Minecraft Story Mode Ep.1 – Review

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Minecraft: Story Mode is the new adventure from Telltale Games. If you’re a fan of Telltale’s more hard hitting, difficult choice-based stories like The Walking Dead then you might want to look away as this probably isn’t for you. However, if you like a good fun story with a slice of Minecraft, and Minecraft that has a narrative direction, then you’re in the right place.

In our interview with Telltale Games’ Laura Perusco, she explained that this is what they do, “interactive stories,” and after Tales of the Borderlands they decided to look at what they could do with other video games and thus this game was born. But just to write it off as another Telltale Game would be a fools errand. To set the scene, you play as Jesse. It’s the day of the EnderCon building competition and you are going with your friends and your pet pig Reuben to build something awesome. The prize for winning this is to meet Gabriel the Knight, one of the four heroes of the land and part of a group called “The Order of The Stone.” The comparisons to modern day convention culture and the massive success of the game in various online media is evident and it’s quite enjoyable to see it played out in an actual narrative.

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Even for me personally, some of my favourite YouTube videos on Minecraft are one’s that have involved some hilariously hammy role-play that makes things enjoyable, but there’s no ham to be found here. Not unless you consider Reuben to be food. The story does the normal multiple choice speech options that will either enamour you more with your fellow characters or cause issue at a later time. And as far as the quicktime events go, there isn’t many, which is probably to help less experienced players enjoy it with others (kids playing with parents for example).

In fact it’s this family thing that is a bit weird for the more serious player. Firstly, it’s not Minecraft, it looks like Minecraft and there’s occasional points where you get to use Minecraft objects like chests, crafting tables and swords, but it is not Minecraft. It’s also not the dark and morally disturbing game that some of Telltale’s stories have been in other franchises.

The positives of this is that the story can indulge in comedy and expression a lot more than previous franchises. There’s some great voice acting going on here from the cast, both with the male and female versions of Jesse, and Reuben the pig is quite possibly the best pet character in a game this year.  He’s charming, and, depending on your actions, all kinds of adorable. The dynamic between the friends is good and potentially venomous as well and there’s a love interest (presumably, certainly a mutual “you’re pretty” thing) between Jesse and Petra which is not changed or any different regardless of what gender you play as. Good on you Telltale.

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The criticism is that this is more of a Minecraft animation at times than a game. It takes so many visual queues from media around it that it kind of loses Minecraft itself. You’ll notice visual styles that people like Captain Sparkles and the like have made popular on YouTube over the years. But the problem is that it kind of loses the fun and soul of playing Minecraft. Which is fine if you don’t want to actually play Minecraft and go in to a more comedic thing. At one point, Telltale use their own speech system to implement a joke, which was a pleasant surprise when I noticed it, but could be easily missed.

So is it a step too far in the wrong direction for Telltale? Is the formula getting stale? It’s certainly stretching the formula a bit, as was found during the Game of Thrones series, and others are now doing it just as well with Life is Strange being a prime example. But this game isn’t the same as those other franchises in so much as it is designed to be for family entertainment and a bit more for everyone rather than fans of a particular franchise or fans of the game. If anything it’s Telltale-lite. It’s kind of reminiscent of the early games like the Sam & Max, Monkey Island games, etc. But it has a much better narrative and a much better gameplay dynamic.

Of course we end on a cliffhanger and I’m not spoiling any of the episodes story other than you set off on a vast quest across the world of Minecraft to reunite the Order of the Stone, the title of this episode. It’s definitely a good game and a lot of fun for families and people who want to engage with Minecraft in a relatable way, which is great if you have kids that enjoy it, or you enjoy Minecraft anyway. Otherwise, it’s probably not for you.

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Minecraft Story Mode is only in its first episode and i’m sure it will have a lot of visual treats the longer we go on. The story is already a lot of fun but it really isn’t the usual kind of story that you’d expect from Telltale. It’s very family friendly and it’s very light on the actual game interaction. It is also quite far removed from Minecraft as a game. But it is enjoyable and worth playing just for Reuben the pig, this year’s best game pet.

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  • Great amusing story
  • Awesome use of Minecraft visual style
  • Reuben the pig

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  • There isn’t a lot of stuff to actually do
  • Doesn’t have as much Minecraft interaction as you’d expect
  • Could be stretching the formula a bit too much

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Well, it’s a fun enough game and I mostly enjoyed it for Reuben the pig. But if I’m honest, it made me want to play more actual Minecraft. It’s fun and certainly good for families and people who want to sit around as a family and play an easy game together. But it doesn’t leap out as much as other Telltale games have. It’s a great use of the franchise, especially for the target audience, but not enough for a larger audience.

