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