Wed, May 09, 2012 | 13:14 BST
Risk and reward: Minecraft 360 and a loss of magic
Minecraft releases today for Xbox 360, opening up Mojang’s epic sandbox to the world of consoles. It’s commendable, but Patrick Garratt can’t help feeling all the hand-holding has dampened some of the game’s spirit.
The PC version of Minecraft is a game of discovery. You’re dumped in a hostile world with no instructions and no goal. If you force yourself through the confusion, hundreds of hours later you’ll still be digging, building and crafting because there’s always another castle to create. It’s cyber-Lego. From the moment you realise you can break blocks of dirt and replace them as you will, to the creation of a diamond pickaxe and the first rush of lava, Minecraft is an experience of exploration and imagination. It’s unique. And it’s indie’s poster boy for real reasons.
Minecraft released on Xbox 360 today, and while it’s a great port it’s impossible to ignore the feeling that something’s been lost in translation. While it’s remained faithful to the original, we now have a tutorial (if you want to learn how to do anything in the PC version outside of trial and error you need to Google a wiki); easy networking for up to eight players; a completely revamped crafting interface; and pop-up, wiki-style text explanations every time you discover anything new.
The game is the same. You start, you have nothing, you have to protect yourself before the sun goes down and from then on you mine, build and explore. The overall feel, though, has changed considerably. The 360 version of Minecraft is designed to hold the hand of the novice. The crafting interface, especially, lays out in easy detail what you need to build stuff and lets you do it with the press of a button. This is fine, but it means the game’s entire crafting aspect is laid out for you from the minute you make a workbench. You don’t need to learn crafting patterns; they’re just there. If you have the right materials to make a pickaxe, for example, you press A and lo, you have a pickaxe. All the experimentation has been removed, and so, along with it, has the joy of discovering that a stick and a piece of coal makes fire.
Layers of delay
The gameplay hasn’t quite been preserved, either. Playing Minecraft with a keyboard and mouse makes perfect sense, as you need to put stuff exactly where you want to put it, and a good deal of the game’s addictive quality comes from the left-click-right-click instantaneous result of demolishing and building. Using a controller adds several layers of delay to this basic process. The triggers need to be pulled, and because you can’t instantly point the process of building becomes more labourious. The direct connection to the environment has been lost. I build blocks where I don’t want to build them. I get frustrated. It’ll be interesting if we see the same level of megalithic construction from the 360 Minecraft community that we have done on PC. My gut feeling is that serious builders will always be more at home on the desktop.
I was making beds, furnaces and torches within a few minutes of starting a world, because the learning curve is so much shallower. But doesn’t hand-holding dampen the reward? Isn’t a large amount of Minecraft’s success, in a similar fashion to the newb-hating EVE Online, down to fact that you have to learn to succeed?
That’s not to say there aren’t positive to Minecraft’s new approach. Simplified crafting means you progress much faster than with the PC version. I was making beds, furnaces and torches within a few minutes of starting a world, because the learning curve is so much shallower. But doesn’t hand-holding dampen the reward? Isn’t a large amount of Minecraft’s success, in a similar fashion to the newb-hating EVE Online, down to fact that you have to learn to succeed?
The reason for all this helpful information being placed in the game has little to do with it “being dumbed down for console,” but rather it’s because you can escape out and check a site for information as you can on PC. It’s born out of necessity, but some of the magic’s gone.
Put it this way. I’ve been playing Minecraft for months with my kids. They love it. We built a house, then a big house, then put two towers on it and dug a series of mines down to bedrock. We were in the process of building a huge castle on the front of the big house and linking all the structures up with walkways when we had a powercut and my PC switched off. When I booted the game back up, the world had vanished. We all freaked out. Some frantic Googling later I found out that this happens a lot. I checked in my saves folder and the world’s still there. There are fixes. My children have been placated and they know we’ll get back on it soon.
The process for restoration isn’t that simple. But you know what? I’ll figure it out for myself.