Israel given detailed 1:1 recreation in popular video game 'Minecraft'

Painstakingly rendering the State of Israel in ‘Minecraft’ – part of 1:1 scale model of the entire planet in the world’s most popular video game

Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, is the latest major landmark to be rendered in 'Minecraft' in one of BTE Israel's big collaborative events. is seen in Build The Carth (photo credit: BTE ISRAEL)
Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, is the latest major landmark to be rendered in 'Minecraft' in one of BTE Israel's big collaborative events. is seen in Build The Carth
(photo credit: BTE ISRAEL)
Israel is being recreated in its entirety in the popular video game Minecraft, with a team of builders painstakingly recreating every inch of the country on a 1:1 ratio.
The project is part of the Minecraft Build The Earth (BTE) project, which aims to build a 1:1 (with one block equaling one meter) model of the entire earth in the video game. This takes advantage of the game’s unique premise and mechanics, which, assuming creative mode is turned on, allows users to build their own creations without restrictions in a massive procedurally generated world.
This is no small task, and has teams all over the world incorporating terrain data to work on their own countries. But in the Middle East, the team dedicated to Israel and the West Bank, known as BTE Israel, is the largest and most active, boasting 50 builders and over 400 members.
However, it wasn’t always that big. But when Bernard "Boaz" Moerdler came in and took up the reins as manager, the project began expanding, boosting ahead of the BTE UAE team and the BTE Middle East team, the latter of which consists of most other countries in the region ranging from Egypt to Lebanon and even Iran.
These groups, like all others, take advantage of the terrain data to recreate the world in the game. But for Israel, the terrain data proved especially challenging, particularly due to security reasons necessitating some inaccuracies in the data. This initially led to some interesting results, as buildings could get confused with mountains, including a mountain in place of the Azrieli Towers in Tel Aviv.
It is for this reason that the BTE Israel/West Bank team partnered with Simplex Mapping, a company that often works with Israeli municipalities to make 3D terrain models through private aircraft.
“We were actually using their mapping tools beforehand because it’s more accurate, and I decided to shoot them an email,” Moerdler told the Magazine. “They actually were really interested.” Using the mapping tool allows the team to measure buildings and other topographical features whose dimensions are not publicly available.
“One block is one meter. So Azrieli Tower, for instance, is 187 meters and would be 187 blocks tall,” Moerdler explained. “And with Simplex, we can measure any single building we have available, even if we don’t have the dimensions.” Dimensions are a bigger challenge than it seems. As everything in Minecraft is a cube, builders cannot simply utilize a globe. Rather, they are forced to utilize what is known as a Dymaxion projection, which flattens the earth in such a way that all landmass and ocean dimensions are preserved accurately on a two-dimensional plane, rather than when globes are simply flattened into maps, which result in inaccuracies such as landmasses like Greenland being shown as significantly larger than they actually are.
Collaboration with Simplex allowed the team to work on a more ambitious scale, and is seen in its most recent big event: creating a full-scale model of Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square.
The success of the Rabin Square event has even attracted the attention of the Tel Aviv Municipality, with its international arm Tel Aviv Global planning on collaborating with the team in the future. This collaboration would see the BTE Israel team tasked to build another iconic Tel Aviv landmark, which would likely be decided upon via an online poll, a municipality official confirmed to the Magazine.
A recreated roundabout alongside nearby buildings, in the city of Jaffa. (Credit: BTE Israel)A recreated roundabout alongside nearby buildings, in the city of Jaffa. (Credit: BTE Israel)
Big events are often how some of the bigger projects get done, with the team’s builders working together on a single project. Of course, they aren’t limited to just these events, and the builders have their own side projects and focuses. This has led to some of Israel’s more obscure locals being surprisingly detailed.
“Yad Mordechai is absolutely insane with detail,” Moerdler explained. “And there’s another builder who’s working on recreating the entire bursa [Israel Diamond Exchange] in Ramat Gan. He’s practically making a tower a day.” Other notable landmarks under construction include Ramat Gan Stadium, the El-Bahar Mosque in Acre, St. Anthony’s Church in Jaffa, the Baha’i International Teaching Center in Haifa, the Old City of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv’s Rabbi Kook Tower.
But the most surprisingly detailed part of the country so far is Gedera, with approximately 15% of the entire city rendered in painstaking detail. This includes entire neighborhoods, bridges, specific elementary schools and even F-15 fighter jets flying overhead.
