If you happened to pass by a certain park in Seattle last month, you might have seen myself, a few Minecraft representatives, and a few other journalists awkwardly pacing, crouching, and waving our phones close to the ground or in circles around us. It's a dance that probably looked to outside observers not unlike (but perhaps more ridiculous than) the odd movements of crowds chasing virtual monsters during the overwhelmingly popular launch of Pokémon Go.
But Minecraft Earth, despite at first glance looking a bit like Pokémon Go in that it's a location-based, AR-using adventure, is something entirely different. It contains some similar elements, such as exploring the real world and collecting in-game items that correspond to real spaces ("Tappables," which contain recognizable Minecraft blocks and items). But it's also part-AR adventure game and part-creative space, where players can take the found Tappables and build them into Minecraft creations anywhere: on the table in front of them, in their living room, or even in the middle of a public park.
At a hands-on preview last month, I spoke with game director Torfi Olafsson and briefly with principal program manager Jessica Zahn on the game's inspirations, technological challenges, monetization concerns, and the global spirit the team at Mojang wants to infuse into Minecraft's foray onto mobile devices.