It’s almost a certainty that many of you have played Minecraft. However, somehow both myself and my intrepid colleague Nick Santangelo missed out on one of the most popular indie PC titles of the last few years, so we weren’t quite sure what to expect when we stepped up to the booth at PAX. Turns out, there’s a lot of mining, then a lot of crafting.
If you’ve played Minecraft before, go ahead and skip the next couple of paragraphs. For those of you unfamiliar with the game, I’ll give you a quick rundown of what you can expect in the first thirty minutes or so. You start out in the middle of a blocky, 3D world, with nothing but your own two hands to rely on. Right off the bat you have the ability to make a few things. After a bit of hacking away at the local foliage and, well, the ground, you’ll be able to build a workbench, which in turn unlocks other things to craft. Building those things unlocks more stuff, and so on.
It’s not all fun and games though, you’ll need to build shelter if you want to survive. At night, creatures attack, and you want to be safely in bed when that happens. Luckily there are plenty of options for the industrious (literal) homemaker, from windows and doors to torches for your walls.
So what about 4J Studios’s Minecraft port on XBLA makes it any different from what you can get on your PC? We talked to one of the Microsoft producers, and he filled us in on the details. First of all, the menu system has been completely revamped and combined with what he called sort of a wiki-style guide to the things you can build. On the PC version you must figure out what items you need, gather them together, and then place them in a specific order to get your new item. On Xbox 360, the crafting menu is divided into categories like “Tools” and “Home” that you can tab between to look for what you want to make. When you find it, it will tell you exactly what materials you need to build it, and if you have those items it will automatically craft the item and place it in your inventory. Easy.
The XBLA version also comes with a tutorial for those of us who have never played Minecraft. It basically encompasses the experience I talked about earlier – everything from appearing in the world through surviving your first night. It might be in your best interests to try it out even if you have played Minecraft, the controls have all been revamped to more of a first-person shooter style. As developer Notch said to G4, “The Xbox version is more focused on arcade-y gameplay and doing things slightly faster”. As far as we could tell, they succeeded in that.
Now, on to one of the things that makes Minecraft so special: multiplayer. First of all, you’ll be able to play local splitscreen multiplayer with up to four other people. You’ll also be able to connect online with up to eight. On the downside, in an effort to reduce the amount of griefing, everyone you play with has to be on your Xbox Live Friends List. Obviously the people making the XBLA port haven’t played games with some of my friends.
There is one major bummer about Minecraft on XBLA. In order to create a shippable product, the version of Minecraft releasing is older than the one on PC. Fear not, however. Updates will be releasing on a regular basis, with the intention of keeping it as close as possible to the current PC release. Kinect support will also be coming in a future update, and we can expect loads of DLC along the way.
The major thing we took away from our time with Minecraft is that it’s going to be one hell of a commitment. It’s more of a giant world simulation than a game, but it’s still incredibly fun. If you really want to get everything you can out of the game, you’re going to have to find some friends and saddle up to create a world out of your imagination. That’s the cool part about Minecraft: anything’s possible. It just seems like it’ll take a while to get there.
Then again, we spent thirty minutes playing what is obviously an insanely deep game. You’ll have to wait for our review to get the real scoop. When can you expect that? Well, to once again answer the most frequently asked question we’ve ever had, Minecraft is releasing on May 9 at the price of 1600 MSP. Mark your calendars.