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Getting Started in Minecraft

The basics of building a blocky empire.


Though still in development, Minecraft is already an obsession for hundreds of thousands of paying players across the world. As of right now you can either play a free version, called Minecraft Classic, or fork over 10 Euro for the Alpha version, which is the in-development version that receives periodic updates. Let's say you've heard the buzz and are on board with the blocky art style and are ready to play. Despite the world's friendly-looking Super Mario Bros. blocks that imply a simple, accessible type of game, it's a lot deeper than you may think.

There's no tutorial when a game of Minecraft begins. Clicking on a save file opens up a new world; a vast expanse of terrain full of mountains, lakes, ice, cliffs, trees, and jumping pigs. The sun moves across the sky and sets, and at night zombies and spiders come out and try to kill you. The undead threats are the main motivation to get things done in the game so you can avoid dying, but outside of that there's not much to do that could be considered structured content.

Minecraft is meant to be a totally free-form building game. It's like if somebody dumped out a near bottomless container of LEGO blocks and told you to go nuts. The first thing to wrap your head around is that when you die, the respawn location is always the same. Death also results in your personal inventory spilling all over the ground. Travel back to the location of your death to scoop it back up. Once this is understood, it's all up to you to determine what to do next. Do you build a wooden shack or construct an opulent castle? Or maybe dig straight down until you hit bedrock? Burn down a forest? Build a house in a mountainside? The game's sense of freedom can be thrilling, but also intimidating to a first time player. Here are a few basic tips for getting started.

Blocks in Motion


Making holes in the world is a big part of Minecraft's gameplay formula. It's not just for fun, but necessary for harvesting resources. Initially you can punch apart dirt, sand, and wood blocks pretty quickly. This shatters the material block, turning it into a little floating icon that is automatically added to your inventory when you're nearby. By moving blocks from your inventory to the active skill bar you can then set them back down in the world and stack them up. Should you run out of blocks before completing the desired structure, it's time to dig for more. Be mindful of what type of block you're using, as materials matter. A wooden structure can catch on fire, for example, which could be disastrous if you're not careful.

Make a Workbench

The workbench is an essential object for any dedicated Minecraft player. By opening your personal inventory and combining together four blocks of wood, you can make one. It'll then sit in your inventory and can be placed on the ground in front of you. Right-clicking on it brings up a 3 by 3 grid and you can place different kinds of materials on each slot. This will become more important as you collect a wider variety of materials, but initially you'll need it to mine further underground. Placing sticks and stone materials in the correct pattern will produce a stone mining pick. This type of tool is crucial for hollowing out deep mines that stretch all the way down to the bedrock.

Carving out giant spaces underground serves a number of purposes. First, it means you'll be collecting a ridiculous amount of stone. Be sure to build a chest to store all this stuff as it accumulates since your personal inventory will swiftly overflow. Collecting a lot of stone is great because tools have durability ratings and can break, so using it to craft more is always a priority. It also means there's an ample supply of building materials to construct a cool house. Second, more mining means a greater chance of finding rare block types. Iron, redstone, gold and more lie buried beneath the surface, and the only way to find them is to hollow out gigantic caverns. The best idea is to dig down but also wide – a narrow corridor to the bottom of the world isn't necessarily the best idea since you aren't giving yourself a chance to branch out and find more deposits. Just be sure while digging to keep in mind an exit strategy or you may be in for an especially annoying ascent.

Set Up a Base

The freedom to flatten mountains with your mining ability can be a lot of fun, but eventually the appeal is going to dissolve. To offset the eventual grind mining becomes, it's helpful to know you're doing it for a reason; to build awesome structures. I feel like this is essentially the make or break point of the game for most people. If you don't find it entertaining to let your imagination loose and use your accumulated blocks to build towers and castles, then you're not going to like Minecraft. But if the notion of building elaborate staircases, cloud-scratching ramparts, and high-arching windows made of glass blocks appeals to you, then there's a lot to dig into.

Physics don't really play into building considerations. A few block types will fall if there's nothing underneath to support them, but if stone is the material of choice, then you can do whatever you like. You can build lopsided megastructures with only a spindly ladder tower to give you access from below. Looming towers can be set into hillsides with any number of ramps and bridges and whatever else you like connecting the landscape. Paintings and bookshelves can line a more traditional, cozy home if you'd rather. Or within a subterranean cavern a fortress can be built up, lit only by torchlight.

Create a Furnace

Here's where things start to get more complicated and the range of possibilities starts to really open up. Let's say you've already established a deep mine and come out of it with gold, iron, coal, and a bunch of other materials. Transforming these materials requires a furnace, which is easily built by combining stone in your Workbench. If you've been slaughtering pigs, you can use this to cook the pork they drop and output a restorative item. If you've collected iron, you can use it to output iron ingots, which as it turns out are incredibly useful.

With iron ingots, you can create better tools, weapons, armor, doors and more, but at this point the more interesting option is to construct a mine cart and some sections of track. Laying down track lets you use mine carts to travel around at a much faster pace. A straight section of track is simple enough to build, but the cool part is how the carts in Minecraft exhibit special kinds of behavior. For instance, if two mine carts are lined up next to each other on parallel tracks, they both speed up. No, it doesn't make any sense, but that's how it works. Again, the game doesn't tell you any of this. You can either treat it as an exercise in discovery, or just go scour the Minepedia for all the relevant info. Regardless of how you learn, if you've made it this far into Minecraft, this'll only get its hooks deeper under your skin.

Becoming a home owner - no longer just a dream.

Dive Off the Deep End

At this point it's easy to be dizzied with the sense of burgeoning possibility in Minecraft. Do you experiment with more complicated mine cart tracks? Do you combine mine carts with furnaces to create powered mine carts and sub-surface train lines to run alongside your mining operations? Or do you build hilarious traps for zombies? Do you try all this out in multiplayer?

What about redstone, did you happen to find any glittering underground? It can be used not only to create torches, but also complicated circuitry that can be laid down and connected with a series of switches, pressure plates, and buttons to create automated systems, remotely triggered traps, and, if you want, roller coasters. Though there's required research, it's a worthwhile experience if you're willing to put in the time.

Minecraft's gameplay incorporates some of the best aspects of video games: the joy of discovery, the exhilaration and reward of exploration, and the depth to keep you hooked. It's a dense game, but also an addicting one if the open style of play suits your taste.

©2010-11-24, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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