The challenge was issued: recreate Building 9 in three months in Minecraft, the famous block-based online building game. Teams would be judged on completeness, accuracy, aesthetics, creativity and personality.
Even though they were juggling classes and extracurricular activities during spring semester, 37 students accepted the challenge from the School of Engineering Maximizing Engineering Potential Program. Only 26 students on seven teams completed the task.
Claiming the top prize and winning $200 each were seniors Nathan Leong, Andrew Kinkele and Stanley Rohrbacher on Team 9. Their detailed build featured exterior brickwork, classrooms and labs that included occupancy signs, a working elevator, two elevators – with ‘out of order’ signs, an office with cubicles and another with an apple computer, and outside landscaping that mirrored the real thing, with umbrella tables, the Tau Beta Pi sculpture, light posts, hedges and flowers.
To help with accuracy, the team took measurements of the building’s exterior using Google Earth, and Leong, a senior in mechanical engineering, spent hours scouring the internet for pictures of events inside.
To give the building context, they added six surrounding buildings to the landscape so they could be seen from the building’s interior.
Early in the competition, the team spent quite a bit of time completing most of the exterior styling but slowed down as the semester became busier. The project took on added importance once the university went to virtual learning.
“Since we don’t have a bunch of contact with people now, there’s a big dent in our social lives,” said Rohrbacher, an aerospace engineering major. “I used to spend so much time at school outside of class, talking to these guys and interacting with them. Now it’s harder to keep that social togetherness. We found that playing videos games and going on Minecraft gave us a reason to all jump on the phone and talk for a few hours every night. It helps us maintain some of that social normality.”
For the last few weeks, the team was building every night for two or three hours together in addition to time they worked separately.
“We play on the ultimate frisbee team and we’re practicing three times a week for a few hours, so we gained time with social distancing, and this kind of replaced that in some regards,” said Kinkele, also an aerospace engineering major.
Capturing second in the challenge was Team 5 with James Dale, Orlando Prado, Clifton Lee and Will Carreon, who each won $100. Their design included a black “College of Engineering” sign in the correct font, three-dimensional giant 9 at the south entrance, dry erase markers at the white boards, three different types of vending machines, and a piano with keys and “real” sheet music.
Team 5 also had one of the most creative elements. Not only were they the only team to include a bathroom in the video tour, and the tour guide interrupted someone in one of the stalls.
Keiga Ishibashi, Patrick Quach, Matthew Kuykendall and Karen Ronquillo on Team 1 captured third place and $75 a piece for their distinctive build populated by large numbers of students and some professors, much like the real location. Details included a rooftop satellite dish, Minecraft lecterns used as some desks since they could hold books, labs with lab benches, Scott Chang’s MEP Office and water bottle refill stations.
Lily Gossage, director of the MEP program and creator of the challenge, was looking for a fun way to bring students together. She has played Minecraft for years with her two sons and polled students in the MEP summer residency program to gauge interest.
“Given the need to convert campus services and instruction to a virtual environment,” said Gossage, “there is resurgent interest in virtual platforms and other digital tools. More than ever, it’s important to consider digitally transforming some aspects of student services to be able to keep up with our digital natives. One meaningful strategy is to engage in the video-gaming sector; and MEP plans to host part of its summer program via Minecraft.”
Jennifer Fong, a senior majoring in electromechanical systems engineering technology, was hired as the Minecraft project coordinator. Along with Gossage, she began publicizing the event in the fall through email and the Cal Poly Pomona Minecraft Discord, an online chat application favored by gamers. The competition began in January.
Fong, who has played Minecraft for the last four years, checked in with the teams weekly to gauge progress and was one of the three judges. Her main game is Brawlhalla. The other judges were Gossage and Scott Chang, the MEP academic retention coordinator.
The competition ended with a recognition ceremony on April 16.