The Minecraft team at Microsoft has finally taken the wraps off a new mobile augmented reality game. It’s called Minecraft Earth, and it’s going to bring an augmented reality (or AR) Minecraft world to your Android or iOS smartphone later this year.
I was among the lucky few to try an early version of Minecraft Earth. Here’s what I learned.
Minecraft Earth requires augmented reality
Pokémon Go is often called an AR game, but its blend of the virtual and real is light and optional. Yes, you can see Pokémon appear in the world through your camera, yet you also have the option to turn that off entirely. Augmented reality is not a requirement.
MinecraftEarth is different. The game requires use of augmented reality because it always maps in-game elements to the real world. An overworld map based off Open Street Maps data exists, but when it comes time to see Minecraft come to life, you have no fallback option. You must use your camera, and you must hold your phone up to play.
The overworld will look familiar
Minecraft Earth lets you explore a virtual world built on Open Street Maps data of our real world. The graphics are given a bit of blocky Minecraft paint, but the overall look and feel of the overworld map isn’t far off previous games in this genre. It’s full of things you can tap for rewards when GPS says you’re close enough (I was told the range will be about 70 meters). These are officially called “tapables.”
Like Pokémon Go and other competitors, Minecraft Earth will be making some judgement calls about where game objects should be located. They will appear only in “public” spaces, and will avoid private residence, businesses, or places that could be dangerous, like busy roads.
Tapables reward you with blocks, items, or animals. There’s a variety of rarities, from common cobblestone to very rare obsidian.
The augmented reality adventures are unique
Tapables are only one thing you’ll find on the map. You’ll also encounter Adventures, and that’s where Minecraft Earth starts to set itself apart.
Adventures are essentially mini-games that are linked to a specific real-world location. You might be walking through a park and see an Adventure appear. Walk up to it and you’ll see, through your phone, some Minecraft blocks on the ground. You can walk up to mine them, and when you do, you might uncover a cave with skeletons to kill or a puzzle to solve.
All this happens in AR through your phone, so what’s happening in the game mirrors reality. If you want to dodge an enemy’s arrow, you must move. If you want to pick up loot sitting twenty feet away, you must walk there. There’s no shortcuts or alternatives to playing in AR.
You can play at home, too
You find Tapables in the real world, and Adventures as well. Does that mean you have to stop playing when you get home?
Nope! Minecraft Earth lets you play in your living room by throwing down a Build Plate. That’s where the blocks you collected on your commute or a walk through the nearest park can be used to build a home, a castle, or a dungeon.
Build Plates map themselves to a flat surface in your play space (a table, in most cases) and give you a god’s eye view for easy editing. However, you can blow up the Build Plate to life-size scale to experience what your creation looks like from a first-person perspective.
You can also invite friends to visit your Build Plate, though only so long as they’re in the same room as you. There’s no online multi-player in the traditional sense. And make sure your friends are trustworthy because, like with a normal Minecraftserver, they change the build plate when they visit.
It’s free-to-play, and micro-transaction details are slim
Minecraft Earth will be a free-to-play game. Microtransactions will certainly be a part of the experience, but details about what will be sold and how much it will cost remain thin. The developers of course promise the game won’t be “pay to win.” However, since the game is almost entirely cooperative – there’s no PvP of any kind – it’s unclear what the lack of “pay to win” will mean in practice.
The developers say the game won’t have loot boxes.
It runs the Bedrock engine
Despite its differences, Minecraft Earth still runs the same Bedrock engine that’s used in Minecraft. It’s an important point, and one the developers took care to maintain. The vanilla game is now 10 years old and has a huge fan base that’s come to know and love certain in-game oddities, like the specific way water flows, or how redstone switches work.
All that knowledge you’ve retained from Minecraft continues to apply in the mobile game. MinecraftEarth does have a few unique blocks and mobs, but they’re variations instead of all-new mechanics. You might run across a “Muddy Pig” that loves mud like no pig you’ve seen before, but it otherwise looks and acts like any other Minecraft pig.
Can you craft?
