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Medieval City Planning (Part 1)

tutorial medieval town city planning

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#1

Lassen
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Posted 02 July 2013 - 08:02 AM

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Introduction
There’s a lot of talented builders out there making a lot of great medieval builds, but very few of them seem to exist in a very realistic town setting. A lot of times I see some great medieval houses that are totally undercut by the fact that they’re not in a town so much as they’re just sort of... sitting there... next to a few other houses... in the countryside.

My server is obsessed with realism to an unhealthy degree, but we also have learned to warp realism slightly to the confines of Minecraft and on that middle road we’ve created methods for doing a lot of things that capture the feeling of a specific feature of real life that we’re trying to emulate. Town planning is one of those things. So here’s a little guide on how to plan, or lay out a town. I haven’t actually built the buildings into this town because that would take me several more days, but I have included some images of what this method can yeild. So without further ado, the tutorial:




Plotting Roads
I can sum up this tutorial in one sentence: “Lay crossroads and add a web around them.” This can be hard to picture in the gridded world of Minecraft though, so we’ll add some pictures too. Now if you’re American, I don’t blame any of you for being unfamiliar with what medieval towns look like; there were no towns in the U.S. during that time period. If you’re European though, you should be taking a good look out your local town’s street layout. Although this won’t apply to modern suburbs, older town centers are almost always located at some kind of cross roads.

Before I go further though, here is a quick key to demonstrate what each color of wool represents. These things are all arbitrary but for me large streets are 4 blocks wide, medium streets are 3, and small streets and paths are 2 blocks wide. For stories, I use 4 blocks––1 block of floor/ceiling and 3 blocks of empty space to walk in.

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Now, to begin laying the roads out, pick a center point for your crossroads, and then plan the first road out. I’ve found laying roads with realistic curves is far, far easier when you follow existing contours of the land.

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This is harder to do on a vanilla MC map than a WorldPainter map, but it still is very possible. I’ll explain more about curves later when I expand the road to it’s true width.

Once you have the main road cruising through, add a secondary road that meets up to it. This junction will be the spark that causes our town to pop up––maybe from a roadside shop, maybe an inn, the choice is yours.


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Next, make some alleys and paths criss cross-your town. In the city center I make sure they’re all straight so that buildings fit neatly inside them, while outside of town I have them follow the land to taper to other roads. To understand this, you must put yourself in the mind of a villager. Ask, “Why is this straight? Because it’s along the side of a building.” “Why is this curving off that way to meet up with the main road? Because if I’m at that end of town I’m just going head in my intended direction and cut across the grass here to get to the main road.”



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I’m also going to level off a nub off the top of a hill and fill in a slight dip. You won’t notice that these are gone when the town is done and it will make building much easier.

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Laying Roads
I’m now going to start expanding the roads to their true width. I’ll start with the red road. If you’re doing this on a vanilla map, you can make curves like this by shifting 1 block over in shorter and shorter distances. It’s tough to explain, but you can mimic what is in this picture.

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There is a very important note to this though. When you shift your road over 1 block, stagger the opposite side of the road one block further down the road so that the stagger point is 1 block wider than the main width of the road. The result of this on a 4 block-wide road is 5 block-wide staggers.

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This prevents the road from looking “pinched” where it shifts. Weird, I know, but trust me. I figured this out from copying bezier curves in Photoshop pixel to block. The other important thing is to add an extra 1:2 stagger on the outside of a curve when it hits 1:1 stagger. The result is that 1:1 sections will actually be 6 blocks wide. Again, weird, but trust me on this. It will also take some practice to get right but when you get the hang of it you’ll be laying curves like a pro.



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The “Add One Rule” also holds true for narrower roads! Wherever the road shifts, add one block to it’s width.



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Also, when laying alleys, I like to work on elevation increments of 2 blocks. This is half a story so it means buildings can easily have “half-stories” that meet up with back alleys.



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Although I don’t mind if the “side” of a road is exposed because it will be made of stone, having the side of a gravel path exposed looks a bit funny and erosion-prone. Throw a thin strip of grass along it to hide the edge.

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Here’s what the town looks like with its roads laid in at the appropriate thicknesses.



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Plotting Buildings
When you start laying down houses, don’t worry too much about the elevation. You can always add foundations underneath, and some places (such as the example below) make for great cellars that open out the back.



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The next step is a big one. I’ve gone through and filled in all of the area between the streets with houses and buildings, roughly about 5-7 blocks per side. This leaves at least 3 to 5 blocks of space inside in either dimension which isn’t a lot, but this is the middle ages and most people barely have a crafting table to their name! As long as a small furnace, a chest, and two beds fit you’re doing alright as a medieval MC villager.

Also notice that I’ve lumped the tallest buildings in the town center where space is most limited. This is where you will have your small apartments, tall houses, and shops with houses above them (very typical). Around the outskirts you have what will eventually be farm houses with gardens and fields around them.



