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Minecraft Earth lets you burn down your creations with your friends inside

AR we sure it can compete with Pokémon Go?

Two years ago I remember standing outside the back of the Los Angeles Convention Centre, trying out a new feature called "raiding" in Pokémon Go. It was about 30C, the 4G was wonky and the feature was still in beta. I thought, huh, this will never catch on. Now, I raid most days.

This year, I'm somewhere in the bowels of the Microsoft Theatre, a block (pun intended) down the road, and I'm playing something which feels even more experimental. Minecraft Earth is, in many ways, Microsoft's own take on the Pokémon Go formula. But it's also completely different.

The demo we try features none of Minecraft Earth's location-based gameplay which will form much of the final game. That will be the bit most similar to Pokémon Go - or indeed, this week's new launch Harry Potter: Wizards Unite - where you wander around your neighbourhood and collect things: namely, blocks to build stuff with.

Instead, this trial version is all about the building stuff - the ability to place blocks at the same time as others to create a collaboratively-made model, and then to expand it until it is room-sized, and explore within using AR.

Minecraft Earth, Microsoft is keen to stress, features all of the building mechanics of the main Minecraft game. Block physics, Redstone, fire propagation (more on that in a bit) all work exactly as you'd expect. But here you're doing it all at the same time as your friends, standing over a "build plate" which everyone can edit - or destroy - at once. The best part for me was being able to lean in and explore the building close-up, my smartphone a little window into this imaginary world.

Building... and then setting on fire. It didn't take long for my fellow attendees to notice.

Blowing this up - not literally - is as easy as a few taps on your tablet or smartphone. Once placed down, the model looms large around you, and instinctively you're leaning around walls that aren't there. And, for me at least, instinctively I am reaching in my inventory to bring out my Flint and Steel. Suddenly, everyone is on fire. Yep, it certainly works as expected. (Microsoft stopped snapping screenshots at this point.)

The final part of the demo was a quick spin with one of Minecraft Earth's Adventures - another thing you'll find when wandering around your neighbourhood. These work as instanced missions for you and your friends, and the one we played saw us suddenly standing in front of a deadly pit and having to fend off an impending herd of Creepers from range using bows and arrows.

When looking around, you can see other players involved in the same instance, included in your surroundings as if standing in front of a green screen. Results varied a little, but the vast majority of the time the game managed to pick out the human-shaped silhouettes from our surroundings and place them in the scene perfectly. More than once, I found myself looking up expecting to see Creepers actually there.

The technology behind the game is clearly working, and Microsoft is no stranger to having the full-blown Minecraft working on every device under the sun. I'm now just curious to see how real-world mechanics play out - and how the creations of millions of players can be managed and appropriately vetted. Minecraft Earth is due to launch in beta sometime this summer for iOS and Android - so there's not long to wait and find out.