Minecrafting For the Beginner

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The virus swept through the world, a terrifying parody of low budget horror movies, turning loved ones into ravenous beasts. Aboard the last ship of living humans you head out, trying to survive at sea until the danger passes. But something much more sinister is at play. A magical apocalypse is upon us. The world heaves and buckles, landmasses change, ancient rites once again regain their power, and your boat is destroyed, leaving you in the middle of a changed world, where twisted monsters now roam. Waking up in this vast, unexplored world, you have nothing but your own wits and building knowledge to survive on. Can you do it?

No, this isn’t the story of the Minecraft world, but it is as likely as anything else. The problem I found with Minecraft isn’t that it was too hard or had no story. No, these elements are not even considerations. The biggest problem I had with Minecraft is that unless you have some help, you won’t make it in survival mode past the first couple days. It is in these first few minutes of play that the all important hook into the player needs to be made, and without decent documentation, this never happens. There are plenty of Minecraft strategies out there, but most of them are written from the perspective of long time players, and don’t take into account the average person won’t be as knowledgeable about the game.

I had heard about this game back when it was first in development, but didn’t look too much at it. The more I heard about Minecraft, the more interest I took in it. When I heard about the fact that you could create complex circuitry and devices in it, the programmer in me became more interested. Many of those who write here at 20 oz play the game, and listening to them talk about the game when we chat pushed me closer. It wasn’t until the live stream in the game that I was pushed over the edge, and as a new player, I was overwhelmed. This is not a simple game, despite the simplistic graphics. Unlike the other people playing, I had no idea what I was doing, so I had to learn by experimentation, reading and their help. However, there was no simple guide to help people like myself learn to understand the game, although there was a lot of guides just telling you what to do in order, I could not find one that had context or explanation of why. I decided it was time to fix that.

Game Modes

Before we start, let us first talk about the most commonly played three different game modes of Minecraft. The first is survival. Of the top three, this is the one that frustrates new players the most. This is the one that makes people not want to play. It is also the most fun once you get the hang of it. For this tutorial, we will assume that you are playing in this mode. Monsters cause damage, you can’t place a block unless you have it, and you are vulnerable to hunger.

The next mode is spectator, where you become a ghost and are able to move around, unfettered by walls, or even the ground itself. If a server has this enabled, this is one of the best ways to get back to your body if you have died far away. It is also a great way to explore the world, and see what there is out there.

The final mode is creative, which is what most of the mega builders use. There is nothing that can hurt you, and you can place any block you wish into the world, even if you’ve never seen it before. You can also fly, which allows you to make gravity defying structures more easily without the need for scaffolding. Personally, I use this mode to test out more advanced things that I want to try in survival mode, and always on other servers than the one I intend to play on.

Interface with the Game

Take some time to familiarize yourself with the controls, what keys do what, how the mouse works, and which buttons do what. Those who are old hands at first person shooters should recognize the WASD keyboard layout for movement. The ‘q’ key will throw an item you have in your hands. Open your inventory (press the ‘i’ key) and take a look. You have 9 action button slots, which also act as inventory slots, 4 armor slots, and 4 crafting slots. The crafting slots do not function as inventory except when the inventory is open. The moment you close the inventory screen, anything in those crafting slots will be thrown onto the ground. There are also modifiers, your left control button or double-tapping and holding “w” while moving lets you sprint, shift has you creeping. Sprinting is useful to outrun enemies, and creeping is perfect when you are on the edge of long drops you don’t want to fall off of. While creeping, you will not walk off any ledge. Pressing the 1-9 button will hold the item in that action slot. Your left click will attack or use an item held, the right click will place a block in the chosen location.

Main Screen

Inventory

Building Basics

Now that you know how to move, it’s time to learn to build. Placing blocks is the key to survival in this game. You only have a certain range in which you can interact around you. When you want to place a block, you can see an outline of where the block will go in the world. But the problem is, at the moment, you don’t have any blocks to place. So it is time to get some. Find a tree, and punch it. That’s right, punch a tree. If you can’t find a tree because you are in the middle of the desert, punch the ground. Not once. Not twice. Hold down the mouse button. As you do, cracks will appear in the block you are punching. Eventually, it will break, and a block will be formed. If you are fortunate enough for it to be a tree, then we can move on to the next step.

