Build­ing dreams

Minecraft is a bril­liant plat­form for hav­ing fun, but what about its po­ten­tial as a launch­pad for artists?

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Ex­plor­ing Minecraft as a plat­form, and rev­enue stream, for artists

Minecraft’s eight-year his­tory is stud­ded with ex­tra­or­di­nary mo­ments. First, in ini­tial dev videos, it stole at­ten­tion as an in­fi­nite pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­ated world of blocks. Later, play­ers shared their ex­pe­ri­ences of it as a game about craft­ing a shel­ter to sur­vive a night of zom­bies. Then, as it started to take off in pop­u­lar­ity, play­ers be­gan to ex­plore it as a solo and col­lab­o­ra­tive con­struc­tion tool, a game about build­ing things. When in 2010 videos be­gan to pop up show­ing vast projects, such as a full-scale USS En­ter­prise and a fully func­tional CPU, it be­came clear that Minecraft was more than just a play­thing or a game. It was be­com­ing a cre­ative medium in it­self.

Since then, a gen­er­a­tion of 3D artists has grown and de­vel­oped an in­dus­try mak­ing things, places and spa­ces in Minecraft, 3D maps known in the com­mu­nity as builds. Their can­vas is Minecraft’s prac­ti­cally in­fi­nite space, their ma­te­ri­als the tex­tures and shapes of its blocks.

Marceau Nakayama is one of those artists, hav­ing cre­ated a se­ries of builds which ex­press some of the breadth of what Minecraft makes pos­si­ble. His Tri­an­gu­lar As­cen­sion 2.0 – Cy­ber­punk Hangar is a vast and cav­ernous space hangar that uses lightemit­ting and glass blocks to cre­ate an at­mos­phere of hard light and vol­ume, while the more grounded Kite City & The Burn­ing Sands (see fac­ing page) shows a set­tle­ment of wooden posts and cloth sheets perched on rocks in a desert.

“Like many, I started Minecraft be­cause it re­minded me of my child­hood when I was play­ing with Lego,” ex­plains Nakayama, who’s known as Ud­vio on the premier builder-com­mu­nity site Planet Minecraft. “It felt the same ex­pe­ri­ence with Minecraft: end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties.”

Born in Tokyo, he also lived in South Amer­ica be­fore set­tling in Paris, and though he’s al­ways been at­tracted to the vis­ual arts, he didn’t go to art school, train­ing to be­come a pro­fes­sional chef in­stead. But he re­ally wants to be a con­cept artist for games and movies.

While he also draws and paints tex­tured and at­mo­spheric semi-ab­stracts in oils and acrylics, there’s a sense that Minecraft has given him a chance to de­velop and ex­press his vis­ual side. “Minecraft helped me realise how much I en­joy cre­at­ing things no mat­ter what medium I use,” Nakayama says. “Un­til re­cently I fo­cused more on non­playable scale projects where the only pur­pose was to make a 3D model as if it were just like an­other 3D pro­gram.”

He uses Minecraft a lit­tle like a Pho­to­shop for 3D space, but doesn’t work block-by-block, in the way you would in Cre­ative Mode with a vanilla in­stall. Over the years, many plug­ins and mods have been cre­ated to help with build­ing from within the game, such as WorldEdit and Vox­elSniper. These tools al­low builders to quickly con­struct vol­umes of ter­rain to spe­cific spec­i­fi­ca­tions of block type and shape, sculpt them with brushes, and copy and paste sec­tions. That none of Nakayama’s work is im­ported from ex­ter­nal 3D edi­tors is a point of pride.

Along with the tools, Minecraft’s builder com­mu­nity has de­vel­oped greatly since the early days, and it’s mo­ti­vated by rather more than pas­sion. Nakayama be­longs to one of its prin­ci­pal groups – a com­pany in its own right, in fact – called Block­Works. Founded in 2012 by James De­laney, who is cur­rently study­ing ar­chi­tec­ture at Cam­bridge, Block­Works is a col­lec­tive of 130 builders who make com­mer­cial projects in Minecraft for savvy clients, in­clud­ing Mi­crosoft, UN-Habi­tat and the Mu­seum Of London.

