“Pokémon Go with building blocks.”
May 18, 2019 2:26 PM   Subscribe

Minecraft Earth is Microsoft’s wild shot at the next Pokemon Go-style AR blockbuster [YouTube] “Microsoft today unveiled its previously teased follow-up to Minecraft, a sequel of sorts. It’s a free-to-play Augmented Reality game called Minecraft Earth, and it’s designed for modern Android and iOS phones. A closed beta is planned for this summer, likely to be limited geographically, with a gradual roll-out through the whole world. The game allows players to collect Minecraft blocks as they walk around their neighborhoods, to engage in augmented reality mini-games in public spaces, and to create their own virtual buildings, which can be shared and explored.” [via: Polygon]

• Minecraft Earth: block building game moves into the real world [The Guardian]
“This construction is the really interesting part. Find any flat area in the real world – a table, the pavement, a field – and you can start constructing on a virtual Build Plate. A familiar Minecraft inventory screen lets players select blocks, point the phone at where you want to put them, and tap the screen to place them down. “It’s the full Minecraft experience,” says art director Brad Shuber. “We didn’t reduce it, we didn’t remove features – it has [enemy] mobs and it’s completely multiplayer. It’s specifically designed to bring people together, not just through the game, but through physical proximity.” Just as in standard Minecraft, you can build a simple house quickly and easily, but the house is sitting there on your living-room table. You can walk around it and look at it from all angles through your phone display, and if you walk through a wall of the building, your camera will show you the interior. You can then save this build and place it on any similarly sized flat surface, or even send a link to a friend, who can download it, view and edit it. (This won’t affect your original build: no one can sabotage your masterpiece.)”
• Minecraft Earth goes a step beyond Pokémon Go to cover the world in blocks [The Verge]
““One of the key parts of Minecraft Earth is having multiple people interact with adventures in a specific location in real time. This is actually a very difficult problem to solve with augmented reality, and it’s thanks to recent progressions in mobile technology that have allowed Microsoft to even try to tackle this. Eventually, Microsoft wants these to persist as “holograms” in the environment around us with exact precision. The problem is our phone cameras aren’t very intelligent. You can use GPS, Wi-Fi fingerprinting, and AR to determine a location, but you need computer vision algorithms to really work out where to place a virtual object that everyone is going to interact with. Microsoft is using its new Azure Spatial Anchors technology in Minecraft Earth. It uses machine vision algorithms so that real-world objects can be used as anchors for digital content. These holograms, as Microsoft calls them, always stay in the same spot. Apple and Google are also working on ways to let multiple devices see and interact with the same virtual object in AR, but Microsoft is trying to create the infrastcture and tools to let developers use this across iOS and Android. This is the secret sauce of Minecraft Earth, if you will. “We rely on people going out and, essentially, not scanning the world, but seeing the world for us and then making that common play space,””
• Minecraft Earth Wants to Be the Next Pokémon Go—But Bigger [Wired]
““We started with the basic idea of Minecraft in real life,” Persson says. “We don't want a flavor of it. We don't want some of it. We don't want a compromise. We want everything you've ever learned in Minecraft to be in real life. There's no other way. There's no desktop mode. It’s about people being together. Whenever we limit it, make it smaller, the whole team pushes against it.” Moreover, Minecraft Earth doesn’t use GPS. Instead, it uses something called Azure Spatial Anchors, which leverage Open Street Map and Microsoft’s massive Azure cloud system to generate hundreds of millions of locations around the planet where players can interact with the game. (Seattle alone has more than 100,000.) Not only are these “feature points” more precise than GPS, which has a sizable error radius, but they’re able to include data like altitude, which enables the game to distinguish between a location at sidewalk level and something that might be on an upper floor of a building. Over time, as more people visit feature points, their specific anonymized locations—and the angles from which they view the feature points—help refine the data even further. This is all still a work in progress, of course. A closed beta will launch this summer, with the full game coming later this year.”
posted by Fizz (38 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
At a glance: Holy Shit this is looking like Vernor Vinge’s vision in Rainbows End*.

And I’m not sure how I feel about that...

