Building Seattle, brick by video game brick: City rises in Minecraft as part of immense project

Rome wasn’t built in a day, the saying goes. But hey, Seattle was built in a month! At least a big chunk of it was — in Minecraft.

An impressive effort by a collection of geeks who are into Microsoft’s block-by-block video game can be seen in new videos that popped up on Reddit this month. The 1:1-scale recreation of the city is part of the larger “Build the Earth” project in which Minecraft builders plan to recreate the entire planet and all of its places.

That undertaking is being led by a Seattle-area YouTuber who goes by PippenFTS, and preferred that name for this article. PippenFTS told GeekWire he grew up in Washington state and now lives north of Seattle. The 31-year-old has been playing Minecraft since 2013 and said he worked retail jobs before chasing his dream to be a professional, full-time piano player. The pandemic crushed that dream, so he pivoted hard to full time work on Build the Earth and being a YouTuber.

PippenFTS’s YouTube channel has almost half a million subscribers and his videos are a fun collection of commentary and clips related to Minecraft builds, including Seattle.

During March, he put out a call to see if builders could assemble 1,000 buildings in the Seattle Minecraft server. They did it, and then some.

His longer video, below, is a dizzying display of the work involved in constructing everything from Columbia Tower to Lumen Field. Timelapse views and in-game aerial shots show the progress as the city rises brick by brick.

And because the construction never seems to stop, in real Seattle or in Minecraft Seattle, there are cranes everywhere.

“It’s hard to measure how many hours,” PippenFTS said of the time he and others spent building the city.

He said he spent 256 hours himself to do the first 100 buildings, and did an additional 60 buildings for the “1,000 Seattle buildings” video, bringing his time investment to an estimated 410 hours. With a wide margin of error, that calculates to about 3,018 hours collectively for the group to construct 1,179 buildings.

“The two hardest parts were keeping everyone motivated, and keeping the stamina up personally, being on every day and grinding to the best of my ability,” PippenFTS said.

PippenFTS said he worked downtown, in the real world, every day prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and he’s most satisfied with his work in the game on Columbia Tower, which took a week of six- to 10-hour days to construct.

A view of downtown Seattle, in Minecraft, looking north with Smith Tower in the foreground. (Build the Earth screen grab)

At least he’s set foot in the real life version of the city. Reddit user WigitMigit, who is a 16-year-old high school student named Spencer, was the one who posted about the project in Reddit’s r/Seattle channel and made the highlight video at the top of this story. He’s never been to Seattle and lives across the country in Maryland.

“I’ve certainly learned a lot about the city through this process and I’ve always loved the Pacific Northwest area,” said Spencer, who credited Build the Earth teams for the bulk of the work.

“We utilized Google Maps and Google Earth as our reference, and we have a mod that essentially generates the world’s height data onto a Minecraft map,” Spencer said. “We build our buildings on top of the terrain generated by the mod.” In a previous article, PippenFTS explained how the two mods make it possible to exceed Minecraft’s normal height limit for terrain.

RELATED: Block out the date: Minecraft graduation ceremony will show off UW group’s impressive Seattle build

Spencer has been playing Minecraft for more than eight years and he credits the game with sparking his interest in architecture, which is what he hopes to pursue in college and as a career. The Seattle build only adds to his desire to visit the city in person.

For someone who lives close enough to the city to actually see it and experience it, PippenFTS still finds himself in a space between what’s real and what’s a video game.

“On the way to the airport last weekend we drove through downtown [Seattle] on the freeway,” he said. “It was surreal, felt like I was back on the server, building it in Minecraft. That’s how strong the experience is spending so much time around the buildings in game and in real life, then switching from one to the other.”

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