Late to the Party: Minecraft

Hello, hello! My apologies once again for my extended absence. I’ve been doing some serious slacking off and I’m hoping to make up for that this week. After writing this article, I played through a new game to get the screenshots to accompany  my points. I hope they add a little something!

As you may know, I’m a big fan of Minecraft, a PC-based game by Mojang. I started playing back in the spring after being introduced to it by my friend Brandie. Recent updates and a new texture pack (in addition to a two-month absence from the game on my part due of work and moving and other things) have made Minecraft seem like a brand new game to me. It began as an extremely simple game and has since evolved to something more complex and, loath as I am to use the word in this context, lifelike. Allons-y!

(If you don’t know what ‘allons-y’ means, you need to watch some fourth-series Doctor Who. Right now. Don’t worry, I’ll wait. … You could also ask someone who speaks French, I suppose, but where’s the fun in that?)

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Starting out in Minecraft

Your game starts at dawn. You have until dark to get your act together, or you're zombie-food.

When you begin a new game of Minecraft, a world is randomly generated, made entirely of blocks.  You start out with an empty inventory, all on your own in the middle of nowhere, and all you’re first expected to do is survive the night.

If you’re playing on a single-player server and have the difficulty set to Peaceful, then you have nothing to worry about except possibly falling into a pit. The moon and stars give you a small amount of light (as well as an indication of when the sun will rise), but it’s just barely enough for you to see where you’re going in most conditions. If you are not playing on Peaceful, then you have other things to worry about — being blown up or shot at, for instance. As the sun sets in Minecraft, your world goes dark, just as it would in real life. The mobs can only spawn in darkness, making night-time one of your biggest enemies in the game. Mobs can spawn in any area at any time if it’s big enough and dark enough, like underground caves or small shadowy alcoves under cliffs. Most hostile mobs (skeletal archers, zombies and Endermen) will burst into flames and die when they venture out into sunlight.

An Enderman dismantles a tree while a skeletal archer takes aim

An Enderman dismantles a tree while a skeletal archer takes aim

Skeletal archers are the only mobs that do damage from a considerable distance, so they can be a pain to kill or flee from. Zombies aren’t overly deadly unless they’re in groups, as they can only inflict damage when they’re within a block or two of a player. They also do the typical zombie groaning to unwittingly alert you to their presence. These two mobs will be saved from a fiery death if pushed into water or rain or if they are still wandering in the shade when the sun rises.

Endermen are a relatively new addition to the game and are in a class by themselves; they are the only mobs that are more than two blocks tall, and they can pick up and move blocks. They are peaceful and won’t attack you — until you set your sights on them, that is, and I mean that literally. If your crosshairs move over an Enderman, they will freeze until you’re looking away again, and then they’ll attack. They can teleport over short distances and will use this to their advantage, often popping up behind you before attacking. Pushing them into water, lava or sunlight will kill them, in contrast to zombies and skeletal archers.

Other hostile mobs, like spiders and Creepers, will continue to run around once the sun’s up. Spiders can be  ruthless in the dark, as they can scale up to four or five blocks to get to you, but they won’t attack you during the day without provocation. Creepers aren’t quite so considerate. These freaky little buggers are the bane of a Minecrafter’s existence. They move without making a sound until they’re within a couple of blocks of a player. When they’re close enough to cause damage, they let out a hissing noise and explode seconds later, creating craters and usually causing the player to take damage, if they don’t manage to kill the player outright. If you distance yourself from them quickly enough, their ‘explosion timer’ will reset and won’t start again until it’s within the required distance from you.

Trapped squid and Creeper

A Creeper and squid trapped by rapids

If you are killed (by mobs or otherwise), you drop all of the items in your inventory and are taken back to your spawn point with full health and hunger. You won’t recover your items unless you can make it back to the place where you died before they disappear, which only takes a few minutes.

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Now that you know the dangers, I’ll explain how you’d go about defending yourself against them. As I’ve mentioned, when you first start out, you have absolutely nothing in your inventory, but  you can use almost everything around you to craft something, providing you already have the tools to harvest the materials. You first create wooden tools and weapons, and as you use those tools to collect stronger materials, you upgrade to stronger versions. The higher the quality of the tool, the faster it will mine / harvest the material you’re after, and the less often the tool will have to be replaced. Depending on the biome in which you spawn (e.g. desert, forest, mountain, swamp), different resources will be available to you, which can make the game easier or harder.

