Building it

I decided to build the portal from MDF. It's easily to work with and I had some leftover pieces from a previous project. (Unfortunately, MDF is also dusty as hell when you do anything with it... ah wel, that's what vacuum cleaners are made for.

I started with the portal part itself, made from 2 parts MDF. One has an indentation where the LCD will fit in.

And here are the two pieces but together. I didn't really make a design for this first, by the way, everything was measured and cut on-the-fly.

The top of the stairs leading into the portal is added...

...and the bottom too. Everything is glued together, the complete project uses only two screws.

The piece of MDF that is the lower step of the stairs has a hole in it, so some electronics can go there.

We need a bit more of room, plus a 'lid' to keep everything inside, so the bottom will consist of a piece of grassy ground the portal stands on.

The top of the slab of grassy ground is hollow too: most of the electronics go in there. As you can see here, the STM32 is put on an adapter PCB and soldered with thin wires to the LCD. The LCDs cable is put on a piece of prototyping PCB to keep it steady, and to the right of it is a small clump of electronics consisting of the boost-converter and 2.5V regulator. The mini-USB-port for the power and the serial port for programming are embedded in the bottom slab.

This is one of the few disadvantages to these LCDs: their connectors are extremely small and still manage to cram 24 pins in that space. My method of coping with this was to get rid of the connector and just solder to the small flexible PCB itself, using very thin wires and lots of patience. Perhaps if there's enough interest I can design and build an adapter PCB and sell that to anyone interested.

Believe it or not, the hardware actually works!

The portal already looks nice, but could use a paint job. First a layer of MDF primer. If you don't do this, the MDF will suck up the colored paint like a sponge.

The main color scheme can then be painted over it. I use waterbased modeling paint to color everything, by the way.

In Minecraft, the grass hangs over the edge of the ground-blocks a bit. To emulate that, I printed out a few of the side texture of the blocks and cut away the green part. I then used that as a mask to paint the sides.

I also tried that with the texture of the black obsidian, but the technique doesn't lend itself too well for individual pixels: either the little holes get clogged by too much paint or the paint seeps underneath the mask, making a huge mess. In the end, I just painted the pixels by hand, which fortunately was doable with this kind of pattern. That I needed to do that was unfortunate: I wanted to give the grass, the ground and the stairs a bit more texture too but with the technique I intended to use for that failing me, I decided to skip that.

After giving the stones a bit more texture too and painting the portal with glossy finish, this is the result.

And with the electronics back in, this is how it looks.

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