16 Jun 2015

Doing Minecraft Survival for the First Time

I tend to be very specific when it comes to games and gaming experience. I detest gaming in first person, I don't like gaming on the computer, especially with the mouse and keyboard controls. I've tried it several times, and each time the gaming experience was more enjoyable for me when I switched over to the console version of the game instead. However, there is one game that kind of breaks most of my main rules of gaming, and I actually love it; Minecraft.

I've dabbled in Minecraft before on my ipad, and I've even shared one of my creations on this blog. But as other crafters probably can attest to, creative mode is so and so. Sure, you get every single resource you want and the sky's the limit on what you can create, and that is fun, but I think because you get everything handed to you on a silver platter, you end up tiring from it. There's no challenge, no goal. Once you've created something you don't really use it, at least not other than taking tours around it and showing it off to other people. And I think there lies the problem.

So, I got curious about survival mode. I made a quick attempt on the ipad and realised almost instantly that playing survival on the ipad is not ideal as the controls are rather terrible. They work for creative mode because you don't need to react quickly to anything and you can correct any mistake you make, but for survival you need to be able to have quick reflexes. I realised PC would have to be the way to go, because as much as I hated the mouse controls in the other games I had attempted to play that way, I knew it would be exactly what I needed to play Minecraft.

So I bought my copy and fired up my first proper survival game, and here are some of the early lessons, discoveries I made through my first and second attempt at survival. This is not a tutorial, though, just a list of helpful advice for newcomers.

1) Prepare for the night:

You can stay relatively safe for a long time if you manage to craft a bed before the first sunset. You can put the bed down anywhere and the minute the sun starts dipping below the horizon or you can see stars showing up, you are allowed to sleep. No mobs will spawn while you sleep, so you can play for a good while without having too much issues with hostile mobs, though it isn't fool-proof. They will still spawn in any area with low enough lighting and some of them, like spiders and creepers can safely venture in the sunlight (though spiders are non-hostile in the daytime, so as long as you don't attack it, it will leave you alone). A bed requires sheep, though, so you might be out of luck depending on where you spawn.

Viewing mobs from a safe distance on my trusty pillar of dirt
If you fail to find sheep, you can choose to build a quick shelter with any material you can find and with a couple of torches you can stay safe through the night. That seems to be the more common thing to do, however, if the night really creeps up on you, you can also just build a pillar below yourself out of whatever material you have, like wood or (even better) dirt. Just jump and place a block directly below you and keep doing this until you are elevated far enough up so no mob can reach you (make sure it's also high enough so skeletons won't detect you so they can't shoot you off the pillar). I like to put a torch down on top of the highest block, though it isn't necessary. If you're high enough up, then you will stay safe throughout the night, and you can even just let the game run and take a bathroom break while you wait, or go get yourself a snack. The only downside to this particular method is that the mobs will be there when the day arrive, so you'll have to either run away from them once you've punched the pillar down to three blocks or lower, or you'll have to kill them. Zombies and skeletons should burst into flames, leaving the spiders (that won't attack you), creepers and maybe the occasional witch, but if there's water nearby the zombies and skeletons can counteract the flames.

2) Never go without a pick-axe

There are many tools in the game for specific purposes, but while most of them can be treated as optional, pick-axes are vital. If you mine anything on a stone level or up without a pick-axe the resource won't drop (this includes furnaces). You can mine a tree and anything made out of a tree with your fist and it will still drop wood, same with dirt, sand and gravel. You can even punch mobs with your fists and kill them, though it requires a lot more punches than a weapon would. A pick-axe can also be used as a weapon against a mob in case you don't have a sword ready. But in order to mine stone, you need a wooden pick-axe or better, in order to mine iron you need a stone pick-axe or better, and for diamond, lapis lazuli, redstone and (I think) gold, you need iron or better. In the beginning stone works best, it doesn't require a furnace to be used for items and it's good enough so you can collect whatever you stumble across during your early days of exploration.

3) Always make sure to have food

A cow drops meat and leather
Your hunger bar will drop and you'll need to bring it back up as quick as possible. There are some options, but before you have decided on your first home base, meat tends to be your best options. There are usually some kind of animals around that you can kill for meat. Devote a little time to gathering the most meat you can and cook it (place down a furnace in a spot you can remember and return to it regularly to put more meat on the grill). Meat keeps you saturated the longest and it's easy to get while you're still on the move.

If you come across an NPC village, you will find gardens that you can harvest (usually wheat, potatoes and carrots). It's a good idea to replant so you can still find food if you return to it later on. You will still get plenty of food.