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Below is an example of the staggering of floors that I described earlier. This will help prevent roof overhangs from touching everywhere, as will fudging this bit of the layout slightly and making some top stories a bit high or a bit low. These are just guides and mixing it up at build time will help things stay organic.



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Another thing you’ll find is because the buildings are all rectangles and the roads are crooked,there are little gaps of space. These make great spots for tiny sheds, storage areas with crates or logs, or little terraced gardens with some potted plans. Don’t leave any space wasted!



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This spot I think will be a little bit of a town square. Tiny, yes, but sufficient for the 50-ish residents of our village.



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You can also plot out some auxiliary structures that are located near the town but not in it. I’ll throw a windmill on top of this hill. Remember to think from the perspective of your citizens: a windmill next to a cliff face or a forest won’t catch any wind! Put it on a hill, out in the open.

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Worshiping on hilltops was an Islamic practice that was adopted by Christian Europe in the middle ages. With this in mind, I’ve also put a path for a temple up a hillside.

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Here’s a top down view of what the town looks like. It’s not perfect, but it looks a lot like something you’d find on a map of the European countryside.


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You’ll notice that one very important thing is missing though! FARMS! Medieval society needed huge amounts of farmland to sustain even a small village so your villages should be surrounded by as much farmland as possible. Laying that out is an entirely separate beast to tangle with though, so it will actually be the focus of Part 2 of this tutorial, coming soon.







Examples

In the meantime, here are some examples of the kind of cities and towns you can get when you use the method I outlined above. Every image here started as a rainbow wool mock-up.



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Adding elevation changes also helps make towns very exciting to explore. One of my favorite tricks is making dense clusters of buildings that open up to the street on very different elevations so that you can walk in a building on one side, and end up on the 2nd story on the other end, overlooking a street you were just on!

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Lastly, as a preview for what’s coming in Part 2 of this tutorial, here are some examples of my server’s farmland and countryside.

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Thank you for reading! If you have any questions or suggestions, I’m all ears. If not, that’s cool too; just stay tuned for part 2!


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#2

fullwall
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Posted 02 July 2013 - 04:28 PM

Nice post.

#3

CrunchyApplez
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Posted 02 July 2013 - 04:43 PM

What's the texture pack for the examples?

#4

Lassen
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Posted 02 July 2013 - 05:18 PM

View PostCrunchyApplez, on 02 July 2013 - 04:43 PM, said:

What's the texture pack for the examples?

JohnSmith Legacy

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#5

Rhimce
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Posted 02 July 2013 - 05:23 PM

even if I don't use this tutorial to make medieval cities, I'll definitely use it. ;u;
This is amazing! Thanks for sharing it!

#6

who885
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Posted 02 July 2013 - 05:28 PM

I was thinking about doing a medieval style city for my next single player project! Thanks!
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#7

Menosi
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Posted 02 July 2013 - 05:33 PM

I really like this tutorial! I suck at building cities and towns lol xD. Good job!

#8

Lassen
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Posted 02 July 2013 - 06:36 PM

Thank everyone! I'm glad y'all like it!

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#9

Feffers
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Posted 02 July 2013 - 09:38 PM

This tutorial is amazing! I'm going to use it tonight =D
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#10

switchcase1

Posted 02 July 2013 - 10:39 PM

View PostLassen, on 02 July 2013 - 08:02 AM, said:

Now if you’re American, I don’t blame any of you for being unfamiliar with what medieval towns look like; there were no towns in the U.S. during that time period. If you’re European though, you should be taking a good look out your local town’s street layout.
Or just use Google Maps/Streetview.

#11

Lassen
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Posted 02 July 2013 - 11:49 PM

View Postswitchcase1, on 02 July 2013 - 10:39 PM, said:

Or just use Google Maps/Streetview.

Yeah. I spent a big part of my teenage years collecting street maps from cities around the world and sort of mentally exploring. Needless to say I geeked out hardcore when Google Maps first came about, followed by Google Street View.

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#12

OrignalWolf
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Posted 06 July 2013 - 03:12 AM

Simple, works great, and the end result is awesome. +1
My most recent project: http://www.minecraft.../#entry18565471

#13

TVflea
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Posted 06 July 2013 - 06:47 AM

Hmm, could you do an urban development tutorial next? The only time I'm ever going to build something medieval would be an for a museum.
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#14

SOADlee
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Posted 12 September 2013 - 10:17 PM

Any news about part 2?
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#15

BoomerAichele
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Posted 12 September 2013 - 10:29 PM

Sounds like an amazing plan! You should make this medival city!
Want to see some awesome Minecraft videos?
Go to: http://www.youtube.c...r/BoomerAichele
And brace yourself for awesomeness

#16

Jassamin
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Posted 27 October 2013 - 02:06 PM

Where is part two? I want part two! Pretty please? :P

#17

Grandcrafter1

Posted 27 October 2013 - 08:50 PM

Awesome post. It's inpsired me to create a midieval fantasy realm in a single player world. :) Laying out the plans for my first city right now and it's working great.
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