Minecraft Earth will be available without an invite for the first time in October, Microsoft has announced at Minecon. We expect the UK to be among the countries in the game’s first first wave, and Microsoft projects the entire planet will able to play by the end of the year.
But don’t expect to be able to plonk down your Minecraft builds for others to view publicly – at least not for the foreseeable future.
Speaking to Eurogamer, executive producer Jesse Merriam said Microsoft had looked at active methods of moderating builds – including algorithms to detect, er, inappropriate material. But it has proven a difficult exercise, and Microsoft has clearly decided to take a safer-than-sorry approach so players don’t just see a load of blocky penises and swastikas.
“With Minecraft we have the benefit it’s blocky so hard to build something offensive [which algorithms cannot detect] – but we have the disadvantage of Redstone,” Merriam told me. “So, once upon a time, I was getting really complex computer algorithms to analyse the builds, get image recognition in there to see if it was offensive, but with Redstone… you can flip a switch and pistons can move the blocks. So it can look completely unoffensive but there can be a pressure plate which, as soon as you step on it, an offensive thing rises out of the ground! And so…”
And so, Microsoft has decided, the only public building options will be in Adventures (more on those below). Everything else stays private – and your creations, made on Buildplates – are accessible only to the people you invite.
“As we interacted with players, we found they really liked the ability to control who could get into Buildplates, rather than make them publicly available,” Merriam told me. “Over time we’ll probably get more configurations to people with those Buildplates, but initially we have it set up so when the owner closes it, it’s gone.”
For Adventures, meanwhile, Microsoft has a report system for anything offensive.
“Oh my gosh, I’ve spent so much of my life talking about that,” Merriam said. “We have already gotten a pretty extensive moderation team which has built moderation functions and we’ve worked out the algorithms so that if someone flags [something in an Adventure] as offensive it is viewable by no-one. We’re having talks now about next steps.”
At launch (where the game will still dubbed as an “Early Access” version), three big new features will be added from the game’s current closed beta: Adventures, Crafting/Smelting, and Challenges.
Adventures are shared space AR vignettes that we previously played at E3. The big difference here is that loot from these is now shared, something done to encourage co-operative defending against monsters and mining of rare resources.
Currently, Adventures can host up to 40 people in an instance. They’ll pop up on the Minecraft Earth map using a clever algorithm designed to populate suitable areas (so, parks and open areas, not railway lines).
Speaking of resources, there’s been a bit of a reshuffle of how you acquire blocks. Tappables, the bits you click on as you walk about in Pokémon Go’s map, will now grant basic blocks only. This is because more complicated blocks can now be crafted or smelt, or found within Adventures too.
“I want those Tappables to be what you find in the first 10 minutes of the game – dirt, oak, cobblestone,” Merriam told me. “For better blocks there are Adventures. And for items you should craft them.
“Everything we do, we grade based on its authenticity. Tappables started out as a dumping ground for every feature which wasn’t finished. But redstone and oak should not be given to a player at the same time! We’re going to get more Minecraft-y about that.”
Crafting and smelting are new interfaces which work similar to the workbench and furnace in vanilla Minecraft. Pop your resources in, and with a bit of time you can receive a crafted block or item in return.
There’s an option to speed this up using the game’s ruby currency – but this isn’t something Microsoft wants to exploit for money, Merriam told me.
“We haven’t locked in on that – I suspect you’ll be able to speed it up with rubies. Once upon a time we had crafting time take about a day, and now it’s down to minutes. We’re still playing with those knobs.
“I suspect it’ll be similar to what you experience today [in Minecraft vanilla] with the furnace – where you put things in and it takes a few seconds to craft. If you want instant gratification you can have it but we’re really not hiding anything behind a paywall.
“The path we went down making this game was about giving players an expansion to the franchise which would increase engagement – expanding the existing experience of the game you already have. We’re not super focused on the revenue numbers. We’re super focused on what are the engagement numbers.”
Challenges, meanwhile, are multi-stage achievements designed to echo those found in the original Minecraft which point you to things in-game you may not have done already.
“I’ve always been enamoured with that system but wished it could be more tiered,” Merriam said. “So, similar to what you’d find in free to play games, now we can make a challenge which is ‘punch a tree to get some oak > create a crafting table > craft a pickaxe’ with rewards tied to it like blocks, mobs or other rewards like a character creator outfits or rubies.”
New mobs in this launch version include Earth’s first hostile mobs – skeletons, spiders, and the like – and even more friendly mob varieties.
“There are going to be new skeleton variants, Creeper variants,” Merriam said. “Our principle is, we’re not going to create any new mobs in Minecraft Earth. We are going to offer new mob variants. There are 20 pig variants – you’ve seen Muddy Pig is Epic, and because of that he comes with the new mud block and interacts with that. There’s a rarity tier above that – legendary – and we haven’t shown a legendary mob yet…”