As promised with its teaser from Build 2019, Microsoft has unveiled the details for its augmented reality version of Minecraft for smartphones.
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.
"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!" said Tom Stone, creative communications assistant with Mojang (the Minecraft developer that Microsoft acquired in 2014) in a blog post.
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!
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.