Mojang, the Microsoft-owned studio behind Minecraft, used Monday’s WWDC keynote to unveil the world’s first live gameplay look at its next smartphone-exclusive game, Minecraft Earth. This demo also included the firmest tease yet about when series fans will get their hands on the augmented-reality game: “coming this summer to iOS.” This specific tease didn’t include any indication of whether that means the game’s promised Android version will take longer to land as a public beta.
The onstage demo began with two Mojang employees aiming their iOS devices at a table, where a blocky Minecraft game world appeared that both users could simultaneously interact with. By walking around the table and aiming their devices’ cameras, the staffers could use items and weapons, interact with switches, and drop or plant items in their inventories. One staffer also placed her Minecraft-styled avatar into the game world like a doll, which she could then animate by moving her real-world body. iOS’s upcoming ARKit 3.0 appears to support body gestures like hand-waving, and we saw one-handed and two-handed waves in this portion of the demo.
This was followed by a world shift from the top of a table to all around the WWDC stage, which resulted in the Mojang reps appearing as real people inside the blocky, virtual Minecraft Earth world—and having their bodies occluded by virtual content (like when one staffer hid behind a freshly planted bundle of flowers). While the players could walk around the real-world space to reach new parts of the virtual world, they largely relied on aiming their phones’ views to manipulate distant objects or lay down torches.
This tweak to the game seemed nigh-essential when a giant, underground lair appeared beneath the players’ feet. How Minecraft Earth players will let players move around larger environments remains unclear; will we see a VR-like “teleportation” system, or will real-life steps toward stairs result in a potentially uncomfortable shift in altitude?
But for the most part, the demo’s use of the familiar Minecraft UI and clear controls for attacks, switch manipulation, and item usage makes the new game look like it’s quite far along in terms of translating the Minecraft experience to a “wow, it’s happening all around me!” sensation (albeit, only through the lens of your phone or tablet’s screens). And if you thought you were in for something more abstract, like Pokémon Go, this real-time footage should disabuse you of that notion. We look forward to seeing more Minecraft Earth gameplay soon (hopefully at next week’s E3).
Listing image by Apple / Mojang