYTH contains small 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 introduced the two loop-back feature 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 gameplay changes in the Minecraft 1.14 update and low usage of the path, the puzzle path was later removed resulting in the first entirely linear structure since Hardcore's inception.
This goals for HC9.0 included:
- Expanding the variety of map types to include adventure / puzzle maps.
- Allowing users to lean into a strength in the second leg, and receive easier maps of the types the player was aiming to avoid.
- Introducing limited food supply / regeneration as way to tune the difficulty of parkour maps.
- Reduce the number of "choke" maps (where players complete a difficult map then breeze through several levels).
The design of this version used a unique two-step approach: 1. Create the desired layout of the HC in a staff discussion, with estimated difficulty for each map slot, how the branching paths would work, etc. 2. Take the design to the greens and gather community feedback on the design and which maps would work best for each slot.
This version also featured maps that were made specifically for HC that never entered FFA.
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 HC, 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. In particular, the path of Tenacity was only completed once in HC10.0. Some other adjustments were made as well including replacing Paisley Prison with Construction, and making the entire final section no-sprint. In November 2020, it was updated to 10.2 to address additional difficulty issues. Overall, HC was made slightly easier to complete. The most notable change was removing Telepads.
Version 11.0 - 11.1
Hardcore 11.0's design process began around the same time that 10.0 was being designed. Many ideas that were rejected from 10.0 due to time constraints were explored as possibilities for 11.0. One of the largest goals for this version was to eliminate the split paths, and replace it with a choice section, where players had to complete a certain number of maps out of a pool in order to advance to the next section.
Design followed a similar process to 9.0, where a staff design was created and then taken to greens in order to gather feedback. This time, it also included room for new maps, where greens could build maps tuned specifically for hardcore: the entire 'Endurance' leg was built uniquely for HC 11.0 by members of the community as part of a 'HC Map-Building Competition' in which greens were asked to design maps under specific constraints that are desired in hardcore maps. Such constraints include difficulty, checkpoint layout, kill potential, length, repeatability, etc. Some maps in other legs (Aether, Persona and Fissure) were also built specifically for this rotation.
The end design resulted in the retiring of the split path leg, and the creation of 2 new legs:
- The Choice leg, where 3/4 maps must be completed to advance. Each map is of a different type, allowing users to bypass one map type.
- The Endurance leg, where you must complete several maps of similar design / kill potential, or face a single expert map to bypass. (Similar to HC8.0's split design).
Notably, this rotation saw the retirement of several 'staple' Hardcore maps such as 4 Corners Dojo, Wolly Mammoth, Invictus, The Big Egyptian and Iron Door among others. This was due to a desire to 'modernise' the Hardcore system by highlighting what modern maps have to offer.
It was later updated to Version 11.1, swapping out most of the maps in the Choice section for easier options. The Endurance leg was also made easier by sending players back to HC8 when they die in HC9, instead of back to HC7. The Magic Tower was also taken out and replaced with Framed, an easier puzzle.
- The Hardcore System was released alongside the server upon launch.
- Hardcore is one of the oldest challenges in the history of Minecraft.
- The overall success rate of players making it through hardcore is less than 1%.
- Hardcore pre-dates the variant survival gamemode of the same name by over a year, as Hardcore survival launched in November 2011 in version 1.0.0.