LOS ANGELES — In Minecraft, you can build just about anything you want, unless those things happen to be different enemies, behaviors or scenarios. Modders cracked the Minecraft software and started adding onto it long ago, but doing so it not easy for the average user, which is why Microsoft has begun to add simple, no-nonsense modification ("modding") options that let players tweak Minecraft with only a modicum of programming know-how.
To show us how the authorized-modding options worked, a Microsoft representative showed us a quick level he'd created that was populated by creepers, Minecraft's signature exploding green bad guys. With a quick trip into Microsoft Paint, he altered a creeper's image file to give it googly eyes and gym clothes. Then, he opened the JSON script and tweaked the creeper's speed. As soon as he closed and reopened the session, the silly-looking creeper zoomed around the stage, giving the rep no time to react before it exploded right on top of him.
By adjusting a few simple values — height, width, speed and so forth — users can create very different variations on their favorite creatures simply by adjusting a few numbers in a text editor. If they want to get slightly more ambitious, users can even swap enemy behaviors. This involves some copying and pasting, but it's still well within the grasp of anyone who's ever programmed an HTML page.
The representative took the creeper protocols, opened up the JSON document that controlled the behavior of chickens, then swapped a few parameters. When he loaded up the game again and spawned a whole field full of chickens, he lit one on fire. Seconds later, the entire flock of poultry erupted into a cataclysmic explosion. It's not hard to see how important this functionality could be.
Budding script kiddies with a little time on their hands could make some even more radical changes to the enemies without the modding tool. Microsoft showed off how it created a whole race of alien invaders, and black-suited G-Men to fight the aliens, using nothing more than existing character models, some height and behavior modification, and whole lot of time and effort.
While Microsoft's modding tool is not that robust yet, there still seems to be a lot a creative player could do, and Microsoft hopes to implement even more modding abilities in the future. The initial update will hit sometime this fall, and while Microsoft has no plans for an in-game editor, it does plan to make documentation available to show average users how to manipulate JSON files.
Better still: If the modders screw up, they can just delete their attempted mods, and the game will repopulate the defaults automatically.