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When looking at Minecraft pictures, I see that lots of people build lots of really neat structures, but I really wonder how they build some structures. Are the using some external tool to help them plan?

For example, let's take the case of a simple sphere, dome, or arch. How do you figure out where the blocks should be placed? Do you simulate the structure in some other tool? Do you use a calculator and the appropriate equations?

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By tools, do you mean off-game, external tools? Because when I read the question title I thought about in-game tools (pickaxe, shovel...) –  Denilson Sá Nov 15 '10 at 11:19
    
@Denilson Sá, Yes, external tools. Like 3d CAD programs or something. I am not talking about something to actually edit the Minecraft maps, just tools to help plan complex objects in 3D space. –  Zoredache Nov 15 '10 at 17:20
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See this question, which includes a link to a sphere generator. –  Zoredache Apr 19 '11 at 16:34
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12 Answers

If you want to make circles, spheres, or toruses (donuts) by hand, use some pixel templates like this one:

enter image description here

To build a sphere for example (one method of many), pick the diameter you want and build up circles as layers. For example, if you want to build a sphere with diameter 21, you would

  1. Start with a circle of diameter 7 on the bottom (according to the preceding template, some can vary), as the first "slice" up from the bottom is 7 across.
  2. The next slice is 11 across, so you would build a circle of diameter 11 on top, with the same center.
  3. Continue on, building circles of diameters 13, 15, 17, 19, 19, 21, 21, 21, and another 21 would be the equator of the sphere.
  4. That would make a hemisphere, continue on to make the full sphere.
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I used this same chart to build a hemisphere. It requires careful attention but works well. –  Jonathan Drain Apr 30 '11 at 21:13
    
Where can one find other similar such amazing diagrams? –  chandsie May 1 '11 at 3:45
    
@chands for what? Google Image Search? –  Nick T May 1 '11 at 5:09
    
I meant to ask if there is some website besides the minecraft forum where you can find schematics for stuff that people have built in minecraft. –  chandsie May 1 '11 at 19:34
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There's a map generator that specifically does that called Planetoids. It was featured on the Yogscast:

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That video was enjoyable to listen to. I blame their posh British accents. –  Raven Dreamer Apr 19 '11 at 18:54
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If you're a Bukkit junkie like me, utilize the miraculous in-game editor WorldEdit to generate custom spheres at will. To make a floating sphere, build yourself up on a pillar of sand and:

//hsphere glass 10

More info here.

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Yes, I was going to suggest WorldEdit as well; great tool if you don't consider it cheating. Just as a side note, you can use //hsphere glass 10 true instead, and it will automatically raise the sphere by 10 blocks above where you are, removing the need for the pillar of sand. –  Kevin Y Apr 20 '11 at 1:55
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For obvious reasons I'd suggest using the Minecraft Structure Planner. It's free, and you can download it from http://minecraftstructureplanner.com

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For simple structures trial and error would probably be an adequate solution. After all it doesn't take long to hack out any incorrectly placed blocks.

More complicated structures will require more thought and planning, but by taking things in stages you can break the problem down into more simple steps.

As for an external tool - pencil and squared graph paper might be all you need!

Just thought of something else - if you use sand or gravel as scaffolding then it's relatively easy to remove the excess material when you've finished. Just stand at ground level and hack away.

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I have tried trial-and-error. I have had more errors then I have the patience for, and was hoping for something better. –  Zoredache Nov 15 '10 at 0:20
    
@Zoredache - in that case I'd start with pencil and paper. If nothing else it will give you a better feel for where you need to place blocks. –  ChrisF Nov 15 '10 at 0:24
    
+1 to sand/gravel vertical scaffolds. –  Dmitry Selitskiy Jul 14 '11 at 1:54
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Minepedia has many map editors that provide 2d or 3d interfaces for rapid map editing. 2d and 3d brushes (rectangles, circles, spheres), copy and paste, block search and replace, and other functions are available.

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Is there one of those map editors that you like in particular? –  Zoredache Nov 15 '10 at 17:31
    
NBTForge is good for laying out huge structures quickly in layers. MCEdit is good for duplicating existing building blocks, working on curved-in-3D structures, and detail work. –  Sparr Nov 16 '10 at 7:09
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Full Glass Empty Clip has a great article on using Google sketchup to model your objects in proper 3D before you go off and build. There is a template linked in there with all the Minecraft blocks in and instructions to get you started. Not sure if you can export directly into a schematic to load into MCEdit yet, but your need for that depends if you want to build it by hand or not.

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I generally build a foundation for the structure out of gravel or dirt. From there, I slowly build more of it, and tweak as I go.

I try to build the important parts of the structure first (the skeleton of it), and worry about details later.

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Use wood for scaffolding or for your base, it will be easily burned and will be little effort.

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If you want to make perfect spheres, the 3D plans are available in this Minecraft Forum thread. I've built some cool stuff with these!

enter image description here

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Use MS Paint and zoom in up to maximum.

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MS Paint is good for a 2D slice, but how do you use that to build a 3D object. How would you use Paint to figure out the correct height of a Tetrahedron. –  Zoredache Nov 15 '10 at 17:25
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I make my own tools, such as my voxel sphere generator.

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How is one supposed to interpret the output from that? –  Raven Dreamer Nov 5 '11 at 22:28
    
It's up to you really, if you fill in blocks that are red, you'll get a solid 1/8 sphere. If you fill in the white blocks, you'll get a sphere cavity. You can also use just the first plan as a circle of a given radius. As I said, I use my own tools, so it makes enough sense for me. –  zzzzBov Nov 5 '11 at 22:49
    
Is the red bits one quarter of the constituent circles, then? –  Raven Dreamer Nov 5 '11 at 23:14
    
@RavenDreamer, yes, because it's simpler that way. Also, it allows you to choose whether you want the diameter to be even or odd. If you want it even, you can use the sides twice, if odd, only once. –  zzzzBov Nov 6 '11 at 3:10
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