Augmented reality (AR) technology has come a long way since Pokémon Go launched in 2016, and now one of the biggest games of the last decade is joining the ranks. Microsoft has announced Minecraft Earth, an upcoming mobile game that brings the blocky construction set into the real world.
Microsoft has been flirting with bringing augmented reality to Minecraft since E3 2015, when it showed off a demo that used the HoloLens AR headset to project this virtual Lego-like world over the real world objects, with some pretty cool results. But four years on, the HoloLens is still not commercially available, and looks to be prohibitively expensive for the average user in its current form.
Meanwhile, AR technology in phones has advanced to the point where anybody can see and interact with virtual characters stamped onto the real world. Google and Apple have animated stickers that can be used in their camera apps, and Pokémon Go has been recently updated to allow players to catch and photograph the critters as though they were really there.
Minecraft Earth wisely takes that experience off the exclusive HoloLens and brings it to the smartphone masses. It sounds like it plays like a mix of vanilla Minecraft and location-based games like Pokémon Go – players wander the real world looking for points of interest to collect resources, which they can then use to build stuff.
Your building canvas starts off miniature, scaled down so you can build a house or scene on a table, like you would with a Lego set. Once you have it just how you want it, you can then walk down to your local park and plonk down that creation into the real world, where it scales up to life-size. These buildings are then persistent within the game and locked to a location, so any other players who happen to visit the park can admire and build on (or dismantle) your handiwork.
The creatures that roam the Minecraft world are also accounted for. Microsoft is mum on the exact details of how it works, but it sounds like harmless critters like chickens and pigs can be found, bred, and added to your builds. A survival mode of some sort is happening too, meaning you'll have to fight off more aggressive creatures like Creepers or Endermen in some way.
Regular Minecraft is best played with friends, so of course Minecraft Earth has some collaborative elements to it. It sounds like multiple players in one spot can all build together, as well as undertake adventures and challenges of some kind.
While many have tried to ape the success of Pokémon Go in the last few years, Minecraft Earth seems like the game with the best chance of replicating that gleeful few months in mid-2016, when parks around the world were full of people trying to catch 'em all.
Although there's no official release window just yet, Minecraft Earth is due to enter a limited public beta in coming months. If we were to hazard a guess, we'd tentatively suggest that the game will launch by the end of the year. When it does, it will be available on AR-compatible iOS and Android devices.
Check out the game in action in the video below.
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