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Minecraft on Xbox 360: alone in the dark

Ed's first night. What should we do next?

See that image below this paragraph? That's a marketing shot of Minecraft on Xbox 360. Notice how peaceful and welcoming everything seems: the watermill churning, the flowers blooming, the dear little portico and merrily crackling wall torches. The nervous white box is a chicken, or possibly a duck, and the squat pinkish table is a pig. Punch the former, and it'll die amusingly; punch the latter, and it may bequeath you a number of tasty, nourishing pork chops. While dying amusingly. Bliss. It's as if God Almighty built a Second Eden from leftover chunks of Switzerland, and didn't have time to file all the sharp edges off.

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Well of course I've tried to breed them.

Thus the picture images of Minecraft paint, thanks to its happy-go-lucky retro aesthetic - an aesthetic that's like a massive Golden Labrador made of nostalgia, squirming in your lap. The old school look has inspired users to further feats of referencing. If you've logged into the internets over the past two years, chances are you've caught one of the many, many Youtube videos carved from the flank of the PC version - footage of granite Starship Enterprises, probably-blasphemous Taj Mahals, giant Monopoly boards and passable recreations of Bioshock Infinite's Columbia.

Here's the key thing about the PC version of Minecraft: it now comes with something called Creative mode, which grants you infinite building materials, invulnerability and the power of flight. Useful, all that, when you're piecing together gargantuan homebrew riffs on popular culture. Minecraft on Xbox 360 doesn't come with a Creative mode, or at least not yet - it's based on version 1.6.6, and Creative, I'm told, is a feature of version 1.8. You've got to make do with Survival, where death is possible and flight isn't. As a consequence, anybody who takes that chirpy, innocent veneer at face value will spend a lot of their time looking at images like this:

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That's some serious aftermath.

The hole in the ground isn't a natural formation. It's what happens when something called a Creeper gets close to a player, assuming the player's stupid enough to stay put. As the name implies, Creepers creep. As the name doesn't imply, they also blow up. See the loot sprinkled around the crater? It was once the property of a gentlemen known as E. Evans-Thirlwell, before the gentleman known as E. Evans-Thirlwell halted to take a screenshot and failed to check the landscape behind him first.

Much of the time, Minecraft is a deeply terrifying game. Stray out after sundown, and you'll be mauled by zombies and spiders or pierced by the arrows of unseen skeleton archers. Die, and everything you were carrying falls with your corpse. The uneven, procedurally generated terrain is full of natural ambush points and pitfalls. Home-made armour and weapons degrade with use, leaving you high and dry at the worst possible moments. Many of the monsters (not including the Creepers, sadly) can't spawn in well-lit areas, and the consequence is that you develop a caveman's dread of darkness. It's Neolithic in there, people. Bring your animal instincts.

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This is me, exploding.

The first challenge is to build yourself a shelter before nightfall. To do that you need tools like axes, pickaxes and shovels, and to make tools you need a wooden worktable. Fortunately, there's very little in Minecraft that can't be laboriously beaten down and chopped up with bare hands. Chopped wood can be refashioned into planks, and eight planks make a worktable. The reorganised crafting and inventory screens are fairly pad-friendly, though moving objects around en masse can be tedious: hitting A gathers the entire stack, or you can take half with X and keep tapping to drop individual items till you've got the quantity you need.

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