Stardew Valley‘s charming farm decorations include two unique little blocks that play a flute note or a drum sound when players run by them. Though they’re cute, I never quite figured out how to arrange them. Mine were typically consigned to gather dust in a random chest somewhere in a dark corner of my farm.
But in the hands of the right player, flute and drum blocks transform into something incredible: walking tracks that play complex classical melodies and popular tunes. And in the past six months, talented Stardew Valley players have created masterful flute block arrangements of dizzyingly complex songs like Mozart’s “Rondo Alla Turca (Turkish March)‘Green Day’s’American Idiot,” the Pokémon battle themeand of course, Toby Fox’s “Megalovania” from Undertale (in which the character even looks like Papyrus).
On Reddit, clips of players walking these musical paths have garnered tens of thousands of upvotes, and it’s easy to see why. These walking tracks are mesmerizing — like a video game equivalent of a vintage music box, one of those slowly rotating cylinders where each protruding metal tab makes a gentle plink. You can look at them and know this took some time to make. The arrangement of “Megalovania,” for example, took six hours to plan, followed by five hours of placing blocks, creator Yaramy wrote in the Reddit post. And this is someone who has made quite a few.
Arranging music is challenging, even with the best tools, and doing it in Stardew Valley takes a combination of Excel wizardry and furious clicking. It also involves some very specific hurdles: There’s the limitation of sounds that can be played at any given time; a sprite’s walking speed, which augments the tempo; and the challenge of finding a big enough spot on Stardew Valley‘s map to lay it all out. Capturing the essence of a song is difficult — but still possible! — even with this small toolkit.
“One of the basics of recording is you have all these tracks you can use,” PK Levine, who did “American Idiot,” told Polygon over the phone. “In Stardew you have two, because at most of your farmer can run by two flute blocks at a time in continuous sequence, at least. There’s exceptions to that rule, but they’re tricky.”
Levine is a multi-instrumentalist who can play guitar, piano, and drums. Green Day’s anthemic hit is obviously an iconic choice, but Levine picked it specifically because the song largely alternates between guitars and vocals, which allows him to make it sound “driving, exciting, and interesting” with one track of flute and one track of drums . No rock song would work without those drums, Levin explained. Even then, it’s still an uphill battle, as “with drums you could be as many as three drums simultaneously, and there’s frequently hitting heavy syncopation,” Levine said.
Redditor NetWarrior FM, who created the Mario overworld theme and John Williams’Duel of the Fates” (a Star Wars theme) in Stardew Valley, explained that the flute blocks also have a limited sonic palette. Over email, he told Polygon, “you have to get a little creative and go an octave higher or lower and try to get the best sounding notes.”
No masterpiece is created overnight. Levine started his arrangement by making a detailed spreadsheet in which he mapped out the notes — flute blocks can play a range of 24 — while referring the Stardew Valley wiki page and a tablature of the song’s melody and vocal line. The flute block row alone required 16 columns, which roughly translates to two 8/8 bars, Levine explained.
“The number of flute blocks that you’re going to run past in a certain time is going to be fixed,” Levine said. “So you can’t get really tricky with the rhythm. Essentially, a 4/4 bar of music translates directly to eight flute blocks.”
Drums can be even trickier. There are seven values, but they’re fairly subjective. You have to identify the difference between the bass and the snare, for example, and it can be hard to discern. Some players think the bass drum is at click zero, but for Levine, the bass is four clicks in while click zero sounds more like a low tom. Multiple creators explained that it comes down to trial and error.
“I basically laid out 16 drum pads and ran past them repeatedly — I just kept tweaking and tweaking and tweaking until I could cram it into those 16 pads,” Levine said. “It’s not until you hear it together that you get the sense, Does this work?”
Players can change the pitch of each flute and drum block in Stardew Valley by repeatedly left-clicking the mouse. A flute block defaults to C, and 12 clicks will get you to C at a higher octave. If you’re not a music person, this basically means a lot of fucking clicking to get a simple “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” let alone “Turkish March” or the drum line of “American Idiot.”
Levine is playing the game in multiplayer with mods Stardew Valley Expanded and CJB Item Spawner installed — for spawning flute blocks — and it took roughly four in-game months to complete the Green Day track. He did it in his multiplayer game, even though it doesn’t allow a player to pause, because he “loves playing with [his] friends” and just “wanted to do this organically.” Stardew Valley Expanded’s larger Calico Desert also gave Levine ample space; in a prior arrangement of the Gravity Falls theme, Levine used the vanilla game, and cacti kept getting in the way.
To play the song, his sprite pounds a cup of coffee, then sprints through. Base player speed is five; drinking a coffee bumps it up to six. So, guzzling coffee changes the song’s tempo, though it also happens to match the aesthetic — if I had to run through a musical maze, I’d caffeinate myself too. This is closer to the faster tempo of “American Idiot,” according to Levine, and it’s not unusual to see in other arrangements. On Levine’s next project, he’s planting grass on the path to slow his character’s walking speed because the track has a slower tempo.
NetWarrior FM took a different approach, using the mod CJB Cheats Menu in order to pause in-game and so his character sprite didn’t have to sleep as often. It also allowed him to adapt his player speed. He didn’t “plan on where to place the blocks beforehand” but likes to “just go with it.” NetWarrior FM also uses an item spawning mod, but just discovered a flute block mod that lets players change the instrument (toy piano is one option). He’s currently using it to arrange “Let It Go” from Frozen.
Every time one of these arrangements crosses my feed, I pause to take it in. I’ve seen enough to be able to “read” the shape of the song: You can tell which bars repeat when they appear like a closed loop that a player can walk a full lap on, with branching paths that lead to other movements or from a chorus to a verse. Thirteen years of classical piano and I can’t play anything I used to be able to, but evidently I can parse Stardew Valley flute block music. Go figure.
They’re evidence of hard work and incredible creativity, like a beautiful structure in Minecraft or a perfectly terraformed Animal Crossing: New Horizons island. They’re a physicalization of a song distilled into simple melodies and drum lines, pieces of music history that fans can recognize even without all of the bells and whistles. I wonder what they’ll adapt next.