(Pocket-lint) - With the mighty success of Pokemon Go, Wizards Unite and other augmented reality games, it stands to reason that software giant Microsoft wants a slice of that action. After all, it owns one of the biggest brands in gaming: Minecraft.
It bided its time, but is now in the process of capitalising on the popularity of AR for its latest block-building mobile release, Minecraft Earth.
But what is Minecraft Earth? How does it work? And do you really have to stand in a park all day creating something on your phone? Read on to find out.
What is Minecraft Earth?
Microsoft's Minecraft Earth is a block building and adventure game, much like the existing Minecraft for PC, consoles and mobile devices. Where it differs is that it is solely designed for Android and iOS and uses augmented reality to overlay Minecraft creations onto the real world.
You can use your smartphone to build creations anywhere you like, placing them in parks, streets, even around and on top of your home. Then, other Minecraft Earth users can hold up their phones and view them.
It's not just a solo experience. You can collaborate on builds with friends or fellow 'crafters, with each of you using a tablet or phone to build and view the ongoing project.
And, if you're worried about having to stand in a park for hours to build a masterpiece, don't be - you can build something at home and then place it anywhere outside you like: "Work on a smaller scale with friends before taking your builds out into the wild at full size," as Microsoft put it during the game's unveiling.
There are adventure and collection elements too, with the ability to battle Mobs (creatures that inhabit the world of Minecraft) either placed by the game or other players. Once found and collected, you can then place your own Mobs in Minecraft Earth builds, and record your collection in your journal.
Minecraft Earth gameplay and exclusive content
Minecraft Earth is much like Pokémon Go, in that it revolves around you walking around the real world, with a map view on your phone, interacting with randomly generated instances of Minecraft constructions in AR when you happen upon them.
Plus, if you simply want to build things, you can do so at your leisure before placing them "into" the real world. There are also adventures to select, giving you specific goals and boxes to tick. Thanks to the most recent game update, and given the restrictions on movement many of us are living with, you can now select these from your home, meaning that you don't have to walk around in order to find them.
The game is just as immersive and fun as the early demos we saw when the game was announced at WWDC indicated.
As you can see above, the developers are playing around a castle, which they could choose to shrink and grow at will. As first, it was small and Lego-sized, sat on a tablet, but was then moved onto the stage floor and resized into a life-size building.
However, an iOS-exclusive feature was then revealed as one of the developers was automatically cut-out and placed inside the Minecraft Earth world. This is thanks to a new feature in Apple's ARKit 3.0: people occlusion.
The software automatically detects humans and can place them in a 3D space, placing virtual objects behind, to the sides and in front. This would usually have to be implemented by the developer manually. In addition, the ARKit tools can automatically recognise gestures for full, automated motion capture.
The Minecraft avatar in the demo, therefore, moved in sync with the player. We're not yet sure when this feature will be added to the game. Other gameplay videos made by people playing the closed beta appeared online and that's closer to what you'll find in the game you can now download.
Where is it available?
Minecraft Earth started as a closed beta on iOS and Android, for select users that signed up on the dedicated pre-registration page. The app is now available to download on the App Store and Google Play store, so long as your region has access to the stores.
What platforms is Minecraft Earth available for?
Both Android and iOS are supported. You will need a device that is capable of running a decent AR experience, though.
Some of the features, such as the iOS-exclusive people occlusion discussed above, will need more recently released handsets.
How much does it cost?
The Minecraft Earth is completely free, with all paid elements locked-off in the closed beta (but might soon become available in the early access build). The full version will be a free-to-play game, meaning you can download it at no cost and use it as often as you like without hidden fees.
However, while Microsoft is yet to fully detail in-app purchasing there will be a store to purchase extra Mobs and skins. There will be no loot boxes though, so you will get exactly what you paid for - no gambling aspect at all.
Minecraft Earth more information
You can find out more information about the game from the official website here.