Cast your minds back to E3 2017. Microsoft were riding high on the build up to the Xbox One X, promising native 4K graphics with games like Forza Motorsport 7 leading the charge as the rest of the then tiny Microsoft Studios went back and updated the company’s recent back catalogue with improved graphics. Even Mojang got in on the act, announcing the Super Duper Graphics Pack to ambitiously overhaul the game’s lighting engine with dramatic shadowing, crepuscular rays, reflections, and so much more.
Well, it obviously didn’t appear at the end of 2017, as originally planned, it then missed its revised 2018 window, and now Mojang have outright cancelled it.
“Unfortunately,” they write in a blog post, “the pack proved too technically demanding to implement as planned.
“We realise this is disappointing to some of you – there was a lot of enthusiasm for Super Duper from inside and outside the studio – but unfortunately, we aren’t happy with how the pack performed across devices. For this reason, we’re stopping development on the pack, and looking into other ways for you to experience Minecraft with a new look.”
It’s a strange capitulation from the company, with the Super Duper Graphics Pack only ever intended to target the Xbox One X and high-end PCs. In theory, the Xbox One X should be more than capable of handling the kinds of lighting that the SDGP promised, but it could also be a simple case that as worlds increased in size and complexity the performance cratered in a way that other styles of game simply wouldn’t.
However, reading between the lines, it’s also clear that Mojang have been drawn in several different directions over the past few years. Cross-network play was announced alongside the SDGP, which had its own delay on Nintendo Switch, there’s been countless content updates, there’s now Minecraft Earth and Minecraft Dungeons, and so with Mojang still a relatively small company, there might simply not have been enough developers to do the root and branch overhaul that the ageing codebase needed.
The last meaningful update we had came from now former Mojang developer Tamer S sheds some light on the situation last year:
Minecraft developer here. The Graphics Team is still hard at work on this (it ended up being a ton more work than initially anticipated). The graphics part of our engine was quite honestly simply not built for this, and when we tried to put all the new features in piece by piece things went bad. Performance, even on the Xbox One X, was between bad and inconsistent during all the internal play sessions we had.
It’s easy to say that Microsoft should have thrown money and more developers at the problem, even as a loss leader, but even that would have taken further time to get them up to speed.
While it’s a disappointing note, there’s still some hope for technical updates. Minecraft Dungeons will roll in some of the visual improvements, and the blog post does note, “Minecraft is available on a wide range of platforms, and we’re constantly trying to make the most of the technical architecture of each one. We’ll be able to share more on that subject very soon.”