Building an authentic Orientation experience on a virtual platform

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From left to right, first row: External view of Cinnamon College and Residential College 4 respectively; second row: interior view of Residential College 4 and Tembusu College respectively

14 August 2020

Four residential colleges (RCs), Tembusu, Cinnamon (USP), College of Alice & Peter Tan (CAPT), and Residential College 4 (RC4), all built almost to exact scale and design – check.

The grass patch – check.

Long stretches of walking way and surrounding buildings – check and check.

In front of you appears the signature University Town (UTown), a hallmark of the campus life at the National University of Singapore.

However, none of that is real.

Whatever you have just seen is purely a visual artwork of the UTown Minecraft project, a collaborative game created by the four RCs as part of the immersive e-Freshmen Orientation Programme (e-FOP) 2020 @ NUS.

When the teamwork makes the dream work

It started when Cinnamon College (USP) decided they wanted to host Minecraft game for their e-FOP. Chia Kai Xin, Freshmen Orientations Projects Director, reached out to other Freshmen Orientation Camp Project Directors (PDs), Zachary Tan Zewei from Tembusu, Chin Keen Tat from CAPT and Goh Pei Zhi from RC4, to ask if they were interested in scaling up the project to include the whole UTown.

Upon knowing that Residential College 4 built their own Minecraft for Open Day, it was a pure moment of “Great minds think alike”. The PDs swiftly recruited their team and launched themselves into one of the most impressive collaborative efforts at e-FOP.

The game arenas recreated almost exactly all areas in UTown, with each building preserving their own internal infrastructure – floor structure, common areas and residential rooms. The aim was for the incoming freshmen to play games within the RC, and through that, bond with each other and familiarise themselves with the college as well.

Tay Kiat Jun, the Minecraft Project Director for O-Week at Cinnamon (USP) and a year-2 Mechanical Engineering student, said: “I love how our Minecraft project started out as an offhand suggestion that became a serious consideration as we brainstormed ways to give the freshmen a fun and engaging experience.”

Goh Pei Zhi, also Minecraft Project Director at RC4 and year-2 Computational Biology student, commented: “Since we are unable to bring freshmen into UTown, we’ve decided to bring UTown to the freshmen instead, allowing them to venture and explore around the campus despite the current distancing measures.”

Pursuing a bold idea in a pressing time…

Of course, a bold idea always guarantees a challenging journey, and the UTown Minecraft team knew it. It was not an easy feat to design the entire UTown, let alone hosting and maintaining a server for hundreds of freshmen.

Lim Wei Liang, the Minecraft Project Director for O-camp at Cinnamon (USP), explained the technical aspect in an interview with us. It was important for the team to have multiple rounds of stress-testing the server, checking the games for glitches and running the actual camp with all stakeholders, in order to ensure early trouble-shooting and smooth running of the game.

The team also agreed that coordinating with and getting all stakeholders on board (house committees, orientation game leaders, etc) was also challenging, especially “when people had reservations about the effectiveness of online orientation” said Kai Xin, a Year 2 Quantitative Finance major.

… and creating a journey that is worth every moment

Yet, with their sheer determination, the team pressed on. They formed a Telegram chatgroup to keep each other updated and maintained open communication about the progress of the project. The project was completed within two months and would be launched in late July to early August.

For RCs that have already launched the project, the game received positive feedbacks from the freshmen, with most complimenting the experience to be “innovative”, “well-planned”, and “a refreshing way to bond with each other”.

Joe Wei, an incoming freshman at Cinnamon (USP), even considered Minecraft “one of the best platforms to host an e-FOP”, given how “[hardly] anything else comes close to it in terms of openness and being able to accommodate 200+ people at once”

For the team, the journey was a fulfilling one, and the freshmen’s positive experience provided huge affirmation.

Zachary Tan Zewei, also Minecraft Project Director at Tembusu and a Year 3 History student, commented: “I’m glad that the university is willing to support new ways of creating such [authentic] experiences.”

 “It was certainly a joyful experience, as the collaboration let us reimagine our spaces and how we resonated with them,” he said.



Writer: Le Khuc Hoang Uyen, Undergraduate, CNM
Photos: UTown Minecraft Committee