* He distributed the novella freely on his website for several years, let me know if anyone wants the short html file in an email!
posted by SaltySalticid at 2:55 PM on May 18 [4 favorites]


Pokémon Go players clog up my two closest public parks, even in the past few weeks. I’m glad they are out there and all but I wish they could learn to step aside rather than stall in a huddle in the middle of the path that people are trying to walk/jog/bike on.
posted by SaltySalticid at 2:57 PM on May 18 [2 favorites]


Head's up: Minecraft is big in the education market. Your kids will be playing this, like it or not.
posted by SPrintF at 3:15 PM on May 18 [1 favorite]


Head's up: Minecraft is big in the education market. Your kids will be playing this, like it or not.

I wrote this a couple of weeks ago: Microsoft's aim is to capture entire 'pipelines' from classroom to factory/office, and they have a decent shot at it in the US (especially as public schools continue to be drained of resources). Microsoft has advanced AR/VR tech, ubiquitous software, huge footholds in every sector of most of the world's educational and economic systems and now a network built to educate/evaluate/rank potential employees (LinkedIn/Lynda).
posted by soy bean at 3:42 PM on May 18 [5 favorites]


I got to play this for my writeup. It's pretty cool and pretty focused on the creative aspect - you do the adventures and overworld stuff so you can get the blocks/mobs you need to build something cool at home or with a friend. The AR aspect works surprisingly well, though constructing using it takes a bit of getting used to.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 4:05 PM on May 18




I think this sounds really cool, but I’m wondering how they’ll deal with the inevitable griefing since building structures in public seems to be particularly loaded with opportunities to do so.
posted by invitapriore at 4:23 PM on May 18 [8 favorites]


I think this sounds really cool, but I’m wondering how they’ll deal with the inevitable griefing since building structures in public seems to be particularly loaded with opportunities to do so.

If they don't have original-builder-locked structures with permissions and you can just deconstruct anything you run across, this is going to crash and burn so hard it'll kickstart the next Depression.
posted by Caduceus at 4:27 PM on May 18 [5 favorites]


We don't want some of it. We don't want a compromise. We want everything you've ever learned in Minecraft to be in real life.

Except the part where you go underground and... mine? But whatever, this looks ambitious and fun.
posted by oulipian at 5:18 PM on May 18 [3 favorites]


original-builder-locked structures with permissions


[Buzz Lightyear / Sheriff Woody meme pic]

DIAMOND BLOCK DICKS

DIAMOND BLOCK DICKS EVERYWHERE

posted by CynicalKnight at 6:33 PM on May 18 [17 favorites]


It seems they’re claiming that griefing will be less of an issue because you have to actually be in the same location in real life to mess with people’s work... as though jerks and bullies have ever had trouble being shitty to people in real life before? Unless things have changed a LOT in the last 20 years, kids are totally fine to bully each other in person.

I guess maybe there’s hope that there will be little overlap between adults who’d actually play this and adults who are willing to provoke people in the real world? Otherwise it’ll be all over the news when people get bloody noses and worse thanks to the convenient co-location of griefer and griefed...
posted by Nutri-Matic Drinks Synthesizer at 7:14 PM on May 18 [2 favorites]


Did anybody ever figure out what they do with all the surveillance data from these games? Like, you're just waving your phone camera around while the game does its thing.

I can't imagine even MS is planning to handle the petabytes of video data that *could* be collected this way (and it would be pretty easy to figure out if they were harvesting actual video), but there's no way a whole buncha "big data"-loving eyes aren't lighting up at the ad targeting prospects alone.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:04 PM on May 18 [4 favorites]


I have a ten year old so I am trying to make peace with the knowledge that I will be hearing about this all day every day until my eyes roll back into my head and I black out.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:58 PM on May 18 [5 favorites]


DIAMOND BLOCK DICKS EVERYWHERE

The potential for digital graffiti is huge. There's going to be a Minecraft digital subtext every where.
posted by bonehead at 9:15 PM on May 18


Nintendo Miiverse, 2012:
Motoyama: Yes, we never had such a problem with our Hatena services. But, when we brought Hatena Flipnote to the West, we were caught off-guard by the amount of penises drawn by people.