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Minecraft Story Mode – Interview

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Last week, we got to play the Minecraft Story Mode with Laura Perusco, the Creative Communication Manager from Telltale Games. You can read our review of the game here shortly.

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Sean Cleaver – Minecraft story mode, it’s lots of fun. It’s been worked on for quite a while. When did you first get the project germinating, how did it come about?

Laura Perusco – It basically came from, you know how we’re doing Tales from the Borderlands? Well that came first and we were already working on a video game that’s set in the world of another video game. We started thinking about what else we can do this with. A whole bunch of people in the office play Minecraft or have kids that play Minecraft, and that’s something that doesn’t have a story. People were just creating their own stories in that world. So we had the idea of reaching out to Mojang and floating the idea of doing a game. This was way back before Microsoft brought them out so our contract is with Mojang.

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SC – Minecraft is a very precise visual style because of what it is. But you’ve also managed to find a cinematic style out of this. There’s a lot of YouTube videos that have done these small animations. You seem to have created almost a movie out of it.

LP –  That’s pretty much what we do. We do playable stories, so our games are often thought of as playable movies or playable TV shows. Just the aesthetic of the world of Minecraft is very unique in and of itself. So we actually built a lot of the environments in Minecraft first and exported them to our engine, so it would absolutely, unequivocally Minecraft. Then we added a little bit to make it look more cinematic like depth of focus and changes and stuff like that but it’s all Minecraft. Absolutely.

SC – You’ve got your main characters, a band of four if you will, it’s a very traditional…

LP – And the pig.

SC – And the pig. I’ll get on to the pig now. The pet pig, Reuben. This year seems to be the year of the Dog for video games, every game has a dog and everybody loves them. You’ve gone with the pig and he seems to be much more charming than any dog that I’ve seen this year so far in a game.

LP – Reuben is my favourite character I actually had new business cards with him on. I think something that’s really cool about Reuben is that no one ever thinks of eating dogs in video games and that’s a new dynamic that comes up because pigs in Minecraft are always thought of as food. So it has that interesting dynamic.

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SC – I don’t think I’ve ever though about having a pet pig in Minecraft. I don’t I ever use them for food either but there you go. I quite like the idea with the story building on, a bit like what Minecraft really is, the convention scene. Creating Minecraft fandom within Minecraft itself with Ender Con and the Order of the Stone. What drew you to create that story out of it? Was there a lot of going around, looking at Minecraft, looking at the world, looking at the real life interactions with Minecraft? And are there plans for any more?

LP – The community around Minecraft is so important. That’s the reason for its huge popularity. There are so many videos online and people creating their own stuff. That’s what Minecraft is, it’s about creating things and sharing them. So we knew that was a huge part of the licence.  I actually went to Minecon in London to show the trailer and that was fantastic.

There’s so much love around this game that we wanted to put something like that in there. You might have noticed but the people who come on stage to introduce Gabriel at Endercon are Lydia and Owen, their director of communications. They voiced the characters too. But the thing about the characters in this game is they don’t know they’re in Minecraft. They don’t have any meta awareness or some other real world. As for more? We hope people play it and people enjoy it but beyond that, anything can happen.

Minecraft: Story Mode by Telltale games is available now on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, PC and Mac.

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Celebrate 5 Years Of Minecraft

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What can you say about the progression of Minecraft and the impact it has had on the video game industry over the past five years?

It’s spawned its own clothing lines, merchandise, been ported to every device under the sun, made stars out of YouTube gamers and has turned the industry upside down.

The procedurally generated sandbox survival game created by Notch has grown and grown and, as far as the game is concerned, shows no signs of stopping. New mini-game servers are launched all the time, people are still lapping up the content created by it and as an experience, it’s now a comfortable yet challenging old friend.

Normally with these kind of articles, we recount our experiences with the game, our favourite things that worked well and bits that didn’t. Except Minecraft isn’t a finite entity. It’s still going and new things are continually happening.

For me personally, and you can read many things that designers and industry folk have said about Minecraft, it is all about what the game does for you. There are people that use it for education, for PvP gaming, for a benchmark in their own games and even just laud it for inspiration (see Peter Molyneux).

But for me, it’s the ability to have your own deeply personal adventure. The world is your own randomly generated world. You do what you want in terms of building things, choosing your own path and your own story. You set how challenging its going to be for you and this kind of ‘create your own’ narrative is exactly what keeps me coming back to it. And whatever new things come or mad inventions are created, it always feels like a new experience.

