Modded Minecraft – Shader Shenanigans

I got a mite bored with the slow pace of my Terrafirmapunk world the other day and idly decided to install a whole new random modpack to play around with.

Granted, this was using my very old Feed the Beast standalone launcher (since I absolutely refuse to use the Curse client, and will eventually have to learn how to use alternative launcher options like ATLauncher or MultiMC) so new offerings that I haven’t already tried were somewhat limited.

The current winner is Space Astronomy, a tech-focused modpack which promises the ability to blast off into space and explore other planets.

It all sounded very different from the sticks n’ stones survival existence I was busy eking out in Terrafirmapunk, struggling to accumulate enough resources to not die and maybe just maybe build unnecessarily complicated brass-based steamtech, provided I had the patience to figure out how the multiblock structures of an entirely new and unfamiliar mod fit together.

A couple hours later, after the excited buzz of “oh, how FAST I can mine through stuff in regular Minecraft, not Terrafirmacraft” and “OMG look at all these metal veins lying around -everywhere-” had worn off, I realized I had fallen back into my old modpack routine.

Hobbit hole in the ground, surrounded by chests and furnaces and basic Tinker’s Construct workbenches. Check.

Small Tinker’s Smeltery, labour-intensive and still manually operated, for lack of resources and the will to get around to automating it. Check.

Floundering around trying to decide which mod to progress through, that didn’t include stuff I didn’t like to do (eg. venture into the Nether, build mob spawner traps in order to get sufficient resources, figure out how to get ender pearls) and winding up blocked, with a HQM quest book that wasn’t any help because the author had assumed a Minecraft player with much faster progression than moi… Check.

Everything felt same old, same old.

Somehow, I got it into my head that I wanted to change around the feel of Minecraft and make it look a bit more like the awesome scenery I’d seen some Youtubers sporting.

(Except those Youtubers had an -awful- taste in texture packs where I was concerned, overly ornate and ornamental and forcing 128x or 256x textures onto the poor innocent Minecraft cube in the name of “realism.”)

Ah, but as Pixar would tell you, there is one magical thing that gives still (as in, not animated) computer graphics a lot more soul and atmosphere.

Light.

I have been forever fascinated by how Pixar’s lighting artists can take a uniformly lit 3D image and place light sources that throw shadows and highlights and color in various directions, and suddenly, the image goes from lifeless and sterile to emanating warmth and conveying a mood.

It was time to get off my arse and stop accepting pre-packaged modpacks as is, and learn how to mod Minecraft with the fantastic shaders that others had been developing for years.

It turned out to be more and less trouble than I had been expecting.

Finding the shaders was merely a matter of Google searching, and I found a couple that seemed promising: Sonic Ether’s Unbelievable Shaders (SEUS), Sildur’s Shaders which were apparently more customizable and less hard on the CPU/GPU, and Continuum Shaders which were the complete opposite and would crush lesser computers.

Installation was trickier.

Downloading the shaders meant navigating through ad-infested waters and left me feeling like I both needed a stronger ad-blocker and that I needed to virus scan my computer afterwards.

Vanilla Minecraft has leapfrogged on to version 1.11, including strange new things I haven’t gotten around to learning, and while certain mods have kept up and improved alongside it, others have fallen behind.

Meanwhile, I haven’t moved on from Minecraft version 1.7.10 because I’m still in love with the mods of that era and haven’t explored them all yet. So it meant following a rabbit trail of “old and outdated” markers, locating the most appropriate version of each shader for the version of Minecraft I’m playing.

Certain instructions bamboozled me and led me up wrong alleys. Sildur’s Shaders firmly instructed that Optifine 1.7.10 HD U D7 -must- be used for Minecraft 1.7.10, as it was the only version that had the shaders mod integrated.

Which was all very well, but Optifine D7 refused to play well with the Space Astronomy modpack and crashed it on startup.

Going back one version to Optifine D6 and everything was great, Space Astronomy started up… but it had no integrated shaders mod. -What- shaders mod was he even referring to?

More research revealed a Shaders Mod (updated by karyonix) that built on the GLSL Shaders mod by daxnitro, which Optifine had apparently subsumed in D7 and included in its own mod for higher Minecraft versions.

Well. No harm in trying to install it on top of Optifine D6, and seeing what happened.

Turns out it puts a teeny tiny Shaders button option in Minecraft that helps you swap between shaders and tweak a few basic settings.

Excellent. With that in place, I could now start checking out the shaders themselves.


Here’s our control: Basic Minecraft, with its own integrated shader, 16×16 default textures.

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(Ignore the Pam’s Harvestcraft beehive floating in thin air for now. It used to be in a birch tree, which I chopped down in a “I need wood” rampage.)

Somewhere along the shader adventure, I was also experimenting with various texture packs.

Some people really like re-skins – Soartex and Chroma Hills were two names I kept stumbling across. I look at the screenshots and I can’t even bring myself to download them because they just change the look of Minecraft so much that I don’t think I can even recognize it and have to re-learn everything again. They look nice, certainly, in their own way, but they just don’t look “Minecraft” to me. Personal taste and all that.

I found myself attracted to the ones that promised an “improved” default look, and yet didn’t deviate too much.

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Vattic’s Faithful 32×32 took a slight bit of getting used to (I’m -that- used to the default 16×16 textures) but they grew on me.

mc-noshaders32 This is super-subtle, and you can see the difference mostly in the tall grass texture.  The pixelation of the 16×16 textures have juuuust been smoothed out a touch, but it still looks very characteristically Minecraft.