Kurisu: So the team and I had to come up with a way to create a system that auto-detects those types of pictures.

Kato: Kurisu-san suggested we study different types of penises in order to create figure out the relative shape and size people would draw. We spent a week doing that before we realized that we should have been looking at drawings of penises rather than real-life pictures. (laughs) We were very embarrassed about that.

Kurisu: My judgement on these types of situations is poor. (laughs)

Motoyama: After a week, we made very good progress on the system. Then we tested the system with Nintendo of America and told them to start drawing. It went horribly.

Kurisu: What we learned is that people enjoy drawing penises. Multiple ones. (laughs) The system was not prepared to handle that.

Iwata: I do not think your team anticipated how difficult this would get!
posted by migurski at 10:35 PM on May 18 [13 favorites]


DIAMOND BLOCK DICKS EVERYWHERE

I still occasionally log into Second Life, so all I have to say is: in a shared virtual space, that's really just Day One stuff. It'll be so much more in pretty short order.
posted by mordax at 10:56 PM on May 18 [2 favorites]


Head's up: Minecraft is big in the education market. Your kids will be playing this, like it or not.


Did anybody ever figure out what they do with all the surveillance data from these games? Like, you're just waving your phone camera around while the game does its thing.

Came here for this.

As far as I know it's pretty commonly accepted in the InfoSec community that Niantic is a *vague handwaving here* somewhat spooky-funded startup, that the Ingress ARG was very much a test to see what kind of permissions people would accept for an AR app and what kind of data and surveillance could be collected from such a system.

It is presumed that this was expanded on in Pokemon Go.

You may presume that that app has been active on someone's phone basically anywhere that doesn't have a hard no phones security policy, whether it's a workplace or office or home or even someone's bathrooms.

You can extrapolate from this to some pretty disturbing extremes, like it would be entirely feasible with the permission settings of these apps that if it were backed up by, say, some really big data centers - you could map the inside and outside of most of the homes, businesses and public or private spaces in the US or much of the developed world, take a lot of audio and video and more.

This isn't Blade Runner science fiction any more. Give me a bunch of high def pictures in the form of a video stream of you waving your phone around your bedroom and I can run that through free photogrammetric software and create a pretty accurate 3D model of your room down to the wrinkles in your bedspread. Might not need more than about 30 seconds of video if it's well lit and a good pass.

Remember when Pokemon Go was really popular? Any chance you might have had an intimate or sensitive conversation while someone else nearby was playing the game and had the app running? How about a candid night out at a bar? Maybe sharing a car share with someone? I bet you saw people playing it at work, too. At church. In doctor's waiting rooms. On buses. People had that app running basically everywhere that humans go.

Now Microsoft wants a big piece of that pie and its basically targeted at kids.

Well, that's not exactly new, but, yeah, this is going to be misused and the real product is not the game but the field testing and data mining.

Anyway, anyone feel like watching some Aeon Flux?
posted by loquacious at 10:57 PM on May 18 [13 favorites]


I'm sorry, how many days until someone builds a burning cross, nazi swastikas or other delights on schools and other public places? This is a dumb dumb idea.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 11:11 PM on May 18 [3 favorites]


You can extrapolate from this to some pretty disturbing extremes,

loquacious... I really enjoy your commentary most of the time.

But I've really got to say that this is a bit of a fantasy. Let me just say that many of the people I still play Pokemon Go with fall into the InfoSec / Network risk analysis world... The type of people who really do care what their phones are doing and have a pretty good idea of what kind of bandwidth something like you describe would take. Sure the app is a drain on the battery and uses a fair amount of data. But do you have an idea of what hours of video/audio would do to a phone and your data? Forget about storing/processing that for Tens or Hundreds of Millions of users?

The potential for something like that at a targeted level is one thing... and an interesting thought experiment. But still a fantasy.