Yes, you can. The game will drop the traditional three-by-three grid for simple recipes, but the recipes will be familiar to Minecraft players. With that said, exact details about what can and can’t be crafted, and the materials required, haven’t been made public yet.
Can you use mods?
No, you can’t. Mod support has not been ruled out in the future, but it’s not planned for launch and there’s no timeline for when it might be included.
Is cross-play supported?
No. Minecraft Earth may use the same Bedrock game engine as Minecraft, but it’s a very different game in most respects. You can’t play with people playing vanilla Minecraft and you can’t import or export creations from Minecraft Earth to Minecraft.
Can you play on HoloLens?
The Minecraft team previously announced a HoloLens version of the game. The experience working on that helped inform the team working on Minecraft Earth, but the two games are separate entities and there’s no plan to make Minecraft Earthavailable on Microsoft HoloLens or HoloLens 2.
You’ll need a beefy phone
The game’s recommended technical specifications aren’t official, but I tried the game on a selection of Apple hardware that, to my eye, appeared to be the latest Apple iPhone XS. Playing the game caused the phone to become quite warm, a good indication that it was using all it had to render Minecraft Earth.
Augmented reality games tend to be demanding. They run best on relatively new hardware. They also drain battery life quickly. There’s no reason to think Minecraft Earth will be different. You’ll want a recently released phone for the best experience, and don’t forget to bring a portable battery.
When is the beta, and how do I join?
The closed beta will launch “this summer” on both iOS and Android. Entry will be limited, though the developers expect they’ll be able to invite “hundreds of thousands” of players over time, so your chances are good. You’ll also receive a free character skin if you sign up for the beta.
Minecraft, which launched 10 years ago for the PC, has sold more than 176 million copies, which possibly makes it the best-selling video game of all time.
Microsoft announced the milestone in an Xbox Wire post that celebrates Minecraft‘s 10th birthday. Despite being around for a decade, the game’s popularity remains strong, helped by its presence in practically all video game platforms available.
At more than 176 million copies sold, Minecraft may be the best-selling video game of all time. Tetris is considered its closest rival, but it is difficult to compare the two games due to the different versions of the block-matching puzzler.
According to Windows Central, past iterations of Tetris, not including the free-to-play versions, have sold 70 million copies, which was reported in 2009. Electronic Arts then said that the mobile version reached 100 million copies sold in 2010, before adopting a free-to-play model. There may be some overlap, but even if the two figures are combined, they will come up short to Minecraft‘s reported copies sold.
There are estimates that suggest Tetris has been downloaded more than 500 million times, but with the different spin-offs, it is hard to keep track and make a direct comparison with Minecraft. The better comparison would be the also still wildly popular Grand Theft Auto V, which has sold about 110 million copies after launching in 2013.
In celebration of the milestone, Microsoft also announcedMinecraft Earth, a free-to-play augmented reality game for mobile phones that looks to bring the game’s mechanics into the real world. It looks to better utilize AR technology compared to Pokémon Go, while staying true to the world-building experience with the same Bedrock engine used in all other versions of the game.
Minecraft Earth will feature microtransactions, but details on that remain scarce. The developers claim that it will not be a pay-to-win game, but that is also unclear because there will be no player vs. player mode in the mobile game.
The closed beta for Minecraft Earth will launch this summer on both iOS and Android. Microsoft seemingly has more in store for Minecraft‘s 10th birthday though, so fans of the franchise should stay tuned.
“Minecraft” may be one of the best-selling video games of all time – with more than 154 million copies purchased to date – but the developers haven't stopped building more into the game.
Acquired by Microsoft in 2014, developer Mojang has just launched Village & Pillage, a free update that adds a plethora of new goodies to “Minecraft,” for both the Java and Bedrock versions of game, which includes Windows PC ($26.95 and $26.99 for PC and Macintosh), mobile (iOS and Android, $6.99), Xbox One ($19.99) and Nintendo Switch ($29.99), and virtual reality platforms.
Before we get into what’s new and newsworthy in this new update, take in these additional facts about the world-renowned building simulation, released ten years ago this month: more people are playing “Minecraft” than ever before at about 91 million unique players every month (across all platforms); more than 160 million people have watched more than 5 billion hours of Minecraft video content on YouTube; and not only is “Minecraft” one of the best-selling games in history, but also one of the highest-rated, with the PC version netting a 93% average “metascore” at Metacritic.com.
