Maker Faire NY: Getting Physical with Minecraft

If you’ve been hanging around Hackaday for a while, you’ve likely seen a few attempts to bridge the real world with the voxel paradise that is Minecraft. In the past, projects have connected physical switches to virtual devices in the game, or took chunks of the game’s blocky landscape and turned it into a 3D printable file. These were interesting enough endeavors, but fairly limited in their scope. They assumed you had an existing world or creation in Minecraft that you wanted to fiddle with in a more natural way, but didn’t do much for actually playing the game.

But “Physical Minecraft” presented at the 2018 World Maker Faire in New York, offered a unique way to bring players a bit closer to their cubic counterparts. Created by [Manav Gagvani], the physical interface has players use a motion detecting wand in combination with an array of miniature Minecraft blocks to build in the virtual world.

The wand even detects various gestures to activate an array of “Spells”, which are effectively automated build commands. For example, pushing the wand forward while making a twisting motion will automatically create a tunnel out of the selected block type. This not only makes building faster in the game, but encourages the player to experiment with different gestures and motions.

A Raspberry Pi 3 runs the game and uses its onboard Bluetooth to communicate with the 3D printed wand, which itself contains a MetaWear wearable sensor board. By capturing his own moves and graphing the resulting data with a spreadsheet, [Manav] was able to boil down complex gestures into an array of integer values which he plugged into his Python code. When the script sees a sequence of values it recognizes, the relevant commands get passed onto the running instance of Minecraft.

You might assume the wand itself is detecting which material block is attached to it, but that bit of magic is actually happening in the base the blocks sit on. Rather than trying to uniquely identify each block with RFID or something along those lines, [Manav] embedded an array of reed switches into the base which are triggered by the presence of the magnet hidden in each block.

These switches are connected directly to the GPIO pins of the Raspberry Pi, and make for a very easy way to determine which block has been removed and installed on the tip of the wand. Things can get tricky if the blocks are put into the wrong positions or more than one block are removed at a time, but for the most part it’s an effective way to tackle the problem without making everything overly complex.

We’ve often talked about how kid’s love for Minecraft has been used as a way of getting them involved in STEM projects, and “Physical Minecraft” was a perfect example. There was a line of young players waiting for their turn on the wand, even though what they were effectively “playing” was the digital equivalent of tossing rocks. [Manav] would hand them the wand and explain the general idea behind his interface, reminding them that the blocks in the game are large and heavy: it’s not enough to just lower the wand, it needs to be flicked with the speed and force appropriate for the hefty objects their digital avatar is moving around.

Getting kids excited about hardware, software, and performing physically demanding activities at the same time is an exceptionally difficult task. Projects like “Physical Minecraft” show there can be more to playing games than mindless button mashing, and represent something of a paradigm shift for how we handle STEM education in an increasingly digital world.

Game-Ception: Pokemon Red Playable Inside Minecraft

If you’ve ever wanted to take a dive into and visualize a game’s code, this could be a seminal example in a literal sense. After twenty-one months of effort, the entire Pokemon Red game is now playable inside Minecraft.

[Mr. Squishy] is the mad genius behind this project, laboriously re-coding the game literally block by block. A texture pack is needed for the specific sprites, but otherwise it is playable without mods. It’s not immediately apparent when loading in to the level, but chip your way through the floor of the stadium and you are confronted by something awe-inspiring: sprawling constructions, like great soaring cliffs, comprising approximately 357,000 command blocks — equating to the same in lines of code. Every animation, tracked stat, attack and their effects, the various pokemon and their properties, and so on are rendered in the game’s physical space for you to wander through.

Beneath that are levels of maps, positional data, properties of those areas, NPCs, and a clever glitch that [Mr. Squishy] used to keep everything loaded at once.

Continue reading “Game-Ception: Pokemon Red Playable Inside Minecraft”

Threat Meter Gauges Risk of Creeper-Assisted Suicide

If you’ve played even just a few minutes of Minecraft, you know what a creeper is. For those not familiar with the wildly popular sandbox game, a creeper is a monster that creeps along silently until it’s close to a player, whereupon it self-destructs by exploding. Sometimes it kills the player outright, and other times the explosion blows them into lava or off a cliff, or off a cliff and then into lava. Creepers have no friends.

But now there’s a way to avoid creeper attacks, or at least get a little heads up that these green nasties are lurking about. With [John Allwine]’s creeper detector, Minecraft players can get a real-world indicator of the current in-game creeper threat. The hardware end is simple enough — it’s just a SparkFun RedBoard and a small strip of Neopixels in a laser-cut plywood case. The LEDs lie behind a piece of etched acrylic to diffuse their glow — extra points for the creeper pattern in the lens. The detector talks over USB to a Minecraft mod that [John] wrote to interface the game with the real world. The closer a creeper gets to the player, the brighter the light. — and when it flashes, watch out. See it in action in the video below, if you can stomach watching someone dig straight down. Never dig straight down.

If interfacing the Minecraft world and the real world sounds familiar, maybe it’s because we featured [John]’s SerialCraft mod a while back and admired the potential for using Minecraft as a gateway for getting kids into hardware hacking. We agree that this is a great project to work on with kids, but we may just order the parts to do it for our own Minecraft world. Creeper hate isn’t just for kids.

