Tag Archives: Minecraft

The Sun Sets Over Minecraft Earth

I like Minecraft Earth, but it didn’t quite hit its stride before the pandemic, and didn’t adapt as well as Pokémon Go has to the pandemic. I’ve mostly stopped playing since hitting the level cap because gameplay is still too awkward, and while it is fun, it’s not enough fun to overcome that when I don’t have a goal to work toward.

So while I’m sad that it’s shutting down in June, it’s more “what could have been” than wishing I could keep playing it.

Live the Adventure!

Adventuring in augmented reality is the clear highlight of the game. You use your phone as a window into a life-size 3D fragment of a Minecraft world where you can fight zombies, mine resources, activate redstone contraptions, and so on. Initially these would spawn out in public spaces, and you could spot them from a distance like Pokémon Go gyms. During the pandemic, they changed to a system with “Adventure Crystals” that you can find or earn through challenges and activate to spawn an adventure at home. Different levels of crystals will spawn different sizes of adventures from simple up through “Epic.” Friends can scan a QR code on your phone to join you and you can play together in the same AR environment.

The main problems are:

  • You need enough space, especially for the bigger adventures.
  • You can’t choose the type of adventure, only the complexity. So you’re never sure if you’re going to get a puzzle, a battle, or just a lot of blocks to mine.
  • You can’t invite anyone to join you until the adventure starts, so if you have an epic adventure with 15 skeletons shooting at you and a half-dozen creepers ready to explode, you can’t take the time to get help.

Building

Build plates let you take a fragment (8×8, 16×16 or 32×32) of a Minecraft world, view it at tabletop scale in AR, and build what you want with it. You can use resources you’ve collected or crafted in other parts of the game. You can populate it with animals or monsters, or a “Mob of Me” that represents you. And you can play a life-size instance of it like an adventure, though again you need enough space for that.

Space is a problem here, too, and the process of actually building something complex in AR is awkward. Sometimes I think it would’ve been nice to be able to build in standard Minecraft UI, then play them in AR. And the real promise of this was being able to share your build plates with other players, which again was ruined by the pandemic.

I ended up mainly using build plates to farm. It’s cool that you can, though! Crops and trees grow, you can milk cows, shear sheep, etc. All on your dining table!

Collecting

That leaves the location part of the game: going out and collecting resources. That part is only really fun if you can get out and walk somewhere, which may or may not be possible depending on how locked-down your area is at any given time. But it’s less like catching Pokémon and more like spinning mobile Pokéstops. You’re just tapping on them as you get close to them, not jumping into a mini-game with actual strategy and skill to it. Once I’d collected enough resources to do all the building and crafting I wanted to, I stopped firing this mode up on walks because catching Pokémon was more interesting.

Challenges

They have at least tried to keep giving players new things to do by running biweekly challenge seasons. You collect or craft items, or solve adventure puzzles, or kill five zombies with a golden shovel (yeah, they get oddly specific after a while) in order to get a reward and unlock the next challenge. Even those get frustrating after a while, though. I keep getting stuck on defeating five skeletons (or whatever specific monster), and then for ten adventures in a row I’ll only find zombies, or spiders, or no mobs at all. Or chickens.

Sunset

At least Microsoft is handling it well. They announced it today, along with an update that includes all the remaining finished-but-unreleased content, discounts to in-game purchases, and nearly six months for us to play through the new features before shutting it down. (I’ve already found one of the new cow variants.) And aside from character items, which are already shared with Minecraft Bedrock Edition, they’re transferring currency over to Minecraft proper. So they’re giving the game a decent send-off and making an effort to keep players happy.

Minecraft Bedrock Beta vs. the Microsoft Store

There’s got to be a better way to do this. Actually, I know there’s a better way to do this, because Minecraft already does it in Java Edition.

How to try out snapshots in Minecraft Java Edition:

  • Change the version in the launcher.

How to go back to the stable version:

  • Change the version in the launcher.

How to try out betas in Minecraft Windows 10 Edition:

  • Log in as someone who Microsoft knows is an adult, because Xbox Insider only allows 18 and up.
  • Sign up for Xbox Insider
  • Sign up for the Minecraft beta in Xbox Insider
  • Download updates on your Microsoft Store apps and hope it installs the beta.

