Minecraft Earth: Block Building Game Moves Into The Real World
  • Minecraft Earth: Block Building Game Moves Into The Real World

    Admin 0 0 91 Date: 17 May 2019
  • Microsoft has launched an augmented reality version of the bestselling game, which follows Pokémon Go on to the streets

    Since its beta launch in 2009, the blocky, world-building adventure game Minecraft has been released on more than 20 different platforms, from PC to consoles to mobile phones, selling 176m copies. Now it’s heading somewhere new: the real world.

    News of a Minecraft AR (augmented reality) app leaked a few weeks ago, but now Microsoft has officially announced Minecraft Earth. It is being developed at the company’s Redmond campus, using an array of its mobile, GPS and tracking technologies.

    Minecraft Earth is best pictured as Pokémon Go with building blocks. When you enter the game, you see an overhead map of your surroundings (Microsoft is working with StreetMap), overlaid with the quaint blocky look of the Minecraft world. You can walk to locations or buildings on the map and tap them to mine for building blocks. These go into your inventory and let you start constructing your own models.

    This construction is the really interesting part. Find any flat area in the real world – a table, the pavement, a field – and you can start constructing on a virtual Build Plate. A familiar Minecraft inventory screen lets players select blocks, point the phone at where you want to put them, and tap the screen to place them down. “It’s the full Minecraft experience,” says art director Brad Shuber. “We didn’t reduce it, we didn’t remove features – it has [enemy] mobs and it’s completely multiplayer. It’s specifically designed to bring people together, not just through the game, but through physical proximity.”

    Just as in standard Minecraft, you can build a simple house quickly and easily, but the house is sitting there on your living-room table. You can walk around it and look at it from all angles through your phone display, and if you walk through a wall of the building, your camera will show you the interior. You can then save this build and place it on any similarly sized flat surface, or even send a link to a friend, who can download it, view and edit it. (This won’t affect your original build: no one can sabotage your masterpiece.)

    During a demo of Minecraft Earth at developer Mojang’s office in Stockholm, Shuber placed his own build of a tall, intricate castle on the reception area pool table. With other journalists, I was able to investigate the model through an iPhone X display, peer inside its rooms, and even watch miniature Minecraft sheep and pigs wandering around it. The dollhouse effect is almost magical: it feels like interacting with a living piece of Minecraft sculpture.

    Cleverly, players are able to alter the scale of their models depending on the particular space. If you’re at home, you’ll want your cobblestone mansion to fit on the living-room rug, but if you’re in the park, you can increase the scale of your model so that it will fill an area up to 32 metres square, creating the possibility of Minecraft mansions big enough to walk inside. By invitation, friends or passersby can collaborate on a build. It’s also possible to place a copy of your avatar in or on your model as a kind of signature. As long as you have enough phones (or tablets with SIM cards), this is going to be a fascinating new family activity.

    On the GPS map, you’ll also see Adventure zones. Visit one of these, and you can point your camera display at the pavement, then tap on the screen to virtually smash the slabs, revealing a hidden Minecraft mine beneath the surface, teeming with skeletons to shoot with a crossbow. Beat all the enemies, and you’re rewarded with useful stuff, likely to be blocks, weapons and armour. If any other players turn up at the same quest, you can all take on the challenge together, and everyone gets the same rewards.

    Everything is viewed through your phone display rather than a more immersive virtual or augmented-reality headset, but you soon get used to wafting your phone around to orient yourself. Being surrounded by familiar Minecraft objects and architecture rendered lifesize is thrilling, as is seeing skeleton warriors running at you. The theatrical effect is enhanced by the way you can interact with the scenery, pulling levers or triggering traps by standing on a floorplate.

    The game also replicates Minecraft experiences in real-world places. Pass a river, for example, and you’ll be able to load the app, select a fishing rod and catch some fish. Bump into a sheep, pig or other mob during an adventure and you’ll be able to collect and domesticate them.

    Minecraft Earth has no set release date yet but a closed beta beginning this summer. It will be playable for free, with optional in-game purchases – such as, to make an educated guess, ready-made builds or avatar skins. Though Pokémon Go’s popularity has faded somewhat since its spectacular launch in 2016, its success – with more than 800m downloads so far – shows how powerful it can be when beloved fictional universes are mashed up with the real world in augmented reality. If you are having trouble escaping Minecraft now, it’s going to be much harder next year.




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