Minecrafting Italy

Last week I set up my first Minecraft server. I’d been discussing how we might build Portus on the University’s Minecraft server, but because we don’t yet have Admin access to that I thought I ought to set one up on one of my own machines to start understanding how it all works. I say “one of my own machines” because I had planned to run it from my University Windows laptop, but I could not get it to work. The idea is that you run it once and it creates a bunch of files, which you then fiddle with before running it properly. But those files didn’t appear on my PC. After some time trying to locate them, or run the .exe file again to create them anew, I gave up and decided to repeat the process on my Mac at home.

There it all seemed to work perfectly. The only challenge on the Mac is creating a script to actually start the server, and then turning it into an executable file. But there is a very simple guide on how to do this on the Minecraft Wiki.

So today I followed Shawn Graham’s advice to have a go at creating the topology of Portus. Well I say I followed it. Obviously I ignored the bit about ignoring a bit of a YouTube “Minecraft School” video about getting Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) data via Google Earth. Let me just repeat that: “Shuttle Radar Topography Mission.” Data, from the Space Shuttle! Isn’t that amazing? No? Moving on…

That YouTube Video is a bit out of date you see. and you don’t need to find it from GoogleEarth (or download the SRTM plug-in, which it turns out doesn’t work anymore anyway), the data you need is available here: http://dwtkns.com/srtm/.

When we do this for real, we’ll have the Universiy’s LIDAR data to create the topology, but I wanted to have a go with something relevant. So I used QGIS, the free and open source GIS software, to edit the SRTM data down to an area around the sites of ancient Roman Portus and Ostia.

The area around Fiumicino in SRTM TIFF data, manipulated in QGIS
The area around Fiumicino in SRTM TIFF data, manipulated in QGIS. Is that the Trajanic Basin?

Then, exporting that image as a Bitmap (BMP) file, it was off to WorldPainter, to turn it into a Minecraft world. There’s a bit of trial and error required here, first of all finding an appropriate scale for the translation, both in x and y  axes, and of course in height. WorldPainter tends to want to make the range between see level and the highest point 255 blocks (which I guess is something to do with the shades of grey in the bitmap. Then there is the white space where the sea goes. White indicates the highest points of the the landscape, so the sea could turn into a massive … er… massif, 255 blocks high.

And of course there’s the curiosity of the Trajanic basin. Why is it a mid grey? Neither white like the sea, nor black like the lowest land? After a number of attempts I cheated – took the bitmap into Paint, and made the sea and basin black. After that, and some fiddling with scale, the WorldPainter map started to look something like an actual map:

The WorldPainter Map
The WorldPainter Map

Good enough, I though to try out on the server. I exported them to the desktop and put the files in the relevant folder on the server, then fired up Minecraft proper to take a look. Hmmm more work required I think…

... and I have NO idea where these huge anti gravity squid ponds came from!
I have NO idea where these huge anti gravity squid ponds came from!
The low resolution of the SRTM data does quite cut it at this scale
The low resolution of the SRTM data doesn’t quite cut it at this scale



7 thoughts on “Minecrafting Italy

  1. Hi! I’m glad some of the tutorial worked for you. Part of the issue might be the resolution of the SRTM data. For italy, you can get better data here: http://tinitaly.pi.ingv.it

    The scale, too, can be difficult to get right, when importing DEM into Minecraft. While a block equals more or less 1 m on a side, the vertical can be ridiculously elongated. Try ‘squishing’ the vertical in the minecraft:original map section of the import dialogue box.

    Another thought – set your water level (in minecraft blocks) at 1 or 2. Then you can use the water fill tool (like you described) but at least its a question of addition rather than subtracting.

    Anyway, with the better DEM, you should be good. I’m assuming you’re at Soton? The BSR probably already has some good survey data you could use… another possibility is to import an image of an imagined portus (some of the 16th c maps) and rendering them in minecraft.

    Anyway, good luck!

  2. ah – just saw the ‘about me’. Of course you’re at Soton! Simon should have access to some pretty good DEMs already I would think.

    1. Thanks for your comments Shawn, and of course the advice in your blog too. Yes, we plan to use a whole bunch of data that the Portus project has collected over the years, for the real thing. This was me just playing with Minecraft, I know less about that my 9 year old.

  3. Very cool Matthew. Shawn, a project based on ancient maps would be great as well.
    I have a vague idea about a game where when the player // explorer finds new maps the landscape changes, probably needs something like unity for real time terrain deformation but (very faintly possibly) perhaps some Minecraft wizard has a procedural tool that allows this.
    PS it is guaranteed to be an exciting world when one knows less than a 9 year old!

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