At MineCon this weekend, developers announced a brand new part of the game: Minecraft Earth Adventures. Recently, I went out to Seattle to play the game, try this new game mode, and speak to developers about its impending rollout. Here are my thoughts.
Similar to Pokémon Go, Minecraft Earth tracks you as walk around your city, spawning collectable resources called tappables, which contain build materials. What really sets it apart is Build Mode, where you can harvest materials and use what you’ve collected to build what you want in AR. You can join friends, spawn different mobs, and generally goof around. Once you’re satisfied with your work, you can load the build plate in Play Mode to explore it in life size.
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If this was the whole game it would be neat, but collecting materials via tappables would get pretty tedious. That’s where Minecraft Earth Adventures comes in. Adventures pop up on the map just like tappable resources, and selecting them brings you into a life size build plate, full of rare materials, animals, and yes, even enemies like creepers and skeletons.
Loading Adventures works a lot like loading build plates. When you select one on the map, you’re given the option to choose which items to bring in, and brought to a camera viewer, which lets you place the adventure in front of you. Once an adventure is loaded, you and anyone else who joined it with you can start interacting with it, fighting enemies and mining resources.
A Minecraft in its own right
The first Adventure we loaded into was a peaceful one. There wasn’t much to it at first, with only a few blocks stacked up. However, once we cleared the dirt on the ground away, we uncovered a large underground cave, complete with wooden structures, torches, and many different kinds of stone. Everyone playing went to work illuminating the dark areas and mining the cave out for resources.
Then someone dropped in a block of dynamite and lit the whole place on fire. (It was me. I did it.)
I spoke to Minecraft Earth Principal Program Manager Jessica Zahn about the game afterward:
AR is not super mainstream. It feels sometimes a little gimmicky — like not part of the core experience. That’s something we wanted to change with Minecraft Earth. We are not building another Minecraft you can play with a keyboard and mouse or with a controller.
A big part of that was making sure the experience was distinct from the more standard Minecraft gameplay, but Minecraft Earth Adventures felt complete in its own right.
Adventures bring new ways to interact with Minecraft Earth, and the experience strikes an interesting balance between new and familiar. When joining, we were given the choice of a number of classic Minecraft items and tools. I grabbed a pickaxe, a sword, and some arrows, among other things. It wasn’t clear exactly how to get the items in this build of the game, but the developers on hand said the game’s full crafting system will have launched by the time Adventures go live.
Minecraft Earth strikes an interesting balance between the new and the familiar.
While the items and visuals felt familiar, playing the Adventures felt unique. After loading into the adventure, we had to move around the space to see new part of the adventure.
You aim by moving your phone around to align with the crosshair floating in the center of the screen. This adventure was more geared more toward exploration and gathering materials, and there was plenty to explore. The cave was deep, with various levels and structures.
Balancing fun and foolishness
As you may have guessed from when I mentioned TNT, the developers of the game are also making an effort to make sure there’s plenty of room for mischief and lighthearted griefing, just like in regular Minecraft.
Zahn recounted a discussion with the manager handling Adventures:
[I said] what if you have a peaceful adventure and someone goes in and sets a trap that when you go into it lava dumps on your head and you die? And she asked “people will do that?” and I was like “They will do that.” And that’s cool, but also we should notify people on the entry screen that this is not pristine.
Striking that balance between attracting players who want a more relaxing, peaceful experience, and those competitive players who want to build creatively (and occasionally aggravatingly) is key. That’s why, for as much griefing as you can get away with, there are still mechanisms in place so no is left in the lurch.
Griefing is allowed in Minecraft Earth's design, but it isn't exactly encouraged.
Everything that’s collected in an adventure is shared between the people grouped together. Much like how with tappables, everyone who collects the same one on the map will get the same materials, this is meant to foster a degree of collaboration. When other people finding new stuff and surviving an adventure can benefit you, it makes being a serious obstacle less attractive. This is good, because the challenges in Adventures don’t just come from other players.
Keeping Minecraft Earth safe
The second adventure we joined was a little more involved. After the adventure plate was placed, the game spawned in a stone hut, which stood taller than any of the people playing and blocked our views of each other. The hut sat atop a deep mine, and as we started uncovering the area, we were attacked. This adventure had a combat element — creepers spawned at ground level around us and skeletons shot arrows up from the mine. With the right equipment, taking care of them was easy, but we were only prepared because the developers warned us.
Minecraft Earth learns from the early problems that plagued other AR games like Pokémon Go.
This level of combat isn’t terribly difficult, but it means you can fail out of an adventure if you aren’t careful. The game uses complex point clouds to map your environment and keep everything in the correct place, regardless of how you move. Enemies can spawn behind you, or otherwise out of view. You’ll have to move around and keep your head on a swivel to make sure there aren’t any creepers about.
That kind of gameplay means developers had to be very careful with placing Adventures. Due to the imprecision of GPS in urban areas, among other things, the range for tappables is 70 meters (~239 feet), so you can pick something up without needing to leave the sidewalk. However, Adventures require quite a bit more movement, so the requirements are a little more strict.
“We never want to place an Adventure near a street, because we don’t want people running out into the street. So we need to find ways to pick the safest places possible given the data that we have,” said Zahn.
Referencing the adventures from the demo she said:
You had enough room to maneuver and move around, [but] those were relatively small adventures. We’d like to have even bigger ones that take up more space and we need to make sure we have the right places to be able to put those.
Everything is placed algorithmically, but adventures require more wide open space, so they won’t pop up as often as tappables, which makes sense. Additionally there are a number of ways to report adventures for being unsafe places to play, or on private property, and so on. Zahn said the development team learned a lot from the early days of AR games like Pokémon Go, where trespassing and all manner of bad behavior were common, and they’re making a big effort to avoid running into those problems.
A bright future for Minecraft Earth
All told, it was a fairly short demo, but Adventures seemed to add a vital missing piece to Minecraft Earth. It brings a new layer of interactivity to game, rolling in further AR gameplay in way that feels authentically Minecraft.
Have any more questions about my experience with the game? Sound off in the comments, and hit the button below to head to the official Minecraft Earth website and sign up for the chance to be among the first to play Minecraft Earth before it launches sometime in 2019 (hopefully).