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‘Minecraft Earth’ AR Game Makes You Feel Like a Kid Again  

The success of “Pokémon Go” proved that augmented reality was a viable (and incredibly lucrative) option for mobile games. It’s no surprise then that “Minecraft,” another huge gaming brand, is jumping into the AR craze with a clever new take on its block-building gameplay.

Minecraft Earth” is an AR version of the popular exploration game that’s coming to iOS and Android later this year. Like the regular version of “Minecraft,” you’ll be able to hunt for resources and build fantastic structures out of pixelated blocks. The twist is that you’ll be doing all these things while walking in the real world.

At E3 2019 in Los Angeles, Swedish developer Mojang promised that “Minecraft Earth” would contain the complete “Minecraft” experience. You can still craft weapons and armor out of rare materials, breed animals, grow crops, and more. While this would sound familiar to anyone who’s played the original game, the added layer of AR makes all these tasks feel new again.

In the E3 demo that Variety attended, Mojang showed off how easy it is to create new builds and collaborate with other people. It starts with the Build Plates, items in your inventory that allow you to create a miniature version of your build (like a dollhouse-sized structure) on any flat surface. Once activated, you can start placing blocks on it immediately.

Mojang already had a pre-built three-story structure for us to play with. When executive producer Jesse Merriam activated the Build Plate on a nearby table, the house rose out of the table’s surface. I walked around the table to view the house from different angles. I peeked inside the windows by bringing my phone closer to it. And I played with the pigs and cows roaming in the garden, building a little playpen around them with my blocks.  

Though a charming experience on its own, it wasn’t until the next phase of the demo that I realized just how wild “Minecraft Earth” can be. Merriam took the Build Plate and set it on a large carpeted area next to us, where the miniature house suddenly became a life-sized version of itself. My playpen was still there, as were the other modifications that the people in my group added in earlier.

That was when “Minecraft Earth” started to feel less like clever technology and more like magic. You can explore your creation as if it were a real place, using your phone or tablet to peer through the digital world. You can also keep building or digging if you want. I’m not a huge “Minecraft” fan, but even I couldn’t help but have a huge smile on my face as I walked around the house.

Merriam then turned on one of “Minecraft Earth’s” adventures, mini-missions that you can go on with other players. Familiar foes like skeletons, creepers, and zombies appeared in the house, and our group fought them back with swords and arrows. Playing these adventures is the only way to obtain some of the more rare building materials in the game.

Since Mojang wants to make “Minecraft Earth” accessible to everyone regardless of where they live, it won’t lock content behind geographic locations (like how “Pokémon Go” does with certain creatures). The studio wants all players to have the same experience.

“Everything in ‘Minecraft Earth’ should be able to be played in your neighborhood. [You shouldn’t] have to get a travel agent to go play,” said Merriam.

Mojang will launch a closed beta for “Minecraft Earth” this summer.

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