Continue reading “Threat Meter Gauges Risk of Creeper-Assisted Suicide”

Minecraft and Forge: Try This Amazing Way to Visualize Logic

I’ve got virtual circuits on the mind lately. There are a myriad of tools out there that I could pick up to satisfy this compulsion. But the one I’m reaching for is Minecraft. I know what you’re thinking… a lot of people think Minecraft is getting long in the tooth. But chances are you never tried some of the really incredible things Minecraft can do when it comes to understanding logic structures. This goes way beyond simple circuits and easily hops back and forth over the divide between hardware logic and software logic.

Continue reading “Minecraft and Forge: Try This Amazing Way to Visualize Logic”

Hackaday Links: July 9, 2017

Doom is now running on the ESP32. This is some work from [Sprite_tm], and the last we heard about Doom on the ESP32 is that there was a silicon bug or something. Now we’re knee deep in the dead on a tiny WiFi and Bluetooth-enabled microcontroller.

Loading animations have a long and storied history. What originally began as an hourglass quickly turned into a hand counting to five and progress bars. There were clocks, the Great Beach Ball of Death, and now loading animations are everywhere. However, the loading animation has still not been perfected — until now, that is. This is a fidget spinner loading animation. It’s beautiful.

Just a quick reminder that a Minecraft scholarship exists. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, but there is a scholarship from the Klingon Language Institute for studying any language, and last year’s winner built a redstone computer from scratch,

[8bit generation] recently released a documentary, about the rise of Atari. Easy to Learn, Hard to Master is about the rise of Atari under [Nolan Bushnell]. Now [8bit generation] is working on a new documentary: Firing Steve Jobs. The [Steve Jobs] story is fascinating, and no matter what you think of him, he probably knew what he was doing.

Want to build and sell some hardware? Over on Tindie, we’re taking a look at some of the most successful designers of custom crafted hardware. This time it’s [Albertas Mickėnas] of Catnip Electronics who has sold five thousand soil moisture sensors.

You can just go out and buy a CNC machine, but that doesn’t quite underscore the difficulty in getting a CNC machine running. Our ‘ol pal [Jeremy] recently picked up a Romaxx CNC machine and put together a video of its commissioning. There’s a lot of work here, from building a shelf/stand for a rather beefy machine to cutting into the bed for t-tracks, and figuring out how dust collection is going to happen.

Before there was KiCad and Eagle and a ton of web-based PCB design tools, there was Autotrax. Want to know what PCB design and GUIs look like in DOS? I did a walkthrough for designing a small PCB in the DOS version of Autotrax late last year. There are thousands of designs locked up in discontinued EDA suites, and [Erich] has a way to revive them. He’s developed an Autotrax/Easytrax layout import/export plugin for pcb-nd. Now legacy Protel designs can be imported into software released in this century. This is really cool, and you can check out some screenshots here.

Ask Hackaday: Did Video Games Influence Your Career?

Apex Minecraft hosting recently held a scholarship competition. The person who sent in the best essay would win a $2,000 scholarship.  The winning essay starts, “Five years ago, at age 13, I built an entire computer from scratch. Assembled from basic components: wires, torches, repeaters, pistons, and blocks, it was capable of rendering images to a display, multiplying and dividing numbers, and even calculating square roots.” I  had to read it twice before it clicked that he was talking about a computer built entirely in a fictional universe.

It’s no wonder that he’s now a freshman at college, pursuing a degree in computer engineering. After reading this, I started to reminisce. The first computer I ever had access to was my mother’s laptop. It had an install of QBASIC on it, and I remember using it to make a few text based games. Later on when we got our first family computer I remember spending hours getting no better at video game programming using QBASIC.

It went on and on. I remember doing AI for video games in DarkBasic. I remember doing physics and collisions. Eventually I found my way to html, then php, to make websites about games (which are too terrible to share with you). So when the time came to program robots I was absolutely fearless. It just seemed like such a natural extension of what I already knew that it never occurred to me to be thankful for the time I spent trying to make my own simple little games until much later.

In the end I am still occasionally making little forays into game programming when I want to learn a new language or get back up to speed. It never occurred to me that perhaps this was just the way I’ve always learned a language.

Later on in the winner’s essay he goes on to describe his minecraft community. They taught new players. They taught themselves. They hung out and became friends. The writer gained a sense of self as a user of computers, a teacher of skills, a good member of a community, and a solver of problems. Unlike some of his classmates he won’t go to college and have to learn if he’s good enough. He’ll already know. All it took was a silly block based game.

Did any of you have seemingly frivolous endeavors show up as a foundation for your life and learning far into the future? Tell in the comments below how this ended up shaping your career.

Minecraft Sword Lights Up When Nearby Friends

With All Hallow’s Eve looming close, makers have the potential to create some amazing costumes we’ll remember for the rest of the year. If you’re a fan of the hugely addict-*cough* popular game Minecraft, perhaps you’ve considered cosplaying as your favorite character skin, but lacked the appropriate props. [Graham Kitteridge] and his friends have decided to pay homage to the game by making their own light-up Minecraft swords.

These swords use 3D-printed and laser-cut parts, designed so as to hide the electronics for the lights and range finder in the hilt. Range finder? Oh, yes, the sword uses an Arduino Uno-based board to support NewPixels LEDs and a 433Mhz radio transmitter and receiver for ranged detection of other nearby swords that — when they are detected — will trigger the sword to glow. Kind of like the sword Sting, but for friendlies. Continue reading “Minecraft Sword Lights Up When Nearby Friends”