Minecraft Earth: what is the augmented reality construction game worth?
While the mobile game is about to be phased out in the world before the end of the year, Le Figaro was able to try the augmented reality version of Minecraft and meet its developers
As I explored an abandoned mine, the ground gave way under my feet. But it was not a trap: a friend had accidentally lit dynamite a few feet away from me. This is typically the kind of anecdote that Minecraft Earth , a mobile game developed by Microsoft, can offer . The trial version of the title has been available since September 29 in the United States and a handful of other countries, and will be phased out worldwide before the end of the year. It is an augmented reality adaptation, like Pokémon GO , of the famous construction game Minecraft. The title is like a huge Lego box where each element (object, animal, mineral, wood) can be collected and rearranged as desired. This mobile version is based on the same concept. Invited by Microsoft to its premises in London, Le Figaro tried it out.
First step, the map: it is the first thing that appears when you launch Minecraft Earth . This map shows the streets and neighborhoods of the user’s city in the real world, thanks to geolocation. The main arteries of London, such as Oxford Street, are thus represented by long dirt roads. The player’s avatar is a small cubic character, common to the world of Minecraft . The movements of this character are modeled on that of the player.
Although it is based on the real world, Minecraft Earth adds its touch of whimsy. So don’t be surprised if you come across a hen strutting in front of Buckingham Palace. The player can also interact with these animals but also with other objects, with a simple touch of the finger. These interactions bring in resources (wood and leaves for a tree, meat and feathers for a hen, etc.) but also experience points, which allow the player to level up.
The city also hides its share of secrets. From time to time, chests containing resources and “Rubies,” the in-game currency, appear on the map. These gems allow you to buy bonuses and customize your avatar. All game objects (blocks of wood, stone, weapons) are recorded in the player’s inventory. They come in handy when we dive into the heart of Minecraft Earth : the construction mode.
Get your hands dirty
In Microsoft’s game, it’s possible to stop at any time to build something, like a house or a tower. Each construction is based on a plinth, called a “Plateau”. The player will first have access to limited boards: eight blocks by eight for the first; sixteen by sixteen for the second from level 3, etc. “But the maximum height remains at 256 blocks,” said the developers. To start construction, you have to place your tray by pointing the phone towards a flat surface, whether it is a table or directly the ground.
This is when Minecraft Earth impresses the most: as soon as a board is installed, the elements that compose it come to life. For example, a hen will take a few steps to splash around in the water. The way the player can navigate the space is nice and smooth. Just turn around the area and tilt to change the angle, move away and come closer to zoom.
To build or destroy something, it’s simple: you have to aim at a block and tap on the screen. The player can also draw outlines by keeping the command pressed. But the “construction mode” lacks precision. Indeed, a piece of land quickly ends up landing where you do not expect it. The player must therefore approach and move away to polish his work, which can be painful for long projects.
In addition, Minecraft Earth is not yet that parallel world shown in the promotional videos, where the buildings of the players are seen on the horizon. At the moment, when a player leaves construction mode and returns to the map, they resume their construction site with them. Only players invited to the same game can enjoy a building. “We have not yet found the right solution to integrate this side ” parallel world explains the developers. “As it stands, this poses big problems of moderation.” Players have already drawn swastikas and male genders on Minecraft servers.
At Human scale
Despite these few flaws, Minecraft Earth revives the building pleasures of the original title. As in the main mode of the original title, it will take enough resources to complete even the most ambitious projects. In addition, the mobile game offers the possibility of cooperative building. Several players thus see the same site at the same time and have the possibility of modifying it. All damage and additions can be seen in real time. When the job is finished, the construction is saved.
Construction in Minecraft Earth offers another facet: a “Play” mode, where players can literally enter their building. The site thus appears on a human scale, and you have to move forward physically to enter a building, and point the phone towards the sky to admire the ceiling. “Play” is a freer mode than the one dedicated to construction: the modifications made to the building are not saved there. This mode can be enjoyed in solo as well as in multiplayer.
But “Play” is only a foretaste of “Adventures”, which make even more use of the view on a human scale. These are missions that appear from time to time on the map. They take the form of a cave or an abandoned mine that contains rare resources or even powerful monsters. Unlike other modes in Minecraft Earth , “Adventures” are all about action. It is therefore not uncommon to eliminate ferocious skeletons or to multiply the blows of swords to get rid of spiders.
The “Adventures” are technologically impressive: you can even see your teammates superimposed on the level. But like the construction mode, these missions suffer from flaws. The player quickly becomes the target of several enemies, and it is complicated to get rid of them. In addition, the “Adventures” are a little frustrating as they are. Everything happens on a single plane and it is not possible to explore the basement of a cave, even though it is visible.
But new things will arrive soon. For now, the title is in “early access”, which means that the next additions (game modes, animals, resources) will land in dribbles. The developers of the title have not mentioned any specific timetable for these new features. They say they want to “build the game with the players”, at the rate of suggestions and comments from the community. Soon, the title will host an iteration of “Adventures”, centered on reflection. “It will be necessary to complete an electrical circuit, or to light torches in a certain order” we were taught.