The grand designs of the Cubed Community freebuild server
Cubed Community is a freebuild server with over 5000 members from all around the globe. Its aim: to build together as one, making light work of massive, meticulously-realised cities, each informed by real urban planning methods. Well, comparatively light work anyway - their ongoing modern city project, Westpoint, has been in the works since 2014. Rather gloriously rendered above by Droolie, Westpoint’s world file is currently a 5GB download - and growing.
I had a chat with Cubed Community owner Adam “Aequotis” Berry about marshalling such massive multiplayer talent and his love for urban design. Adam describes himself as “a bit of a city freak” - an obsession that many on the server share.
“There are quite a few of us on the team who have an education in geography and cartography, so we normally pull upon from that,” says Adam. The server tends to gravitate towards European cities, because of their more organic structure, and layered architectural history. To some extent, this goes against Minecraft’s strengths - the higgledy-piggledy growth of European cities doesn’t fit neatly into a grid. But it’s exactly that which appeals.
“It’s an extremely attractive prospect to make things fluid,” says Adam, “to work through a time period. So even with modern cities what we’d do is give it a little bit of a lore, some background and say, ‘This city was started in the 17th Century, so it’s not going to be organised on a grid system, it’s going to be much more fluid.’”
French cities are a particular favourite - “They’re just absolutely beautiful,” says Adam – and that’s born out in the server’s La Saint-Victoire City project, heavily inspired by Paris’s 19th century architecture and rendered above by Crankerman. Westpoint, meanwhile, is more of an amalgam, a “love-child project” that compiles all of the members interests into a shining modern city. Cubed Community are soon to embark on Isona, a city inspired by Spain.
“Normally old-style cities are more built up,” explains Adam, comparing the approaches to modern and old. “Old cities are cluttered with small roads, lots of little tiny bridges, lots of greenery. Then in comparison the modern cities are very open, well-spaced, with extremely tall high-rise skyscrapers. They’re very structured – with residential districts, districts of skyscrapers, districts of say, gardens and parks.”
But before the first brick-block is laid, however, the landscape is designed, and that then informs the shape of the city. It’s part of what makes Cubed Community’s projects such credible spaces - the way that they acknowledge the sorts of real world constraints on cities: an awkwardly placed river, a stubbornly obstructive mountain.
“We look at the landscape and we think – if we build a bridge here, what’s going to have to be around that bridge? And if there’s going to be a bridge, what type of bridge? Does it need to be for traffic, does it need to be for people? And if there’s a mountain, does it make more sense for the road to go around the mountain or through it? We decide what looks prettiest and what is the most functional.”
The most critical thing to get right is the road network - it's around these arteries that the rest of the city’s infrastructure is organised.
“Once the roads are done we start with the actual buildings,” says Adam. “Perhaps it’s got to have a certain architectural style, or it’s set in a certain period, so you’ll have certain kinds of cars on the road, and particular kinds of infrastructure should be present. Then we spread out from a central point and keep building and building and building upon it. With Westpoint, we’ve now got a full working infrastructure, we’ve got roads, we’ve got tunnels, we’ve got building interiors, we’ve got tram-lines – all things that you’d see in a normal city.”
To speed things along, the server supports third-party creation tools like WorldEdit and Voxel Sniper, and builders can plunder an archive of pre-fabricated assets - trees, cars and bits of street furniture - to add detail relatively quickly.
But how do they organise such an endeavour?
“These cities can sometimes be twenty miles in diameter, so trying to get all the people working together and knowing what they’ve got to do and making sure that everything’s done is a challenge,” says Adam. “We have people who apply who then become builders, then we have supervisors and administrators to give the work to the builders, lay things out and plot things, moderate it – it’s all very well planned and structured.”
But structure doesn’t mean being ruthlessly strict. Quite the opposite, in fact. “Sometimes if we’ve got a builder who’s not doing as well as everyone else, we normally take them out for discussion and then work on developing their skills – so we teach them, show them how to build, show them different styles and just mentor some of them.”
Adam calls Cubed Community a family - and it’s hard to imagine how such large projects could get off the ground without that sense of a shared, friendly purpose. What could be more in the spirit of Minecraft than that?