How to Pump the Minecraft Eyecandy with Shaders

The simple and blocky styling of Minecraft is endearing to many fans of the game, but if you’d like a more sophisticated 3D look with realistic lighting, reflections, and enhanced graphics you can achieve the shimmering 3D paradise you crave.

Polished graphics are a prominent feature on most modern video games and we’ve come to expect well rendered shadows, beautiful surfaces and textures, and other GPU-intensive flourishes. Any fan of Minecraft can tell you, however, that despite the depth of gameplay Minecraft is short on any of the graphical flourishes found in popular games. Shades can change all that.

Grass that waves in the wind, water that sparkles and reflects light, a sun that blazes brilliantly down and temporarily blinds you when you leave a dark cave: all these things and more are injected into the game via shaders. Read on as we show you how  to pair the sophisticated building experience Minecraft provides with equally as sophisticated graphics.

Note: A good resource pack pairs very nicely with a good shader. For the purposes of this tutorial, however, to showcase what shaders can do without any extra help we’ve opted to not use a special resource pack and to simply apply the shaders with the default Minecraft resource packs.

Getting Ready for Shaders

Before we actually jump into the eye candy that are shaders, let’s smooth the road before us by ensuring we’re ready for the experience.

Before experimenting with shaders you’ll definitely want to update your computer’s GPU drivers to the latest stable version. The more stable and bug-free your drivers are the better.

In addition to updating your drivers you’ll also want to ensure that your installation of Minecraft is properly modded with Forge installed. If you’ve dug into this tutorial without reviewing the previous lessons, now is the time to go back and review previous tutorials on modding and instance management to ensure you’re up to speed with Forge installed and ready to go.

Note: It is possible to install shaders without Forge just like it’s possible to install Optifine without Forge. Given the benefit of using Forge and the great big world of awesome mods out there, however, we’re focusing on the Forge-centered installation for this tutorial.

Installing the Shaders Mod

Just like Forge serves as a platform for you to load additional mods, the Shaders Mod serves as a platform to load add-on shaders for Minecraft.

Visit the official Shaders Mod thread here and download the most current Forge-based version; as of this tutorial it’s GLSL Shaders Mod v2.3.18 for Minecraft 1.7.10.

Place the .JAR file into your Minecraft /mods/ folder if you’re not using a mod manager. If you’re using MultiMC as we outlined in Lesson 5 (and we certainly hope you are), copy it first to your /Mods/ directory and then use the MultiMC mods menu for your instance to add the mod.

Run Minecraft once after the Shaders Mod is installed in order to confirm the installation (check your Mod menu or look in the Options menu for the “Shaders” button) and so that the /shaderpacks/ folder is created in your Minecraft root folder.

Locating and Installing Shader Packs

Unlike some of the other modification packs we’ve highlighted so far in the advanced Minecraft series, there isn’t a nice, neatly organized, central repository (or two) like there is for other resources such as resource packs, game mods, and so on.

Shaders are a bit of a niche pursuit and the best place to learn more about them is to hit up the official Minecraft Mods sub-forum and simply search for “shader.” In addition the official thread for the Shaders Mod itself offers a nice long list of compatible shader packs.

Once you find a shader you’d like to take for a spin, you install it just like you install resource packs. Download the shader pack and place it into the /shaderpacks/ folder within your Minecraft root folder. Whether you’re using a regular Minecraft installation or a mod manager like MultiMC you’ll need to find the /shaderpacks/ folder and manually copy the files into it as there is no mechanism in MultiMC for managing shader packs. That said, you can use the “instance folder” shortcut in MultiMC to quickly jump to the root folder for that instance.

For the purposes of this tutorial we’ll be using Sonic Ether’s Unbelievable Shaders (SEUS) as it is the gold standard for Minecraft shaders and an absolutely lovely piece of eye candy.

Valid shaders have the extension .FSH and .VSH. These shaders need to be located within either a folder or a .ZIP file clearly labeled and in the /shaderpacks/ folder. If you download a shader called SuperAwesomeShader for example, you need to have all the .FSH and .VSH files that came with that shader pack installed in your /shaderpacks/ folder in one of the following configurations:

/minecraft/shaderpacks/SuperAwesomeShaders.zip/shaders/

or

/minecraft/shaderpacks/SuperAwesomeShaders/shaders/

Where all the .FSH and .VSH files are located either in the /shaders/ folder within the .ZIP archive or the folder. If the files are not placed in this directory format the Shaders Mod will not be able to load them.

