Category Archives: Lego

Lego Minecraft Building Tips

The official Lego Minecraft set looks really good and does a great job at capturing the feel of a Minecraft environment. However having looked at various pictures of the set, I realised that apart from the couple of custom pieces with faces printed on them, we had the majority of the pieces for the set already. So we just went ahead and made some scenes ourselves.

Combined with its apparently small size, this doesn’t give us a great deal of incentive to pay the rather steep asking price (£29.99 in the UK) for the sets. I’d prefer to just buy any additional pieces we need from Bricklink. For example to get the look right, you need a lot of 1×1 tiles.

I’ve written here before about creating custom Lego sets, so I thought I’d share some notes and pointers on creating your own Lego Minecraft creations.

Notes on Scale

Lego bricks aren’t square blocks, so you can’t simply equate one brick to one block in Minecraft. Minifigs also don’t have the blocky feel of Minecraft mobs.

As you can see from the pictures of the sets and as noted in this wired piece, the designers of the official set have instead opted to make it a smaller “microscale” set.

Microscale building allows the creation of some incredibly detailed models by scaling down the model. This gives a closer fit to Minecraft, but means that you’re typically building with the smallest lego pieces — 1×1 plates, tiles, blocks, etc — rather than the larger bricks.

By the way, I’m not sure of which nomenclature your family uses, but I’ll try and stick to the catalog names here, to make the pieces easier to find in Bricklink if you do decide to purchase some extra pieces.

At microscale a single Minecraft block is roughly equivalent to a 1×1 brick with a 1×1 plate or tile on top.

3 Lego plates stacked together is the same height as 1 Lego brick which gives you a way to make slopes, hills, etc.

At microscale you either need to make your own minifigs and animals or use some of the microscale minifigs that come with Lego Heroica or the other recent Lego board games.

Colours

Minecraft doesn’t use a huge colour palette so its easy to map the various blocks to an appropriate Lego colour.

Here’s a run-down of some of the useful colours:

Colour ID Usage
White 1 Snow, Wool
Light Bluish Gray 86 Clay
Light Gray 9 Cobblestone
Dark Gray 10 Cobblestone
Black 11 Obsidian, Coal
Red 5 Lava
Brown 8 Dirt or Wood
Tan 2 Sand or Sandstone
Green 6 Grass or Leaves
Lime (or Bright Green) 34 (or 36) Leaves
Blue 7 Water
Trans-clear 12 Glass
Trans-red 17 Lava
Trans-Light blue 15 Water, Diamond, or Ice

Those are the colours that I’ve picked out from the official set, plus some additions of my own. Clearly there are many more colours you can use to create other types of blocks. For example there are lots of different colours of Wool which map over well.

If you browse the Lego colour list you can also find some chrome, pearl, metallic and speckled colours that could also be mixed in to add more detail.

The main limitation in recreating all of the Minecraft blocks is the lack of detailing on the blocks themselves. But if you sandwich a 1×1 red plate between two 1×1 light gray plates then you have a reasonable attempt at a Red Stone Ore block. Use the same technique to simulate other Ore blocks.

I’m a little surprised there isn’t a greater variety of colours and block types included with the official set. Perhaps there are more pieces than are visible in the published images. But this is all the more reason to have a go at creating something yourself.

Suggested Part List

In general you’ll want a mixture of Bricks, Plates and Tiles.

Bricks are used to build up the underlying terrain, including caverns, mountains, etc. You’ll therefore mostly want these in Light and Dark Grey.

Plates are used to build up the layers of the model to add detail. Larger plates can be used as the basis of the model, particularly if you’re aiming for a modular design similar to the official set.

Tiles are the flat pieces that don’t have any studs on top. These are used to “finish” off the model and give a nice smooth terrain.

Generally speaking you’ll want to have smaller versions of each of these types, e.g. 1×1 or 1×2, as these give more of a Minecraft feel to the design. But you can easily substitute larger pieces. We used some larger blue tiles for building some sea when we ran out of smaller pieces.

Here is a complete suggested parts list which is based partly on inspecting the pictures of the official Minecraft set plus some additions of my own. You can use this as a shopping list if you want to buy some pieces from Bricklink.

That might seem like a long list but a lot of these are basic Lego pieces that come with a lot of models. Depending on the size or complexity of the model you want to make you might want some larger plates, bricks or tiles, or additional pieces such as corners.