Wooden tools

The first tools you create are made of wood. Pictured are a sword, pickaxe, shovel and axe.

Certain materials require a specific strength of tool in order to harvest it. For instance, if you try to mine gold with a stone pick, the gold will crumble and you cannot collect it; if you mine it with an iron or diamond pick, it will remain intact and you can add it to your inventory.

Once you have rudimentary tools, you need to make torches. Placing a torch is the easiest way to light up an area and to keep mobs from spawning nearby. Before you can make torches, though, you need to go on a hunt for coal. It is often found in rocky outcroppings and in caves, but you may have to wander for quite a distance until you can mine a decent amount of it.

Shelter is the other important thing to think about before the sun goes down. So long as you make sure there aren’t any openings in the walls that a mob can get through, it’ll do the trick. If you haven’t made torches yet and it’s already dark, don’t make your shelter too big; if you have a large shelter and it isn’t lit, a mob can spawn inside and come after you.

A finished brick house

Putting glass windows in will protect you from archers' arrows while letting you watch for nearby mobs.

Building can be a tricky thing, depending on the dimensions of the structure. Some materials obey the laws of physics and others don’t. For example, if you remove a block of dirt from under a block of sand, the sand will fall until it meets another block to support it; if you remove a block of sand from under a block of dirt, however, the dirt will remain in its original position. Sand, gravel, water and lava are the only materials that come to mind that conform to physics.

Also, you cannot place blocks in thin air. Blocks need something to support them when they are placed, and so there must be an existing block against which you place your new one. You can place blocks above, below or next to an existing block.

After establishing a base, you’ll also need to figure out where you’re going to get food. In the early versions of the game, eating food would recover your health meter. Simple. In the newer versions, however, you have two separate meters: a hunger meter and a health meter. Your hunger meter depletes over time all on its own and you can only recover health if your hunger meter is full.

Using wheat to make a loaf of bread

It can take time to grow enough wheat to make bread, but there are tricks to speed up the growth process.

There are three ways to collect food : 1) killing cows, pigs and chickens and cooking the meat they drop, 2) farming watermelons and wheat, the latter of which can be used to make bread (and cake, which requires additional ingredients), and 3) harvesting different types of mushrooms and using them to make soup. As a side note, you can eat pork, beef and chicken raw, but it won’t recover as much hunger. Raw chicken can also make you sick, making your hunger bar deplete faster.

Since we’re on the subject of cooking, you can cook more than just meat. If you possess a furnace (and a bit of coal or wood for fuel), you can cook lumps of clay into individual bricks, which can then be used to create brick structures. (I’m quite fond of my little brick houses.) You can also use it to smelt metals into ingots, which can then be used to make armour, weapons and tools.

Lava, waterfalls, iron, diamond and redstone

Lava-flows and waterfalls are common in caves, so use caution when going after ores and minerals near them, like diamond, iron and redstone pictured here.

With those basics down, all that’s left to do is explore and build, explore and build. Personally, I like the exploring much more than the building, although I choose to build a lot of structures as I wander so that there is always a safe haven nearby when night approaches. The most interesting part for me is spelunking in the huge underground caverns that contain the more interesting resources.

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This ended up more like a how-to than I’d planned, but hopefully you lot won’t mind too much. I hope that this has made you a little curious about the game, because believe it or not, I left a lot of stuff out. I highly recommend that you watch a few Minecraft videos on YouTube and try out the free version of the game. You can buy the full version as well, of course, which means that you receive all subsequent updates for free and can play on multiplayer servers. Craft on, peeps!

For more information about Minecraft, check out the Minecraft website or the Minecraft Wiki. The Wiki is extremely helpful, as it provides a list of crafting recipes for everything you could possibly make in Minecraft, as well as details about every type of block, mob, game setting and more.

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One Comment

  1. Ben
    Posted October 17, 2011 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for posting this. This has definitely provided me with a good sense of what to expect when I finally get into Minecraft, which will hopefully be soon and I can spend hours upon hours getting immersed in it, though I think I’ll start playing on “peaceful” until I properly learn some of the basics. I look forward to delving into it…with you perhaps giving me some helpful pointers along the way 🙂

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