Five years ago I did a post about Minecraft. It’s by far the most popular thing I’ve ever written on this site not because it was particularly good (it actually kinda sucks), but because something like 35% of the internet is dedicated to Minecraft.
Incidentally, the second most popular post I’ve written was about Disney buying Star Wars, so, y’know. Popular things are popular. That’s SEO, kids!
In my old post I made this foolish declaration:
No, I haven’t started playing Minecraft nor will I. The game, if you can call it that, seems like a gigantic time suck. It’s the sort of thing I could get into if I had unlimited time on this earth and didn’t feel guilty about such things.
About a month later I bought the game.
A lot has happened in five years – even just to Minecraft. Notch did not make the game open-source. He sold it to Microsoft for buckets of money. The game has continued to receive updates and is now available on pretty much every electronic device with a color screen. Minecraft merchandise is in nearly every retail space that sells stuff to kids or nerds or nerdy kids. And apparently there’s a movie in the works possibly with Steve Carell.
I hope he’s playing Steve.
I don’t really care about any of that. Minecraft has become essentially one thing for me: a replacement for Lego, K’nex, and all the other building toys I grew up with.
You know what? I was right. Minecraft is a huge time sink. In five years, I’ve gone from not playing at all to building all of this.
Why I “play” Minecraft
When I first started, I played exclusively in survival mode where you have to earn everything. Every block is mined. Some require extra steps like crafting and/or smelting, and each is meticulously placed one by one.
I learned the ropes, fought my share of creepers and endermen; got to the Nether a couple of times, but I never really engaged in the “end game” content.
Judged as a traditional “beat the final boss” kind of video game, I think Minecraft is pretty bad. That’s not where the game shines and it kind of baffles me that so much effort went into trying to make it a “proper” video game when it seems really clear to me that the strengths of Minecraft are elsewhere.
I like the building in Minecraft. There’s a real satisfaction to not only looking back on what I’ve made, but realizing how all the creations fit together in the world I’m continuously building. I’ve gotten this feeling from simulation and management style games in the past: Roller Coaster Tycoon and SimCity type games, mostly, but no other game has been able to sustain it for as long as Minecraft.
From survival to creative
These were the humble beginnings, my “starter town” if you will. I was building partially for style and partially for function at this point.
The elevated stone brick structure is a metro system using minecarts and powered rails. To the left you can see part of the tree farm I had set up. The red barn toward the center (it’s partially obscured by the orange-ish building) houses animals of various kinds. There was also a large sheep pin although the sheep are not rendered in the photo. The cobblestone towers were partially decorative, but also landmarks to help me keep my bearings.
I really, really enjoyed playing the game this way and thinking back on it makes me smile. Having to build it all from the ground up is just so satisfying. I wanted to continue in the vein – to keep expanding, making things more efficient, and processes faster.
Redstone is Minecraft’s system for doing automated tasks. Redstone wiring and components essentially allow you to set up simple logic gates connected to various components.
I hate Redstone. It’s like simple programming, but spread out in 3D space. It’s weird. I’ve never understood it beyond the very basics. Several game updates have changed the way it works, so why even bother with the effort if it could just be broken by a future update?
I looked into mods, but those add even more complexity and none of them explained themselves sufficiently. You always have to reference some wiki to know how anything works. It’s a nightmare.
Bottom line: I wanted to build Factorio in Minecraft, but the game just wasn’t made for that.
After raising my first few skyscrapers, I realized without automation, building a cityscape was going to take even longer than I thought in survival mode. So I switched over to creative mode with unlimited building materials and never looked back.
Since then, I’ve been building off-and-on for years. Sometimes I make a whole lot of progress at once. Other times I leave the world I dubbed “Novus” untouched for many months.
I’m really fortunate to be able to a (somewhat) legitimate excuse to play lots of Minecraft. Without it, I wouldn’t have developed this nearly as far.
One of my side-gigs is audio editing. A lot of it is just listening back to previous recordings and occasionally making an edit. I could just stare at waveforms for hours at a time, but instead I put my audio editing program in one monitor and Minecraft in the other and building while I listen. Minecraft is perfect for this because I can easily pause whenever, jump over to the other monitor, and make a few edits. It works great.
I’m definitely not the greatest Minecraft builder out there. You can literally append “Minecraft” to almost any Google search and get results. If you can think it, somebody’s probably already built it in Minecraft and they’ve likely done it better than me.
Again, at this point I’m more interested in crafting a cityscape than in any individual building. That said, I’ve derived a lot of inspiration from the real world.
I’ve scoured Google Street View and Google Photos to find stuff I think would work well and then adapt those buildings. I’m not slavishly devoted to getting things right though. I basically use these images as “style guides” for what I’m building.
But, on occasion, I’ve taken more direct inspiration from famous buildings and landmarks.
Here’s my Louvre Museum-inspired building. Everybody has to do that one, right?
With that out of the way, we’ll move to something less cliche.
This is a small version of the Smithsonian Castle in Washington, D.C..
I also did the National Air & Space Museum – also part of the Smithsonian in D.C..
I built all these museums in a rectangular configuration with a reflecting pool in the middle. The fourth museum is a lot less famous. It’s based on the St. Louis Art Museum found in my hometown.
That one’s a more loose interpretation than the others.
I was seeking a distinctly different architectural style with each building. I’m pretty happy with how the “museum campus” turned out.
I’ve build several other structures inspired by St. Louis buildings.
This is based on the Moonrise Hotel in the Delmar Loop, though without the marquee and rotating moon on top, it’s kind of hard to tell. You can’t do everything in Minecraft – at least not at this scale.
I really like this build of the Chase Park Plaza Hotel which is my favorite building in St. Louis – at least from an architectural standpoint. Art deco is my jam.
Finally, here’s the one building I’ve made that’s based on another video game.
This is Tenpenny Tower from Fallout 3. It came out very well and is a distinct presence in the skyline.
I was going to talk about the program I used to render these shots, but this post is long enough already. I’ll talk about that in another post. ’cause you know what’s even better for my blog’s SEO than one shameless Minecraft post?
I bet you can figure it out.