"Farming. It's about farming."
Updated: Apr 15, 2019
Last month we released "Advanced Farming" onto the Minecraft Marketplace. Our goal was to improve and expand upon the farming mechanics already in Minecraft by providing new tools to experiment with. Diamond hoes are all well and good, but we wanted to create heavy-duty machinery so any Minecrafter could run their own farming empire. We looked at the ranching mechanics already in the game, from tilling the soil to breeding animals, and discussed how we could improve upon each of them. As a result, Advanced Farming has new machines to plough, plant and harvest, as well as improved mobs to breed and... well there's no nice way to put this, slaughter.
We built a world to act as the player's sandbox to explore these mechanics, and designed characters and music to give it life. I would like to think we did a good job. We even earned a seal of approval from Moesh, an awesome Minecraft content coordinator, who had this to say in the February 2019 Marketplace Picks:
Putting the bountiful supply of puns to the side, I think Moesh really gets to the heart of it. Advanced Farming is about farming and we try to make it the best farming map it can be. The world of Advanced Farming is based primarily on modern rural America. For Brandon Walsh, our lead level designer, it was a great opportunity to recreate the world he sees every day. Having grown up in Illinois, he's used to seeing expansive fields of corn and rusty old tractors. For other projects, Brandon relies on references to pop culture and art to base his Minecraft environments on.
Advanced Farming allowed him to draw inspiration from the world around him, however. I think this has resulted in the world feeling fully realized, as though it is a small slice of a living, breathing world. Brandon and his builders spent the first week of the project gathering inspiration, discussing the details and planning out a layout. Every world begins with a messy sketch! This one in particular was created with the highly prestigious: Microsoft Paint. Our designs go through several iterations until we arrive at something that fits the project. Originally, we had a river that split the ranch down the middle. We decided to change this and have the bridge and river run alongside the ranch instead. This helps to divide the essential areas, the barn, trading hall and garage, from the crop-ready fields beyond. After that, they put it all together to build the structures and shape the terrain.
After our planning stages, production on the world enters full swing. The final layout is built in the game using bright place-holder blocks like diamond, emerald and redstone blocks. This helps to distinguish the areas of the map and ensure everyone is on the same page. Each building is built in isolation and later moved into the world. Sometimes it takes a while to get everything feeling right. Then, the builders add the details. Every building has an interior and even the far-reaching edges of the fields are handled with care. Once the building is done, Brandon hands the world off to the mechanics to start implementing the gameplay.
While Brandon and his team are working on the world, our asset designer, Wilson, is hard at work creating all of our 3D models and textures. Advanced Farming has a variety of custom entities that all have unique models, the animals, the characters and most importantly the vehicles.
Wilson uses voxel 3D modelling software to design the entities. He positions and shapes cuboids to create our entities. Everything starts out as just a bunch of boxes!
Once Wilson has channeled the power of the cubes and formed the shape he wants, he sends it to the rest of the team to gather feedback. Adjustments are made based on the group's feedback, and then Wilson moves on to designing the texture. As with everything, the assets go through a few iterations.
Original tractor texture and final tractor texture.
Working on industrial machinery posed Wilson with a unique challenge. If not handled with care, modern equipment could look jarring and out of place in Minecraft's pseudo-medieval aesthetic. Minecraft, in case you have not noticed, is rather blocky. And, oh no, wheels are round? We can't be having that. Wilson, like any true Minecrafter, constructs his wheels out of blocks as nature intended.
These design challenges are most pronounced in the super-huge combine harvester model. That hulking, industrial machine is far removed from what one would normally expect in Minecraft.
The final model is appropriately dramatic, while still somehow feeling right at home in the Minecraft world. The big block that makes up its body probably helps!
Wilson also has a keen eye for detail, such as the adorable pieces of pixel art he made for each animal's spawning token:
So far we've discussed two of the three pillars to our creative process; building and asset design. But a large part of Advanced Farming, like all of our maps, is the gameplay. We used a clever combination of behavior packs and command blocks to make Advanced Farming function. These are two separate methods we can use to write our own code to add and change mechanics in Minecraft. Behavior packs allow us to remix behaviors that belong to entities already in Minecraft. We changed how all of the animals behaved to improve gameplay. Usually, breeding requires you to right click two mobs with a dedicated food item to get them to breed. After that, a cooldown prevents you from breeding them again for five minutes.
We wanted to change this, it wasn't very difficult, and waiting around for the cooldown to wear off was boring. In Advanced Farming, animals near haybales consume it and then breed. Haybales can be bought, or when you can afford it, created using the baler attachment. This gave a much more satisfying sense of progression to anyone who wanted to up their animal ranching operations. Animals breeding is initially expensive, but ultimately more profitable than farming alone. We introduced our helpful friend Clyde to explain these new mechanics to the player at the start of the map. I suspect we'll be seeing more of him later...
A late addition to our mechanics was the compost bin. After testing the map, we found it annoying to have a bunch of seeds that we no longer had a use for. Our solution, the compost bin. That's right, we were composting in Minecraft before it was cool! It also added poop which you could throw at your friends, which is always a plus.
By collaborating and combining our three pillars of design, and throwing in a whole lot of testing and bug fixing, we were proud to release Advanced Farming last month. Seeing all the positive feedback pouring in was amazing, and our Discord community swelled more than ever. It really inspires us to continue our endeavor to make Minecraft a little more Advanced. Available now on the Minecraft Marketplace.