Building better ‘Minecraft' villages
As the name suggests, villages have changed quite a bit and are among the highlights in this latest ‘Minecraft' update.
Visually, villages will look different based on biome, or region – plains, desert, savannah, taiga, and so forth – therefore you can expect to see changes based on climate and local resources. In fact, villages are now generated differently, so the layout and architecture of the village will vary.
Villages are generated differently now in ‘Minecraft,' and enjoy a new look and gameplay elements tied to each biome, or region. (Photo: Mojang/Microsoft)
Along with new building types, villagers also look more unique, with clothing that matches the biome they’re in, as well as their level and profession. With the latter, villagers now learn a trade when near a job site block, such as a Blacksmith, Librarian, Butcher, Cartographer and Shepherd, to name a few.
Villagers go about their business with a specific routine – from bed to work to socializing with others – and with better “pathfinding” artificial intelligence, too.
There are other additions, too, such as Masons and Nitwit villagers, kids who play tag, and more.
Prepare to fend off Pillagers
Want to pick a fight? Even if you don’t, you might be forced to defend yourself from an angry mob in the “Minecraft” Village & Pillage update.
While not too bright, the crossbow-wielding pillagers will disrupt the villagers’ daily lives, by attacking them in small groups, at fortified outposts, and will plunder indiscriminately throughout the land. Unlike skeletons, these pillagers may not be smart enough to move out of the way of your return fire; their aim isn’t the best; and they’ll often hurt each other with friendly fire (and say “Ow!”).
What’s better than a bow? A crossbow, of course. This is the main new weapon found in the ‘Village & Pillage’ update for ‘Minecraft.' (Photo: Mojang/Microsoft)
But what they lack in brains they make up for in tenacity. Pillagers will respawn in large outpost towers and swarm and destroy villagers in their path. So, keep a shield handy to minimize damage from an onslaught of arrows.
Once you clear them out, you can score some loot. Players who successfully defend a village from a raid will receive some fireworks and the Hero of the Village effect, which provides a deep discount on trades with villagers (see below). And if you take out a pillager captain – the ones with the banners on their backs – you’ll be rewarded with a triggered raid when you enter a village.
Along with pillagers, there are other new mobs in this update, including chubby pandas, stray cats, Ravagers (a powerful new mob), and some other surprises.
Trading up in the ‘Minecraft' update
As previously mentioned, there are new occupations in each village you visit, and that means new opportunities for trading.
When villagers make trades, they gain experience. Gain enough experience and they level up. Leveling up unlocks new trades. You get the idea.
Villagers now have a new visual-based trading system and will hold up an item they wish to trade if the player is holding something they want.
Also new is Wandering Traders, which are mysterious salesmen – flanked by a llama on each side of him – who deal items from several different biomes, often with rare materials, and offering up to six randomly generated trades. These special characters stay alive at night by drinking invisibility potions. And their loyal llamas spit at mobs if approached.
The latest ‘Minecraft’ update adds several new professionals to the game, including cartographer, librarian, butcher, and, shown here, the stone mason. (Photo: Mojang/Microsoft)
Bamboo, berries and bells
There are dozens of other new features (and fixes) in the Village & Pillage update. Here are a few more worthy features:
•Like bamboo? Then you’ll love the update as there’s plenty of it in two new biomes: bamboo jungle and bamboo jungle hills. You can not only chop it down easily by hitting it with a sword, but also combine it with string to make scaffolding in building structures.
•Several new blocks now pop up, including a variety of slabs, stairs, and walls. New textures have been added to blocks, too, such as stained glass. And there are new job site blocks that assign trades to jobless villagers.
•As you might expect, crossbows offer many benefits over a regular bow: the weapon enjoys higher damage (and can pierce multiple enemies), plus it reloads faster, and can also shoot fireworks.
