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Campus & Community

UM-ade in Minecraft

Go Behind the Scenes of Student’s Virtual Build of McKeldin Mall

By Karen Shih ’09

Minecraft version of McKeldin Mall

A UMD student has almost completed a virtual version of McKeldin Mall and its surrounding buildings in the popular video game Minecraft.

Minecraft screenshots courtesy of Giuseppe LoPiccolo

With the squint of an eye and a tilt of your head, you might fool yourself into thinking you’re watching a drone video, soaring over McKeldin Mall’s sparkling fountain and stately red-brick buildings—until the grass abruptly ends after Woods Hall and you’re floating in mid-air.

That’s because you’re looking at a detailed re-creation of the University of Maryland’s central quad in the bestselling video game Minecraft, built block by block by Giuseppe LoPiccolo ’25. He started last summer but has completed most of it since winter break as he awaits the late March start of his study abroad semester in Tokyo.

“You want to make it look realistic, but it’s hard to find the right materials and scale the features,” said the government and politics major. “There’s a ton of hurdles.”

To overcome them, he’s carefully studied publicly available blueprints, used his skills as The Diamondback’s photo editor to take pictures and videos from every angle, and even relied on his girlfriend’s expertise as a plant science and landscape architecture major to help him figure out terrain.

LoPiccolo has been playing Minecraft since he was 9 years old and calls it his “favorite game of all time.” It was a natural extension of his love of building model ships and Lego sets, like the Millennium Falcon displayed in his Silver Spring, Md., bedroom, just in a virtual setting.

Devotees of the 13-year-old crafting and survival game know that means more than just pushing a few mouse buttons; the best players approach constructions with the mind of an architect and the logistics skills of an explorer as they literally “mine” Minecraft’s almost infinite, pixelated environment for construction supplies.

Players can choose “survival” mode, where the goal is to defeat enemies and pass different levels, or “creative” mode, focused on world-building. In the latter, he’s attempted elaborate designs from his own imagination, as well as the White House and the Capitol (two internships on the Hill helped) and finally, turned his attention to the UMD campus.

While LoPiccolo builds alone, he’s not alone. He streams for several hours a day on Twitch, usually to just a handful of watchers from as far away as Greenland, the United Kingdom and California. Every so often, a more popular streamer will bring over their entire audience—sometimes numbering in the hundreds—to watch him.

“It’s very stressful when it happens!” he said.

LoPiccolo aims to finish the Mall and its surrounding buildings before leaving for Japan, and hopes one day to create the rest of campus. He plans to distribute his build so others can explore what he’s created. “It would be cool to see if people really used it,” he said, such as Maryland Images tour guides or prospective students.

Explore his creation so far:

Minecraft version of McKeldin Library

McKeldin Library
It’s the only UMD building he’s seen others attempt in Minecraft, but people usually stop there. The small details are hard to get right—the thin railings, the writing etched on the outer wall—so there’s a lot of trial and error, LoPiccolo said.

Minecraft version of McKeldin Mall

The Mall
“You don’t notice it when you’re just walking around, but there’s a parking lot here, a pathway there. Those take a long time,” he said, especially calculating the right angles for the intersecting pathways. “I haven’t even started the trees yet!”

Minecraft version of ODK Fountain

ODK Fountain
“The toughest part has been the elevation changes,” he said. “Those are a big part of the character of the fountain.”

parking lot in Minecraft

Parking lots
Adding blocks individually takes an “arduously long amount of time,” he said. He uses WorldEdit, an in-game plugin that allows him to build large sections, like parking lots, with just a few clicks. “It can be daunting to learn these tools in a 3D world, but it’s just geometry, essentially.”

Minecraft version of green space near H.J. Patterson

Green space east of H.J. Patterson
Reminiscent of a tiered rice paddy from the side, the elaborate landscaping and sunken pollinator garden next to Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center took many multi-hour sessions to complete.

Minecraft version of Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center

Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center
Piecing together this mashup of the old Holzapfel Hall with new construction was just the beginning. LoPiccolo is excited to create the interior, which he’s doing only for McKeldin Library and ESJ.

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