That isn't to say that the tracking data and a pile of other stuff they've collected in aggregate or at an individual level isn't kinda astonishing... but still just simply having a phone gives lots of groups access that sort of data.
posted by cirhosis at 12:01 AM on May 19 [10 favorites]


Yeah, my mind immediately went to burning crosses or hobo coding someone’s house to mark them for bullying. We’re living in the darkest timeline, after all. The white nationalists on 4chan are very strategic about wanting to recruit kids, gamers and people on the spectrum. The dogwhistles are obscure and designed to fool normies, like the fren and clown campaigns right now. (https://forward.com/fast-forward/423812/white-nationalist-clowns-honk-honkler/)

Pokemon Go has a limited number of input fields but Microsoft is almost guaranteed to not have planned a robust mod system here. Forget diamond dicks and think goatse. All reasons why we can’t have nice things.
posted by Skwirl at 12:45 AM on May 19 [6 favorites]


Seriously I can just imagine all of the hateful virtual graffiti on the houses of bullying targets. Hard pass.
posted by grumpybear69 at 5:56 AM on May 19


Given the recent kerfuffle about cloud connected home floor cleaning bot companies selling floor plans of users' homes without permission and rapid development of machine learning algorithms in vision and other surveillance toward more targeted ads, unfortunately I have to agree with loquacious' assessment here.

I think sufficiently motivated state actors have and will only be able to get their hands on more usable raw data to do more and more surveillance of us that we didn't specifically think we were authorizing.

We carry powerful computers with us wherever we go and those computers have eyes and ears and other sensors that make them perfect surveillance drones.

When the sensors are able to observe a perfect sphere around the devices they probably won't even ask our permission. At least not until/unless we force them to.
posted by kalessin at 6:31 AM on May 19 [3 favorites]


do you have an idea of what hours of video/audio would do to a phone and your data?

But by implication you don't necessarily need that, you just need e.g. a couple out of every hundred rendered frames when someone happens to be in an interesting quadrant/home/building. Remember the whole thing about how the NSA wasn't really super-worried about collecting all the specifics, just the metadata?

Of course your phone is already collecting lots of fun metadata - the substantive difference here is the magnitude of people running around voluntarily holding their phones steady while the camera's running in a third-party app.

In addition to that and the potential for griefing and trolling, I'm also already constantly annoyed by idiots walking into traffic while looking at their phones, and there's no way this sorta thing makes it better.
posted by aspersioncast at 6:43 AM on May 19 [1 favorite]


But I've really got to say that this is a bit of a fantasy.

This is exactly what MetaFilter and the gentler, kinder blogosphere told me 15-20 years ago about wide scale audio and phone data collection or surveillance.

Most people didn't like the comment or fantasy back then, either.
posted by loquacious at 7:47 AM on May 19


Oh, I would have LOVED this app in 2015 & 2018 when I was chaperoning a 6th grade trip to the Gettysburg battlefield. It's hour after hour of empty green fields and an elderly tour guide spouting a thinly-veiled Lost Cause narrative, and I can tell you that the kids are profoundly uninterested in the fact that this particular trench ("The Railroad Cut") was where the Confederates were hiding.

I kept thinking that if the kids could build this in minecraft then it would come alive. The way the water flowed, where the high ground and low ground was, all the ways the geography contributed to the story of the battle. They just weren't seeing it on the ground but they would have seen it in Minecraft.
posted by selfmedicating at 8:29 AM on May 19 [1 favorite]


As far as I know it's pretty commonly accepted in the InfoSec community that Niantic is a *vague handwaving here* somewhat spooky-funded startup, that the Ingress ARG was very much a test to see what kind of permissions people would accept for an AR app and what kind of data and surveillance could be collected from such a system.

Dear dark forces that keep mining Charlie Stross books for "good" ideas: Please go read KS Robinson instead.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 9:02 AM on May 19 [4 favorites]


They've almost mined Stross out. It's Peter Watts next
posted by thatwhichfalls at 9:18 AM on May 19 [4 favorites]


Also FWIW, Machine Learning is kind of FOR finding weird ineffable patterns hidden in large swaths of data (a separate debate is to what degree these results are reliable, but assuming they are...) So ML that you might run on the super powerful battery-powered computer you keep in your pocket could go through your video/photo data to find patterns. Instead of sending the whole corpus of photo/video data wirelessly to centralized servers, if used for surveillance, one might reasonably get the phone to calculate the patterns that are sought and send only data and metadata related to that to various surveillance type organizations. It would be way more efficient in a global systems perspective to do this in a distributed way.
posted by kalessin at 10:05 AM on May 19


Minor datapoint for the "Nobody plays it any more" crowd: according to figures I saw a fortnight ago Pokemon Go, a free app, has earned more money than all the other Pokemon games put together.
posted by Hogshead at 1:27 PM on May 19 [1 favorite]


Seriously I can just imagine all of the hateful virtual graffiti on the houses of bullying targets. Hard pass.