Once you have downloaded the shader pack and copied the files (double-checking the directory structure) to the /shaderpacks/ folder, load up Minecraft.

Loading Shader Packs

Loading shader packs is almost as simple as loading resource packs. The only difference is that some shader packs will come with very small extra instructions (typically tweaks you need to make to the values in the Shaders menu).

Let’s take a look at how to load SEUS and what a difference it makes. Here’s a fun little glitch village we found that spawned in a lake. All that water is going to look pretty darn good when we flip over to using shaders so let’s test things out.

Press ESC to pull up the options menu and then click the “Shaders…” button to access the submenu.

Within that submenu you’ll see a list of your available shaders on the left-hand side and a list of option toggles on the right.

Before you select the SEUS shader, you need to check a few SEUS-related options. Check to ensure that “CloudShadow” is off, “tweakBlockDamage” is on, and “OldLighting” is off. Then select the SEUS shader file.

You’ll notice that the new view automatically starts rendering the moment you select it. Click done and sit back to survey your new ultra-shader-enhanced Minecraft experience.

Natural sun reflection, enhanced shadows, beautiful clouds, and something you can’t see in the screenshot: everything is moving. Advanced shaders like SEUS introduce water that ripples, trees and grass that sway in the breeze, and very realistic torch and lava movement.

Let’s fly around in creative mode and take some comparison shots. The only mods we have loaded besides the Shaders Mod and SEUS are Biomes O’ Plenty and Mo’ Villages (we’re using the same world for this shader test that we used in Lesson 6 to show off those two world-expanding mods).

The huge birch forests in Biomes O’ Plenty are awesome just by themselves, but with a good shader they become even more majestic. The image above shows the same location with the native Minecraft shader active on the left and the SEUS shader active in the right.

Above, is a shot of a lagoon next to our favorite Biomes O’ Plenty biome: the Seasonal Forest. The lovely colors of the Season Forest take on a whole new depth when the special lighting, haze, and shadow rendering of the new shader is applied. Like the previous image, the native shader is on the left and the SEUS shader is on the right.

Nighttime scenes are especially cool with a beefy shader applied. In the village above you can see the native shader on the left and the SEUS shader on the right. The light is much warmer in the SEUS shader and the light spill and eventual shadows are much more realistic.

This shot shows a mountain village (courtesy of Mo’ Villages). The left half of the image shows the cool white-spectrum lighting and the red lava with white lighting provided by the default shader. The right half of the image showcases how warm the village looks with the SEUS shader and how strongly the lava glows.

Exploring Other Shaders

Unless you attack your shader project with a very high-end graphics card, there’s a good chance you’ll need to experiment with which shaders and which version of those shaders (e.g. ultra, lite, etc.) you can use. We tend to aim big and then if our GPU can’t handle it, work down from there.

Here are a few other shaders for your consideration. The first is MrMeep’s Shaders, seen above. It’s quite similar to the SEUS shader so if you have trouble with SEUS give MrMeeps a try.

If you’re looking for something totally different from the typical “It’s like blocky Skyrim!” look that many shaders give, Naelego’s Cel Shaders, seen above, is a nice change. The shader pack renders the Minecraft world in cel-animation style (similar to that found in video games like Borderlands and Okami). It’s a neat look and a definite departure from the vanilla Minecraft experience and the realistic lighting/water experience most shader packs provide.

Our final recommendation is for those of you with older computers that want the shader experience but without the GPU power for a beefy shader like SEUS. Paolo’s Lagless Shader isn’t quite lagless on really old machines but it does offer the kind of features you expect in a shader like reflective water, dynamic lighting, and better shadows, without the huge overhead that comes with other shader packs. If you’ve tried the Lite version of other shaders and still been stuck at 1-5 FPS, give Paolo’s pack a shot.


 

Although you need a decent GPU to hack it, getting a powerful shader pack up and running is a sure fire way to absolutely supercharge your Minecraft experience and make the whole Minecraft world look new again.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.