The Art of Building a Virtual Campus in Minecraft

One common question our team receives, especially from UR alumni interested in the Virtual UR project, is how our world developers knew which blocks to use – and where to place them – to create realistic buildings reminiscent of those on the physical University campus. While most members of our team have been building projects in Minecraft for many years, there are also certain outside tools we used to make the building experience easier.

One of these tools was World Edit, a server plugin allowing developers to create content outside the server – experimenting with a build without the pressure of messing up – and later “paste” it into the world all at once using schematics (similar to an architectural outline of a building).

World Developer Serena adds an entire outline of the Wilson Quad to the server using a plugin called World Edit.

Another tool that our team looked for was a way to measure the real height and width of the University buildings we planned to recreate in Minecraft. Creating scale models of the buildings on the Eastman Quad required accurate measurements of how large the structures were and how many Minecraft blocks were needed. Thankfully, each Minecraft block is equivalent to one square meter in size – meaning a combination of Google Earth building measurements and estimates from architectural drawings was perfect for what we needed.

The developers used measurement tools from Google Earth to build the foundation of each building and estimate how far away each building was from the others, but how exactly did they know which blocks to use? The beauty of building campus in Minecraft was each developer had space to determine what the inside should look like, using their own creative vision. Minecraft has over 1000 blocks, animals, and items to choose from, ranging from stone bricks and moss, to horses and portals. With the ability to add custom images to the server, there were nearly infinite possibilities for designing campus.

World developer Kyhl builds the grassy foundation that each of the Minecraft buildings rests on.

What about the inside of buildings, you might ask? How did we know what it looked like without being able to view it in person? Most building interiors were done from memory, with hidden jokes added by the developer to put their own spin on the creation. Yes, you read that correctly – most building interiors, including much of Rush Rhees Library, Wilson Commons, and the Wilson Quad, were created in Minecraft from memory, using only the memories each developer had of the space. Oddly enough, photos and videos weren’t very helpful for the inside of buildings since they don’t provide a strong relative scale when comparing with other photos/videos.

The 4 main developers also took advice and suggestions from UR family and friends who love the iconic spaces like we do. The art of building a virtual campus was fostered by months of practice with Minecraft and years of memories at the University of Rochester.