Replant after harvesting wheat
When you do decide on a place to build your home base, you'll want to make a garden of your own. Even if you don't come across an NPC village, you can still grow wheat as seeds can be obtained from destroying high grass. Irrigation is important, so unless the dirt blocks is next to a river or lake, you'll need to craft a bucket to fetch water from whatever nearest water source you can find, and you'll need a hoe to work the soil. It's also a good idea to make some fences around your garden if it's on the ground level so mobs (friendly and hostile alike) cannot destroy it. You don't need anything special to make it grow as long as you stay within a certain distance, though if you're impatient and you managed to get your hands on some bones, you can use bonemeal to speed things up.

4) Decide on a home base

I always build my home high above ground
Different people will give you different advice on what makes a good and safe home base, and you'll have to decide for yourself what works for you. But there are some important things to take into consideration when choosing your location.

You'll need to think of what resources you need easy access to. You need trees in close proximity; it's the easiest building material, you need it for crafting and it works well as fuel for cooking and smelting, not to mention you can burn it into charcoal if you are down on regular coal - which is vital for making torches (and also lasts longer when used as fuel). You cannot choose to build in a location that doesn't have trees growing nearby (though a heavy forest provides plenty of shade for mobs to spawn, so that isn't ideal either). Stone is simple enough to find as all you really need to do is dig down anywhere you are, so do not worry about finding enough stone. Water is necessary for farming, and later on for brewing potions (plus you might want to try your hand at fishing at some point), so it's not a good idea to go anywhere that you cannot get hold of water.

NPC village found!
You don't need to build near an NPC village, but if you have found one you might as well since you can find some useful stuff around it and you can also go there and trade with the villagers at some point. Same goes for a cave system or ravine. It isn't necessary as you can always dig your way down to look for the materials you need, but having one nearby doesn't hurt as you can more easily find certain materials.

I personally like to concentrate on two things; a body of water and enough trees nearby. My preferred way of building a shelter is to start with building a plateau above the water. It requires a little precision to avoid falling down while building it (but if you fall in the water you don't get hurt, no matter how high up you are), but once you have it up, all you need is a few torches in key locations to make it completely safe from mobs (though add a roof to parts of it at some point in case of lightning). You are now free to add to it even at night time (though I don't recommend trying to expand the floor while mobs are spawning below you), just keep adding torches, also on the ceiling so no mobs can spawn there.

Garden up in the house, safe from mobs
Organised storage area
I also like making a garden up in my floating house, it's a nice safe way to stock up on food and by placing down torches around the garden it will even grow at night. Other than that I recommend having a dedicated storage space. Chests can be placed on top of each other and still function (just make sure to only put a half-slab above the top chest so it's still functioning as a chest), though you can only place two and two chests directly next to each other. There are ways to get around that, but I personally haven't bothered to do so. You can use signs, item frames, etc to mark which chest contains what. I personally recommend item frames as by placing one of the items from the chest in it, you get a visual representation of the content.

Regardless what you decide to put in your house, have in mind that you might want to expand upon it, whether it's in width or in adding additional floors. As the game progresses you'll want to make an enchantment area, a reparations area, a brewing stand, etc.

5) Keep inventory space in mind

Whether you're out exploring or you're making a storage area in your home base, you want to save inventory space where you can. A good rule of thumb is to not smelt metal or gold when you're away from your base unless you either immediately need some to craft items right there (only smelt what you need) or you have filled up more than  a slot in your inventory (most things that stack will stack 64 of said item in a slot before requiring a new slot in the inventory) and you want to conserve space (if so, make sure to only smelt a number that can be divided by 9).

Do not turn wooden trunks into planks unless you plan to craft with those planks right away. You get 4 wooden planks for every trunk, so you save space by storing it as trunks in your inventory.

Nine to one...
Also keep in mind items that you can craft into more compact blocks. To give an example, you can hold the maximum of 64 coal in a single inventory space. However, if you luck out and find a lot of coal and start filling up a second inventory space (and are in danger of requiring a third), I recommend crafting the single coal into more compact coal blocks. It takes 9 coals to craft a single coal block, meaning you can save up to 8 inventory spaces by doing this. Any time you want you can turn a coal block back into 9 coals, so don't worry about suddenly not having coals to make new torches. Coal blocks also burn longer than individual coals, so if you plan to smelt/cook a lot you can save resources this way. Other resources you can turn into compact blocks and back include:
... and one to nine!

