On week two of the project we were ready to divide the students in workgroups and begin with the construction of Portugal. By now we were certain the server was reliable and all students had access to it.
Creating an entire country in Minecraft is no easy task and students needed to be well oriented inside the three-dimensional space as to where and why they should build. For this reason, during the week following the tests on our dummy server, we created a model map containing important information that students would then use to orientate themselves, as well as understand the various areas and regions that they had to recreate. The model map was based on a children map we found in the internet that showed with bright colors and simple drawings the morphology and most important places of Portugal.
Using the above map we were able to assign the correct biomes to each region, as well as distinguish the most important cities and imagine how they would look in-game, what kind of fauna they have, the location of forests, rivers and mountains. Minecraft as a game offers a variety of biomes that users can interact and play with in the form of the game’s most recognisable shape, the cube. For measurement purposes it is important to keep in mind that a block in Minecraft is equal to one meter cubed (1 m3) in real life. These blocks can be placed or destroyed as the user seems fit, and whole in-game biomes can be altered if necessary. In survival mode biomes are assigned randomly in different sized areas of the world, whilst in creative mode the default biome is ‘grass’. From the indications of our map we were able to understand the biomes we were going to use, starting with ‘tall grass’ and lush forests in the north of Portugal and moving down to ‘grass’ for central Portugal, ‘sandstone’ for the zone known as Alentejo and eventually ‘sand’ biome for the sandy beaches of the south. We were also able to recognize some of the most important cities of the country, such as Lisbon, Porto, Faro, Coimbra, Castelo Branco and Aveiro, as well as the Serra da Estrela mountain range, the Geres National Park, and rivers Tagus and Douro.
Using the EssentialsTP plugin that we installed beforehand we were able to add warp points to every one of the above locations to facilitate traveling between them. When we first spawned inside the server we immediately defined those coordinates as the ‘Home’ warp point, conveniently placed in the center of our map, where our users would eventually spawn the first time they would log in. To help with spacial orientation we placed a cross-like pattern on the floor with in-game signs indicating the name of the warp point as well as the four cardinal points, north, south, east and west. Minecraft includes day and night cycles, with the sun and the moon moving accordingly to their real-life paths. This feature helped us to understand and correctly indicate the cardinal directions. Finally, we did the same for all the main warp points, as can be seen on the following map, a customized edition of the above one.
To help students understand how and where the warp points were placed we created a simplified version of the original map and placed them side by side. In general lines, Portugal has a rectangular shape as seen from above, and the warp points were placed in accordance to that generic shape. In addition, in order for us to to define the scale of our country’s model we had to create every warp in accordance to the distance from the ‘Home’ warp point. For this we used a stopwatch and defined distances by time of traveling to each location. Inside ‘creative mode’ Minecraft users can choose to travel either by walking or flying, with both ways also offering running mode. We decided that in order to reach the northernmost or southernmost middle points of the map from ‘Home’, users had to fast travel flying for twelve seconds. For simplicity reasons, half of that time (six seconds) would be needed to reach the easternmost or westernmost middle points of the map. In addition, every other warp point in between these four points was conveniently placed in the middle of every respective distance, which in turn corresponded more or less to Portugal’s real-life locations. All this information could also be found on the top left corner of the map in the form of a legend.
With all the warp points in place and the map explained, our students were finally able to join the server, this time inside the map they would work on for the following weeks.
The first thing students had to do was to make sure that every warp point was working for them. Later, as a first group activity and a way to officially initiate the project, we asked all the users to meet at the upper warp points where they had to help with the creation of the northern biome. Within minutes the biome was filled with trees, grass and flowers, while some students decided to go a step further and began working on the waterfall situated at the Geres National Park. Slowly and steadily other students began auto-organizing themselves in group works and started discussing what they would work on. One student asked for permission to construct the Dom Luís I bridge in Porto, while another group decided to move to another area of the map and started working on the desert biome found south of the ‘Home’ warp point. At some point houses started to appear in different areas of the map, each one respecting the architecture and colors of the respective region.
We were now creating a whole country inside Minecraft!