'Minecraft Earth' brings AR-based block gaming to iOS this summer

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Minecraft is the latest franchise to make the transition to augmented reality, with the announcement Minecraft Earth will give players the ability to build block structures in their own back yard using an iPhone or iPad, starting with a closed beta commencing this summer.

Revealed on the Minecraft website on Friday, the newest title in the Mojang-created and Microsoft-owned line extends the block-based game into the user's local environment. Minecraft Earth translates many of the elements of the original game series to a mobile form that takes advantage of AR to offer a new experience.

In short, Minecraft Earth is a version of the game that relies on AR for users to build items and to place them within a real-world environment. By using AR, the creation can be placed on a table or the ground, and be seen from all angles by moving the mobile device around it.

Just as with the original, players will be able to encounter creatures, including pigs and other animals, gather resources, and create items. Travelling around, players can find chests, block clusters, and "Adventures," which gives lifesize AR encounters at specific locations in the world.

Survival elements will also be at play, with hostile mobs able to cause damage to the player and potentially cause the player harm. Challenges are also offered, though it is unclear what form this will take.

Players will be able to collaborate with each other, working together to create complicated structures and artwork, before placing them in the world for a proper viewing. The items, made on tabletop-sized "build plates," are permanent and can be put down after completion.

Microsoft advises Minecraft Earth will be arriving on iOS and Android this summer on "AR-capable devices," with more information arriving soon. The game will be free to play, with closed betas launching this summer.

The standard version of Minecraft is still available on the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, though in late 2018 support for the Apple TV version was cut.

This is also not Microsoft's first foray with AR Minecraft. In 2015, it showed off a version of the game running on the HoloLens mixed reality headset. In the demonstration, it was projected onto a tabletop, with one player having a global view of the world in AR while another controlled the game normally using a Microsoft Surface.