Hands on with the Minecraft Earth (Beta)
Written by John Whall (@John_Whall) – QUAD Digital Participation Curator
Minecraft Earth is the eagerly awaited mobile version of the hugely popular game Minecraft. Like the explosive Pokémon Go, the game uses GPS technology found in your smart phone to connect your real-world journeys to the in-game maps and features. What’s great about Minecraft Earth is it also uses Augmented Reality (AR) to allow you to build and create in real world locations through the game itself.
At QUAD we’ve been developing our Minecraft programme for the past few years, where we’ve used the game to creatively engage young people (and adults) with our exhibitions, as well as additional activities like Christmas card making and even Virtual Reality (VR) exploration. So, we’re excited to see how this new mobile version of the game can be used creatively by players young and old.
Only having a brief hands-on with the beta so far, there’s a lot of familiarity here if you’ve ever played games like Pokémon Go or the new Harry Potter Wizards Unite games. The game consists of two main modes: exploration and creation. In exploration, players utilise walking in the real world to move your character around the game world, interacting with ‘collectables’ which will be familiar to anyone who’s ever seen anything Minecraft related. The collectables give you resources relevant to the item itself and additional xp and rubies (will come to these later) to aid your progression in the game. All these things help support the second part of the game, creation. In creation your phone camera presents the live background where you are for you to place ‘build plates’ in the environment for you to interact with. Build plates are your starting structures for creating new builds in this AR space. If you’ve levelled up through gaining xp and collectables, you will have more starting build plates to work with. However, you can also destroy the pre-built models and use the resources you’ve collected to build something new, in true Minecraft fashion. In the build plate menu, it indicates that you can build a new base plate or continue with one already established in the world using AR markers built into the technology of the game. However, this didn’t seem to work for me.
Being still in beta, I did experience a few hiccups. Long loading times between exploration and creative modes, GPS and network instability and not having all the content available. GPS instability did provide some fun when moving too fast in the real world is indicated by you travelling in a minecart in the game world. There’s also the typical GPS game issue of spatial and environmental awareness. Unlike Pokémon Go, where Pokémon only appear when you get close to them, Minecraft Earth shows you where the items are. Collectables are only interactable if they enter the circle surrounding the player character. While walking down the street with the game active, I did find my body being pulled towards collectables slightly outside the player circle, leaning me towards roads and other obstacles. Also be mindful that you will need a fairly new smart phone to play the game, as it uses new technology that only the most recent handsets have. Check here for compatible devices.
There’s also an aspect of how free are free-to-play games? Here’s where the rubies come in. These are found in game through interaction with collectables. In a 45-minute session with the game I managed to build up 10 rubies. With the first two purchasable base plates being 75 rubies, that’s not a bad goal to aim for. However, this quickly escalates to the next purchasable plate being 100 rubies, then 225, to the current max of 375 rubies. As a reminder, you also access other base plates through levelling up while playing the game. Rubies can also be purchase, with the cheapest number of rubies being £4.99 for 100 (+5 bonus). I can see a lot of people taking the grind route of walking around and interacting to build up these rubies, but like with most paid aspects of free-to-play games, it can become a little too easy to get caught out with transaction of real world money to in-game currencies. However, I do like to acknowledge developers with a purchase of in game currency if I like a game and play it a lot. It is free after all.
I can see Minecraft Earth really finding a place in the emerging GPS location-based games genre. It takes the familiar and both introduces a new way of playing for existing Minecraft fans, while making it accessible to those new to the game. Its great fun seeing the loveable game animals overlaid onto your work desk or outside your office and building in response to your environment is going to be interesting in relation to the development of build thinking from the desktop/tablet versions of the game. Here at QUAD, we’re excited to see how we can use this new version of the game in our gallery engagement work and recommend that you keep an eye out for events and activities on our website once the game goes live to all.
Minecraft building in the QUAD gallery anyone?
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