“We have three builders living there, and they go out and take pictures and do everything to collect accurate data,” Moerdler said. “They’ve put a ton of effort into it, and it’s really exciting.” There are several other promising projects in the works, including efforts to rebuild Jerusalem, Caesarea and even Masada, with Moerdler himself working on Ben-Gurion Airport and the entrance to Jerusalem. It’s here that the level of detail becomes really evident, as it isn’t just landmarks and cities that are recreated, but waterways and transportation networks as well.
“We haven’t really tackled waterways yet, and we haven’t yet spoken to the BTE River team [a group focused on rivers and waterways] about the Jordan River, and we might soon when we start working on those areas,” Moerdler explained.
A city block of Gedera is rendered of detail in 'Minecraft.' (Photo credit: BTE Israel)A city block of Gedera is rendered of detail in 'Minecraft.' (Photo credit: BTE Israel)
“But we have started working with the BTE Transport team, which makes trains, tanks and airplanes. We specifically contacted them about Israeli railway trains and ordered them made. We’re building the train stations, and we’re planning on having the stations connected, though we’d need to find exact measurements for the tunnels for the high-speed trains, especially around Jerusalem.” This lack of information reflects some of the other challenges the team faces, such as information unavailable for security reasons.
“We had to build the Matcal Tower in the Kirya [military headquarters] because it’s visible from Azrieli Towers,” Moerdler said. “But all the other buildings on the campus we won’t put in. The rule is, if you can see it, we need to build it. That’s why interiors would only be included if it’s available to the public. We also won’t build other classified areas like some air force bases.” And, of course, if any locations need to be removed for security reasons, they will do so, but so far there have been no complaints.
Another area unable to be built is Gaza, as there isn’t enough information available.
But lack of information isn’t the only challenge the team has faced.
Currently, the most challenging area to build is the Baha’i Gardens in Haifa. This, Moerdler explained, is because of how difficult it is to render how the stairs are incorporated in the hill. The gardens are also currently the farthest people have started working in the North.
Another expected problem is the Dead Sea, as while rendering the salt might be difficult on its own, it is unclear how to replicate the floating effects of the water in Minecraft.
Tel Avvi's Azrieli Towers reconstructed in 'Minecraft.' (Photo credit: BTE Israel)Tel Avvi's Azrieli Towers reconstructed in 'Minecraft.' (Photo credit: BTE Israel)
FOR NOW the team is focusing on its upcoming projects.
“Our biggest event so far was the Knesset building and surrounding area, which took about a week and had every builder working,” he explained.
“We’re also planning an event in Eilat. But our next big event is a Christmas/Hanukkah event around the Old City. We’re also planning on working on the Bethlehem area then, too, but the Old City [in Jerusalem] is important to everyone, so we’re using that.” And this focus on something central to everyone is especially important given how the project unites Israelis and Palestinians alike to work together. Not only that, but it has also extended beyond borders, with the team having communicated with the other teams in the region.
“We’re close with a lot of groups, and it’s really nice that real-life [political] issues don’t come up,” Moerdler explained. “When the Beirut Port blast happened, we had a lot of people from our server go over to the BTE Lebanon server to check on them.” This also works in line with the project’s main goal.
“The idea is, once the world map is complete, people can travel around and explore the world, even places that are hard to get to,” he told the Magazine.
And with Minecraft’s popularity, being the single most commercially successful video game in history, with a thriving active player base of well over 100 million users, this is hardly just a pipe dream.
But this took on a whole new meaning due to the coronavirus pandemic forcing quarantines and lockdowns, keeping people more isolated than ever before.
“Because of COVID-19, people can’t visit Israel. But on the server, people can come see the sites,” Moerdler explained.
“With Israel being of major importance to multiple religions, it’s essential that people come to see the sites. And while it’s not the same, the detail is still great.”
This adds a deeper meaning to BTE Israel’s motto: “Breaking the divides between us one block at a time.”
To find out more about BTE Israel, visit its website at www.bteisrael.online or its official YouTube channel. To learn more about Minecraft Build The Earth, visit buildtheearth.net. To learn more about Simplex Mapping, visit their website: https://www.simplex-mapping.com/

The writer is a breaking news editor at The Jerusalem Post. He reports on all aspects of geek culture, including video games.