If you are stuck in a desert, grab a couple dozen sand blocks and then start heading in a direction to find an area with trees. Don’t punch cacti, they hurt, as would be expected. If it becomes night when you are in the desert and before you found a tree, place the blocks around you, covering all directions that someone can get to you, and make the wall at least 2 blocks high. Wait there until morning, punch your makeshift shelter down, and continue in that direction. Eventually you will find a place with trees. Once you do, punch one down and we can start into the next step.

Crafting a Living

You should now have at least one tree block in your inventory. You’ll probably want to punch a few more tree blocks as it will help you. Open up your inventory and place the blocks into the crafting spots. It doesn’t matter which of the 4 blocks. When you do, in the results box beside it, you should see Wood Planks, based on the type of wood you harvested. If you click-drag those blocks from the results box into your inventory, it will destroy one of the wood blocks and turn it into 4 plank blocks. If you want to make multiple plank boxes from multiple wood boxes, keep clicking on the results box, and it will ‘pick up’ one set for each time you click, or shift+click to create up to an entire stack of 64 in one go.

Create at least 20 planks, you will need them. If you are not near a hill or mountain, you may need a lot more planks. Once you have a nice supply of planks, clear out the crafting spaces, and try putting a plank block into one of the crafting spaces. You will notice that now it gives you the option to create a wood button. This is not something you need early on, so ignore that for now.

Place a plank block into each one of the 4 crafting spots. Right clicking accomplishes dropping one item into a spot while still keeping the rest of them in your hand as you place them. This time, in the results box you will see a crafting table. Drag that down to one of your action buttons. Be sure to pull any excess planks from the crafting boxes and back in your inventory before you close it. Look around, press the number associated with the crafting table, and place it on the ground. Right click on it, and you will see another crafting interface, similar to the one in your inventory. This time, however, it will have 9 squares, not 4. This is needed for any crafting beyond the basics. Now, place two plank boxes one on top of the other in the crafting area. This time the result will be sticks, which are needed for most tools, so make a few of those. Keep some as planks, however, as they are still needed.

Crafting Table

What is around you will determine which tools should be the first ones you make. If you have trees, but no mountains or hills, make an axe and a shovel, if you have mountains and hills, make a pickaxe and a shovel. Axes work best on wood, shovels work best on gravel, sand and dirt, and pickaxes work best on stone. Eventually, you will want all three. Before you start moving off to build shelter, and once you have your basic tools, punch your crafting table, and pick it back up. If you are in an area with mountains or hills, go to one, and start digging with the shovel till you get to stone. Then use the pick and get a couple blocks in. Try and get at least 12 blocks of stone in your inventory. If there are no mountains or hills, chop down any trees, and dig up some dirt. It is probably getting close to nightfall, so hurry! Once you have a dozen or so blocks, it is time to get things going.

Start by building a shelter. Make sure that your walls are at least 2 high at the very least. Don’t make the structure too big, as it will require more materials, possibly more than you can acquire fast enough. It needs to be at least 2 high, as monsters can climb anything one high, as you can, but no higher. Leave a 1 square wide hole in the structure on one side for a door.

If you found mountains or hills, leave an opening to where you started digging only 1 square wide, and use the natural formation to form most of the walls. Inside the shelter, drop your crafting table again. Make a door by putting 6 plank blocks down, 2 wide, 3 high. Drag the door into your action buttons and place it in the opening. Now you have a nice safe abode where you can hide during the night. Stay inside until the sun comes back up, and don’t open the door. The monsters will kill you at this point. If you have enough materials, you can build yourself a sword, by placing a stick at the bottom, and either two planks or two pieces of cobblestone, which you get from stone that you mine, above it. Equip this if you ever are exposed, you will need it.

