Terraforming in Minecraft
Consue tells us how to change your world!
Ever ploughed a field? Sealed a hole in a dungeon to stop a nasty stream of water preventing you from moving? Perhaps you have carved out a whole mountain just to create that luxurious vacation house you always dreamed of? If you have, then congratulations! You’ve participated in the wondrous art of terraforming!
Terraforming, or “Earth-shaping”, is a process of deliberately altering the environment to suit a specific purpose, or to simply make it beautiful. It’s also a whole genre in Minecraft. While most of us tend to focus on building structures or exploring, some take it to a whole different level and shape the land itself, bending it to their will to create forests, mountains or massive landscapes. The best part? Anyone can do it! Hell, even beavers can terraform if they want to. Their damn dam builds can ruin a whole ecosystem. Lucky they aren’t in Minecraft (yet), eh?
An expert on the field of terraforming is Consue, a world-building prodigy with a keen eye for detail. She creates vast landscapes of various shapes and sizes, from lush green continents to colourful islands. It’s not too surprising she’s got an eye for this, since she’s seen plenty of natural wonders through her years.
“I was born in Chile under the shade of the Andes mountains, took a six year field trip to the US and now I reside in Madrid with the central range mountains just an hour away,” Consue tells me.
Compared to the ordinary builder, a terraformer spends the majority of the build outside of Minecraft, working in external software programs to create the build (more on those later!) It’s an indirect method of working as you’re not putting down blocks one at a time, but rather planning the terrain as a whole. Terraforming also doesn’t require any blueprints, but instead relies more on freestyling, inspiration, and “boatloads of computer memory” as Consue likes to put it. In her case, she gets her inspiration from real life photography.
“I carry three to five kilos of DSLR on most hiking or skiing trips and keep a personal repository of images. So far I [have] documented parts of [the] Patagonian and Atacama deserts in Chile, Italy, and the Sierra de Guadarrama that borders Madrid. However a lot of my terrain is also centred on a certain pattern or style.”
“All of my projects have a special place on my desktop background, I work while a slideshow of renders plays behind whatever window I’m in,” she says. “From my work I have established an unique identity as a creative artist at school and home.”
Consue hasn’t always been a fan of games, but despite this she started playing Minecraft just before patch 1.5. She soon discovered the world of terraforming through a server called StarQuest, a home to several custom survival worlds which all fascinated her.
“I learned they were made by a program called WorldPainter. Later I [also] discovered WorldMachine from the Daratisx 8k survival map. Interestingly I entered the Minecraft creative community with my WorldMachine terraforming.”
WorldMachine is a handy software program that many in the terraforming community use to craft their massive maps. It allows builders to shape and create realistic CG landscapes with the amazing power of algorithms. By using building blocks that you wire together with nodes, like a net in a big grid, you can simulate all sorts of terrain and erosion. It all sounds very science-y and stuff, but it’s perfect for world-building. You can learn more about it here!
“The joy about working with WorldMachine is that you get to manipulate the organic patterns of nature with the giddy power of God,” explains Consue. “Add, subtract, erode and combine to create anything from the rolling hills of countryside to the mesas of Utah. It’s like a puzzle - you begin to dissect a terrain into the different components that make it up.”
Easier said than done! For new users, WorldMachine can appear overwhelming with its intimidating UI. For someone like me who barely finished school with decent math grades it looks like a nightmare!
WorldPainter on the other hand is somewhat simpler. Working as an interactive map generator, it focuses more on the artistic side, allowing you to paint or sculpt the terrain itself directly (learn more about it here. It can also import WorldMachine creations, and both have been vital for Consue in bringing her real-world experiences to a digital format.
“Everything has its pattern or graceful curve. For example, by studying how talus forms on the side of a cliff you can recreate it in WorldMachine.” says Consue. “However it’s untrue to consider myself a ‘realistic terraformer’. I try to achieve something beyond realism – uniqueness with every single piece.”
Consue warns that realism can be impractical to convey in Minecraft due to its sky limit. With the vertical 255 block limitation there is only so much that you can make. “It’s therefore necessary to exaggerate and create illusions,” she stresses. “Trees cannot be too tall and placed far from mountains and [you need to use] subtle gradients to increase vertical space. Sometimes features are hard to read so I use a block pallet with high contrast to make features pop out.”
The limitations don’t make the creative process less fun though, and no challenge is too daring. Consue has experimented with a lot of terrain, both through her own projects and commissions that she gets from time to time.
“I find the American west desert and mesas especially interesting to design and [they] offer quite a challenge. My current long term project extending beyond Minecraft is a mashup of different sceneries of the area, including Monument Valley and Bryce Canyon. I also like to work with the bare yellow landscapes of Norway and Iceland.”
“You get to manipulate the organic patterns of nature with the giddy power of God.”
Terraforming is a humongous undertaking that requires both computer power and an eye for detail, but there’s still plenty of reasons) to try out earth-shaping. If you ask Consue, it’s an art form that can take a whole different turn.
“My digital arts professor once said that the industry is like a merry-go-round, once on a seat it’s easy to touch every aspect of the industry. Terraforming is not only a great for the Minecraft creative community but has so many connections with the wider sphere of digital art it’s easy to take off.”
So what are you waiting for? Go change the world!
Renders by Consue and @JakobMnz