Friday, October 19, 2012

1.8.2 Update: First Impressions

So, I finally had a chance to really play in depth the newest version of Minecraft for the X-box today. The problem with reviewing seeds is that you need a frame of reference in order to know which seeds are good and which ones are bad. Based on what I played today, here are my preliminary opinions of the new update:

While You're Waiting

Seed: playwright

The Good

I love the new biomes: mountains, rivers, and swamps. They are absolutely gorgeous (no pun intended). Huge cliffs that drop off into water and magnificent gnarled edifices. Swamp mushrooms should be rarer than they are; in real life to find that many mushrooms you'd need a trained pig. I have also found a few rare boards that are only one or two biomes. That makes me very happy.

I found a stronghold on my first map. I have to admit that I was leery of what they would look like on the X-box, but I was impressed. The one I found had doorways that fell off cliffs and hidden passageways and stuff.

The NPC villages were nice. I think they did a good job. My first one had a blacksmith with lava and a well that you could jump into that went way down to Y=30. They look really cool and I look forward to reporting on them.

A tiny, tiny piece of me is starting to understand the appeal of creative mode. I vow here and now that I will only ever use it for reviewing seeds and never for an actual game. The only reason I would ever use superflat would be to illustrate my architecture skills and even then, it would be for very special one-time events.

I refuse to touch the "free box of crap" at the spawn.

I like how pigs and cows run away from you when you try to kill them -- much better.

Most importantly, the game upgrades that this update brings offer me a great opportunity to multiply exponentially the number of seeds I review and the number of different types of features I get to photograph. Getting full maps is a breeze (though I often have to pause to let the map catch up to me; after all it is an X-box) and aerial photographs are going to add some serious bite to the visuals on this blog. I'm very excited.

The Bad

Caves are practically meaningless now and I have yet to find a hidi-hole. Both of these are bad for beginners.

The lava noise is unbelievably distracting and the leg breaking noise when you fall too far is so realistic it makes you feel a little queasy.

Some of the grass is very, very blue. That's annoying. Also, when walking past vines, the thin black box around the vine you are aiming at is ugly as hell.

I noticed that when you change options for a new game, the next time you start a new game it resets those options again back to default. Most people won't care, but it's a huge pain for me.

One of the hardest things I had to do was learn how to sprint. You do it, by the way, by pushing up twice very rapidly on the left thumbstick. This will shoot you like a bullet. It takes some practice. While it is useful -- especially for what I do -- the problem is the controls suck. It's attached to the camera controls, so if you do it wrong, your camera jumps and changes perspective. Über annoying!

Speaking of controls, there are no user defined controls; only three prefab layouts that, frankly, are not optimal. I also tried switching on "southpaw" and discovered that layout one is for all intents and purposes unusable.

The big problem with the update is the way the maps are constructed. Clearly, the designers wanted to make sure that whatever seed you put in (or randomly accepted), you had at least one ravine and one village and one mountain and one swamp. This is an example of bad design. I have gone through eight seed names today and each of them had one or more of these two items. These features need to be rare to make seed names more special.

The Ugly

Even the smallest ravines expose way too much underworld. Almost all of the ravines I found gouge out rock all the way down to Y=24 and some even go down to Y=12. That's bad. Also, with ravines, there is often overhanging mud and stone surface ground that is visually confusing and geographically unrealistic.

This update is still buggy. I have found grass floating in mid air on every seed I've looked at so far. I also have found lava flows that stop in mid air. It's only ever in one or two places, but there is always at least one.

Ugliest is such an ugly word, however it's a tie between the new craptastic sunsets and the absurd number of trees. Anywhere where there are trees -- there are a TON of trees. Especially in frozen wastelands. There are no bald snow mountains! That is incredibly unrealistic.

Final Verdict

For better or worse, the update is true to the Minecraft PC version. I don't think they hit a home run with the interface. Just like crouching, I think sprinting should be an activated option that stays on until turned off by the user. The new features are gorgeous and exciting, albeit too common.

My hope is that other bloggers will offer similar feedback that will encourage the developers to tweak some things. We'll see. For right now, though, it's Minecraft time...

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