Saying the word "change" in the same sentence as "Minecraft" can really set off a lot of alarms. Mojang's open-world crafting phenomenon has been tweaked, rearranged, expanded and adjusted many times since its rise to popularity in the fall of 2010. But with each new version number comes some grumbles and complaints -- after all, the game was great when it started; why does it need to change?
But the only constant in life is change, and as timeless and fundamentally sound as Minecraft may be, there are still ways that it can be improved. I saw one of those ways at Microsoft's Spring Showcase last week.
The Xbox 360 version of Minecraft will be, for all intents and purposes, Minecraft. That was what Microsoft producer Roger Carpenter said as we sat down with the game: "Well, it's Minecraft."
And that's true -- everything you know and love about Minecraft is here (short of the ability to mod the game as you can mod the PC version). It works well with the controller, and is just about exactly what you'd picture when you picture Minecraft running on an Xbox 360. However, there's one crucial new feature -- four-player split-screen multiplayer.
(Note: The image at the top is actually a photoshop job.)
While the core single player will remain unchanged, I could easily see split-screen substantially changing the way that people play Minecraft. I love the meditative, compulsive single-player aspect of the game, but the multiplayer is where things start to get really interesting. It takes a very long time to build something in the game (without using cheats, that is), and the more people you have tackling a project, the more ambitious you can be.
I also haven't explored the multiplayer space that much -- it can be hard to find the right server, and to coordinate with friends. So the idea of having three friends over and spending the afternoon goofing around and building things in Minecraft together, in the same room, sounds like a load of fun. PC players have been working on split-screen mods for some time, but this builds split-screen into the main game and makes it really easy to use. Even better, 1-4 players can team up with other players online with easy drop-in, drop-out, and up to eight players can play together.
I'd imagine local co-op be a different kind of multiplayer than the hardcore, massive efforts of PC players who are building, say, cities from Game of Thrones together. But rather than even attempting to replace that outlet, this multiplayer will simply add to it, and appeal to a new demographic.
Carpenter told me that he plays this game every night with his son, which sounds like a fantastic way to spent time gaming with your family. Just as with Minecraft, the possibilities for split-screen gaming seem endless, just because it would be so much fun to be in the same room with people as you build things.
Carpenter also spoke to the new way that Minecraft will be updated for the Xbox 360. Longtime Minecraft players are no doubt aware that Mojang pushes out regular game updates that add everything from new in-game animals to new crafting materials and new enemies and animals.
Since the 360 version was announced, there's been a question of how Minecraft on the Xbox 360 could hope to keep up. Xbox live DLC certification takes a long time, and DLC can't be released for free -- even at $US1 a pop, paying for Minecraft features feels antithetical to the spirit of Minecraft.
Fortunately, Microsoft has come up with a solution. Rather than issue updates as DLC, updates will be pushed out to all players as title updates, which are free and automatically applied to the game. This is a new approach -- title updates are usually reserved for patches and bug fixes, not new content.
That does mean that the Xbox 360 version will always be a few versions behind the PC version. Certification on 360 takes much longer than on PC, so PC players will always have the most current build of the game. That will give the Xbox 360 team time to get the patches ready and certified for distribution over Xbox Live. It's a smart solution that demonstrates welcome flexibility and awareness from Microsoft, and it's probably the best approach that could've been hoped for given the circumstances.
The PC version will of course be altered in no way -- those who love and play the game on PC will always have that game to play. The 360 version is just more -- it opens the door for many more people to play, and allows them to experience the multiplayer in a new and very cool way.
Personally, I'm now looking forward to Minecraft on the Xbox 360 much more than I was. There aren't that many games that I'll take the time to invite friends over to play, but four-player split-screen Minecraft is most certainly at the top of that list.
I'll go chop some trees you go and grab some lava see you at sunset!