How to go back to the stable version:

  • Leave the beta in Xbox Insider
  • Download updates on your Microsoft Store apps and hope it goes back to the other version.
  • Back up your saved games, which are buried deep in a hidden folder with cryptic names. Seriously, they’re in $homedir\AppData\Local\Packages\Microsoft.MinecraftUWP_8wekyb3d8bbwe\LocalState\games\com.mojang\
  • Uninstall Minecraft from every account on the computer, which will also erase all of your saved worlds, which is why you needed to back them up first. (oops.)
  • Reinstall Minecraft
  • Restore your saved games

There’s a known issue where leaving the beta doesn’t always work — especially if there are multiple accounts on the computer that have Minecraft installed. The only reliable fix so far is to uninstall every copy of Minecraft (Bedrock edition) on the computer, in every user’s account.

I’m just glad I found out that uninstalling the app deletes all your worlds before having to uninstall it on the kid’s login!

Oop Store

The Microsoft Store for Windows really feels a lot more fragile to me than either the standard run-an-installer paradigm or the Linux style package manager. I haven’t dug into its inner workings, but it seems like something that came out of the mobile and console ecosystems…and hasn’t been completely adapted to running on a general computer.

For example: Applications are only accessible for the user who installed them, like on Android. But sometimes it downloads the app all over again, and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s not even clear how much is stored system-wide vs. per-user.

As near as I can tell, the Microsoft Store will only download the application if it’s newer than a version that’s already on the computer. So if the beta is newer than the stable release, and the beta still exists somewhere on the computer (like in another user’s account), it’ll just use that one instead of re-downloading it.

Unsaved

But regardless of how it handles multiple installations on the same computer, it’s inexcusable that there is literally no way to reinstall a broken copy of the game and keep your potentially years of progress on a world without first digging into a hidden folder, then through seven levels of folders with generic or cryptic names just to find your saved games and manually copying your saved games before you uninstall and reinstall the game.

It shouldn’t delete your games (at least not without asking).

And it should keep them somewhere you can find more easily.

15 Minutes with Minecraft Earth

Took Minecraft Earth for a spin around the block. Most of the demos I’d seen showed either the build-on-a-plate mode or the AR adventure mode, so I wasn’t sure how the map mode was going to work.

You see a Minecraft-ified version of your local area. Real-world buildings appear as raised ground instead of buildings, so that you can see where they are, but there’s no risk of mismatches between real doors and virtual ones. Clusters of resources appear on the map: trees, boulders, mounds of dirt and such, along with sheep, cows and other mobs wandering around. You can tap on them repeatedly like you’re mining in the original game, and after a few seconds you get the mob, or the logs, stone blocks, dirt, flowers, etc.

You can use these resources to craft items with familiar recipes, but each item takes time (like smelting) instead of a shape. It might take 30 seconds to turn a log into planks, or three minutes to make a sword. There are three slots for the crafting table and three for the furnace, with one each unlocked at the beginning of gameplay. I’m guessing you unlock the others as you level up.

Resources seem to regenerate quickly – I saw them pop into existence a couple of times on my walk around the block, and there was already a new tree when I got back where I started.

You can also see a circle (I know, a circle! In Minecraft!) on the map showing what’s close enough to interact with, and whenever something crosses that circle, the phone will vibrate briefly to let you know.

A nice touch: If you’re moving faster than walking speed (or if it thinks you are due to GPS drift), it shows your avatar rolling in a mine cart!

Speaking of avatars, if you’ve used the new character creator in recent releases of Bedrock edition, that skin automatically transfers to this game.

Actually playing “adventures” is a bit weird. This is the gameplay they showed during Minecon. At certain spots, you can jump into an augmented-reality instance (the one I tried was roughly a 5 block by 5 block column) with items you’ve crafted or collected. You can fight zombies, find treasure chests, etc. It’s cool, but because you can’t physically move up or down, just around, it’s sort of like walking around a hole in the ground and trying to interact with stuff that’s way below you.

Anyway, I’ve spent longer writing about it than playing so far. I’ll have to take some time to really explore it and get a better sense of the gameplay. And try out the build plates.

But even at first glance, it’s a distinct experience compared to Pokemon Go, and not just a rehash with a different theme!

Update: A key difference I’ve noticed between Pokemon Go and a couple of short sessions in Minecraft Earth is that the world of Minecraft Earth is a lot denser than Pokemon Go.

With Pokemon Go, you have fixed locations for supplies and combat. It’s all about getting you out to walk that distance and find Pokemon along the way. There are even multiple rewards solely for distance walked (candy, hatching eggs, evolving certain Pokemon).

With Minecraft Earth, everything is randomly placed, closer together, and visible from farther away: resources, mobs, adventures. (And you can use a build plate anywhere.) It looks more like a Minecraft world than a map, and it feels like you could play it in a smaller space if you wanted to.