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  • Izzy Cornelison, Staff Writer

Using Minecraft to create a better Willamette

Updated: Mar 5

Minecraft recreation of Waller Hall. Image by Forrest Derr

Almost everyone has heard of Minecraft, the popular online game built entirely out of blocks. Unlike most people, however, Forrest Derr ('24) does not play Minecraft just for fun — they are using the platform to construct a miniature, idealized Willamette.

Last semester, Derr applied for the Carson Grant, a general research grant for Willamette students that pays out a personal stipend on top of any expenses for a project of their choice. The main goal of Derr’s project was to build Willamette’s campus in Minecraft, as well as interview different clubs and affinity groups about their ideas to help redesign aspects of campus in the digital space. 

The idea to build the campus didn't begin with the Carson Grant. Derr said they had wanted to build the campus in Minecraft ever since they started at Willamette, and they had been working on a design on and off as a personal project. The Carson Grant was always on Derr’s radar but they had never seriously considered applying until after the deadline had passed. However, due to a lack of applicants this year, the deadline was extended, allowing Derr to apply with their project.

Derr's Willamette campus is built on a one-block to one-meter scale, making the world proportionate to its real-life counterpart. To get accurate measurements for the insides of various buildings, Derr explained they took measuring tape and simply did it themselves. They used Google Maps for the measurements of buildings' exteriors, but indoor spaces posed a bigger challenge. 

“Indoor spaces are kind of atrocious to build because not only is the scale kind of weird, but your perspective in Minecraft is also kind of weird,” said Derr. They explained, “A meter doesn't feel like a meter because it's a block in Minecraft, so everything feels really cramped in indoor spaces. For example, I built a few dorms, and in the dorms it's kind of like you enter through the door, [and] there is a one-block gap between the beds on either side.”

If you have ever tried to build in Minecraft, you know the act is tedious and time-consuming. When asked how long it took to build the campus, Derr replied, “Too long."

“I used a couple of tools, [like] World Edit when I messed up or needed to move stuff. But I’m not very good at using this as a tool, so I’ve been constructing it in a single player world with mods,” Derr said, explaining their process. “There's no actual mods used in terms of the content because I wanted to keep [the server] vanilla so that it would be accessible to as many people as possible. But those mods did things like you could build a wall quickly, or you could build the floor quickly and that helped [with] speed.”

In the world of online games, "mods" are modifications made to the original game to make it operate in a different way. In this context, the mods are altering the building mechanics to make the process more efficient. 

Another challenge Derr faced throughout the project was that the majority of Willamette buildings are solid brick, and with only one in-game brick texture, they were worried about redundancy. However, “After showing it to some people who played Minecraft and don't play Minecraft,” Derr said, “the feedback was generally good, except for bushes and trees still look atrocious. There are ways to fix that too, without mods, which I plan on potentially doing in the future.” 

 Derr said that the server is accessible to the public to look at but not to edit. 

The UC center and Hatfield Library. Image by Forrest Derr

For the second half of Derr’s project, they wanted to help redesign Willamette based on students' ideas. Because doing so in Minecraft is far easier than in real life, they looked forward to revamping spaces in the digital world, providing a template to implement these changes in reality. 

“Going forward, getting more student input and kind of continuing that project of reimagining spaces on campus would be helpful," said Derr, “and also just doing something with the spaces that have been reimagined. Ultimately this is meant to be fun — yes — but also like a tool for student groups as part of … ongoing efforts to improve campus.” 

If you would like to follow along with Derr’s ongoing project to finish campus and adapt spaces based on student input, you can follow the project's Instagram @willametteminecraftproject.

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