Buying Parts

To buy pieces from Bricklink, click through to the catalog entry and then select a colour. You can then see “Lots for Sale” for all the available colours, as well as a Price Guide. If you register with the site then you can build up a wishlist of parts.

I’ve typically found that I need to place orders with several vendors to assemble all the parts I need. Most vendors seem happy to accept even fairly small orders.

Microfigs

The official minecraft microfig pieces are easy to recreate, minus the custom decals:

Steve:

  • Plate 1×1, Black (1)
  • Brick 1×1, Blue (1)
  • Plate 1×12, Tan (2)
  • Tile 1×1, Brown (1)

Creeper:

For our attempt at the Creeper we substituted a 1×1 Brick For a Black 1×1 plate sandwiched between 2 Green 1×1 plates.  You can see that, plus an attempt at a cow and a skeleton in this photo.

If you want to make a Chicken then these pieces make good beaks.

Unfortunately, according to Bricklink, there aren’t any small plates, bricks or tiles in any shade of pink, which means no Pigs! Cheer yourself up by making one out of paper instead.

Modular Building

All lego sets are modular: you can tear them down and create whatever you want. But there are a number of ways in which you can make sections of a larger build modular, allowing you to recombine larger sections into new configurations. There are two techniques used in the official Lego set: Modular Landscape and Modular Surface.

As you can see from the pictures the official set consists of 4 separate landscape pieces. These make up a Modular Landscape because they can be fixed together in several different configurations. This is achieved by building each section of the landscape on top of a separate 6×6 plate, with no overlapping bricks. Immediately on top of those base plates you can add in 4 Technic Brick 1×2 with Axle Holes. By adding in some axles you end up with a simple way to fix the landscape sections together along any of their sides. With a little thought to how you build the surface components you can create some nicely reconfigurable scenes.

What about Modular Surface features? If you look closely at this picture in the Wired gallery you can see that the landscape sections themselves can be broken down to give access to the caverns underneath the surface. This is done by building the surface features on a brown 6×6 plate which is then stuck onto the underlying rock section.

To make the surface easy to remove the rock section has been “capped off” using a number of tiles (Tile 1×3, Tile 1×4, Tile 1×6) so that most of the studs are covered. By adding a Plate, Modified 1×4 with 2 Studs you end up with a couple of studs that crown off the base rock section. These studs provide enough “clutch power” to hold the model together but still give easy access to other sections without requiring a lot of fiddling around: plates can be very hard to pull apart.

Summary

Hopefully that’s given some food for thought about how to approach building some of your own Lego Minecraft creations. With a good working set of parts in the necessary colours you can create some great models.

I’ve not priced up a complete working set but with the larger, rarer pieces costing a most a few pence at Bricklink, it should be possible to assemble what you need cheaper than buying the full official set.

Even if you decide to go ahead and buy the official set, buying more parts and using the same modular building techniques will let you create some useful customizations.

Happy building.

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Custom Lego Sets

For a couple of years now I’ve tried to do something a little different for Christmas presents for the kids. I’m not particularly good with my hands but I’ve always wanted to be able to make them things: something that will hopefully mean a little more than the average gift.

For example one year I made them a level in LittleBigPlanet called Sackboy Saves Christmas. (Aside for data geeks: each LittleBigPlanet level now has its own unique URI). The level isn’t great, but I had fun making it, and they’ve enjoyed playing it. A little later I also made them some real pods for their sackboys.

This year I decided to do something with Lego.

Lego Digital Designer is a simple and free CAD package for building and designing lego sets. Once you’ve designed something you can get it priced and ultimately have it turned into a real set.

I’ve tried this package a few times but found that the brick set is a little limited and the price racks up quickly. I’m also not the world’s greatest designer so my creations weren’t great. So I decided to take a slightly different tack.

Lego Community Sites

There are a lot of great lego community sites. One of these is Peeron which is a lego inventory website that provides access to a database of lego parts, set inventories, instruction scans and photos. The whole thing is crowd-sourced so you can submit new inventories or scans.

