A one-paragraph short story by Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges imagines an empire that created maps so precise that they were the size of the empire itself. Large paper maps that didn’t leave out any detail. Every tree, mountain, streetlight and house had its exact true-to-scale representation on the empire’s maps. In Borges’s 1946 story, future generations came to regard its maps as useless and cumbersome, mostly due to how large they were and how much space they took.
The story was a thought exercise on cartography. How much detail should be on a map? You would think that a more detailed map would be preferable, until you start thinking of its practical consequences.
Of course, there was no way for even the imaginative Borges to predict the great leaps technology would take when he wrote On Exactitude of Science more than 70 years ago. Since then we've all come to own maps on our smartphones and can explore most of the planet through Google Earth. But still, its limitations are apparent.
Now we may be on the verge of having a digital version of a true-to-scale world map, a place we can walk around in and interact with, and it is being done in Minecraft.
Earlier this month, YouTuber PippenFTS claimed that he had made a 1:1 scale version of the planet for the first time. Something that was unthinkable with the game's 255-metre vertical height limit. Minecraft is massive, and that's an understatement. All of Earth can fit in one of its maps, but only horizontally. However, a new mod may have changed that.
"When I first started playing Minecraft, I had a series of pivotal thoughts and colossal ideas that bound me to the game, and one of them was whether it would be possible to create the entire earth in Minecraft one day," PippenFTS says in a YouTube video that has raked in more than eight million views since it was posted on Saturday, March 21.
The video shows him trekking up Mount Everest, rendered in the game’s signature cubic graphics. The mountain is true to scale, which means it runs up to a height of 8,848 metres.
The leap in the game’s vertical axis came as a result of two mods.
"The Cubic Chunks mod virtually changes the shape of Minecraft's chunks […] giving you infinite build depth in both directions," PippenFTS explains. "With the Cubic Chunks mod breaking Minecraft's vertical limitations, we can now experience the Earth in Minecraft. Just as it is, with no downscaling whatsoever."
The second mod, called 'Terra 1-to-1', takes information from Google Maps and other geographical data archives and compiles it to create a 1:1 scale of the Earth in Minecraft terrain generator.
“Elevation data, tree cover data, roads, even climate data and soil suborder data [is compiled] to make the Planet Earth map as accurate to the real thing as possible," he says.
However, there are some glitches. There islands that shouldn’t be there, the Egyptian pyramids look like a heap of clay and the Palm Jebel Ali is inexistent.
In fact, as it stands now, the Planet Earth map shows the world today as it would be if humans never came to be, and PippenFTS is calling on Minecraft players around the world to help him change that.
"I am going to recreate Seattle as it stands today in the real world," he announces, as his Minecraft avatar explores a green field where his hometown of Seattle should be.
“But I don’t want to stand alone in this project. That’s why I’m calling for all Minecrafters around the world, skilled builders and organisations to join in on this effort. Start their own Planet Earth map, pick a large city or a territory of their own. And work on creating it one-to-one scale, just as it stands today.”
When each large city or territory is finished, PippenFTS plans to patch them all together with map editors, “until one day, the Earth in Minecraft, with all human-made structures is built and completed in one map.”