- Iron (9 iron bars <=> 1 iron block)
- Gold (9 gold nuggets <=> 1 gold bar, 9 gold bars <=> 1 gold block)
- Diamond (9 diamonds <=> 1 diamond block)
- Lapis lazuli (9 lapis lazuli <=> 1 lapis lazuli block)
- Redstone (9 redstone dust <=> 1 red stone block)
- Emerald (9 emeralds <=> 1 emerald block)
- Wheat (9 wheat <=> 1 hay bale)

Also know that containers will not stack if they aren't empty. You can stack buckets, bowls and bottles if they are empty, but the minute they contain anything, even if it's the same thing they will take up individual inventory slots.

Tools and armour never stack, however you can repair/merge two items with one another if they are of the same material and type, this is a good idea if the durability is low on one or both (though if one or both items are enchanted, the enchantment will go away unless the merging is done through an anvil). So don't fret if you pick up two bows dropped by skeletons that have low durability, just merge them together and you'll have a more durable item taking up only one inventory space.

When you're exploring, try to stick to only one type of food if you can, and if you have more than one type, eat whatever you have the least of first so you can clear up space in your inventory.

6) Domesticate and breed animals

Cows and sheep
You can live off of and utilize animals in the wild, but once your home base has been set up, it will be easier to domesticate at least certain types of animals. Cows drop leather in addition to their meat when killed, which you can craft your first armour from, you'll need it to craft books, which will come useful when you get into enchanting, plus you can craft it into other household items such as item frames which will help you make a more organized storage unit, and live cows will give you milk, which you can use for recipes and also to cure yourself if you're poisoned.

Sheep will drop wool when killed in addition to their meat, but you can also craft sheers and get wool that way. Not only will you get twice the wool or more, the sheep will also grow out new wool that you can sheer, so you will have infinite access to wool if you domesticate sheep. Also if you crossbreed between different coloured sheep you will get sheep with new shades of coloured wool. Be warned that wool will only stack when the same colour, so holding many different coloured sheep will require more inventory spaces. Apart from crafting a bed, wool is primarily more used for decorating.

Chickens will drop feathers when killed in addition to meat, but kept alive they will lay eggs that you can use for recipes. Feathers are necessary for crafting arrows, so you'll want to have chickens around if you want to be able to shoot hostile mobs from a distance. Eggs can be used as a projectile weapons, but since they only stack up to 16 per slot, it's not recommended. Pigs, however, don't have much additional use aside from their meat, but for fun you can place a saddle on one and ride it. You can only indirectly control it if you have a carrot on a stick. It's not a useful riding companion, though.

I would recommend primarily using cows and chickens for food (keeping the number of inventory slots down), and holding sheep for the wool. Pigs aren't as necessary, so it's all up to you whether you want more of an all-encompassing farm or not. You'll want to breed the animals regularly to keep the stock up, chickens eat grains (so any left-over grains when you've harvested and replanted wheat should go to the chickens), and cows/sheep eat wheat. When you feed two animals of the same kind, they will breed with one another. Breeding is necessary to keep the numbers up, but it's also a nice way of levelling up as breeding gives you experience.

Double-fenced farm from above
In order to keep the animals around you need to fence them in. I recommend doing the double-fence strategy for two reasons. Firstly it makes it possible for you to lure new animals to the pen without risking letting the other animals out, and also you might be unlucky and have a creeper detect you on the other side of the fence and blow up, and the last thing you want is for your animals to escape. Make sure to regularly place torches as you build the fence to keep mobs from spawning inside the pen at night. When you are still luring animals in, you need to have double-gates for the bigger animals to follow you through (sure, technically they can get through, but most will remain on the other side of the fence). Make sure you are not holding up their favourite food when trying to leave the pen, though as they will try to follow you.

7) Keep track of co-ordinates when exploring

Debug mode helps you figure out where you are
If you press fn and F3 you will bring up the debug screen, which shows you a lot of information about your whereabouts. The most important part there is the XYZ co-ordinates (Y is height), which tells you exactly where you are in the world. This can be super useful for several different reasons:

a) You can jot down the co-ordinates when you find things that you think can be of interest later. This can be anything from stumbling across an NPC village, a large ravine, lava, certain types of biomes, temples/dungeons, and whatever else you think might be interesting. I personally like to create a separate word document for every game I play and whenever I come across something interesting I will take a screencap while in debug mode and paste it in the document.

b) It will help you find your way back to your base, which will be dead useful when you've filled up on all kinds of goods and you just want to go back to base to unload everything.

c) If you are killed, you will drop everything you had on you and respawn either next to the bed you last slept in (if the bed wasn't picked up afterwards, that is) or in the original spot you spawned in when you started the game. Either way, you can trek back to the spot you were killed at (if you recall the co-ordinates) and pick everything back up. Dead useful. This does not help you so much in the nether, as a lot of items tend to get consumed by fire, lava or just despawn (you can still find some items, but never all of them).

