Friday, April 20, 2012

PAX East 2012: Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition

At the Xbox booth at PAX East, Microsoft got to show off its upcoming showcase titles for Xbox Live Arcade, and among them stood one of the most recognized PC games of recent days, the ultimate sand-box game, Minecraft.  Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition was playable at the showfloor, and I got to get a quick spin with the title.  We also got a short but sweet interview with Josh Mulanax from Microsoft to give us some of the lo-down on 4J and Mojang's collaborative XBLA effort. [See after the break for my brief impressions]

I will admit, I have not played much of Minecraft, myself, but I have watched plenty of videos to know what Minecraft is and how it plays.  Minecraft is an open-world exploration and creation game in which players, whether by themselves or in groups online, work to explore the vast randomly-generated landscape and protect themselves against the encroaching horde of brain-eating zombies and other dark monstrosities.  In order to create homesteads, players have to craft items to help them, but to get those crafts made, they need to mine and collect resources around the world.  And there are spiders and things that blow up at the worst of times.

Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition aims to bring that experience to the Xbox 360 with the addition of achievements and a few other elements, too. The game's biggest addition is the implementation of four-player cooperative play on one system.  It also allows for two systems to connect online, ultimately providing for an eight-player cooperative game world.  When I played the demo on the floor, I was accompanied by three other gamers, all working independently to punch trees and eventually build houses.  Unfortunately, I was not entirely accustomed to Minecraft’s mechanics, so I was a little disheveled by the experience.  Still, I enjoyed the mostly-solid framerate and got to explore the world as well as I could for the short time.

In order to make the game more accessible, Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition has a unique screen for crafting new items and tools.  Rather than have players select and place items one at a time on an unmarked grid for creation (without any help on what makes what item), Xbox 360 Edition displays every item that can be created along with the number of items needed to create them.  This streamlines the process of creation at the cost of experimentation and item discovery.

The biggest hurdle in the game will be the controller itself, particularly from those accustomed to the original game.  From asking those nearby, the controller was an odd fixture after being on mouse and keyboard for so long, something on which I agreed.  Learning the button and trigger purposes takes time, and from my short time, I had not gotten any lasting understanding on the controls themselves.  I imagine more lengthy plays will do me some good, as it should for every player of the game.

The one thing that seemed to escape my grasp was Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition’s Kinect features.  Minecraft is on the verge of release on XBLA, and we still have little to no details on the Kinect features.  For something fairly unique to the game, I am a little disappointed that Microsoft has been so quiet about them.

Regardless, Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition should be pretty solid when it comes out in the next couple months.

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