As promised with its teaser from Build 2019, Microsoft has unveiled the details for its augmented reality version of Minecraft for smartphones last May 17.
The company published a new trailer for the game, which has a rather similar feel to the trailer Niantic originally produced for Pokémon GO. And, like the aforementioned classic, the video presents a somewhat embellished vision of what the game will offer.
First, the trailer starts with multiple players interacting with tabletop and life-sized Minecraft creations in the real world and, in another nod to Pokémon GO, we see the people encountering creatures and items out on the streets of their neighborhood.
The trailer doesn’t reveal any gameplay, but the website for the game clarifies what players can expect. In this AR version of Minecraft (which does not connect to the existing version of Minecraft), players can create their Minecraft lands in AR and build together in multiplayer mode. They will also be able to collect resources and encounter mobs (and battle combative mobs) in the real world, with new breeds of creatures debuting in the game as well.
Tom Stone, creative communications assistant with Mojang (the Minecraft developer that Microsoft acquired in 2014) wrote in a blog post:
“We can think of no better way to celebrate our tenth anniversary than by finally being able to tell you about our… augmented reality mobile game! This is Minecraft like you’ve never experienced it before, allowing you to give your day-to-day life a Minecraft makeover!”
The spatial awareness and multiplayer capabilities of the game are supplied not by ARKit or ARCore, but via Azure Spatial Anchors, Microsoft’s own toolkit for cross-platform augmented reality that works on iOS, Android, and the HoloLens.
A closed beta of the game will arrive this summer, and interested players can sign up for updates on the game’s website, as well as for consideration to be included in the beta. As a perk for signing up, players will receive a free skin for Minecraft Earth and Minecraft Bedrock.
To participate, players will need a device with at least iOS 10 or Android 7.0 (which means that ARKit and ARCore aren’t required) and a Microsoft or Xbox Live account. The sign-up process also implies that Minecraft Earth will be a free-to-play game, while the FAQs page confirms there will be no loot boxes (randomized in-game prizes).
When the game is released to the public, Microsoft will go with a gradual global rollout, but it promises the game will eventually be available worldwide.
With this reveal, thankfully, Microsoft has taken a less cryptic approach compared to Niantic, which released three teaser videos before even giving a glimpse of gameplay. Then again, Microsoft originally teased Minecraft AR with HoloLens several years ago, so even this is a long time coming!
But will it be as successful as Pokemon Go?
Pokémon Go saw 20 million people searching for pokémon in streets worldwide back in 2016, thanks to augmented reality. Minecraft has 91 million active players, and now Microsoft wants to take the Pokémon Go concept a big step further by letting Minecraftplayers create and share whatever they’ve made in the game with friends in the real world, away from TV screens and monitors.
Microsoft’s Kinect Director, Alex Kipman said:
”Minecraft Earth proposes to completely break the dogma that has lived with us in computing since the beginning: this idea of a single person that holds a single device to create a single experience.
With Minecraft Earth, that’s no longer the case. The content is in the real world.”
Imagine sitting at home and building something in Minecraft on your phone and then dropping it into your local park for all of your friends to see it together at the same exact location. Minecraft Earth aims to transform AR gaming from single-person experiences into a living, breathing virtual world that’s shared by everyone. If Microsoft succeeds, you’ll be able to walk into a mall and point your phone’s camera at a McDonald’s Minecraftadventure while you’re eating a Big Mac or see your own giant structures next to actual buildings.
Torfi Olafsson, game director of Minecraft Earth, explains:
“This is an adaptation, this is not a direct translation of Minecraft.
If you like building Redstone machines, or you’re used to how the water flows, or how sand falls down, it all works…We have tried to stay very true to the kind of core design pillars of Minecraft, and we’ve worked with the design team in Stockholm to make sure that the spirit of the game is carried through.”
Just like Pokémon Go, you’ll need to venture out into the real world to collect things. Instead of pokéstops, Minecraft Earth has “tapables” that are randomly placed in the world around you. There are always two nearby, and you can walk to get more. These are designed to give you small rewards that allow you to build things, and you’ll want to collect as many of these as possible to get resources and items to build vast structures in the building mode.
Olafsson continued to explain:
“We have covered the entire planet in Minecraft.
Every lake is a place you can fish, every park is a place you can chop down trees. We’ve actually taken maps of the entire world and converted them to Minecraft.”
To date, multiplayer mobile AR hasn’t quite caught fire, despite the support for the capability via ARKit and ARCore. But, due to the franchise’s popularity, Minecraft Earth has the potential to be the first game to offer multiplayer mobile AR and achieve mainstream success at the same time, which would, in turn, give Microsoft a big win for its Azure Spatial Anchors solution. And, because Spatial Anchors is a cross-platform solution, that dream of Minecraft on HoloLens could someday become a reality.