Playing a bit like a computer version of Lego, Mojang's Minecraft – the darling of the indie game movement – has been an impressive success story. It soared to mainstream popularity as intrepid players proudly showcased their elaborate creations online. Its similarity to Lego didn't go unnoticed by the toy giant, and in 2012 kids of all ages could enjoy the game AFK with a licensed brick set. The problem is, you'd need an awful lot of bricks to recreate what you can make in the game (for example, check out this version of Game of Thrones' King's Landing), so that's where Printcraft – and the magic of 3D printing – enters the picture.
Developed by Paul Harter, Printcraft is a multi-player Minecraft server that converts player creations into STL files ready for 3D printing. The idea came about because of his kids' obsession with the game, mixed with their desire to make stuff on their dad's Thing-O-Matic 3D printer.
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"They wanted to build things to print on it, but most CAD applications are quite hard to learn at 11 or 8 years old," Harter explains. "However they are both adept at Minecraft. So I wrote a script to create printable 3D models from within Minecraft. It worked well so I have put it online in an easy to use web service. Several groups around the world now regularly use Printcraft to build and play."
That Minecraft's rudimentary 3D models could be considered entry-level CAD design should come as no surprise. The game has proven such a user-friendly creative tool that a Swedish grade school has incorporated the game into its lesson plan. Now any of those creations can be realized with Printcraft. There are 100 spaces available on the server, and designs can be immediately uploaded to Thingiverse – an online repository of 3D models.
Check out a video of the program and its results below.