For millions of online players, Minecraft is about collaborating and competing to build fantasy worlds.
For first-year Cal Poly Pomona engineering teams who have yet to take an in-person class due to the pandemic, this semester’s MEP Minecraft Challenge took place in a fantasy world—their own campus. The challenge was to replicate an actual campus building. Even before these students could lay a single online block, they (literally) had a lot of ground to make up.
The student teams, competing for cash prizes, were allowed to choose between reconstructing the Bronco Recreation and Intramural Complex (BRIC) or the Bronco Student Center (BSC).
Despite their lack of familiarity with the campus, the students of Team 3 (Marc Cruz, Peter Case and Timothy Chung) won the first-place prize of $200 each for their Minecraft version of the 165,000-square-foot (BRIC) . Each computer screen in the build displayed a tiny Destiny 2 logo, and BRIC features such as the indoor rock wall, exercise pulleys, and Jamba Juice logos were rendered using only image references.
“Amazing” was repeatedly typed in the Zoom chat at the Dec. 18 watch party and awards ceremony, sponsored by the College of Engineering’s Maximizing Engineering Potential (MEP) Program. More than 40 people attended the virtual event.
“It was quite difficult to replicate with a limited amount of references online, but we were still able to pull it off,” Team 3 said in the video of its winning entry.
The winning BSC build created by Team 5 (Austin Nguyen, Joe Chen, and Kenneth Ng) earned them each $300 for nailing interior subtleties such as the dim lighting in the Games Room and its foosball table. All were accomplished through painstaking Minecraft map art.
“It was the most tedious thing I have ever done,” Chen wrote in the Zoom chat.
Freshmen Adeline Tang, Lily Yang and Paula Truong decided to make the exterior of the 112,000-square-foot Bronco Student Center “primarily of smooth sandstone to match the complexion that we saw on Google Earth,” they said. Because none had seen the building “up close or in full,” they made a COVID-safe visit to scout and take pictures.
Team 4’s whimsical BSC replica earned them a second-place award of $200 each. They built a Poly Trolley serving lots of French fries, and by golly, the trolley tracks ended at a mural of Billy Bronco. The mascot “is not there in real life,” the team noted, “but we thought it’d be a fun touch.”
Inside their virtual BSC, they built and powered the elevator with redstone, an advanced Minecraft concept. Their favorite feature was Round Table Pizza, where a student avatar ordered the Montague’s All Meat Marvel and paid with a shower of gold nuggets.
Memorable details—drawn from real life or imagined—distinguished the six competing teams, whose entries were judged on accuracy, aesthetics, completeness, creativity and personality.
“The students spent a considerable amount of time with the builds, in some cases adding immense details in the final product,” said Lily Gossage, MEP director and creator of the challenge. “We recognize their time, talent, and teamwork, and we see them as a source of inspiration to other students.”
MEP: Center for Gender, Diversity & Student Excellence prepares historically underrepresented minority, women, low-income, and first-generation engineering students to become professionals and leaders capable of tackling life-long, intellectual, socio-ethical, and career challenges in a changing world.
This semester’s MEP Minecraft Challenge met the current need for students to interact and learn teamwork while social distancing and, hopefully, having fun. Block by block, each team collaborated to solve a problem, overcome obstacles and adapt to each member’s learning style. Logistical support came from engineering students Mick Dale, Nathan Leong, Andrew Kinkele and Stanley Rohrbacher.
“There’s a multiplier effect in creative project-based learning,” said Gossage, who has played Minecraft for years with her two sons.
The winning models of the BRIC and BSC furthered the mapping of the campus in Minecraft.
If a viewers’ choice award existed, Team 17 (Andrew Fisher-Shin, Benjamin Quang and Sarah Hale) could have won for their elaborate, instructive model of the BRIC. Their eclectic soundtrack started with “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Overture,” featured a song from “Kill Bill Volume 1,” and then asked viewers to take a wind-down walk on Minecraft treadmills to the main theme from “La La Land.”
Team 17 counted 264,886 blocks (from more than 320 types of blocks) in their BRIC, and more than 206 hours to construct it.
“All of this during the most challenging semester of our academic careers,” Fisher-Shin pointed out.
They earned second-place honors, $100 each and an additional $50 of Bronco Bucks for their YouTube video presentation.
Two final teams built BRIC models. Team 14 (Evan Smith, Raymond Rhew and Zoey Nyberg) finished third ($75 each), with other competitors admiring the way they used Minecraft banners to create memorable mirror lighting. Team 1 (Angel Lopez-Montano, Elizabeth Woo, Ethan Chen and Jacob Vasquez) finished fourth ($50 each) with a build that featured rock-climbing horses and working lockers.
Some areas “were left up to the imagination because many of us have not actually been in the BRIC,” Team 1 said. But they powered through anyway: “Once we set our minds to it and lost a little bit of sanity and time in the process, we were able to get quite a good look.”
Some competitors like Joe Chen already are itching for the next MEP Minecraft Challenge. Larger cash prizes are at stake for teams that take on the 140,000-square-foot Student Services Building, aka the Potato Chip Building. “Spring grind let’s go,” Chen wrote in the Zoom chat.
Details on how to enter the next challenge are expected to be announced in January.