The debug screen can also give you other useful information, such as which direction you're pointed towards, the co-ordinates of the block you're looking at, which type of biome you're in, and so forth.

8) Strip mining can be a nice alternative to exploring ravines

Stairway down to the mine
Certain types of materials are harder to find (diamonds, redstone and lapis lazuli especially), even when you explore natural caves and ravines, but strip-mining can help you find some, and has worked very well for me in both games I've played so far. There are different ways of doing so, and there are pro's and con's to each method, so I will primarily explain my own.

Make sure you bring plenty of torches, plenty of wood (a stack of 64 trunks will last you a long time) & a bucket of water at the very least. I also like to bring food, a bed (so that I can sleep in case it's night time when I decide to go back up and there are mobs between the mine and my house), some coal (a bit of first time fuel and for crafting more torches if necessary), and a ready made crafting table, chests and a couple of furnaces. A couple of already made pick-axes is also good since you might destroy a couple of them before you're down at your desirable level.

Before you start, I recommend building an entrance area with a door. You don't want mobs to surprise you from behind. You could make a little storage area right to the side for the materials you don't need to bring back to the house right away and just bring some things with you every time you trek up and down. Make sure to light everything properly so mobs don't spawn.

You will need to dig yourself down to roughly 11-12 height as this is where you are more likely to find diamonds. Some like to dig straight down, which is quicker, but more risky as you can end up digging yourself into a cave of some kind and have a long fall. If you dig straight down, make sure you stand right in the middle of two blocks so that you will only fall down when both blocks are removed, that way you will safeguard yourself from long falls, ending up in lava and other unfortunate things. I personally like the staircase method more. It takes longer to do, but is safer as you're never digging straight down, and you're not dependant on putting down ladders to get back up (and if you want more a more efficient way of going up and down later on you can do like me and craft/put down actual staircases - you're bound to get way more cobblestone than you'll know what to do with).

Stripmine center of operations
Once at your desired height, regardless of method, you'll want to create a base for yourself. Dig out a little room, and put down the crafting table, furnaces, chests and so forth in it. To keep things extra safe leave the room a block higher up than your planned mining level.

There seem to be two main methods of strip mining. Some like to dig a long tunnel and then do side tunnels back and forth across it. This is the more efficient way of doing it, but it can feel a bit claustrophobic and you don't have much room to escape when you come across lava pockets. If you do this method make sure you never do your torch placement on the floor (in case you come across water pockets) but rather on the walls (and place torches roughly every forth block to keep mobs from spawning).

I personally like to do the big room instead, this takes longer, but it feels more open, and although this means I will have more dead weight materials, it doesn't really bother me. If you do this method you need to set down blocks to place torches on so any sudden water pockets doesn't wash the light away. Be careful when you do come across diamonds, as they tend to spawn near lava sources. Keep sounds on so you can listen for potential lava nearby and dig around the ore before going at it to make sure you don't lose valuable materials to the lava. Use the water bucket to extinguish lava when you come across it (still lava will become obsidian which can be mined by a diamond pick-axe, flowing lava will become cobblestone), be sure to pick the water back up quickly so that you don't waste it and have to go back for more.

9) Keep noise in mind when deciding placement

In my first game I made the mistake of placing the nether portal on one of the floors in my house. The sound coming from it drove me nuts, so in my second game I made sure to place it in a separate building. The same can be said for domestic animals. You'll want to keep them at a far enough distance so their sounds won't reach you when you're just working around your house. If you tame wolves and ozelots (which become cats when tamed), you'll want to have a place to "park" them (a place you can take them and tell them to "sit") otherwise they will constantly teleport to you wherever you are and you'll tire of the noise.

10) Helpful tricks in a non-cheating way

Some people are strictly no-go when it comes to using cheat codes, however there are some in-game tricks that are not actually cheats and just clever ways of doing something.

Infinite water source inside the wall
a) Infinite water source - unless you want to always have to trek to the nearest regular water source every time you need some water (whether it's setting up a farm, brewing potions or filling a bucket to go hunting for some lava) you'll want to set up an infinite water source at key locations, like your house, the farm, the base for your strip-mine, etc. It's very simple to do. You either fill two buckets with water, or you make two treks to get water. You can set it up as a hole in the ground or a hole in the wall (you just need a non-solid block to stop the water to flow past a certain point which will also allow you to collect water from that point).

