Learning To Fly

How 4J designed the Console Edition’s epic new tutorial map!

When Elytra wings hit the Console Edition in its big update at the end of last year, they came with a brand-new tutorial map specially designed to help players take to the skies.

4J’s tutorials are much more than just a set of instructions on how to play. They’re huge and exciting playgrounds in their own right. So how did 4J go about designing this new one?

The first thing was to think about how to make somewhere that’s great for flying around. Previous tutorial maps have been set in recreations of some special places in 4J’s home country, Scotland, including Edinburgh Castle and Melrose Abbey.

But amazing though Scotland is, it doesn’t quite have somewhere to fully showcase Elytra flying.

Here’s the full layout of the new map. It's a clever mixture of handcrafted and generated terrain, dotted with unique structures and gigantic sculptures of mobs. Spot the guardians off the coast?

Early in development, 4J decided players would start in a blocked-off area for the initial tutorial before getting to freely roam from a central hub set in a ruined castle in the centre of the map.

The team included as many biomes as they could for variety, while also using extreme terrain generation to ensure there are a lot of deep canyons, pinnacles and precipices for exciting flying!

So the setting was open, but the first step for the 4J team was to figure out what the player’s flow around the space should be and what sort of terrain it would need. “It had to have high mountains and vantage points from which to fly and we also wanted to show off the new amplified terrain,” 4J art director David Keningdale tells me.

The map is a mixture of hand-painted height map with naturally generated terrain, so the team could control its large, flat areas for the core tutorial while also mucking about with the amplified terrain generation for the exciting flying bits. What’s more, it’s peppered with different biomes to give a real tour of the Minecraft experience!

The challenge for designing the Elytra tutorial was ensuring it’s set at the right level of challenge. “It was tough to balance so it isn’t too hard or too easy, because the more we tested it, the better we got!” says David. “But eventually I think we found a happy medium.”

Hoops are carefully placed to mark aerial courses that really put your elytra skills to the test.

At the core of the flight tutorial are a set of hoops to fly through, with tight turning circles to test and hone players’ skills. But instead of having them hang in boring open space, 4J created tunnels and arches in the canyons, and used the sharp twists in the deep gorges of the map to create thrilling runs that allow flyers to stay airborne for long periods.

Oh, and in case they should fall down, 4J also added a few ladders, paths and towers so they can get up high so they could take to the skies again.

There are loads of details carved into the landscape - ancient scultures and outsized weapons!

With the layout of the map completed, the next step was to think up a theme. 4J settled on something dramatic: the ruins of an ancient civilisation of Minecraft worshippers! “With towers and viaducts decaying in the landscape, giant statues of mobs and items strewn around the map for players to discover,” David says.

“As we were testing flight paths through the ravines, we started thinking about the type of people who would live in each biome. We started making bases or forts in each, themed to the settlers you might find there, so treehouses, caves, even building into giant mushrooms. The people that live there must be fun guys.”

Props to the excellent dad-joke, David! And thank you for taking us through the map. Here are a few more screenshots to show off some more of its many highlights!