Lakecraft was inspired by a 2013 Freshwater Summit held at ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, at which Vermont Agency of Natural Resources Commissioner David Mears casually fantasized that someday his child would play a hypothetical, educational game he dubbed "Lakecraft" rather than spending all his time on Minecraft.
Development began during our National Day of Civic Hacking later that year. Detailed geospatial data was used to recreate all 8,234 sq. miles of the Lake Champlain drainage basin which includes several major urban areas in Vermont and upstate New York. Further work was done to massage elevations and introduce some modern infrastructure such as roads.
Lakecraft has been used primarily as an educational tool. ECHO began prototyping educational syllabuses during summer camps for elementary-aged children. The game lends itself well to lessons that deconstruct the modern world such as how we experience familiar areas differently without man made landmarks, or imagining what our region was like before the European settlement of the United States. Lakecraft is freely available and is inherently "hackable", encouraging users of all levels to explore and modify a their own landscape.
The Lakecraft project has not been in active development since 2015, although many of the individuals involved in the project are still available. Thanks it's use in the summer camps at ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain and afterwards, we were effectively able to do a lot of real-world user testing – both with children using Lakecraft, and with educators trying to build curriculum around the game. Though largely successful within the scope that Lakecraft was being used, several new challenges were identified that should be addressed to enable widescale adoption:
- Deployment of Lakecraft
Teachers and educational organizations are most likely to benefit from using Lakecraft, however they typically have very limited time and technical resources. Broad adoption would be much easier if there was a streamlined approach for educators to create and deploy their own sandboxes.
- Further Establishing In-Game Infrastructure
After importing geographic data some issues arose. Geographic data defines the surface of the landscape, but there is nothing to help Minecraft distinguish a riverbed from a valley or that they should be filled with water, for example. Other challenges relate to the resolution of the landscape and elevation limits within the game.
- Educational Curriculum
Mere access to a Lakecraft world is not quite sufficient for most teachers to introduce children to the game. In order to deliver an educational experience, lessons must be crafted that are well suited for Lakecraft.
Although Lakecraft is currently inactive, it is readily available for teams that want to pick up and explore this project again.