For one, how the hell did they make it look so good? Minecraft‘s textures aren’t really that crisp. There are no shadows like that. I asked Chris Henry, one of the moderators on Westeroscraft, to help explain how they made them so visually stunning.
“We use Sonic’s Unbelievable GLSL Shaders in combination with Optifine to get a further render distance, then run that screenshot through a program called Chunky which creates a 3D render,” he told me.
In other words, the pictures are heavily modded with a bunch of third-party programs that allow you to manipulate Minecraft‘s aesthetics. But how do they actually build the world? To keep the project coordinated — and to prevent stray jerks from ruining all of their hard work — Henry says they have an application process for potential builders. “We have people apply and show us what work they are capable of and if it feels up to calibre we accept them on,” he said.
They work in small teams of 2-15 people, each led by a community moderator like Henry. They start each section of the massive world of Westeros by outlining where the walls should be. Then, builders can get inside and use their own personal creativity to fill out the guts of each castle or city.
“For the most part we trust our builders’ discretion and enjoy their input on style and looks and a lot is also repetition of a pattern which is fairly autonomous,” Henry said. “One of the biggest factors of the success of our server is the people. With so many people coming together you never run short of ideas and things you never thought to put together. You can learn something new every time you log on and explore.”
So why bother? Why put all this effort into a project that seems, to many, like a total waste of time?
“My grandpa used to spend his free time working in his wood shop,” Henry said. “I spend my time working in a digital wood shop.”
If you’re interested in checking out the maps for yourself, Henry says they’ll be releasing a selection of them later this week. You can vote for which ones you want to see first at this Reddit thread.