Fortnite wasn’t the first game to start the cross-play conversation: it was actually Minecraft. You may remember Microsoft announcing the Better Together update for every system but the PlayStation 4, because back then the Japanese giant wasn’t playing ball. It’s slowly opening up its doors, and while it’s currently only running a beta test in Epic’s behemoth Battle Royale, the expectation is that more third-party titles will eventually utilise the feature.
So what’s the deal with Minecraft, then? Here’s what a spokesperson told Windows Central this week: “We are supportive of new scenarios that enable more people to play and have fun together while gaming. We would love to bring players on PS4 into our Minecraft ecosystem as well but have nothing further to share at this time.”
It’s a bit of a non-statement, and to be honest there may still be sticking points with this series in particular. Microsoft, rightly or wrongly, requests that anyone playing Minecraft’s big cross-play focused Bedrock Edition signs into an Xbox Live account, which Sony could very well reject. The company does accept third-party logins for EA Sports and Ubisoft titles, but this is a direct competitor and thus a different kettle of fish.
Minecraft is still going, still strong, and still relevant – the creative playground sees over 90 million monthly users, according to Microsoft.
Microsoft’s $2.5 billion (£1.9bn) purchase of Mojang back in 2014 was a huge sum to pay for what was, in essence, a one-game studio. But it’s paying off: in 2018 alone the monthly player count has increased by around 20 million.
With all this ongoing success, talk inevitably turns to a sequel – but Microsoft’s head of Minecraft, Helen Chiang, told Business Insider it doesn’t make sense for the game or community: “It’s something that always fractures the community,” she said.
“We don’t want to ask [players] to move from Minecraft 1 to Minecraft 2,” she explained, “We want them to just enjoy Minecraft. And there’s other ways that we can expand that are more meaningful and authentic to what we want to be, rather than just releasing another iteration in the way that most other franchises do.”
Said ‘other way’ refers to Minecraft: Dungeons, the first new game developed in-house at Mojang since the original Minecraft’s release in 2011. It’s not a sequel, and it’s not the sort of thing Mojang would expect to eat into the 90m-plus player base.
While Minecraft’s numbers are still gigantic and it is managing to maintain interest even as it approaches a decade in age, the relative new kid on the block Fortnite is hot on its heels with dozens of millions of players a month for Epic’s battle royale.
Although a bit slowing as of late, the Fortnite effect is still very much in full swing and although the game’s contemporaries have long left the proverbial board, there’s still one name that can take Epic’s beast head on – Minecraft.
Epic recently revealed that Fortnite racked up almost 80 million players in a single month, which is truly a number to behold. Trudging along behind the hype scenes is Minecraft, which has more than 90 million monthly players.
Minecraft’s track record speaks for itself – the best selling PC game of all time and second best selling game ever, second only to Tetris, the mother of all best selling games ever. To be fair though, if someone could count the number of pirated Tetris games, we’d probably never even come close to that record but I digress.
Unlike Fortnite, Minecraft runs on everything and can be a pretty soothing experience, so it’s easy to see where the popularity comes from. Epic are trying something similar with the Playground mode and while it’s very fun, expecting it to mimic Minecraft would be a tall order.
Nevertheless, Fortnite is approaching 80 million fast and I wouldn’t put it past Epic to see this record broken by the end of the year. After all, the game’s frequent and flashy tournaments can actually change your life fortunes in a match, a carrot that Epic’s been dangling for a while now and to great success if I may add.
Minecraft’s fortunes are a bit mixed and the Story Mode will be the last thing the troubled Telltale Games will pull off before officially closing its doors. Not that it will affect the game though, as Minecraft is sure to trudge along for many a year more.
Epic GamesA glowing cube propping up an island in the air from FortniteFortnite: Battle Royale, Season 6
With many players enquiring as to the possibility of Minecraft 2, the game’s head honchos stressed that the community is growing ever closer and that the game is still where it needs to be. No need to change the winning formula we guess, especially if it runs on potatoes as well – fun doesn’t care.
Let’s get this out of the way, because it’s a comparison that so many will use and honestly, it’s pretty fitting; Boundless is Minecraft meets No Man’s Sky.
If the two games got together for an illicit affair and spawned a love child, this is the game that would appear in the delivery room.
However, for all the gorgeous planet hopping and interesting resource collecting, the game suffers from feeling sterile and empty. This is primarily because Boundless is a community game and, so far, there’s not much of a community in sight.
There are lots of seemingly abandoned houses, some with crafting tables set up, some with only a beacon flickering a lonesome flame.
