Our Minecraft project has particular significance for local Ottawa history. We mainly devised it from a city plan that was never fully implemented. Jacques Greber, a Parisian city planner, made a speech to the National Capital in 1945 before developing a report on what he envisioned Ottawa to look like. Greber considered Ottawa’s increasing population and formulated a plan to meet those needs while keeping the city from expanding too far away from its core. Wishing to find a true identity for Ottawa, William Lyon Mackenzie King commissioned Greber to develop a city plan that would be unique and appealing to people. Greber completed his plan in 1950.
Earlier this semester, our group connected to discuss potential project topics for our game. We gathered with no idea of what we wanted the subject of our game to be among the three options. Matt previously covered the Greber Plan in an assignment for another class and proposed that we should make a game on the report, choosing the Ottawa Valley as our focus for the Minecraft project. The group had a very positive reaction to this idea because it offered an original topic that we could explore and make our own. Choosing the Greber Plan, however, challenged us to create a group project on a document that five out of the six members knew nothing about. We began studying the plan and analyzing fire insurance maps from mid-twentieth century Ottawa in order to expand our understanding.
Our group soon realized that it would be impossible to build Greber’s entire vision in Minecraft. We decided to select the areas we interpreted as most significant to the redesign of Ottawa. Our priorities for building are as follows:
- Roadway design – Greber preferred traffic circles to intersections, minimal street parking
- Greenbelt – Integrated green space to keep Ottawa from building away from the city core
- Railway design – Plan to move the railway to the outskirts of the city
- Locations of government buildings – Greber designed a grand City Hall at Confederation Park; he suggested that other government buildings (except Parliament Hill) should be relocated to the outer limits of the city
These sections became our main focal points for our game, though the Greber Plan contains more in-depth propositions.
Our building process began by visiting the Maps, Data and Government Information Centre (MADGIC) to find a topographical map of Ottawa. We then inputted it into Worldpainter. Our group spent weeks in this phase modifying the map, experimenting with scale and elevation.
This is the original map we obtained with the help of the MADGIC desk:
This is the map we uploaded to Minecraft after modifying it in Worldpainter (drew in the canal, fixed the elevation):
When we finished modifying the map in Worldpainter, we sent it to be uploaded. During the group presentations in class, we learned about a program called MCEdit. We looked up tutorials on how to use it and eventually downloaded it. MCEdit was useful for flattening land, paving roads and filling the canal with water (some of which we soon turned to ice). Because of the changes we made with MCEdit, our group had to send another world to be uploaded into our server. This forced us to work in single player for the time being, which significantly slowed down our building process. We also sent a teleportation mod and asset packs – in order to make our world look more realistic and less blocky.
We have not completed building at this point. We do, however, have a clear vision for what our end product will be. The player will begin in Greber’s office where he/she can take a look around and stumble upon a few of Greber’s diary entries. The player can teleport from his office to a high platform overlooking the world. In case the teleportation mod does not work out as planned, we posted signs on the ground to guide the player from Greber’s office to Ottawa.
As we were building, we soon realized we did not have enough time to complete our original plan. Our original plan focused on creating a representation of the roadways, traffic circles, and government buildings of the Greber Plan. In response to this issue, we decided to make our world into a 2D map of the report (where the player flies and looks at it from the sky). We left signs for the player indicating he/she should complete building in different areas. Our group will continue to work on our world in preparation for the NCC presentation.
Kee and Graham write that “the past… exists beyond the rules of language.” By using Minecraft to build our interpretation of the Greber Plan, we present local history beyond the rules of language as well. While exploring our world, the player experiences Greber’s city design in a way that it has not been presented before. Our game allows the player to interact with the plan and contribute to the project. Like Fogu suggests, games with historical themes can provide a new outlet for historical sourcing. The game provides a more meaningful interaction for the player in replace of reading the report. It initiates a comparison between today’s Ottawa and the Ottawa Never To Be.
Kee and Graham suggest that “the best way to teach history in an age of pervasive computing is through collaborative learning with computer games.” Our group is a direct example of this theory. Throughout our collaboration this semester, we have achieved a strong understanding of the Greber Plan by game-making.