Minecraft, the indie gaming sensation that lets you build any item your imagination can conjure out of little Lego style blocks, is both an excellent adventure/strategy game and a superb way to get those creative juices flowing. Kids love it, and as it's a mostly non-violent way for kids to digitally express themselves (any combat in the game can be described as "slapstick" even at its most harrowing), gaming-savvy parents seem keen on it too.
Paul Harter is one such parent. A veteran of the start-up scene, he saw just how much his children were getting out of Minecraft and, seeing its creation tools as a doorway towards more complex CAD design software, created Printcraft. It lets Minecraft players turn their creations into physical 3D objects through 3D printing.
"Printcraft started as a project with my children," Paul reveals on the Printcraft website.
"I have a share in a Thing-O-Matic 3D printer and they wanted to build things to print on it, but most CAD applications are quite hard to learn at eleven or eight years old. 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."We caught up with Paul and his family at the recent 3D Print Show London 2012 event (you can check out a gallery of some of the amazing creations by artists on show at the event by clicking here), who gave us a quick run-down of how Printcraft works.
Rather than having to download a complex application or Minecraft mod, Printcraft is simply a server that all existing Minecraft users can access. It can be found at 18.104.22.168. Limiting the game world to a 100x100x100 cube, anything that can be made within that area is then turned into a .stl file, one of the most common 3D printing blueprint formats. If users pop a signpost with their email address on it alongside their Minecraft creations on the server, Paul then emails them the .stl file, which can then be sent to a 3D printing firm like Sculpteo to be turned into a real-life 3D printed object.
As it stands, Printcraft is an open and free service, and a superb way for children and all Minecraft fans alike to get real-world models of their creations. But the potential for a more comprehensive partnership with Minecraft is certainly there."We're not sure yet whether or not there's a commercial possibility here," Paul told Tech Digest at the 3D printing Expo.
"But I know start-ups, and this definitely isn't a start up. We've been in touch with Notch (AKA Minecraft creator Markus Persson - ed.), and hope he'll react positively to it. For now, we're just here at the show, testing the water, gauging interest."
And interesting it most certainly is. Printcraft in a school classroom could certainly liven up a staid design lesson. Here's hoping usually open-minded Minecraft team see fit to give Printcraft their blessing.
For more on Printcraft, visit www.printcraft.org.