  • Crafting - Door Crafting - Door Pattern for crafting a door
  • Crafting - Axe Crafting - Axe Pattern for crafting an axe
  • Crafting - Pickaxe Crafting - Pickaxe Pattern for crafting a pickaxe
  • Crafting - Shovel Crafting - Shovel Pattern for crafting a shovel

Protecting Your Shelter

The next thing you want to do is ensure you have some stone. If you found that mountain or hill, you are fortunate. If not, when the night is over, find an area close by and dig until you find stone. Do not dig directly below you, if the ground opens up into a cavern below, you can fall to your death. Sometimes there is lava below, and that will kill you, as well as destroying your inventory. If you don’t know what is below you, NEVER dig directly below you. Dig down as though you’re making a stairway for safety purposes.

Once you have a dozen or so cobblestone, head back to your shelter, and open the crafting table. Put a ring of cobblestone around an empty middle spot and you get a furnace. Pull that out and place it somewhere inside your shelter. This is both a smelting furnace and a cooking furnace, so it is doubly useful, but you need fuel for it. Trees will work, but if you were lucky enough to find coal in your brief mining, that will work better as a fuel, but skip to the next paragraph if you found coal. Put some planks in the bottom position, which is where fuel goes. Put a few wood blocks (not planks) on the top one, which is what is being cooked, as it were. In a few moments, you will see charcoal created. Make a couple charcoal, as you will need them.

Note 1 block of wood, or 1 block of wooden planks, both can cook 1.5 blocks worth of material.

1 block of coal or charcoal can cook 8 blocks worth of material.

1 bucket of lava can cook 100 blocks of material, though it’s a bit more dangerous to get lava.

Crafting - Furnace

Furnace Interface

Go back to your crafting table and ensure you have a couple sticks. Next, put a charcoal on top of a single stick. If you were able to get coal, you can use that instead. This will create torches. Make a few of these. Torches create light, and never run out. Areas with a lot of light cannot have monsters spawn in them, so make sure your house is well lit. Place a few in the area surrounding your house as well, so that nothing will spawn near your house either.

Crafting - Torch

Feed The Beast

The next thing to do is get something to eat. If you can find any, sheep are your best option, although chickens, cows, pigs and rabbits are all viable food sources. Sheep are prefered as they have wool, which you will need to make a bed. If you can, kill enough sheep to get 3 wool, if not, kill a few animals with your sword. Avoid spiders, as they are not very friendly nor tasty.

When you kill something, you will see them drop items, as well as little blinking globes. Those blinking globes are your experience points. While not important at this stage of the game, they are useful later. If you die, your items will drop where you die, as well as a small portion of your experience, and you will respawn back where you last spawned.

It is for this reason you need a bed. Keep looking for sheep as long as you can without letting the sun set. Get back to your shelter should it start setting. Put any meat you got into the furnace and cook it up. It will help your hunger more when cooked than when raw.

Furnace - Food

Why do you need food? If you don’t keep your hunger from running out, you will start to loose health. When zombies come knocking at your door, you don’t want to be starving and at low health. Not only that, at this stage of the game, you don’t want to take any risks if you are far from where you first came into the game. You need to ensure that your shelter is where you end if you die. So take some time, find some sheep to get wool, and make a bed. Once you have three wool, head back to your shelter to make a bed. Three plants along the bottom, and three wool above them. This creates a bed, so drop that somewhere into your shelter. Once it becomes night, use the bed, and it will sleep through the night, avoiding all the monsters. Not only that but now if you die, you will respawn back at your bed.

Crafting - Bed

If you want, you can try taking on a zombie or two. When they get close, click and swing your sword at them, which will damage them and knock them back. Keep swinging until you kill it. (Well, kill it again, zombies’re technically already dead) A stone or wooden sword isn’t the best item to be attacking zombies with, but it’s what you have. You may also run into a skeleton archer, which is a pain to kill as they have a ranged attack. Or worse, you may run into the game’s signature monster, the creeper. If you see a creeper at this point, don’t walk, sprint away! These things explode when they get close to you, and kill you very easily. If you do take damage, eat until your hunger meter is full, and you will start to regain health. What you really need is some heavy metal justice.

