GAME REVIEW: Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition

I don’t think I need to waste much space explaining the basic premise of “Minecraft.” After all, with the astounding (and I mean just shocking), download numbers the game has posted, my general impression is that most of you fine readers have played, or at least heard of, this game that follows a blocky protagonist, isolated in a blocky world, whose sole mission in life is to harvest the resource blocks around him in order to build sturdier blocks, weapons, items of all kinds and, most importantly, a shelter from the creatures that roam the night.

“Minecraft” is a blank canvas that only the most patient artists will be able to make proper use of. Unlike other world building titles like, say, “SimCity,” the effort required to make that first brush stroke to build off of is much greater, but the works you can create after that are limited by almost nothing. I wish I could say the same for this 360 adaptation, which is unfortunately burdened by several limits. While the simple graphics and atmospheric music transition perfectly to the console, and the controller handles the very basic functions of the game admirably, as the game gets more and more complex (and it can in a hurry), the 360 finds itself ill equipped to smoothly handle the wealth of inventory you soon acquire in a manageable way. The various menus you have to navigate to perform even the most basic functions and creations are annoying enough without having to scroll via joystick and force yourself to try to organically manage everything with the face buttons as your main tool. This game could have greatly benefited from the use of more hotkey features (the D-pad, for instance, is completely unused).

The biggest problem? There’s just no real reason to own this game on the 360. While playing, I actually found myself with my PC nearby just to look up the finer points of the game and look for reasonable tips on how to proceed. I don’t think I’d be alone in this, and if it’s a case of having to have your computer by your side anyway, why not play it in its native format? The controls, community and everything else are greater there, and the system requirements are so absurdly low that they shouldn’t cause a problem for most anyone.

While I respect the effort that developer 4J Studios put forth on this adaptation, I just can’t recommend this port to anyone. I didn’t get to try the 360’s splitscreen multiplayer mode (due to confidentiality reasons, though the idea is a fantastic concept), but I imagine it would do little to alleviate the main problem with the game. Overall, “Minecraft” is still a great idea and a unique experience that the patient and creative will inevitably get the most out of. If that’s you, just make sure to start your adventure on the solid foundation that only the PC can give this game.


Mojang finally hiring more people to work on Minecraft


In the nearly three years Notch has been developing Minecraft, hires what is now his development company, Mojang, have been few and far between. The lack of hires certainly wasn’t need-based (or lack-of-need-based). It’s pretty easy to make the case that Minecraft has been in need of more developers for at least the past year. There is still no modding API, despite the fact that Minecraft enjoys one of the most active modding communities in the world. The game still feels like a bit of a fragmented mess. All of this could be solved with more manpower. Yeah, I said it. All they needed were a couple warm bodies with a basic knowledge of java.

Well they finally picked some, and it just so happens to be the fine folks at Bukkit. For those that don’t know, the Bukkit team produced an alternate version of the Minecraft server code that was more stable than the original, had a modding API, and required fewer resources to run. Luckily for the four fellows who ran the project, the Bukkit team won’t be working for free any longer. They’ve officially joined the Mojang team.

Their first project will be to write a brand new API. Now, I don’t claim to be a programmer, but I can only imagine one good reason to do this: Mojang didn’t want to pay for Bukkit. I have nothing but respect for the Bukkit guys. They started on a project for fun, they kept it going after it grew into something huge, and now they’re reaping rewards. Without knowing the details of their employment agreement, I think they’re getting the short end of the stick, and unfortunately so are we.

Again, I don’t know exactly what I’m talking about here, but I would imagine there’s a legal case for Mojang to say hey, stop doing that to our code or we will sue you. There certainly would be if Bukkit tried to sell their server package. As such, Mojang doesn’t really owe the guys at Bukkit anything. Wouldn’t it suck, though, to be such an integral part of the Minecraft community–as in, so big that you’re essentially synonymous with multiplayer gameplay–and be compensated with just a job offer? I know, job offers are hard to come by right now, but the guys at Bukkit have done more for multiplayer than anyone else, including Mojang. All of the notable multiplayer Minecraft servers run Bukkit. Now they’ll be forced to migrate to the new API developed in-house with Mojang.

