It’s easy to dismiss Minecraft as a children’s hobby — the pixelated, cartoonish graphics certainly don’t resemble most popular video games, and there’s no real endgame in Minecraft, just a never-ending builder’s odyssey. Still, the game carries an odd charm, hiding innumerable layers of creation under a simplistic, 8-bit shroud; if you’ve ever dumped out a massive mishmash of Lego bricks onto a carpet and built from imagination, you should understand the title’s spirit. Without characters, words, or any sort of plot to speak of, the game has enraptured many. So many, in fact, that it now stands as the second-best selling video game of all time, trailing only Tetris.
With that kind of massive player base, it should come as no surprise that some of the community’s creations are
impressive downright ridiculous. Some projects are conceived and constructed by lone builders with a particular vision, while others are labors of love for big groups of players, working together for years to craft sprawling realms. Some structures are drawn directly from their authors’ imaginations, while some are painstakingly detailed models of previously realized worlds — fictional or otherwise. In any case, it would be downright rude to wax poetic about these creations without a little show-and-tell, so scroll on, dear reader, to see the best that the global Minecraft fraternity has to offer.
Something to keep in mind: Many of these maps are only compatible with specific versions of Minecraft. If you want to experience them for yourself, you might be required to install a separate launcher or texture pack.
Part I: Creative maps
These maps aren’t home to any puzzles, enemies, or narrative-driven gameplay — they’re just eye candy, here to be looked at and appreciated. Their creators spent countless hours pouring in bucketfuls of blood, sweat, tears, and cubes, and the results are simply spectacular.
Even if you don’t know anything about Minecraft, chances are that you’ve heard of Game of Thrones. HBO’s ultra-popular fantasy program — and its source novels by George R. R. Martin — have millions of fans around the world, and its expansive world has inspired creatives to come up with some really cool stuff. Still, it’s difficult to truly understand the love some fans have for the series until you’ve witnessed the ginormous (and we mean ginormous) world of Westeroscraft, a scale replica of the entire continent of Westeros. According to Martin, Westeros is approximately the size of South America, and project lead Jacob Granberry estimates that the in-game world (hosted on its own server; you need to download a separate launcher to get in) is scaled at about 1/100.
In other words: it’s freaking huge. Walking from the map’s northernmost point (the forest beyond the Wall) to its southernmost point (the Dornish sea) takes more than an hour in real time, and even traversing the “map” — of which there are two, a 3D version and a 2D version — is time consuming. King’s Landing, the capital of Westeros and its largest city, is monolithic; more than a billion blocks went into its creation, from Baelor’s Sept to the Red Keep. Though the world isn’t inhabited (yet — Granberry & co. still have designs on turning the project into a full-fledged RPG), it’s still alive; weather effects are surprisingly vivid, with snow swirling around Castle Black and blood-orange sunsets peeking through the willows at Highgarden. It’s all very official by this point; prospective contributors to Westeroscraft must submit “applications” to the team by building a location to prove their acuity and knowledge of the aesthetic.
Luccid Utopia: City of the Future
Aria Creations, a team of Minecraft builders, is known for crafting gorgeous, uber-detailed maps. From giant carnivorous flytraps to a wolf howling at the moon, Aria’s squad can create nearly anything — often, they take requests from fans or members of the greater Minecraft community, which can be used as launching points for private servers, among other things. For Aria’s most elaborate projects, they create super sweet time lapse videos showing the construction process (sped up, of course), with smooth camera work and relaxing electronic music that’s typical of Minecraft flythroughs. Luccid Utopia, probably their most popular creation, is a futuristic city built atop a tropical isle, replete with twisting highways and towering skyscrapers.
There’s something oddly satisfying about watching tiny specks fly around, structures rising out of the ground like some kind of crazy, detailed loading screen. Not only is the city a work of art — watching the time lapse is a neat way to see how Aria goes about their creative process, beginning with small infrastructure like streetlamps and moving gradually up to larger stuff. Luccid Utopia’s tallest building is so tall, in fact, that it actually pierces the cloud line, and it’s not even the coolest element. Watch closely for an Easter egg or two.
If you thought Westeroscraft was big…. You’re absolutely right. It’s humongous. Still, the size of pixelated Westeros pales in comparison to the sheer scale of Crafting Azeroth, a project created by one man which recreates the World of Warcraft in classic Minecraft style. Minecraftforum.com user Rumsey developed custom software that utilizes a process called “voxelization” to automatically detect textures in World of Warcraft and convert them to assets found in Minecraft, at scale. In order to do so, he created a unique software tool to help identify and match textures between the game engines; with more than 10,000 different textures in WoW, he asserts that the process took “many hours of work” (we believe him).
The result? A MASSIVE game world containing more than 100 billion blocks and spanning more than 500 square kilometers — the world is so large that Rumsey had to separate it into seven vertical layers, with a server-side plugin that automatically teleports players when they reach a height threshold. Currently, the map includes Kalimdor, the Eastern Kingdoms, Outland, Northrend, and all the areas added in the Cataclysm expansion (though instanced areas like dungeons and raids were omitted); Rumsey mentioned that he had planned on building Pandaria as well, though we don’t know if he’ll follow through. Either way, this is an absolutely mind-blowing project that should interest veterans of WoW. Click here to view an interactive map, and click here to check out some screenshots comparing the worlds.
It’s unsettling to see downtown Los Angeles bereft of suffocating traffic. Los Angelcraft, a not-so-creatively named project from Planetminecraft.com user fujiwara1990, is the only chance you’ll ever get to explore the California city in isolation (though not quite a full replica), and it’s awesome. Without utilizing any non-native texture packs — he didn’t want to force fans to download extraneous content — fujiwara crafted a virtual metropolis to rival GTA: San Andreas’ Los Santos in scale, complete with a cadre of steel skyscrapers and streets lined with voxelated palm trees.
Despite never having visited Los Angeles, the map’s German author crafted the city with excruciating detail: each building is accessible, with furnished interiors, and you’ll find lots of cool L.A. landmarks like the Santa Monica Pier’s ferris wheel. Los Angelcraft doesn’t quite reach the scale of Westeroscraft or Crafting Azeroth, but it was created by just one man, without scripts or custom software. If you’re short on funds but still in need of a sunny vacation, why not go for a visit?
Since 2011, Romanian Minecrafter Ancient has been hard at work on his magnum opus: a wondrous, fictional locale known as Aurora City. Inspired by several major metropolitan areas across Asia, Aurora City is built using a unique texture pack that smooths out much of the blockiness and gives the city an authentic (if cartoony) aesthetic. Structures in Aurora are varied and detailed, with tons of signs featuring imagery and Chinese and Japanese logograms. From balconies to rooftops to flora, each element of the city is rendered with great care and, despite the map’s size, none of it ever feels reused or lazy.
The project — which Ancient has said he’ll “probably never finish” — is a labor of love, dotted with unique landmarks and covered with little things (like cell towers) that most builders overlook. A monorail track winds its way through Aurora’s streets and around its edges, and the city features a unique blend of contemporary architecture and traditional Japanese pagoda structures; parts of Aurora are even multi-tiered, with huge skyscrapers rising majestically out of the city’s profile. Cherry blossom trees and paper lanterns are everywhere, contributing to the distinctly Eastern atmosphere.