One particularly nice feature is that you can build a personal inventory of lego sets and parts. You can browse sets, ticking off those that you own, and the site builds a database of the various parts that make up the sets. When you’re browsing a set you don’t have you can also click “try to build” and the service will run the set inventory through the list of parts you own, and let you know whether you have all of the required parts, if you have any of the right part but in the wrong colour, or which parts you’re missing.

The core of the family lego collection is the remnants of my childhood collection of Classic Lego Space sets. There were lots of parts missing, but we’ve been able to use Peeron to resurrect some of the sets with substitute parts.

While you can get new bricks, baseplates and minifigs from the lego shop, if you want to track down hard to find or discontinued pieces then there’s one place to go: Bricklink.

For the uninitiated, Bricklink is essentially an Ebay for Lego. It’s a marketplace where anyone can go to buy and sell lego bricks, sets, and instructions. Not only is it a fantastic resource for tracking down hard to find pieces, but I’ve found that even new bricks are much cheaper than buying them direct from lego.

There’s a search engine on the site for tracking down what you need. Lego part numbers are standardised so it’s easy to find what you want if you’re buying missing pieces for a set you want to build from Peeron. It’s also a great place to go to if you’re piecing together a custom set from scratch. You can maintain a wanted list and get alerts as pieces become available. And if you do buy from the marketplace, you can download the part list for your order for importing back into Peeron, to keep you part list up to date.

The Bricklink community is also very friendly and efficient. I’ve found that orders tend to be processed really quickly and come well packaged. I’ve taken care to rate sellers and comment on every order as that kind of quality interaction is something to encourage.

So if you’re thinking about building custom lego sets, Bricklink is definitely the place to start.

Finding and Creating Custom Lego Set Designs

Having ruled out trying to create something completely unique I settled on creating sets from other people’s creations. A bit of a cop out I suppose, but the end result would still be something different to what’s in the the Lego catalogue.

I’ve mentioned Lego Digital Designer already. There’s also a more “professional” Lego CAD package called LDraw which is essentially a suite of open source tools for creating and manipulating Lego model designs. As well as the core CAD package itself there are also tools to support creating rendered images from designs, and even to create complete instructions that are very close to those produced by Lego themselves. The tools are a bit fiddly to work with though and surprisingly I found it hard to track down many designs that people had actually shared.

Another resource is the MOCPages community. MOC stands for “My Own Creation”. It’s essentially a community site where people can upload photo sets for models they’ve created. There are some really great (and big!) Lego models on that site! Little in the way of instructions or parts lists though, so there’s an element of reverse engineering involved.

There’s also a community of people using Flickr to share their creations. I’ve been following Peter Reid for a while as he creates the most fantastic selection of Lego space and robot models. Again, you need to be prepared to reverse engineer, but this isn’t too hard for the smaller models at least.

A final source for some small simple models is the Brick Issue. This is the magazine of the Brickish Association and has a regular feature “5 Minute Model” feature that provides instructions for some simple models.

What I Made

Issue 7 of the Brick Issue, for example, has a 5 minute model of a Turtle droid by Peter Reid (photo). This was perfect for my purposes as my son and I had been admiring the Turtle Factory at the Great Western Lego Show (watch the video!). So this formed the basis for the first set I put together for my son.

I found the second set I decided to package via the Neo Classic Space blog. This is a Lego fan blog focused specifically on people updating the old Lego Classic Space theme to use modern parts as well as covering some fantastic new models made to follow the theme. There are some excellent micro-scale models featured on there, including this one of an X-wing. This was pretty easy to reverse engineer so I put together a second set that consisted of three X-Wings; one with some slight tweaks to make it the “squad leader”.

Lego has a pretty hit and miss affair when it comes to creating sets for girls. My daughter loves Lego too, but primarily for playing with the minifigs and the towns and buildings. So for her I assembled a collection of female minifigs to add to her existing small collection.

Once I’d ordered all of the parts — which involved probably ten or more individual orders across a number of Bricklink sellers — the remaining work was to order some boxes from the The Bag And Box Man. I created some custom labels, following the Lego box art style, which is pretty easy to reproduce. The availability of some great flickr photos of the models meant that I had plenty of existing resources to draw on.

I was pretty pleased with the end result and so were the kids! It was definitely a fun project over the pre-Christmas run-up and a welcome distraction from a very busy work schedule. If you’re interested in trying this out yourself, hopefully there are some useful pointers in this post.

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