Minecraft Earth – the first Minecraft mobile AR game released: how it works and how it differs from Pokémon Go

Screenshot from the Minecraft Earth trailer Microsoft frame

At the MINECON event on September 28, Microsoft announced that Minecraft Earth was in early access since October. While this is not an official launch, the company plans to add new countries every week until the game is available worldwide until the end of 2019.

And talks about how the game works and how it differs from the already released Pokémon Go and Wizards Unite .

What is Minecraft Earth

Minecraft Earth is the first mobile game in the Minecraft universe with augmented reality. It was announced in May 2019, and the project arose from the Minecraft demo for the HoloLens mixed reality headset on E3 in 2015.

Minecraft demo for HoloLens at E3 2015 Microsoft Broadcast Screenshot

The gameplay of the main Minecraft was transferred to the game, but adapted it for mobile devices and augmented reality. Players can still build buildings and fight off monsters, but now in the real world and with reference to existing objects.

Like Pokémon Go, users will have to navigate the map to complete tasks and collect resources. But you can play without leaving your home.

How the game works and how it differs from competitors

Unlike other major AR games, Minecraft Earth does not require you to go outside. Users can play, for example, from home: buildings can be built on any flat surface, and resources can be collected on the entire accessible territory on the map without approaching them.

This may look like a map while walking at the maximum possible

So the developers have provided the opportunity to play for children and schoolchildren, among which Minecraft is especially popular. As Minecraft Earth executive producer Jesse Merriam told, children are usually not free to walk in the streets, and at school they cannot go to the next block to collect resources.

Therefore, the developers built the gameplay so that users do not always have to walk, but the game is still friendly to walkers. Walking around the city you can get more resources and participate in cooperative activities. At the same time, resources are limited: everything that players have at their disposal will have to earn on assignments or collect on the street.

For remote collection of resources, the map can be quite far removed, increasing the visibility to several kilometers

Minecraft Earth is built on the principle of free-2-play – the game does not need to be bought, but users can purchase internal currency to speed up pumping or get some advantages. However, there are no lootboxes in it, and the developers promise an “honest” monetization.

In the version for “early access”, shown in London, there were opportunities that were not in the closed beta. The main innovation was the cooperative multiplayer activity “Adventure”, which allows you to complete tasks with friends in full-scale locations in augmented reality.

Of me, the player in Minecraft Earth is not very good: I didn’t even immediately understand why I died

To activate it, just go to the special marked point on the map and click the “join” button. After that, the players will be taken to the general lobby, where they will be able to complete the task together.

In our case, everything looked unusual: in the middle of the park, a virtual location appeared that went underground. Of course, it was impossible to go down, but it was possible to fight with mobs from above or destroy structures below with explosives.

Probably from the side the game in Minecraft Earth may seem rather strange

But you can play with someone without the Adventures. Minecraft Earth allows you to build any building yourself or with friends, but access to the building will require permission. To issue it, it is enough to ask another user to point the smartphone to a special screen with a special QR code.

In Sandbox mode, users can do the same as in regular Minecraft, but in augmented reality. At the same time, there are already finished buildings to choose from, access to which opens depending on the level and the accumulated virtual currency.

In the first version of Minecraft Earth, buildings can only be saved on the user’s device, until they are placed on the global map for everyone. Buildings can be redeployed anywhere — only a flat surface is needed.

The game itself determines what kind of space is in front of it. 
If it is the floor in a small apartment, then the construction will decrease, and if the table – increase

Minecraft Earth Impressions

Minecraft Earth was probably my first experience playing Minecraft in the last 10 years. The last time I started the game in my school years and then it seemed to me so childish and pointless that I never returned to it.

I was expecting something similar from Minecraft Earth, so I was very surprised when the developers – two adult men under 40 – were constantly playing their own game with sincere interest. When I played Minecraft Earth myself, all doubts disappeared: it became clear that this game is interesting at any age.

One of the most interesting things in the game turned out to be cooperative mechanics. At the end of the event, Minecraft’s PR manager offered to record on video how I play from the side. Unfortunately, the record was never sent to me, but after a couple of minutes, the girl and I together carried some kind of virtual building on the table in the Microsoft store.

But what struck me the most was how augmented reality works in Minecraft Earth. The technology appeared quite a long time ago, but this is the first time that I saw such a neat and clear binding of virtual objects to the real world.

Minecraft Earth is arguably the most technologically advanced AR game at the moment.

The game allows you to build a virtual object, place it on a table and calmly walk through textures. The idea that through a virtual object you can always go in part is even tied to the gameplay: any virtual barrier is real until you break it or pass through it.

The tracking accuracy in Earth is amazing. During the game “Adventures”, a huge location was ideally fit into the real world, although the conditions for working with AR were clearly not the best – grass, shadows and uneven surfaces.

At the same time, there was no shaking, and the smartphone did not lose virtual reality, no matter how I moved with it. And the effect of going underground looked like real magic: the feeling was especially strange when you walk along the grass upstairs and there is an abyss under you.

In addition, in Adventures, players see the same virtual object in one place and can interact with it. And thanks to people’s neural networks, it is always visible even through textures – the system highlights them, probably so that players do not accidentally collide with each other.

During the press tour, the developers said that they use standard ARKit tools on iOS and ARCore for Android, but later Microsoft sent details about the technological part of Minecraft Earth. It turned out that the server part of the game runs on Azure PlayFab cloud technologies, and for cooperative activities they use Azure Spatial Anchors – the technology allows you to correctly position objects for all players without QR markers.

Due to the fact that the time of the demonstration was limited, and the closed beta did not reach St. Petersburg, I could not fully immerse myself in the game. But even after the first couple of hours he promised himself that he would definitely return to Minecraft Earth when it was released in Russia.

How to install Minecraft Earth

Microsoft launched closed testing of Minecraft Earth in the summer of 2019, but only residents of five cities around the world could participate in it. Now the company has released the game in “early access” and will begin to launch the project weekly in new countries with a world release at the end of the year.

The exact launch date in Russia is still unknown and officially the game is not yet available, but it is unlikely to have to wait long – the country is the second most popular for Minecraft in the whole world. At the same time, Android users can submit a preliminary application for registration in an earlier version or use informal installation methods.

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