You may have your own thoughts and memories on Minecraft, but as it’s five years old, I’m going to take you through five of my favourite things that Minecraft has done or created in that time:

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minecraft birthday 1Creepers

A completely accidental creation. During the original programming for the game Notch had accidentally created an exploding pig. He didn’t know this until said pig walked up to him and exploded. Then, the Creeper was born. It is the most wonderful and hilariously frightening creature to have graced video gaming and makes some damn fine records, if you know how.

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minecraft birthday 2The Far Lands (Or Bust?)

Back in its beta days, the game had an area known as the far lands. These are the furthest point from where you spawn. The game procedurally generates based on coding and mathematical formula, but it gets to such a point where the code breaks down. Like a signal degradation if you will. This creates the far lands, an area of crazy and random landscapes, completely strange block placement and a place where the rules of Minecraft no longer apply.

If you happen to go YouTube, you may have heard of a content producer called Kurt J Mac. Since 2011, this crazy guy has decided to walk to the far lands with his canine companion Wolfie, and has been producing steady episodes of this since all in the name of charity. Even when he accidentally lost Wolfie and certain Gallifreyan-esque mechanics were used to retrieve him, the show carried on. So far, just over $269,000 has been raised for the Childs Play Charity by this endeavour alone, including donations from Notch. That is good (to quote Kurt J Mac) ‘INDEED!’

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minecraft birthday 4Ultra Hardcore Mode

Sticking with the YouTube thing, this is a custom modded game mode that was so popular, Mojang built the ability to do it in to the game. Popularised and I dare say invented by the MindCrack gaming network, UHC is the ultimate in survival PvP multiplayer. Either solo, or in teams, you start at random points at the map with the aim of being the sole survivor. You play the game like survival but with rules in place such as no strip mining. The key thing here is that health regeneration is turned off so if you take damage, that damage will stick.

In the MindCrack rules, regeneration potions are banned too so that the only way you’re getting that health back is by a golden apple. Everything else is a scary free-for-all – you can put whatever modifiers to the rules that you like. The Hermitcraft’s UHC is currently making use of the newly implemented world border function to force people towards the middle or else face death. It makes for excellent viewing (MindCrack recently finished their 15th season of it) and if you can round up enough friends, it is definitely worth trying.

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minecraft birthday 3Mods

Well mods are going to come for any game aren’t they? Hell, I’ve had or seen mods for pretty much every PC game I’ve ever owned. But the Minecraft mods are so inventive, complex, easy, crazy, and impressive that they are at times new games in themselves. Not even counting the thousands of custom maps that have been created. The most well known modded pack is probably Feed The Beast, which is a collection of many mods thrown together. My personal favourite is the recent Attack of the B-Team mod pack. But there’s so many things like TerrafirmaCraft, Hexit, Skyblock, Agrarian Skies, CrackPack, Magic Farm, Life in the Woods… Too many to mention. These all contain mods with new biomes, new and better storage, more blocks and construction options and even technology.

The most impressive thing is, and anyone who’s massivly modded a game will know this, how well the base game actually copes. Yes there some glitches but for the level of modding that goes on, Minecraft is an excellent platform. And seeing as Mojang love this (they’ve even emplyed people from the mod community to work on the game) it makes for an excellent marriage.

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minecraft birthday 5Community

Gaming communities are well known for their supportiveness of a game. But the Minecraft community has become much more than that. It’s become much bigger than the gaming trolls of online FPS play and surpassed the sharing communities of forums past. It is a community that stretches the globe, enjoys and supports the people that make the content they watch. It encourages involvement and maybe that’s because the game isn’t about victory but about working together to create something better. The official MineCon convention has come from this desire to bring the community together, and gaming conventions themselves now hold panels featuring Minecraft personalities to help other with the game from redstone, to YouTube and even to just having a good laugh. It is a community, once you get past the trolls and the haters, that makes you want to get involved and play. Even from the production of content, the MindCrack community has produced some of the best personalities and content from gaming, pranking, building and even role play that not only inspires the community but makes many people come together to share their enjoyment of the game and the content.

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I’ve missed loads of course and we all have such specific personal memories of playing on Minecraft. Why not share yours with us? Tweet us or comment on Facebook. I’d personally love to hear your thoughts and stories!

Happy birthday Minecraft.

