The Making of Terra Swoop Force

We talk to Noxite about the awesome adventure map

One of my favourite adventure maps added to PC Realms in the last year is Terra Swoop Force. It's a brilliant, breathless point-to-point aerial trial, in which winged players zoom down tunnels at scorching speeds, skewering into the centre of the earth.

Or, more often in my case, faceplanting into stalactites. Or fatally misjudging the speed I’ll need to carry me across a lake of lava. Or just forgetting to deploy my wingsuit and pancaking right below the spawn.

I am not very good at Terra Swoop Force.

Unfortunately for me, but to the game’s credit, the way you control your flight is no crudely simulated cinch - you need to account for momentum and lift - and the challenge Terra Swoop Force builds around this system really tests your mastery to the limit.

But it’s also much more than a challenging, pacy minigame about dodging stalactites. Its team of creators, NoxCrew, have built a world and story around it. When you first spawn, you make your way off your hovering chopper, through a science park, to the headquarters of an elite subterranean expeditionary force. You check in at reception, receive a lengthy briefing on the nature of your mission, and - finally - strap on your wingsuit and prepare for the plunge.

“Anything is better when you have context and personal motive - it makes gameplay better.”

This introduction is really quite long - but also extremely well voice-acted and very, very funny. You might also think it’s a bit unnecessary. But Stefan (aka Noxite, leader of NoxCrew) would disagree with you there: “In my eyes,” he says, “anything is better when you have context and personal motive - it makes the gameplay even better.”

He says he’s always been interested in the ways that games can deliver story - and this, in fact, first inspired the creation of NoxCrew. Minecraft, being so open and malleable, was the perfect canvas for him to experiment on.

“It was that summer between ending my A-levels and going to university,” Stefan recalls. “I was bored. So I began trying to make an adventure map that was based off a Skyrim type of adventure which had this elaborate questing system. It turned into this huge project and I started advertising on the Minecraft forums and people started to join me. Sadly that adventure map never got released because it just got too big. So we restarted and made something a lot simpler - and we actually released it! It was called Paladin’s Quest: Humble Beginnings.

“It was a very short adventure map - maybe about an hour long, and it had that same questing system. It also had this funny, touching story. People responded to it saying that they’d cried at the end! It was then that I realised how much potential Minecraft has as an experience delivery device. And since then I’ve pretty much had a crew. All these people who joined me for this first adventure map now work together to make all these different projects: adventure maps, machinimas, the Noxcrew Gameshow - and Terra Swoop Force is our latest.”

“People cried at the end! It was then that I realised how much potential Minecraft has.”

“Two members of the crew who came up with this idea of a flying map using the levitation effect - because you could make people float and glide down. We made this 3D model of a glider that people could put above their head and hang onto. And suddenly a new snapshot introduces the Elytras and we were like, oh my god, they’ve just released a flying mechanic! And it’s an actual one, not a cheaty one that we’re trying to do with a potion effect.”

Not that this quashed their plans - in fact, it accelerated them. The new idea was to take the Elytras and make a racing map in a single 24-hour-long livestream.

“I wanted some sort of obstacle dodging map, as you fly at superfast speed. One of the members said, why don’t we fly down to the centre of the earth? And that idea was great because, you naturally think Elytras... flying… sky! But instead we put our map about flying underground.

“We needed context behind it. That’s when I started thinking about how to apply story to either end of the gameplay. We eventually came up with the idea of going to this facility where they equip you with this suit that helps protect you from the high temperatures at the centre of the earth. In a way I think the mission briefing is too long - but it was ten whole minutes to begin with! There was so much cutting! But all that stuff was just to flavour up the experience. Because otherwise you get just a plain, characterless flying-map.”

Needless to say, the rescaling ambition for the project also meant it went a little past the 24-hour time limit they’d set to create.

“It turned into a seven month project. We like to out-do ourselves. That’s why we do it.”

“It eventually turned into a seven month project,” says Stefan. “It’s because we like to out-do ourselves. That’s why we do it. It’s a hobby for us - we do it in our spare hours, and that’s why it took so long. There were about 30 people involved in making that. There was a builder per section of the tunnels. Each tunnel had five different sections to it - so we had approximately 15 builders. And then the artists, the redstoner, the voice actors and so on.”

The result is pretty incredible - not just because it is both fun and funny, but also because it does hugely innovative things within Minecraft. Things that even we here at Mojang hadn’t realised were even possible.

Stefan picks this as the map’s most impressive feat: “Towards the end of the map, there’s a character who talks to you, and he physically takes on all the animations that are imposed by his voice. So if he’s crying, his head swaps out for a head with tears coming down. If he coughs, his torso pushes forward. It was literally a walking, talking, emoting character in the game. His facial expressions were changing, his mouth was opening and closing. That was probably the most impressive thing, because we are literally animating inside the game at that point.

“It’s a mixture of having different textured heads and switching between them at the correct time. So there was a lot of audio to redstone synchronisation going on; we’d have exact time-prints of the audio which would be translated into ticks in the redstone.

“The entire ending sequence was probably the most impressive thing we’ve ever done.” Stefan laughs. “It’s almost a shame that maybe 50% of the players have never even seen it.”

But even those who don’t make it to the end can see plenty to admire - along with a lot of stalactites, up close.

The NoxCrew’s site lists their many and varied contributions to Minecraft. You can play Terra Swoop Force as one of the large number of Mojang-approved adventure maps with every Realms subscription. Look out for it!