State of the Shannon – April 16, 2017

So, I haven’t written for a while. I fell off the bandwagon for a while for one reason or another, and for the last month and a half, I haven’t done much of anything…

…except Minecraft.

I may be about 7-8 years late in jumping on the bandwagon, but let’s just say that the bandwagon came along like the Child Catcher’s cart and I rushed in for the free candy…. Except that would suggest that I was imprisoned and unable to escape… I suppose that’s not far from the truth, but it’s not so much not being able to escape, but being perfectly happy with my self-imposed, minimal graphics, block-based, absolutely enthralling prison.

For those who have already gone through this, you know what I’m talking about.

For those who have heard of the game, but don’t know why it would be so addictive, I can say that this game is full of so many elements of gaming that I love: Exploration and discovery, endless creativity, player choice, and danger lurking around every corner you haven’t lit up! Also, if you put aside the fact that the worlds are never going to be photo-realistic, I’ve seen some really lovely areas in which one could build anything from a giant castle to a small hut.

I’ve decided to share what my experience has been thus far, and hopefully convey to you just how I’ve arrived at this particular point in time. Hopefully, even if you’re not interested in playing, you’ll find some of this amusing. I may end up doing this in two or three parts, as I tend to get long-winded, but I hope you enjoy reading this almost as much as I’ve enjoyed experiencing it.


So, I started up my first new game, and I called this world “Primeria.” Once it loaded up, I found myself on a small plain with an oak forest to one side and a tall mountain on the other. Trying to remember the minuscule bits and pieces of what I knew about the game, I knew I needed wood and promptly began punching a tree. Before too long I ended up with an oak log in my rectangular hands. I kept punching and picked up a little more wood and then thought to myself, “I’m going to need a pickaxe!”

And how does one make a pickaxe?

Open inventory and see what I think is a crafting area. Putting wood in there made planks. Okay, we’re making progress!

Um, no. After about another 60 seconds of head-scratching, I decided that I would consult the Internet and figure out how to craft pretty much everything else. I had better things to do than stick random objects in boxes and hope I produced a sword. I also found a video on what to do “on day One” of a new world, so I was able to get about half of those things done by the time the sun went down the first time.

When the sun goes down, bad things can happen. If the area around you is not sufficiently lit (by sunlight or torches or some other form of lighting), zombies, skeletons, endermen, and witches can pop up and will attack you if you’re close enough. It’s all fine and good if you have armor and a sword, but when all you’re equipped with is a wooden pickaxe and your rugged good looks, let’s just say that the odds are not in your favor. I died… a couple times at least… and that’s even before I start mining.

Torches held tightly in one hand, I ventured into a cave. Slowly, cautiously, and really slowly and really cautiously, I ventured into the depths, gradually finding coal and iron and a never-ending supply of stone. Listening carefully for the sound of mobs (enemies) in the dark, I would rush forward and put down a torch before running away just in case something waited for me in the darkness. Usually there was nothing, but I’m nothing if not cautious.

Eventually, I worked my way down into a ravine with lava flowing down one side and water flowing down the other a little ways off. Deftly avoiding being burned to death in the lava, I made my way toward some shiny blocks of something completely new: GOLD! Excited at the prospects of what I could do with my newly found wealth, I mined one block, and then two before realizing that I didn’t get any of it.

Squinting in confusion, I paused the game and did what any logical person would do: I consulted the internet.

“Gold must be mined with an iron pick or better.”

Oh.

Okay.

Cool.

With plans to return to collect my loot at a later time, I returned to the surface and decided it would be in my best interest to construct a home where I would be safe from everything that was trying to kill me (aside from my own occasional stupidity). Typically a starter home would be something as simple as a 3×3 box of dirt whose only function was to help you survive until the sun came up. But no, I was going to start building a home, something I could be proud of and enjoy. It would be a grand rectangular box made of the most common building material ever, made even fancier when I figured out how to make glass, and it had TWO doors!

So, I still haven’t gone too far beyond box-shaped homes, but that’s beside the point. With a roof over my head and torches to keep the monsters at bay, I would well and truly get to work!

After doing a bit more digging down, finding more coal and iron – and I think I may have even found a tiny bit of redstone and diamonds – I decided to take a break from hanging out below-ground. I wanted to see what this world had to offer. I wanted to explore! There was more to my new life than that mountain and that forest and the small river not too far away.

One of the problems of working in a world made of blocks, is that sometimes the terrain looks exactly the same as that bit over in another direction and it can be easy to get lost. I decided to mark my way with torches, putting up a small dirt pillar so I could see it more easily. I occasionally went back home for supplies and to be absolutely certain I wasn’t going to get lost. I had a system, and it was working.

I also learned how infuriating creepers can be. They’re silent until they’re right up next to you. You hear a hissing noise and if you don’t beat-feet out of there, they will explode and kill you and likely take out part of whatever it is you’re working on.

