FOR the past four and a half years, the BBC has been working on the next season of Frozen Planet, the nature documentary narrated by David Attenborough about the coldest regions of the Earth.
The team has explored the world, from the Arctic to Antarctica, to the highest mountain peaks and the cold chill of a desert after dark.
Now the team ventures into totally unknown territory: the world of Minecraft.
As each episode of Frozen Planet II airs, Minecraft will release a free map for players to explore.
The maps will feature Attenborough’s narration as players swim, waddle and fly over these blocky replicas of our planet, recreating moments from the show.
“What’s been fun working with the Minecraft team is that they have a real finger on the pulse of the young viewer,” explains Frozen Planet II series producer Elizabeth White.
During the interview, White plays a clip from the upcoming series, which shows footage of an avalanche, melting ice caps, and animals struggling to survive in a hostile landscape. Is awesome.
“I’ve watched it multiple times and it still grabs me every time,” says Minecraft Learning Programs Director Justin Edwards.
“The BBC approached me and explained [the partnership idea]and my heart went back to the original Frozen Planet, it’s still with me.
“It took me about a second to just say, ‘Yes, absolutely.’ It was a match made in heaven.”
To achieve this, the developers at Mojang had to completely rework the behavior of Minecraft, creating eight new animal mobs (the game’s artificial intelligence), as well as new player behaviors, all playable from a third-person perspective.
These experiences will launch today as a series of free worlds for players to download in Minecraft: Bedrock Edition, as well as Minecraft: Education Edition.
“In the Education Edition, we’re going to provide instructional resources such as Word documents, PowerPoint files, and lesson plans that teachers can use in conjunction with the TV series and game,” explains Edwards.
At this point, I am shown the game in a pre-recorded video.
Here, the player takes control of a nesting chinstrap penguin who has to collect rocks for his nest while fending off other penguins trying to steal his rocks.
“Mobs aren’t just skins,” Edwards explains. “They are new character players unique in the way they move and the way you interact with them.
“For example, with penguins, clicking the left mouse button moves the flippers so you can [shoo] drive away the other birds.
Then we’re swimming through icy seas like a killer whale, trying to work with the rest of the pod to knock a seal off an ice shelf.
When you take control of an eagle, you are free to flap your wings and fly freely across a different landscape.
As a chameleon, you can change the color of your skin so it blends in with the block you’re currently sitting on.
“At the end of each game, you become an investigator,” says Edwards. “You have a camera and a notepad, and you can explore the world and take pictures of the animals in those landscapes.”
This is where the educational aspect of the game comes into play, dishing out facts about the environment, animals, and what we can do to combat climate change.
The team – studio architects, game developers, and outside contractors – took nine months to create this Frozen Planet II collaboration.
Five worlds, eight new animals (leopards, bumblebees, and walruses are some of the others), and 80 custom blocks make it all up.
You’ll even find that the sea has a slightly different tint from the usual Minecraft ocean, so it more accurately represents the real world version of the place.
Much like the TV series itself, it feels like a true labor of love.
Parents can watch the show with their kids, fire up Minecraft afterwards, and visit these virtual recreations to further engage them in the lessons they provide.
It’s not just dry education, either: it’s a celebration of the beauty and diversity of our planet, told in a modern, forward-thinking way, and addressing difficult realities in a way that doesn’t scare the target audience.
“I think what happens with this series is a celebration of these places,” says White. “Scientists, above all, have a sense of hope.
“We certainly don’t want people to feel like everything is doomed. There is time for us to change things if we all get involved.”
That’s a sure thing in life: change.
Whether you’re an active participant in it, pushing for positive change, or a passive observer, watching things turn for the worse, change will always happen.
When the BBC reviewed the killer whales, who also appeared in the first season, for Frozen Planet II, they found that their behaviors had adapted. We are all capable of it.
I’d like to think that there could be an alien version of David Attenborough looking down on us from his spaceship, narrating how our children are going to save the planet thanks to the BBC and a little game called Minecraft.
Written by Kirk McKeand on behalf of GLHF.
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