The simplest way is to do it in the ground. You can either make a 1x3 sized hole, put down the two water buckets at either end and when collecting water only collecting from the middle block, making the hole refill itself with water every time (if you take from either end you will empty the source). The other option is to make a 2x2 hole and put the two water buckets in two opposite corners. With this method you can collect water from any of the four blocks and it will refill, including the two corners you initially put down the water. The only way you can empty this source is if you took water from two opposing corners before the source had time to refill itself.

b) A poor man's gate - this is a nice trick to enter and exit a crowded animal pen. You simply lay down a wool carpet on top of a part of the fence. This makes it possible for you to jump on top of the fence, but the animals inside will not detect the block as solid and will not try to escape.

c) Emergency air pocket - if you're too far away from the surface to catch your breath you can place a torch against any sold block and create a temporary air pocket which will allow you to fill up your air meter and keep from drowning

11) Cheats

When you create your save you need to decide whether or not you will be open for cheats. I personally don't feel guilty for applying cheat codes. If it improves the game for me, then I'm all for it. However, some cheats help you a bit too much and might take away some of the fun, so you'll need to decide for yourself how much is too much for you and adjust accordingly.

To apply a cheat code you need to open up the chat (usually by pressing "T", though you can create your own short-cut to it in the options, I personally made sure the command line could be opened by pressing "C" in my game). Every cheat code starts with a "/", which is already present in the command line, and not in the regular chat, which is why I made the separate short-cut for myself.

Here are some cheats that I've come across in the game:

/time set day - This isn't really that "cheatey" of a cheat as you can do the same thing by placing down a bed and sleeping until the next day. However sometimes I just don't want that interruption, like if I'm in the middle of building something bigger, I don't want to have to run back to my house or put down a bed in order to sleep, so I save some frustration by just changing the time of day.

/weather clear - It's very important that you don't just write /clear as I unfortunately did in one of my games, as that is a different cheat that empties your personal inventory. It's probably useful for something, but most of the time you want to keep what's in your inventory. This is useful if you want to avoid rain and/or thunder whether it's because you're recording your game play or you want to stick to nice weather. You can also change it to different types of weather, just switch out clear with for instance rain.

/tp [XYZ co-ordinates] - This one can be dead useful if you do like me and either jot down interesting co-ordinates or take screen-caps of interesting places while in debug screen mode. You can use the co-ordinates to instantly travel there. Be aware of any negative co-ordinates as you will end up somewhere completely different if not - and if you spawn inside a solid block you will quickly get damage, so quickly teleport out if that's the case. For instance I noted that one of the safe spots to spawn inside my house was at 286 76 -1660 (round up or down to the closest solid number when looking at the debug screen). A couple of times I left off the - and spawned in the middle of a swamp instead, luckily I didn't spawn inside a solid block and fell into water so it was no problem to teleport to the correct co-ordinates.

/summon [mob name] - You can also add co-ordinates in that cheat code, just make sure to place three numbers to make up the XYZ position and the mob will not spawn in your particular spot. This is a cheatier form of cheat can be used to spawn friendly mobs that you have a hard time finding or a hostile mob that you want to fight. I personally had a hard time finding some of the rarer biomes in my save and after a lot of searching (a couple of thousand blocks in all four directions) and finally decided to summon some of the mobs I couldn't find, like mushroom cow and ozelot. I also decided to summon a couple of slimeballs as just didn't have the patience to wait around in a swamp for one to spawn.

/give [player name] [item name/id] [amount] ([type]) - Like the summon cheat, this is a more cheaty form of cheat. But sometimes it can end up becoming necessary because you just can't find the right type of biome to search for what you need. I didn't find a jungle in my search, so there were several things I wanted that I simply couldn't find, and I didn't want to have to start over in a new game with a specified seed or switch the game over to creative mode simply to get what I wanted. I wanted jungle tree saplings, cocoa beans and melon seeds. Melons was easy enough as the name was rather straightforward, but with jungle trees and cocoa beans you need to specify the type. I began to wonder if it wasn't possible to get these items without finding an actual jungle, however I finally did figure out the specifics and this is how I got them to work:

/give [my player name] dye 1 3 = give myself one coca bean
/give [my player name] sapling 1 3 = give myself one jungle sapling

So if you ever come across the name/id as being something:number just be sure to put the amount between those two instead of the ":".

There are a ton of other cheats out there, but these are the more common and more useful ones. There are also a ton of other things you can do in the game, but I've kept it to things that you'll find useful when you're just learning the basics of the game, but if you are curious to learn about everything the game has to offer, I stumbled across a great series of tutorial videos that you might find interesting, this person covers pretty much everything there is to know in regular minecraft from beginning to end, other than that there are plenty of videos and sites out there that are keen to teach you new ways to utilize everything you find and craft in the game, so just do some searches if you want to learn more.

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