•Other additions include a bell you can ring to warn villagers of an impending attack or danger – so they run inside and hide; campfires, which serve as a light source or to cook meat; Sweet Berries, a new source of food found in taiga biomes; seven new Achievements including one for killing a pillager captain; and some accessibility features such as text to speech, which can now be enabled to read in-game chat.
“Minecraft” creator Marcus “Notch” Persson, who sold the title to Microsoft for $2.5 billion in 2014, won’t be part of 10-year anniversary plans for the game because of his “comments and opinions,” Microsoft tells Variety.
“His comments and opinions do not reflect those of Microsoft or Mojang and are not representative of ‘Minecraft,” a Microsoft spokesperson told Variety.
The spokesperson also noted that Persson hasn’t been involved with “Minecraft” since he sold the studio and rights to the game in 2014.
Persson, once an involved member of the video game development community, has increasingly ostracized himself with his Twitter comments, including transphobic statements and comments about a “heterosexual pride day,” and that “it’s ok to be white.” Persson has about 3.7 million followers on Twitter.
An update to the game last month removed loading screen text on “Minecraft” that referenced Persson. Microsoft didn’t comment about the decision to remove the reference last month.
But speaking with Variety this week, a Microsoft official confirmed that Persson would not take part in a press event at Minecraft studio Mojang in Stockholm to celebrate the May 17. The event will look at the “past, present and exciting future of the decade-old franchise,” according to the company.
“Minecraft” is a seminal video game. With more than 91 million monthly players, the building and survival game is the second best-selling video game in history, behind “Tetris.”
The Buddhas of Bamyan were two monumental statues carved into the side of a cliff in Bamyan Valley, central Afghanistan, during the 6th century. Though constructed directly from the sandstone itself, sculptors fashioned some of the more intricate details out of mud, straw, and carefully coated stucco. At 115 and 174 feet tall, they both stood as towering tributes to Buddha.
In March 2001, the Taliban destroyed both statues, reducing centuries of history and ancient expression—both artistic and religious—to rubble. It was a blow that will reverberate throughout the generations that will never get to experience its glory firsthand.
Many war-affected countries harbor similar stories of loss while younger generations miss out on not only the majesty but also the chance to truly place the deep cultural significance of these pillars. That is why the History Blocks project was launched in February.Minecraft | History Blocks
With the support of the United Nations agency UNESCO, History Blocks allows students to collaboratively rebuild monuments that were destroyed during conflicts in the Middle East. The interactive program takes place within Microsoft’s Minecraft Education Edition platform. With the help of their teachers—and subjects like math, history, and government—students can “restore” notable landmarks like the Buddhas of Bamyan or the Temple of Bel within the legendary Minecraft world.
Developed by agency Africa in São Paulo, History Blocks is available to schools in over 30 countries. The team behind the project’s development hopes to expand to other nations, which would continue to close the gap between today’s generation and these relics.
“Unfortunately, many monuments have been destroyed by wars and conflicts … monuments which are a part of and tell our history,” said Sergio Gordilho, Africa’s Co-president and CCO. “Since we are unable to rebuild these monuments in the real world, at least we could make it so in the digital world.”
Running such a program under a name as widely recognizable as Minecraft further exemplifies the versatility of a video gaming industry that continues to battle a negative, violent perception. Lending a platform to such a pedagogic effort provides another inextricable link between video games and education.
“Technology is a tool to transform education and bring to life methods that used to be unthinkable when it comes to teaching,” said Daniel Maia, manager for academic projects at Microsoft Brazil. “The project on the UNESCO’s world heritage sites opens the door for students all over the world to study important monuments of our history.”
Microsoft has something big in store for Minecraft fans. The company used the start of Build 2019 to offer a teaser for an augmented reality Minecraftexperience for phones. The clip doesn't say much about what the experience entails, although it's safe to say you won't be building entire virtual worlds in your neighborhood — the limitations of the real world will likely dictate what you can do.
The teaser promises more info on May 17th. This isn't going to be as slick as the HoloLens take on Minecraft, but it might not have to be. If anything, this could be an introduction to AR for kids and other curious gamers who might otherwise be unfamiliar with the technology and what it can do.
Catch up on all the latest news from Build 2019 here!