We return to OXM Land to explore Minecraft’s past and future
if this chimerical, charming world-builder is defined by anything, it’s the ability to move with the times//
Is Microsoft’s $2.5 billion Minecraft acquisition a case of far too much, far too late? Screw your eyes up to Creeper-style sockets, and it can seem that way. The game hit PC over five years ago, migrating to Xbox 360 in 2012, and conventional wisdom would dictate that the salad days are well and truly over. But if this chimerical, charming world-builder is defined by anything, it’s the ability to move with the times. After 54 million sales across consoles, PC and mobile, Minecraft has grown from a terrain generator bundled with robust editing tools to a sprawling empire of modes, mods and memes – and it’s still evolving, as Mojang and console developer 4J Studios add new features (some platform-specific) via downloadable update.
Minecraft’s worlds have grown with it. When the Xbox 360 version was released, OXM staff writers Matt Lees and Jon Blyth created ‘OXM Land’, an always-on save game, which visitors could shape (or break) as they pleased. Not being equipped to run the world forever, we eventually handed the keys to two of the world’s most dedicated creators – Jack ‘iMy LiiL PwNy x’ Adsett and Robin ‘seiibutsu’ Smith, who now patrol its maze of slides, robot statues and floating islands like safari rangers. The pair have looked on as fresh generations of creators have toiled and tinkered, taking advantage of new features to gouge ever more incredible edifices out of the terrain. Who better, we thought, to help us explore both Minecraft’s ongoing appeal and where Microsoft might take the franchise in the future?
Chip off the old block
A common criticism of Minecraft is that it’s ‘a game for kids’ – the lo-fi voxel aesthetic couldn’t be further from the bloodied, cover-strewn corridors of so-called ‘mature’ gaming. Smith admits to a few misgivings on first encountering the PC version. “I didn’t come to Minecraft via the way most players did,” he recalls. “I suppose I had no real interest in it to begin with – when things get too big, too fast I kind of avoid them for a while. Also, being in my late twenties when the PC original started getting talked about, I felt a little odd about playing something that ostensibly was being played by younger users.”
If Minecraft has a firm following among the young, that’s perhaps because it doesn’t set any real objectives. It’s an exercise in pure play. There’s now an endgame in Adventure mode – a battle with a curiously boxy dragon who lurks in
a separate dimension – but whether you reach it is up to you. “Minecraft has unique staying power because it doesn’t really have a story element to it,” observes Adsett. “I guess you have the ability to create your own story and characters, but it’s not forced onto you like in most games that have storylines. I think it comes down to your creative side – if you think of a great idea, you’ll always go back to Minecraft to build it.”
Art and crafts fair
On first setting foot in OXM Land, Smith set out to weave a little narrative of his own. “I came up with a plan to craft four different icons around the map. I wanted them to be out of the way, to be striking and to give a sense of time and life to the world. An untold story for visitors to seek out, leading to an even bigger hidden mystery somewhere in the world.” It’s a sign of something else Minecraft does well: fostering a spirit of mutual appreciation and sharing, which explains the game’s popularity on YouTube in the early days of the ‘let’s play’ phenomenon.
Bringing ideas to life in OXM Land became easier with the addition of Creative mode, which endows players with near-invincibility and the power of flight, plus an infinite supply of every building block. Available from the beginning on PC, it was only added to the Xbox 360 version in October 2012. It’s had an interesting effect on the Xbox 360 community; accustomed to slaving away for days in order to gather and place the raw materials, players were more appreciative of the possibilities afforded by Creative.
Some of OXM Land’s most legendary structures were, however, built prior to the release of Creative mode. “The most impressive thing I’ve ever built is Green Grow town in OXM Land,” says Adsett. “That place took weeks of work due to the Creative update not being out at the time, although I had help along the way from two of the hosts at the time, seiibutsu and Pyro1099.” The realm’s iconic giant robot statue also dates back to this era. “It may not impress everyone [today], but it certainly impresses me because of the amount of work that went into it.”
If Creative mode has helped to save time, Smith worries it has taught
players to be impatient: “The addition of Creative mode and new features slowly affected how people wanted to play the game, with very few willing to stick to [the default mode’s] more limiting but rewarding style of play.” Visitors to OXM Land became pushier in the wake of the Creative update, with some turning up simply to clamour for free diamond tools and other items. “This sat poorly with me,” says Smith. “To an extent, gone was the sense of adventure, discovery and creative play, where visitors invested time.”
It’s something a future update might address, perhaps by introducing features to Adventure mode that reinforce its attraction. Adsett’s hope is that the rate of updates will increase now that Microsoft is in charge of the IP. “I do have one big request and that’s private chests,”
// i have one big request: I want to be able to set my chests to private so no one can steal anything from me ever again//
he says. “I want to be able to set my chests to private so no one can steal anything from me ever again.” Smith, meanwhile, would like to see more Xbox-specific features, and the option to expand Xbox 360 world sizes after importing those worlds to Xbox One. “One interesting side effect from the move to Xbox One, though, has been seeing the saves start to diverge along new lines of building,” he adds. “Like alternate realities co-existing.”
Will OXM Land still be around a few years from now? Will worlds that were created for the Xbox 360 game endure till the launch of Xbox One’s successor, whatever that proves to be? Smith and Adsett seem eager to go the distance. “People gave their time to create some wonderful and sometimes laughable things in this place, and it could easily just vanish,” Smith muses. “Time is quite important, I think, so these things that people gave time to make are precious, if only to them.” edwin evans-thirlwell
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