Back to the Nether
Revisiting Minecraft's fiery dimension – in Dungeons!
I have a theory. Last year, NASA launched a rocket that managed to reach Mars after seven months in space. Last week, we launched Flames of the Nether – just seven (OK, six but that is just seven missing a one) days before March. A far-fetched coincidence?! Yeah probably I THINK NOT!
While we’ve never been to Mars before, we certainly have been to the Nether, and in the latest update to Minecraft Dungeons we get to experience this world like never before. We brought on Level Designer Laura de Llorens and Art Director Daniel Björkefors for a chat about this new interpretation of the fiery dimension.
“Since the Nether is such an iconic dimension in Minecraft, we wanted Flames of the Nether to be a very bombastic DLC, so we decided to go all-in!”, says Laura. “We wanted to tackle as many biomes from the recent Nether Update in vanilla Minecraft as possible, take the foundation of it, and give it that Dungeons flair!”
Adding flair to an already far-above-average-hot dimension sounds dangerous – or am I thinking of flare? Anyway. With Flames of the Nether, the Dungeons team set out to create an amped-up experience with something extra in it. Besides new features like Ancient Hunts and Gilded gear, the update also brings a polished look to Minecraft’s old hothouse: new lightning effects, items, lusher forests, scarier soul sand valleys, and much more. So, what makes this interpretation of the Nether different from vanilla Minecraft?
Laura: First of all, our levels look slightly different thanks to the possibilities we have. The mob fights are meant to be different. In vanilla Minecraft, you’ll find mobs as you go and explore. Sometimes they bother you, sometimes they don't, but that’s not the main focus. In Dungeons however, the mobs are very much catered towards creating interesting fights and challenges!
Daniel: During the concept art phase, we also realized we needed a lot of new objects and textures to bring more life to the Nether because of the top-down angle we’re using. We created page after page of concepts, which resulted in new bone structures and objects for the Soul Sand Valley level, a variety of flora and fauna for the forests, as well as bridges, doors, and Nether-inspired mechanics all over. And let’s not forget that mystical machine seen in the Nether Wastes!
We ended up with well over a hundred pages of concept art for the Nether, including everything from general coloring to new plants, props, armor, and weapons that fit with the environments.
When you started on the Flames of the Nether, how did you approach working with such a charismatic zone?
Daniel: The first step was to do a lot of research, spawning in the Nether and just get a fresh sense of the environments and feel for all the biomes before we went into the concept phase. We also watched loads of community-created videos, which was a source of inspiration and research I could go back to over and over during the whole process.
Laura: I personally liked to go into the Nether and just fly around to see how the geometry naturally spawned, the levels of elevation, and how the different biomes interact with each other. At the same time, we also had a lot of communication with the [vanilla] Minecraft team about their approach to the Nether to help us to get in a good direction. I think it was a matter of looking at what the original has and adapting it to give it life in our own way.
Daniel: Once we had decided on what biomes we wanted for the DLC, we started to draw concept art to find the core of each one. Things like textures, flora and fauna, mob variations, and color schemes were carefully picked and evolved through this process. We ended up with well over a hundred pages of concept art for the Nether, including everything from general coloring to new plants, props, as well as armor and weapons that fit with the environments.
That sounds like a lot of art! How much freedom would you say you had in shaping Dungeons’ version of the Nether?
Laura: I’d say we had a lot of freedom to experiment. In general, we don't want to identically replicate what Vanilla already has – we try to identify the core essence in things, like looking at what the most important aspects of a Nether fortress are or how the hoglin should behave as a mob. Once we know that, we try to understand how that would translate to Dungeons. Take a Nether fortress for instance: In [vanilla] Minecraft, they spawn randomly, and they’re a real challenge, so we tried to apply that into Dungeons, which then turned into these bizarre constructions with overgrown things inside, as well as blaze spawners. They turned out very different, but at the core they’re the same.
The Nether sure has an interesting set of areas nowadays! What biome adaptation are you most happy with?
Laura: Warped forest for sure! It was a big collaborative effort and I'm so happy how it turned out. Part of the reason is that I started working on that level myself and then passed it on to Joshua Barker, a level designer at Double Eleven. It also contains a lot of vegetation that our 3D artist Brendan Sullivan made, and our great Level Designer and overall Space Wizard, Pontus Hammarberg, tweaked and polished it to make it look as amazing as it currently does. You can really tell because it turned out so different: the trees have these glowy eyes that blink and the whole environment is alive.
Daniel: I was about to say that both of the forest biomes, since they are such a vibrant interpretation of the Vanilla forests. But I am most happy with the Basalt Deltas level, with its ash grey environments combined with the lava – it really came out particularly beautiful and interesting, I think.
Lastly, what part of the Nether was most challenging to bring over to Dungeons?
Laura: Balance for sure! Since we have so many new mobs, it was like rebalancing the game all over again in a way. There's been a lot of iteration making sure that the new enchantments, the new weapons, and gear make sense with everything else in the game!
Flames of the Nether is more than just a balance between old and new – it’s a balance between staying alive and not-so-much-alive! The lava-covered environment is more hostile than ever before, there are exploding mushrooms, deadly traps, and mobs ready to stop even the most seasoned of adventurers from exploring the new Nether. This is starting to sound like a terrible travel ad, so instead of listening to me, launch Minecraft Dungeons and try it yourself. Maybe you’re strong enough for the task?