Ever since Princeton’s temporary closure in March, each and every student has felt the gaping absence of their campus — be it in classes, commencements or club meetings. The background to students’ noise, campus has been eyewitness to celebrations, misfires, all-nighters and Prospect 12s. But perhaps nowhere is this absence felt more intensely than in the ranks of the Class of 2024, who, in losing out on Princeton Preview, have lost so much more — seeing campus for the first time, familiarizing themselves with it, attending club events and most importantly, meeting other Princetonians.
But some of that still stands to be recovered — because while an official Preview is impossible, an online, student-led one took place on May 30 via the creation of a virtual campus on Roblox. This campus is the brainchild of Vinay Konuru ’24, with the assistance of Tyler-Ernest Pagaduan and Justin Morales, a junior and sophomore from his alma mater, High Technology High School in Monmouth County, N.J.
Pagaduan had actually started the project last November. “At the time, I just had an architectural hobby. It only developed into what it is today after Princeton Preview was cancelled for the Class of 2024.”
The cancellation of Princeton Preview is largely what motivated Konuru to pitch the idea of a virtual campus to Pagaduan and Morales — especially after he surveyed all of the disappointment in admitted student group chats and on RealTalk Princeton.
“Ever since Preview was cancelled and moved online, many 2024 students have shared a sense of anxiety and confusion about the upcoming academic year,” Konuru said. “Many of us had never even gotten the chance to even see campus, let alone talk to students and get a feel of the college-specific culture.”
Inspired by the desire to help current students and 2024 admits stay connected to the campus and to each other during quarantine, the three students began working on a virtual Princeton on Roblox, an online game platform and game creation system. Today, Roblox is largely used for children’s games, and while his decision to use Roblox may seem unorthodox, Konuru had his reasons.
“It works really well for our intentions,” Konuru said. “It’s free and the program is totally secure. We have a large degree of flexibility to develop and add a wide range of functionalities into the game, which is what we believe will make the difference between it feeling like a museum versus feeling like an actual, living, breathing campus.”
The game covers several buildings on campus including but not limited to Nassau Hall, the Woodrow Wilson School, Whig-Clio, the Lewis Center for the Arts, Firestone Library, Dillon Gymnasium, and all six of the residential colleges with their respective common rooms.
“We wanted the main features of the game to be Princeton’s classrooms and its housing systems,” Morales said. “We thought if we were going to be true to the major aspects of life on campus, we needed to focus first and foremost on those features.”
The game comprises 52 buildings, built by Pagaduan over the course of six months.
“Recreating a campus that I was relatively unfamiliar with was really difficult,” Pagaduan said. “I spent hundreds of hours studying the campus from YouTube videos, online photos, and Google Earth, so I’m hoping a lot of the current students discovered a new appreciation for the beauty of Princeton's architecture after attending the event. Especially Whitmanites — because your residential college was, by far, the hardest building to recreate.”
The virtual campus was set to launch large-scale for the first time on May 30, a day before commencement. Morales believes their only real obstacle was time.
“The coding didn't actually start until about a month before opening day, so that meant a month of not only planning out all the necessary features but also actually implementing them,” Morales said. “In the end, we had to simplify or cut out many of our ideas because we just didn't have the time to add and test them.”
Despite the time restriction, the event was largely successful. To publicize the event, the team had reached out to every residential college and eating club on campus and requested that they share it amongst their students. Konuru, along with three other 2024 admits — Dwaipayan Saha, Sabina Jafri, and Won-Jae Chang — had created @princetonstripes2024 on Instagram in an effort to connect members of the class and spread news of the virtual event, as did many of Princeton’s official accounts, leading to the server hosting over a hundred students online concurrently on May 30.
In addition to the campus sub-structure, the game also hosted a club fair — with individual “booths” for different clubs to talk to new admits and potentially gain membership, as well as a scavenger hunt for new students to get familiar with the campus.
“We had previously reached out to several clubs to ask if they'd like to participate in the club fair that would kick off the launch event,“ Konuru said. “We laid all of the club booths next to each other in the area behind Nassau Hall. Each club that participated was given a dedicated text and voice channel in the Discord group and each booth had fliers that players could interact with and read while speaking with the representatives over voice chat.”
Students that attended the event enjoyed it immensely. Won-Jae Chang ’24 shared Konuru’s sentiments of disappointment at Preview being cancelled and acknowledged the virtual campus as a formidable alternative.
“I thought the club fair was a really great way to learn about some of the opportunities available at Princeton, and the scavenger hunt helped us connect with fellow ’24s and get a better grasp of the campus,” he said.
Meanwhile, Emily Della Pietra ’23 was delighted at the opportunity to walk down memory lane again. “It just made me so much more excited to go back.”
Since the launch, Konuru, Pagaduan, and Morales have been working on improving their campus. They’re especially focused on implementing the suggestions they received at the end of their launch event, from making the in-game economy more involved, to increasing the detail of the in-game map, to expanding the variety of activities available on its campus. The campus is still active, however, and accessible to anyone.
“We’re hoping to have a bigger event soon, but we don’t have a specific date set yet.” Konuru said, when asked about the game’s future. “We’re also hoping that the game may eventually be made official by the University, so new or prospective students can tour campus in a unique way if they don’t have the means to visit.”