Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Let's Talk About Minecraft - XBLA Release Edition
I've said it a few times before and I'll probably say it again, but I've been fairly eagerly awaiting news on the XBLA version of Minecraft, as while I still don't own a 360, I based my hopes on -a- console version meaning that there could be -more-, and I still stand by that, no matter what Mojang says. I'll cling to my hopes, damnit, and there's nothing you can do to stop me! Now while the game has not officially launched, it's close enough - so much so that there are already people with the game (obtained via gift codes, legally mind you) and youtube accounts to show off for we unwashed masses. One such example of this is ChimneySwift11, a fairly well-known Minecrafter, who already has five episodes (of this writing) of a little mini-series of Minecraft for XBLA appropriately titled "Minecraft on XBox" (Linked to the first episode since the show-list doesn't seem to be up yet). In fact at this point, it's pretty much my only exposure to the XBLA version of the game and it's....a bit worrying honestly.
First of all, the big thing which is big enough to me to be the elephant in the room, is that the game is actually not based on the Release Version of the game. I kind of understand this, since it was really started before the Release Version came out, but....at the same time, if you base a version of a game on anything, it should be the version that is officially a real not-beta, not-alpha game. That's just kind of basic theory here, so I would imagine that the whole point would be to hold off porting the game until said Release Version was portable but that's why I'm just writing about games, I guess, instead of making them. Anyways, the reason why it's a big deal is just that - It's a pretty damn big deal since the game was based off the Beta 1.6.6 version of Minecraft which was far before a lot of the 'integral' game mechanic parts came into play. Namely a hunger bar, Enchanting, and Potion-Making. I'm....not quite sure, even, if The End realm was in 1.6.6, but I doubt it, and I highly doubt that it was added to the XBLA version as, you'll notice, I said "based off". Minecraft XBLA, at this point, does carry some changes and some improvements (such as the quick-shift from chests to inventory and vice versa), but by-and-large, it seems like a Beta build of the game.
This pretty much further compounds the "Is Minecraft really a game" debate as, with the release version of the game that had this and that, The End Realm, a 'boss' and a credit roll ending, the answer could pretty much be swayed in favor of saying "Yes". There was 'depth' in the form of gaining experience that was then used to Enchant Items to your whims, as well as the potion-making that could be used to add further strategy to your playstyle, and while the NPCs did absolutely nothing, they still existed. It skirted lines, but from the 'crossed' side of them, whereas before that, before the Adventure Update and the additions in the Release Version, solid arguments could be made for the side that said "No", and as someone who sees the XBLA version in the wake of the current version, I'm inclined to agree, as it's basically like seeing into the future from what was and seeing not only what doesn't exist in Minecraft XBLA, but what -still- doesn't exist in the base version of the game for PC.
What Minecraft really needs, and what it's been getting very, very slowly, is quite simply: More. More what? More everything. More mobs, more blocks, more biomes, more NPCs, more interaction, more recipes, just more things. I hate to draw the comparison to the game that got compared to it a lot at release, but, Terraria released with more content in the form of unique blocks and items than Minecraft has even -now-, or if not more, then close. Regardless, it received a lot of post-release support (which has unfortunately dried up due to the two dudes splitting up) which infused even more -things- into the game, yet managed to leave stones unturned. (which is why I say unfortunately, since there seem to be a lot of unfulfilled developer promises involved) There are just now more than 20 mobs in Minecraft, both passive and unfriendly (Zombie, Skeleton, Spider, Creeper, Slime, Silverfish, Cave Spiders, Endermen, Ghast, Blaze, Magma Slime, Zombie Pigmen, Pigs, Sheep, Chickens, Cows, Squids, Wolves, Ocelots, Testificates, Iron Golems, Snow Golems, Ender Dragon), and the last new mineral to be added to the game was Lapis Lazuli, which was a while ago and remains fairly useless, despite Minerals being a fairly untapped resource for the game. (Pardon the pun)
The point I'm trying to hammer in here is that the Minecraft of now on PC doesn't have a whole lot of what it really needs, and the Minecraft of now on XBLA has drastically less than the PC version. I don't know the full extent of what it lacks, as I've stated a couple times, but I can tell right now that it is in a big way. And while there are apparently plans in place for fast and plentiful updates for the XBLA version, it's already entirely too far behind. Especially with the way in which Minecraft has been updating lately, however unofficial it may be. I'm talking about the Snapshots, of course, which are basically "the update thus far, or what works of it" that get released every week as an optional download from the main site, adding a few new things with each one, which can be big or little. It's mainly used for testing those updates on a broad scale before the next full update includes the sum of them. Thus, as examples of Snapshot additions, the books within which you can write from the last snapshot and the cocoa plants from the next (or one of the next) will all be in the game proper when the next official update drops, provided they don't break the game entirely. Unless the next update (or the one after, depending on the actual time between them) for the XBLA version can match parity with the official release version of Minecraft on PC currently, it'll always be a game of catch-up and, depending on when and how that content gets added could be an additional problem.
I guess a little of the green in my eyes has been taken away by seeing how this has gone down, as I honestly can't think of Minecraft in the context of how it was back in 1.6.6 anymore, in terms of things to build or experiences to be had. I can hardly say that it's the same game and it doesn't really matter, even, since it's....quite different and in ways that are quantifiable and large. Still Minecraft as a basis is tantalizing for me who has nothing of it. I'm sure if my only option was to buy a computer for Minecraft or be able to play a rather old version of it on something I own (particularly my Vita), I would opt for the latter and happily so, but that option isn't before me, so it's a little easier to say I'm not too interested in the XBLA version of the game. Regardless, I'll be taking a look at it to see just how easily it comes to parity with the PC version, or if it really ever does. Certainly something to watch.