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Minecraft 1.7 Update – The Beauty of Nature-Cubed

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Minecraft has had an exciting time of it lately, at least in the PC market. User modifications have expanded the game to mind bending degrees (a look at a Yogscast upload list will show you how mad this has become). Customised single player adventure games have turned this into almost an indie game-making kit, much like Half Life 2 did for FPS create-your-owns. In the PC market, it’s had new pretenders challenge it like Terraria and Cube World, both of which are equally successful, enjoyably different games in their own right and are still evolving.

minecraft 2Yet even with its own rapid expansion to the mobile market, the merchandise industry, consoles and of course conventions and the ability to make stars out of YouTube gamers, Mojang are still looking out for us – the player. Even though the game is on full release, updates have come to fix bugs and add new content to the game at NO ADDITIONAL COST (read it and weep, EA) and this latest one is a biggie.

“The Update That Changed The World” is no small claim, but Minecraft 1.7 really has done just that. It’s own world that is. Earlier this year, horses were implemented in to the game, mainly because these were one of the most popular/requested modifications and, much like Valve, Mojang noticed this and helped implement it. Now however the biomes you find have evolved, the world is much more sensibly generated than previous versions and the items for construction or “crafting” have become more varied.

Biome wise there have been new areas added; a savannah (no lions yet) with wonderful acacia trees, a roofed forest which contains a brand new, bigger and darker oak tree, Ice Spikes that look like you could build wonderful fantasy palaces in them, a new Mega Tiaga with new dirty toilet-brown Podzol blocks and natural mossy cobblestone and the fantastic (and much requested) Mesa biome. All of which add a lovely and much needed visual touch up to the game, along with lots of new flowers to spruce up your gardens.

minecraft 1One of the big things though with these biomes is how they generate. No more will you skip from desert to extreme snow. The game now makes things a bit more sensible and tries to group things by temperature. If you’re in a snowy area then the next areas around you are going to be colder biomes until you get to the warmer ones, like the plains and so on. And the same goes hot for places like deserts and mesas – the further away you get, the colder it will get.

Another addition is the inclusion of stained glass. Many Minecraft fans have wanted this since it was teased as an April Fool by Mojang, but now you can have different coloured glass and, for the most part, it does look rather lush.

However, if like me you’ve been playing Minecraft for a while casually, or even if you’re someone that makes a career out of it, this does feel like a precursor to Minecraft 2.0. The new live streaming feature revealed at Minecon (where you press one button to instantly Livestream to twitch.tv) is now available, which creates an exciting new possibility for those wanting to share their experiences, although still in testing at the moment. It very clear that Mojang knows the success and survival of the game is catering to not only the fans, but the people who share their experience of it online.

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It’s surely only a matter of time until the game expands to make use of those empty oceans; bringing some new creatures in (friendly or otherwise), introduce multiple uses to some stagnant blocks and find something that makes redstone less technically confusing. But until then, this will quench your metaphorical thirst to explore brave and strange new procedurally generated worlds and admire the beauty of nature-cubed.

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Gaming Cubed: Trapped in a Box of Jealousy.

Cube World has arrived.

This annoys me.

Why? Well for one, I can’t play it yet as I’m a Mac user (DAMMMMMMNNNNN YOUUUUUUU!!!!). But two, and possibly the more important issue, my friends are playing it without me. To do so, they have left the other cube behind that we’ve recently started, that of Minecraft. This means I am missing out on a huge amount of fun… Or so I thought.

I’ve been watching videos online of course, especially BdoubleO100 on YouTube, to find out what exactly I’m missing. I’ve also witnessed my friends play (although the heat of a small room with two PC’s really isn’t worth it). So far all I can gleam from it is that I will get very bored of this very quickly. Why? Because it’s a cube version of World of Warcraft, et al. Now, I’m currently playing a few games, am desperate for Maxis to hurry up with the Mac release of SimCity, and have very little money. So affording an MMO fee right now is out of the question. But my friends, who are currently playing the low res, independent and customisable MMORPG Cube World, don’t play MMO’s.

I’ve been a WoW and EVE subscriber a few times. My friends don’t have time to play those, or don’t care. I personally get very bored being the anti-social lone ranger I am when I have no friends to play with. So I eventually leave. Now I’m left out of this new indie gaming revolution and by the time I get round to it, they’ll totally be bored of it. So I’m incredibly jealous because I’ll be missing out on all the fun.

Right now, I want to play F1 2012  online with someone, I need to work my way through the Assassin’s Creed series which I ashamedly haven’t had any time for AND want to do more Minecraft online with friends/curse EA for the inventible continuing SimCity Mac delays.

So you can take your “very good for an alpha release game with the small team behind it” and SHOVE IT! *Cries like being the last boy picked for the school sports teams*