Minecraft Mod Examination: Better Foliage
While the blocky style of Minecraft is loved by most of those who play it, that has not stopped players from trying to improve the game's graphics since even well before the official release. Texture/Resource packs such as BDcraft or Dokucraft are probably the oldest and most popular, and bring about an amazing change to Minecraft's graphics and atmosphere. However, most mods are built with the default style and texture quality of Minecraft in mind, and unless the texture artist makes new textures for the mods there can be a rather dramatic clash whenever a new mod is introduced. Another option is the use of shaders, which can drastically improve the quality of the game's lighting, add new visual effects when underwater, implement neat effects like god-rays, and often work just fine with mods, all at the cost of dropping most player's frame-rates by a large amount. Some people use Optifine, which is a nice little mod that allows greater view distances, various tweaks to textures, can even improve frame-rates, and a lot more, but sometimes causes severe issues with certain popular mods, such as Ars Magica. But there is one other option, Better Foliage, that generally is not only compatible with most mods, but can actually improve them, looks quite good in-game, works well with most of the improvements already listed, and barely effects the player's frame-rate at all.
While Better Foliage is not exclusively plant-based, its focus is to improve the look and feel of more forested areas. It does this by adding new effects to all grass and leaf-type blocks that it can detect, as well as adding effects to a few more specific situations. Tree leaves are no longer confined to a normal block shape, and instead they extend out by about an additional third of a block in all directions, causing forests to look much more bushy and natural. Individual leaves now drift down from trees as well, which is an especially nice effect around more autumnal or Japanese types of settings. Grass is improved as well, with a handful of blades sticking up out of the top of clipped grass to remove the "football-stadium" feel of normal Minecraft, and it now extends down the side of blocks if there is another grass block diagonally down from it. And while it is still considered experimental, in the newest version rounded logs have been implemented, improving the looks of forests and log houses even more.
But while the improvements to forests are great, it is the changes to the watery areas of Minecraft that impresses me the most. A new decorative plant, reeds, can grow anywhere in fresh, shallow water as long as there is a dirt block underneath, and their existence greatly enhances the appearance of swamps and ponds. Speaking of swamp plants, lily-pads have been upgraded, and can now have flowers in various states of bloom growing on top of them, as well as small roots drifting out of the pad's underside. Oceans have not been forgotten either, and coral now grows on top of blocks under the seas, bringing a tiny bit more life to what is normally Minecraft's least interesting biome.
And surprisingly the Nether, which normally has no vegetation at all, has received a couple of very nice upgrades as well. The coolest of these is the addition of souls rising from soul-sand, making the Nether, as well as any netherwart gardens you build, that little bit spookier. And tiny little vines now grow from the underside of netherrack blocks, which is a minor change, but still quite cool to see. While neither of these changes are amazing, anything that improves the original game's rather boring Nether deserves some credit.
While all of these changes are great by default, the amount of configuration this mod allows though its in-game menu is impressive, and lets the player customize almost everything to their liking. Any part of the mod can be turned on or off easily, without needing to close the game, and many of them can be extensively edited. Want to make reed grow out of nearly every water block, or disable it in a specific biome? That can be changed within twenty seconds, and will be applied immediately. You can also make the rising souls from the Nether last much longer, extend the height or length of almost anything, or cause leaves to drop at an absolutely ridiculous rate. There is almost nothing that you might want to adjust that cannot be tweaked to some degree, although you are prevented from increasing the size of most effects by more than double.
But the best part about Better Foliage is that it is compatible with, and correctly effects, nearly all known mods. It works just fine with the new trees from Biomes O' Plenty, it applies correctly to the Lord of the Ring's mod's various plants, and even when something does look a little off, like with the especially thick trees from Witchery, it still tends to work fine and improve their appearance. The only plant-adding mod that does not seem to work fine is Tinker's Construct, as its essence berry bushes can have issues with the new leaves, but even if you find such a graphical conflict you can use the in-game menu and disable Better Foliage's enhancements for that specific plant. Even other graphics enhancements work fine with Better Foliage, and it generally runs just fine alongside shader mods, texture packs, and Optifine.
So if you want a light-weight, but impressive improvement to Minecraft's looks, I cannot suggest anything more than Better Foliage. It may not be as drastic of an improvement as a texture or shader pack, but it will not harm your frame rates as much as either of those can, works with nearly all other mods including graphics enhancers, and is a substantial improvement on Minecraft's rather drab appearance. It touches on nearly every aspect of the game except for underground, and even works there if you have Tinker's Construct installed. There is almost no reason to not have this in your mods folder, regardless of mods installed or computer used.