When you first enter into the world of Boundless you’re instructed to craft a beacon which acts as your homestead.
This is where you’ll buy plots and place them to ensure that other players don’t wreck your stuff and, interestingly, it also makes sure that the procedural generation doesn’t mess up your creations.
This all happens after you sign up for an account and create an alien to be your avatar, which is sadly a pretty dull affair. There are too few options and one can only imagine that everyone will look similar except maybe with variations in skin colour or horns.
Right from the off, the game holds your hand, telling you what to craft and how to establish a home.
Using a very different system to Minecraft, it’s helpful, but of course once you get going Boundless falls into the tropes so well established by Mojang.
I was mining seams of iron and copper before I knew there were quests for doing so, I’d found ancient buried technology and killed a set number of lifeforms before the game even urged me towards those goals.
I found myself pinning quests to my HUD half-finished and while it was helpful being guided to certain milestones, it removes any sense of self-discovery.
The only recipe I figured out myself was glue, used to make storage chests.
If you’ve played Minecraft, you’ll know what Boundless wants you to do. Make an axe, chop down trees to make a hammer which allows you to mine for precious metals, which makes a better axe or hammer or shovel.
You’ll build a little house and fill it with machines to craft more interesting items such as warp gates or, most interestingly, gems that teleport you to other planets.
Because so much of Boundless is procedurally generated, all of the worlds are different, while not in quite the extensive fashion of No Man’s Sky.
Look up from your house and you’ll see several planets, each one you can visit to mine more elusive materials or hunt different animals. There may be some players already there, but it’s unlikely you’ll find them.
When launching to a different planet the game displays co-ordinates of where you’ll land and while you might choose to land near an already built house or a landmark, it doesn’t mean you’ll find life outside of local fauna.
What you will find is genuinely pretty landscapes crafted from bold colour palettes, plenty of opportunity to explore and discover new creatures. Of course, the game has often told you to find a “rugged planet” so the natural feeling of exploration is muted.
Yes, you’ll still find excitement in seams of coal which reward you with XP and new opportunities or discovering vistas brimming with lolloping animals and these lend the game a sense of scale. However, there’s always a lingering feeling that the developers are sitting on your shoulder guiding your progress.
A game like this needs to be a free form and sprawling experience of discoveries that link to new discoveries.
Recipes are shown to you by selecting the crafting table, precise burn times of fuel in your furnace are displayed and items you craft will come with a build time much like a free to play iPhone game.
For some this will be a welcome inclusion, but part of the joy that makes Minecraft and No Man’s Sky is the idea of setting out into a universe or world where you know nothing and make small steps forward.
Death is all too easy as well. Dying might come from an alien you didn’t hear creep up on you or from falling a few blocks. And once you’re dead you end up back in the Sanctum where you started the game with a portal back to your initial spawn point.
You can pay credits to bump the portal to a safer spawn, but I never discovered a need to do so. Everything is too sparse, from other players to native dangers.
And those credits are a little troublesome too, earned by completing tasks they’re delivered to you loot box style and used for various reasons; buying more plots of lands, cosmetic items that you’ll never see because the game is played in first person, or you can reset your character skills.
Because there’s also an extensive skill tree that urges you to put points into health, speed, stamina. Also damage, how proficient you’ll be with a hammer, axe or shovel. You can assign points into certain techniques and you suddenly realise that a lot of effort was put into an RPG element of the game that only muddies the waters further. It seems as if Boundless is unsure of exactly the kind of game it wants to be.
For all the flaws, Boundless does get a lot right. The combat is surprisingly enjoyable and building anything from cubed blocks is always going to unleash creative potential.
And while I spent time in the game without meeting another person, stumbling across their dwellings often left me with a feeling of something larger happening around me.
There’s no denying the beauty of the game and the potential that lies within the concept. Travelling to distant planets, establishing bases and common goals with friends or strangers makes for a charming idea, but Boundless needs a driving force. It needs a community.
It needs people making outlandish creations. It needs servers full of people noodling about, visiting each other and exploring together. Every single flaw can be overlooked with the right amount of people by your side.
Boundless needs to find its niche, Minecraft had YouTube and a lower price point which pulled in interested parties, Boundless, at the moment, asks a lot of players with a muddled experience that many of us have played before.
The Verdict – 3/5
Lovely visuals and design
There’s a lot to do within the game
The concept is genuinely exciting and interesting
There’s hardly anyone online
Character creation is bland
Exploration is forced rather than natural
We’ve seen a lot of the game elsewhere
The way we live is changing fast. Every fortnight in our Future Focus series, supported by Volkswagen, we’ll look at how one aspect of everyday life could change in the coming years. This week: education.