We layer a shader on top. In this case, Sonic Ether’s Unbelievable Shaders:

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Well, fuck me.

Light is magical, after all.

Sildur’s Vibrant Shaders Medium:

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Continuum Shaders:

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They all look good, in their own way.

Sildur’s Shaders, for example, which I do not personally prefer, reminds me of the sort of colored fantasy light landscape of World of Warcraft. It’s more given to vivid, saturated colors. With the right texture pack (maybe Chroma Hills, since its byline is “RPG, with a cartoon twist?”) I suspect, it might look fantastic.

I really like the photoreal look of SEUS, though others might find it a little washed out, or too artificially faux realistic.

The next two pictures are older, non-artificial camera angle-controlled screenshots from my first excited exploration of this newly shaded Minecraft world:

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(The beehive in the birch tree is still intact in this one.)

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The water is unbelievable.

Oh, would that I could just stop there and consider this shader as perfect and actually start playing Minecraft in awesome mode.

Unfortunately, I ran into a couple flaws with default SEUS.

The sun had a tendency to be too bright. When facing in certain directions, I had a tendency to act like a vampire and go “Augh, my eyes! I’m burning!” and try to run underground.

Speaking of underground, this was where nearly all the shaders failed me.

-Apparently- most normal people playing Minecraft build fantastic structures aboveground to be lit up by the sunlight, and only go underground to mine and have scary, exciting adventures.

I, on the other hand, have some kind of dwarf blood in me and like to tunnel through the stone to build underground bases.

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I am used to the default Minecraft shader, which lights everything with an ambient white light.

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My underground bases are very comfortably lit up with the default shader, providing a built-in fluorescent daylight lamp that makes pottering about sorting inventory and processing resources pleasant, while remaining safe from wandering monsters.

To all the modded shaders, the underground is dark and shadowy, and torchlight is yellow or orange.

SEUS:mc-ug-seus

Sildur’s:

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Continuum:

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I admit this makes for both more realistic lighting and a sense of scary adventure moving underground… but YOU try living in this sort of yellow-orange half-light while trying to work out which machine to build next.

SEUS (night):

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Sildurs (night):

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One thing I tried was mining out some skylights. It was kinda fun to see how the daylight filtering in changed the quality of the light in different shaders.

Sildurs (day):

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SEUS (day):

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The problem though was that nearly half of the time, it was going to be night, unless I kept sleeping the night away.

Not to mention, all that work digging skylights. What if I wanted to burrow even further down into the earth? Was I doomed to a goblin-esque existence of scrabbling around in yellow sodium torchlight? *gollum*

It got depressing. I wanted some blue light to mix in with all that orange.

I found a very helpful Youtuber called Past Life Pro, who made videos about how to tweak shader settings and customize them to your liking.

It turns out that, yes, you can reduce the sun’s brightness in SEUS (hoorah, no more vampirism) and you can change the color of torchlight.

It’s kind of amazing how the feeling of the night changes with changing torchlight colors.

Unfortunately, but enlighteningly, I learned that Minecraft is coded in such a way as to only have one light color for torchlight (and all other lights like glowstone or lights included by mods.) You can vary the brightness given off by different blocks, but not the color.

(Though there are work-in-progress mods working on a way to create RGB light channels to produced colored light sources soon(TM) but not available now.)

A lot of tweaking and waffling around later, I settled on a dim whiter light for torchlight.

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The dimness still implied “underground,” but at least the cones in my eyes weren’t getting seared by orange.

Sadly, I had to give up on the SEUS shader due to one issue I couldn’t quite figure out if it was a bug due to the version, or just something with how the shader worked with light.

The problem’s visible in the screenshot above. A good half or more of the items being kept in Storage Drawers turned into black silhouettes. This, as you might imagine, makes sorting and retrieval of a desired item a giant pain in the ass.

Try as I might to tweak things, nothing seemed to work. I even brought out a storage drawer in bright daylight and the icons still registered as black.

I eventually figured out that SEUS was the issue when I swapped to Sildur’s and the icons came out fine. Sildur’s was way too yellow, so that was right out. My only hope was trying out Continuum, which was adapted with permission as a continuation of SEUS.

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I was pleasantly surprised to see that the icons were fine.

There’s still a bit of that yellow light problem, but for whatever reason, maybe the higher contrast, it doesn’t seem to bother me as much, or I’m getting used to it.

Perhaps in the future, I’ll tweak it and push a tiny bit more blue light into the mix.

As a second best option, Continuum isn’t too shabby, mind you. Not by half. It’s more taxing on the GPU, apparently, but hell, I splurged on a good video card for a reason:

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The nights are really dark nights.

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Yet still with moments of beauty, as seen in this boat ride.

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(The moon may need a bit of tweaking, it looked a bit odd as it was rising, but that’s for another time.)

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The rain blows my mind. The floor is wet (if a mite super-reflective – yet another future tweak.)

The one thing I don’t really like is how Continuum treats water.

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On the whole, it’s generally choppier and with more waves than SEUS. The wind blows stronger than in SEUS too.

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Some shallower bodies of water look okay, so maybe it’s some kind of calculation as to how strong the waves should be, given the depth and quantity of the water at hand.

Definitely something I’ll be searching for and tweaking down if at all possible.

But on the whole, Continuum is the shader that I’ve chosen to accompany me on my Minecraft journey into SPAAAACE. (One day.)