Shadows Over Midway

Watch the skies for this alternative reality invasion fleet!

“The most interesting parts of alternate history are the branching paths which allow a small change to have profound consequences further down the line,” says cjrainbolt, the builder behind this stunning scene (rendered above by CrankerMan). “It is always interesting to imagine where we would be now if some small change had been made at some point in the past.”

cjrainbolt unfurls his alternate timeline for World War 2 in depth over on Planet Minecraft - an account of the Japanese military's pursuit of aerial supremacy that somehow sounds entirely plausible, even as it details the construction of a fantastic fleet of balloon-powered behemoths. Here’s a taste!

“The Japanese military believed that nuclear arms would deal a knockout blow to American forces, but attempts to produce enriched Uranium had been significantly hindered by partisan actions in Manchuria. Research had begun to find new non-nuclear wonder-weapons. As it turned out, recent discoveries of Aluminum on the Island of Borneo provided a wealth of structural material, and the discovery of a hidden Helium stockpile in Singapore led many in the Army high command to begin envisioning a new fleet of flying fortresses.”

This shot by Roddan, taken as if down an aiming lens, gives a sense of the impending fleet’s scale.

Not only does cjrainbolt nail the tone of historical authenticity in his writing, but the build itself is a close study of real Japanese naval ships, elaborately refitted for flight in this fiction.

“I wanted to try and distance myself from the medieval city project I had just completed with my friend Anwil,” cjrainbolt says of the project’s origin. “I knew I wanted to build something colossal, but it had to be modern and contain enough detail to be interesting. At first I wanted to build a spaceship, but I decided that spaceship designs were somewhat common themes for large builds on many project sharing sites.

“I had heard that many of the designs for prop models of spaceships seen in movies used kitbashed parts from WWII ship models to enhance their details, and the idea to make a ship which combined aspects of WWII ships, some cool airship designs, and spacecraft developed from there."

Splekh’s render, framed by a glowering cloudscape, captures a sense of the looming danger.

A render by Kryiin, demonstrating the design's combination of fine detail and monstrous heft.

This sunnier view of the skyship fleet by Iskillia makes the scene feel disturbingly tranquil.

“I decided to use Japanese battleships as my references because they tended to have the tallest superstructures relative to the length of their hulls. This allowed me to make the ships very imposing, towering over the small island base. A huge element in this build is the difference in scale between the builds on the island and the fleet of flying ships. Apart from a large antenna and some cranes, no build on the island is more than 30 blocks tall, whereas many of the ships go up to the height limit of 256 blocks. This should make it pretty clear that the ships are the focal point of the project.”

Naval vessels of all eras are a popular theme among minecrafters, but those used in WWII, and particularly Japanese ships, seem to get a lot of attention. I ask cjrainbolt why he thinks that is.

“I assume it has to do with the attractive and sleek designs of these ships,” he says. “It may also be that these ships, unlike other vehicles, are all more or less well known, have their own well-recorded histories, and may have interesting stories associated with them. They are enormous structures, resembling cities, but they have well cataloged details and proportions which can be mapped very easily into Minecraft. This is not to say that these ship models are not ambitious projects. They still take a great deal of planning to make sure the scale is correct and that every possible detail is included.”

“Japanese battleships tended to have the tallest superstructures. This allowed me to make the ships very imposing, towering over the small island base.”

With this particular build cjrainbolt had the added complication of weighing up realistic detail against the more fantasy elements.

“I decided to start by looking for designs of propulsion systems which would have existed in the second world war, making them on a larger scale in Minecraft, and placing them around the ship to see where they looked good. It was a matter of trial and error for the first stages of the construction of the largest battleship in this project.

"Once I had made the main battleship's superstructure tall enough, I decided to go back and add more pieces to make it feel more balanced. I added some biplane-like wings to the hull of the ship, and made the entire structure 25% longer. Many of the pieces of this project which don't correspond to actual ship designs came from designs of Japanese flying boats - aircraft capable of landing on water - like the H6K and H8K.”

“It is very important to begin a build like this with an idea of the size and proportions of the finished product. If you start too big, you may have your build get cut off by the height limit, but if you start too small the results may be at a different scale than the rest of a project. I tend to begin building slightly smaller than I actually want the build to turn out and then add on more pieces later once it is almost done.”

This being said, cjrainbolt doesn’t advise planning too extensively before jumping into a build, but allow your inspiration to flow naturally from the parts of the build you’ve already completed. With builds of this scale though, you need to be prepared to put in some considerable number of hours - hundreds, in fact, across a span of multiple weeks. Staying motivated is a big challenge.

“It is easy to just get bored and to want to move on. I usually try and fix this problem by making the largest, most difficult, and tedious part of a build first, when you are most excited about this new project and when the novelty of a new style keeps you going. In the case of this project, the big battleship was made first, then the island airbase, and lastly the rest of the fleet.”

Fine advice for builders aspiring to something like the sense of scale cjrainbolt achieves here. Head to the PlanetMinecraft page for the more info and screenshots detailing this truly amazing build.