Zombie at the DoorCreeper Swimming

We have to Go Deeper

Now you want to start mining for better materials. Start digging your mine in a downward direction, remembering that you cannot jump higher than one block. When mining, there are two important things to remember: Never mine directly below you, as mentioned above, and never mine directly above you. Gravel and sand both obey gravity. If you break a rock above you, and above that is gravel or sand, that will fall on top of you and kill you. Digging straight up and down is never a good idea. Once you have started mining you may run across coal. Keep this, as you need it to make torches or fuel your furnace. It lasts longer than charcoal or wood. You should also be using stone pickaxes at this point. Just replace the wood planks with cobblestone in the original recipe to make them. This is how you make different versions of each item, just replacing the main materials with different ones.

Make sure you have torches along the walls in your mine at regular intervals, as monsters can spawn underground, even during the day if there is not enough light. The last thing you need is to hear that familiar hissing just before getting blown to bits in your own mine. Try and keep your mine organized, with a clear sense of direction and pattern. There are different approaches, but find one that works for you and go with it. Eventually, you will run across iron, which requires a stone pickaxe to break and receive the ore. Quickly mine the entire vein, which may go further back and lower, and head back to your shelter. Pop the iron into the furnace, hopefully with some coal that you have found, and let it smelt into iron ingots.

Now you can make an iron pickaxe, and iron items. Also, you can use the iron to make armour for your character. Like tools, there is a specific pattern for the items, but the materials are fluid. You can make armour out of anything from metals to leather. Leather comes from killing cows, which you may have run into already.

Early on, use stone pickaxes for most mining, as you will have way more cobblestone than you ever need, and iron pickaxes are only needed for mining certain ores: redstone, lapis lazuli, diamond and emeralds. Obsidian can only be mined with diamond pickaxes, but I wouldn’t worry about that anytime soon, as you need to go very deep to start finding that. As you get better at Minecraft, eventually you’ll likely find yourself sitting on massive stores of iron and even diamond, and these become less of an issue to hoard.

  • Coal Coal A block of coal in it's natural environment.
  • Iron Ore Iron Ore Iron ore ready to be mined.
  • Furnace - Smelting Furnace - Smelting Smelting metals is the same process as cooking food.
  • Crafting Leggings Crafting Leggings Pattern for crafting leggings
  • Crafting - Chestplate Crafting - Chestplate Pattern for crafting chest armour
  • Crafting - Helmet Crafting - Helmet Pattern for crafting a helmet
  • Crafting - Boots Crafting - Boots Pattern for crafting boots

When heading into deep mines, remember a lot of extra pickaxes, torches, food, and consider making a bucket and filling it with water. Just point it at a water supply you find at the surface and it will fill it. If you run into lava, you can pour the water out above the lava and it will turn it into obsidian. Once it is neutralized, you can pick the water back up by clicking the bucket on the source spot. You do not want to die to lava, it’s not a very nice substance; as noted above, if you die to lava, you don’t drop your items on death, they burn into nothing. Sometimes you will run into water, which can be very useful, as you can swim up and down waterfalls safely. They are a great way to travel down into deeper portions of the earth, but be careful, as you can drown. Above your hunger bar will appear bubbles, signifying your breath. Once they all pop, you start taking damage.

Crafting - Bucket

Sometimes while mining you will come across an existing natural cavern or even an abandoned mine shaft. These each have their own dangers and benefits. The natural caverns are easy to get lost in, and you will need torches everywhere to see and prevent monsters from spawning. However, you can see the minerals or ores on the walls, which saves time in mining. Abandoned mine shafts have cave spiders which are very dangerous, may have cave-in areas and lava, but you can get wood and mine rails from them, as well as minerals galore.

At this point, you know most of the basic survival techniques. You can learn more about things like farming, fishing, brewing and enchanting from many other resources, and having a website like the Minecraft Wiki is very handy for reference. You can even look at using a resource pack, check out Rachel’s article here for information on that.

About Noah Pern

Noah Pern is a long time gamer, having been playing video games since Pong, and played multiplayer games before the internet was even widely known. A background in programming, beta testing, art and music gives him a broad sense of what is needed for a proper experience in gaming.
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