TRADITIONAL PRIMARY, secondary and third level education hasn’t changed that much for most students in the last 20 years.
Sure, there are smart whiteboards instead of chalk and blackboards, and in some cases students work from tablets or laptops instead of books. But all in all, we’re generally still being taught in groups of 25 or so with a teacher at the top of the classroom. Unlike many other sectors, education hasn’t taken a leap forward as technology has improved. But does that mean the biggest changes are still to come?
Education is intrinsically linked with the working world, and going forward it may be even more so. Although it may not always seem like it when you’re learning the Modh Coinníollach, the goal of education is generally to prepare yourself for adult life. But now, the world of work is changing and some of the skills needed previously are no longer required.
Already, AI can do manufacturing work, and will likely take on many more administrative and computational tasks, which will change some of the things we’ll need to learn in school and college.
At the Learnovate conference in Croke Park this week, Learnovate Centre Director Owen White said:
The future worlds of education and work will be very different to those we experience today. The ongoing emergence of new research in psychology and the learning sciences are driving change in the way our society views teaching and learning… In the workplace, artificial intelligence is primed to change the balance of jobs carried out by humans and machines. This rebalancing will precipitate a shift in the skills required by organisations.
Already we’re seeing changes in primary and secondary school curricula, with the roll-out of Computer Science as a Leaving Cert subject having begun in September. The Digital Strategy for Schools 2015-2020 plan outlines how the use of ICT in schools should increase and improve in the coming years. It is also expected that coding will be taught at more primary schools – a clear indicator of how even early education is becoming more linked to the world of work.
How students are taught, as opposed to what they are taught, may also change as new technology and learnings are implemented. Group and project work, which is essential in the workplace, is also impacting classroom layouts and teaching methods. More interestingly, the idea of ‘gamifying’ learning to increase students’ attention and motivation, as well as their ability to problem-solve, is also making headway – in Shireland Academy in the UK, Minecraft has been included on the curriculum.
As we move away from humans doing more manual and administrative tasks, creative problem-solving is becoming a key skill. This is at odds with the way that currently in primary and secondary schools, students follow the curriculum with limited personal choice. But aided by AI and other technologies, teachers will be able to offer students more personalised learning experiences which are tailored to their needs and abilities.
Already, Abdul Chohan’s well-renowned work in the UK with The Olive Tree Free School has shown how technology can be a time-saver and improve the quality of teaching. At the Olive Tree, children aged five and up take photos of their homework and upload it to send to their teachers. The teachers can then look at various parts of the work and give direct voice feedback, rather than correcting copy books, which improves the quality of the feedback.
Even this may change in the coming years, as it’s expected that before long, schools will be able to use AI to mark and grade homework and other classwork, as machine learning and language processing improve. AI will also be able to co-create individual syllabi for students according to their interests and needs.
But while we’ve heard about fears of AI taking our jobs, in most cases – like with teaching – it will play a secondary role. Speaking at Learnovate, Jim Butler of Fishtree said:
Teachers are teachers for a reason. Automation can’t make all the detailed social decisions that are needed in the classroom, but it can certainly help with creating classes, correcting homework, and with students and their parents struggling with homework.
Where the legwork is already done, teachers will have more time to focus on their students individually.
Although teachers won’t be replaced any time soon, it is possible that robots will form part of their back-up support. In Singapore, humanoid robots Pepper and Nao have been working as robotic teaching aides. Nao has even been working at a primary school in Birmingham, where it was used to support children who had autism by helping them to learn social cues. Robots could make social exchanges easier for children with autism by adjusting and simplifying their interactions.
Pepper and Nao are one example of how accessibility to education may improve in the coming years, but as learning moves increasingly online, today more people across the world are able to access as much free education as they could ever need. As access to internet improves both in Ireland and elsewhere in the world, so too will the ability to learn.
The quality of this education is also likely to improve as trainable AI will be able to observe a physical class and then create a template for the online version of the course. This could also include immersive AR and VR experiences, such as those offered by Google Expeditions, which take a class on school tour without ever leaving the classroom. Now that we are living and working for longer, online lifelong learning is more likely to become a requirement rather than an option to keep up in the workplace.
As we know, education and learning are vitally important for making our way in the world. The content of that education as well as the way it is delivered is being impacted by technology and changes in our working lives.
However, it is likely that Ireland will have to mend some of the issues with the system we have currently – which include having some of the largest school class sizes in the developed world, patchy internet access, time-strapped teachers and high costs for parents and families – before we can start to fully realise the benefits of digitally-enhanced education.