I’m hopeful that the new API will be pretty much the work of those four guys, because I stopped trusting Mojang to build one a long time ago. The Bukkit guys certainly know what they’re doing and, who knows, maybe starting from scratch will be nice for them. It won’t be nice for players, though. Certainly not in the short term. Yes, they’ve pledged support through 1.2, but the transition probably won’t be super slick, to say nothing of the additional wait time we now have for development of this new API. For being a “released game,” Minecraft is in critical flux an awful lot.

Seriously though, congrats to the guys at Bukkit. You deserve all of your success.


More fun with Minecraft mods

I was never one to enjoy Minecraft mods, at least not at first. The modding process was lengthy, often frustrating and totally unsupported. When I first started playing Minecraft, most mods were single-player-only, so as a multiplayer fanatic they just didn’t hold much appeal. I recently started playing Minecraft again just to see what all had changed. In browsing some of the forums I stumbled upon something called the Technic Pack, a group of mods that had been compiled to be distributed as one pack. The mods mostly focus on industrialization of the Minecraft world, introducing machines, new redstone recipes, alchemy, advanced minecart systems, and so on. Yeah, it added a lot. The best part? It was all available for multiplayer.

I wasn’t quite ready to jump in with all the mods, but Buildcraft, a long-standing mod from the community, caught my eye. The mod is pretty simple – it adds machines that, with a bit of planning can automate many of Minecraft’s tasks. The most notable is the use of quarries, which mine out giant chunks of the world when attached to an engine. There is also a very cool pipe system that allows for transportation of goods and liquids. It’s capable of supporting a player-built power grid. That’s right. Power grid.

After playing a mod like Buildcraft, I can’t believe Mojang hasn’t spent more time with a real modding API. The modding system just needs to get easier. For all that Notch loves about Bethesda, how has he not picked up on this part of the business model. People will improve your game for free if you just give them the tools to do so. Granted, they’re already doing that, but imagine if mods didn’t break the client with every update. Imagine if they could all interact reliably for both multi- and single-player. Wouldn’t it be a beautiful, blocky world?


Minecraft: Pocket Edition on sale for $.10

Minecraft: Pocket Edition.

I know at least a few of you will be interested to discover that Minecraft: Pocket Edition, the version of Minecraft developed for Android, is on sale today for $.10. Yeah, ten cents. It’s usually $7, so this is a hell of a deal.

I won’t lie, the controls are a little clumsy, but that’s to be expected when you only have a touchscreen available to navigate a three-dimensional world. For now, Minecraft: PE is limited to creative mode, though survival is supposedly in the works. The game also has a limited set of blocks for now, and seemingly no crafting system. Honestly, though, it costs a dime. Just buy the damn thing already. Your bathroom visits will never be the same.


Notch passes Minecraft development to his #2

Notch and Jeb.

Big news in the game world today is that Notch has passed development of Minecraft to his number two at Mojang, Jens Bergensten. I was surprised at first but it makes a lot of sense. Jens, who goes by the moniker “Jeb,” has become the personable face of Minecraft over the past six months, guiding the community through the glut of development that led to Minecraft’s official release.

In the meantime, Notch has created his fair-share of public snafus. His involvement in social platforms is admirable, especially considering the size of the Minecraft community, but Notch has used his massive fanbase to air more than a little bit of dirty laundry off the cuff. It’s an ugly way to do business, particularly when you consider how much of Minecraft’s development has been a community effort at this point.

That’s only going to increase. Jeb’s primary focus at this point is implementing an API to make modding more accessible. We probably won’t see anything until March, but this is the next big step for Minecraft’s open world.

It’s funny how hot-and-cold I feel about Minecraft at different times. I’m in a cold spell now. We had a huge dearth of content for a while, then a massive boom. Unfortunately that boom required new worlds on a nearly bi-weekly basis, and I just burned out. With API modding I’m sure I’ll get interested again. I like the promise of easy mod access, especially for community run servers.

I realize I’m rambling a bit, but that’s how Minecraft goes for me. It’s a game that slips in and out of my consciousness but something I’m sure I’ll be coming back to for some time. I’m glad to know the game is still in good hands.


Related Posts