But in the wider cre­ative in­dus­try, it’s still a mys­tery that peo­ple are mak­ing things of note in Minecraft. “Very few have heard of the cre­ative pos­si­bil­i­ties or even the work op­por­tu­ni­ties,” Nakayama says. And yet Minecraft has ma­tured as both a game and a com­mu­nity. To­day, its vet­er­ans have been build­ing for five years, and Nakayama con­sid­ers him­self a new­bie, hav­ing only started two years ago. “I feel I’ve ar­rived late to the party. Two years ago, the very clas­sic mega-builders of big fan­tasy cas­tles were al­ready leav­ing.”

Whether they’re be­ing re­placed by a newer gen­er­a­tion isn’t en­tirely clear. Nakayama feels that many younger builders are more mo­ti­vated by money rather than ex­plor­ing Minecraft as a cre­ative medium. “Many of them like to call them­selves ‘pro­fes­sional builders’ and ex­clu­sively pro­duce ba­sic lob­bies and spawn maps for servers,” he says.

“I think that many of the peo­ple I’ve met are slowly grow­ing up and head­ing to­wards their ca­reer choices; some be­come ar­chi­tec­ture or design stu­dents,” Nakayama con­tin­ues. “We all met in Minecraft and shared a com­mon pas­sion. It’s sad to see a lot of peo­ple leave the com­mu­nity, but I’m also happy we all found our paths and I like to think Minecraft helped us to de­fine a bit more what we are truly pas­sion­ate about.”

“Very few have heard of the cre­ative pos­si­bil­i­ties or even the work op­por­tu­ni­ties”

PO­ETRY IN MO­TION

Tequila Works’ ad­ven­ture re-emerges, look­ing even more de­li­cious than be­fore Fol­low­ing Rime’s ini­tial re­veal (and our cover story in E273), Tequila Works fell sus­pi­ciously quiet about its promis­ing-look­ing ad­ven­ture, break­ing cover only to an­nounce a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Cav­a­lier Game Stu­dios for The Sexy Bru­tale. Now the game, which was pre­vi­ously a PS4 ex­clu­sive, has been re-re­vealed as a mul­ti­for­mat ti­tle, with Switch, PC and Xbox One ver­sions also lined up. And it looks to be in fine fet­tle.

“In all hon­esty, the game was an­nounced very early on in its devel­op­ment,” Tequila Works CEO and cre­ative di­rec­tor Raúl Ru­bio tells us. “We de­cided to keep quiet while we were work­ing on the game be­cause there were al­ways things chang­ing. And when we got back the IP rights and de­cided to pub­lish with Grey Box, both par­ties agreed that we wanted to re-re­veal when we were close to re­lease, so that we could be sub­stan­tive in our in­for­ma­tion.”

Tequila has put its time to good use, tweak­ing level design and fine-tun­ing the world to make it feel more co­he­sive, and more alive.

“Some of the early puz­zles you saw have been tweaked to bet­ter in­te­grate them within the world, and to be both more log­i­cal and fun,” Ru­bio says. “And we’ve done a lot to flesh out the nar­ra­tive. It’s al­ways tricky to try to tell a story with­out any di­a­logue or ex­po­si­tion, and so we’ve pro­vided sub­tle cues in the en­vi­ron­ments, and make the emo­tions and in­ter­ac­tions of the boy and other char­ac­ters more ful­fill­ing.”

The stu­dio’s progress ex­ac­er­bates Rime’s early com­par­isons to Fu­mito Ueda’s work, but it also evokes as­pects of The Wit­ness, Jour­ney and even Zelda. We’ll have to wait un­til May to find out if these el­e­ments co­here into some­thing spe­cial, but the vis­ual as­pect, at least, seems cer­tain to de­liver.

Minecraft artist Marceau Nakayama

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