Finally my kids will have a reason to appreciate the decidedly non-flat landscaping in front of the house.
posted by davejay at 1:58 PM on May 19 [1 favorite]


They've almost mined Stross out. It's Peter Watts next

Nah, we're still in John Brunner's territory.
posted by loquacious at 6:40 PM on May 19 [4 favorites]


It seems they’re claiming that griefing will be less of an issue because you have to actually be in the same location in real life to mess with people’s work

I'm curious to their approach to tackling the Location Spoofing Problem. Niantic hasn't developed a workable solution to it in either Ingress or Pokemon Go.
posted by radwolf76 at 7:01 PM on May 19


Nah, we're still in John Brunner's territory.
Yeah, Shockwave Rider and The Sheep Look Up at the same time.
If we're very lucky the Traveler in Black will turn up.
"As you wish. So be it."
posted by thatwhichfalls at 8:33 PM on May 19 [2 favorites]


Who would have thought the world of NAWLZ would come about via minecraft.
posted by lucidium at 6:49 AM on May 20


Yeah, Shockwave Rider and The Sheep Look Up at the same time.

Stand on Zanzibar is right here, too. The water is rising.
posted by loquacious at 9:02 AM on May 20


As far as I know it's pretty commonly accepted in the InfoSec community that Niantic is a *vague handwaving here* somewhat spooky-funded startup...

No, that's not commonly accepted at all in the 'InfoSec' community. Maybe you're confusing it with 'Keyhole', which was an earlier start-up founded by the same principal as Niantic, and took funding from the CIA's venture capital arm and was eventually acquired by Google (and became part of Google Maps).

Niantic was spun out of a Google product team and took their seed funding from Google. There's nothing mysterious about it.

the Ingress ARG was very much a test to see what kind of permissions people would accept for an AR app and what kind of data and surveillance could be collected from such a system.

Why would Google need to release an app clandestinely to understand what data could be collected, they own the entire platform and ecosystem? That doesn't even make sense as a conspiracy theory, they already have all that data to begin with.
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 1:27 PM on May 20 [5 favorites]


TL:DR Your mobile game is almost certainly. not spying on you with video data. It would likely kill your battery and take all your data usage to do so, and it would be possible to detect.

It's relatively simple (on android phones anyway, iphones are potentially harder for technical reasons like not having root) to see what an app like this is transmitting.

Here's a link to an article from last year on one method.

Here's some unofficial reverse engineered SDKs for the pokemon go api. Nothing related to transmitting images jumped out at me on a quick scan of the listed end points.

The idea that your phone running an app from google is listening in and transmitting video or audio data or some approximation of that data without your knowledge is an extraordinary claim, and if someone in the infosec community believed it to be true, they would be trying to get evidence.

And if it's not being done now, the suddenly higher data usage and lessened battery life of millions of Pokemon Go players would be a pretty good Chatot in the coal mine.

There's plenty on the privacy front that's unsettling, but this seems like a conspiracy theory. But feel free to play Detective (Pikachu or otherwise) and prove me wrong.
posted by gryftir at 1:06 AM on May 21


I feel like that's talking past any claims anyone is actually making.

Pokemon Go is unquestionably tracking your location at a given time, requiring manipulation of your device's camera while it's pointed at things, because that's how AR works.

It does this so it can serve you in-app purchases. It also uses this information to sell "gyms" to corporate sponsors (McDonald's in Japan, for instance).

No conspiracy is required, an "approximation" of a whole bunch of information about you is being transmitted by any app that uses GPS. And that information is particularly interesting in the case of a device whose camera is actively being pointed at things. No actual images need to be transmitted, it's quite lucrative to be able to tell people where to point their camera phones.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:45 AM on June 9


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