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Minecraft 360: "We've done a lot of work under the hood"

We're getting close to the release of the 360 version of Minecraft, and Microsoft and Mojang are doing their best to bring in a new generation of tree-hitters. But is adding a wiki, split-screen and refined crafting enough?

"We also have a very comprehensive tutorial, which is new to Minecraft too. They sound like minor things to do, but they're major things to help the player, and get people into playing as fast as possible. It's really important."

Do you really need Minecraft again? Microsoft and Mojang are walking a balancing act with the Xbox 360 version of Notch's malleable blockworld: they can't change it because it is what it is, but if they refrain from braveness no one will want it. The prospect is difficult, as part of Minecraft's popularity is down to its lo-fi chic and price-point. Anyone can buy it. Everyone has. It's not as if the 360 crowd have never played it.

But Microsoft likes a challenge, especially when money's involved, and one learns to "refine" when reinventing for growth within a rigid construct.

"We've done a lot of work under the hood," says Roger Carpenter, lead XBLA producer of Microsoft Studios in Europe.

"Obviously, because we're on Xbox we want to contain everything on Xbox. The tradition with the PC version of looking up what the hell you've got to do on a wiki isn't possible on Xbox, so we've gone to great pains to put pretty much the entire wiki into the Xbox version."

While adding features which already exist is all well and good, the headline hook is eight-way split-screen and Live play. You can have four players on once screen and another four on Live. It's drop-in-drop-out and "any combination" of players works.

The other main attraction over the PC version is the adaptation of the UI.

"We have a very comprehensive tool, tip and crafting interface," says Carpenter.

"We also have a very comprehensive tutorial, which is new to Minecraft too. They sound like minor things to do, but they're major things to help the player, and get people into playing as fast as possible. It's really important."

Sacred cow

Again, though, fiddling with the crafting interface may make sense when you're developing for a different platform, but the reality is that the game is sacred. Minecraft cannot be "altered".

"It's the same as the PC version, but we've just changed the interface," Carpenter says when asked about the extent of the crafting alterations over the PC version.

"The interface leads the player, tells them which ingredients they need to use every time they come up to a new piece of rock, or whatever else, in the world.

"The tool tip tells you what it is, and then when you go to the crafting it's appeared, and it tells you what you can do with it and how you can get it. It's very comprehensive."

Aside from the additive features such as split-screen and the inclusion of documentation, there is one genuinely fundamental difference that's unavoidable for the 360 version of Minecraft: the control method.

Carpenter and the rest of the team are "very happy" with the end result of the game's shift to the 360 pad. Going from a quick play at Microsoft's Spring Showcase earlier this month, it's difficult to argue. You move and jump, use the trigger to hit things and crafting's a breeze. Before I know it I'm doing what I always do in Minecraft: belting a tree and digging an amorphous hole.

Do you really need Minecraft again? There are people in the 360 community to which the "again" doesn't apply, and they should buy the new version. Minecraft is an amazing thing, and should be experienced. And for the PC lot, well, if you really needed it the first time, then why not? It's a few quid and you get to rebuild Mordor on your TV with your sobbing wife instead of putting it together in the understairs cupboard with the crying out of earshot. At least you'll be out in the open now. Should stave off divorce for another year or so.

That is, of course, assuming the price doesn't come in over the odds. The PC version costs €20 now, but the prospect isn't beyond the realms of imagination.

"How much is it? We'll be announcing that as soon as we can," says Carpenter.

The Xbox 360 version of Minecraft releases this spring.

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