In a blogpost on 22 May, Mojang confirmed that the game would be available for download in the summer, with both versions priced at $19.99, or $4.99 if you already own the Xbox 360 or PS3 instalments. Saves from these consoles will also work on the new machines.
Tantilisingly, Mojang's post also mentioned that the new console versions would feature, "significantly bigger worlds and a greater draw distance." But exactly how much bigger than the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions? We know that the infinite worlds of the PC version are impossible due to the limited size of game save files on the Sony and Microsoft machines. But are we talking about twice the size? More?
"The worlds in the PS4 and Xbox One versions will be 36 times the area," says Paddy Burns, co-founder of Scottish studio 4J Studios, which handles the console conversions. He also hinted that his team is working on increasing that figure for future updates. "I don't know if we can go much bigger than that, but we're looking into it," he said.
The edge of the world
The challenge isn't just about save file sizes, it's also about the way the game handles the online multiplayer mode, which allows groups of players to cooperate in the same Minecraft map. "There's a knock in terms of how much memory it uses," says Burns. "The game runs a local host on the machine so it has to handle the network traffic for all the players. The issue we run into is, if that data is stored on the hard drive rather than in memory and other players around the world are in different positions, retrieving the data is too slow – we need to be sure that all the player data is held in memory. It's a bit of a headache. We've always had the experience to do that kind of work but we've had to bring in new staff because doing it across five platforms is adding quite a bit of work."
Another challenge has been creating parity across the consoles. Work on the Xbox One and PS4 conversions of Minecraft began over a year ago, but instead of creating separate versions, the team is unifying them. "We've been trying to build a common code base across all the platforms so that when we do an update to the game, all the platforms get it," says Burns. "We've had to change all the architecture of the code to deal with that. The PlayStation 3 version was the first one to take advantage of it."
Minecraft on Vita
Also set to arrive in August is a PlayStation Vita version. "I'm loving it, which I didn't think I would," says Burns. "It's looking very nice. We've had to cut back a bit on render distance and how much of the world we're processing, but then there are benefits – we don't have split screen to worry about so there are things we can avoid." Despite the lack of local single-screen multiplayer, however, Burns did confirm that the Vita version will feature a multiplayer mode, taking advantage of Vita's Wi-Fi connectvity.
Although the code base is unified across the machines, 4J is also looking into supporting some of the unique features of each platform. The PlayStation 4 version, for example, uses the DualShock touch pad for browsing menus, including the in-game Creative menu. It's likely the PS Vita touchscreen will also be employed in a similar way, though the back touch panel won't be. According to Burns, further features may well appear in later iterations: "The approach we’re taking is to first get the game out on all the target platforms, and then look at what we can add to each in the future. We will be looking to take advantage of each platform, where it makes sense for the game."
Keeping up with the PC
So when the PS4 and Xbox One versions are released in August, how will they compare with the PC original? So far the latter is around a year ahead in terms of updates (Mojang has continually added new features since the game's pre-alpha launch in 2009). Can we expect a refresh on console? According to burns, the version that will be available in august will be the same as that currently on PlayStation 3, effectively 1.3.2, "plus a few features brought forward from later PC versions," says Burns.
As for what's next, the studio won't be drawn on which newer PC features will be making it over to console. Much. "We’ll be continuing to add new features across all platforms once we’ve released PS4, PSVita and Xbox One," says Burns. "We get daily requests for pretty much all the current PC features we don’t have in yet.
"There are a lot of people asking for horses though, so that’s a key one for a future addition..."
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