(For any of you who play, I didn’t know about beds until later in this story. Yah… would have made life a lot easier.)

At any rate, I eventually decided that my short-term forays out into the unknown just weren’t enough. I wasn’t really seeing much, I wasn’t really playing the game all that well, so one day I decided to leave home and truly go adventuring! Instead of wandering beyond the forest, I ventured up and over the mountain, braving snow, creepers, and the potential of falling to my death with one wrong step. All the way I set up torch guides to find my way home, spacing them out just enough that I could make out the last one if I looked carefully. I set up temporary shelters at the tops of mountains to wait out the night, sometimes mining down so I wouldn’t be sitting there for ten minutes or so until the sun rose again.

Eventually, I wandered far enough that I came into slightly less hilly terrain before coming across a mountain with some strange-looking buildings and what appeared to be small farms! My first village! I wandered in and a bunch of these big-nosed, oddly dressed individuals were wandering about, doing whatever it is villagers do, “Hrmmm”-ing their way in between villages.

Before long, night fell once more. The villagers rushed inside of a couple of buildings, not wishing to be caught outside any more than I, and I joined some of them in one of the larger edifices. Feeling secure – and still having no idea what the villagers did in the first place – I waited out the night… watching… perplexed… as zombies arms fit through the door… and began attacking the villagers who were STANDING RIGHT NEXT TO THE DOOR!

My first lesson was that while villagers have a sense of self-preservation, they’re also a bit stupid. Did they move while being attacked through the door? No. They died…. And then another one stood there, too, and I facepalmed hard as a I beheld their idiocy.

Once the sun rose, the villagers were safe once more and all of us left the safety of indoors. Still intrigued by this area – a mountainside with buildings running up quite a ways – I went exploring. I found one building with a tiny pool of lava, furnaces for crafting (i.e. iron ore into iron blocks), and a chest with some fairly common bits and pieces… and 3 diamonds! THREE!

Excited by my grand find, I spent another tenuous night in the village before deciding to head back home to bring my loot back to my base.

I think there was one or two villagers left alive by the time that night was over. Did I mention they’re stupid? When I left to return home, my presence had basically killed everyone and I was left with an empty village with lots of buildings and no one to occupy them… At least no one needed the crops from the farms, though, so there was more for me. You win some, you lose some.

So, heading back home, I went back in the direction from which I had traveled. I’d spent at least an hour or so in the village, exploring as much as I could, trying to find out what was in all the buildings, and so on. I began to walk home, and I walked, and walked, and walked… until I realized that I didn’t see any of my cleverly placed markers.

No torches.

No dirt pillars pointing the way home.

I was lost.

I didn’t even know how to get back to the village. I had all my shiny new loot on me and no way of figuring out where I was going. That was the day when I learned just how large these world maps are.

I spent hour upon hour upon hour upon hour wandering around, setting down more torches, putting up new pillars, and even leaving signs saying “I’m going this way!” so I could know where I’d been if I died. I think I spent two consecutive real-world days wandering, looking for some sign that I was going in the right direction. I found nothing. I found new mountains, valleys full of horses I couldn’t ride because I didn’t have a saddle, intriguing locations that would make a great spot for a new base, and forests of trees so thick you could walk on top of them.

Convinced of my character’s mortality and knowing I would likely die before finding a semblance of my base, I constructed a chest and put two of my three diamonds inside, sitting on top of a tree, well-lit by torches. Promising to return for my treasure, I ventured onward, further into/over the forests.

Shortly after that, I had a “I wonder what would happen if…” moment. One of the monsters in the game is called an Enderman. It’s a tall, black, shadowy figure, and its purple eyes and faint purple glow may be the only way to tell that it’s even there. The hard-and-fast rule of these guys is “DON’T LOOK DIRECTLY AT AN ENDERMAN!”

Having played for nearly a week (I think), I said to myself, “What’s the worst that could happen.”

A little cross-hair in the center of your screen designates what you’re looking at, so I hovered that over the creature. It’s head swiveled and its glowing eyes grew wide with anger. Mouth open wide, it teleported from the ground to the top of the tree where I was hiding safely from the mobs below. The scream it let out in my ear made me audibly gasp and my hand on the mouse jerked, causing my field of view to shift wildly. By the time I’d managed to reorient myself, it had teleported away, which was fortunate for me, as if I had been on the ground, it likely would have killed me. (Standing on a transparent block with my back to a solid object so that it couldn’t logically travel to a coordinate that would allow it to keep killing me… or something like that.)

Though easy to avoid, I decided that looking at Enderman was a very, very bad thing, and didn’t do so again for a very long time.

Eventually I did die. It was dark and mobs found me and chased me up a tree I was trying to hide in, and I died.

By that point, I had come to the conclusion that I was just not going to find my original base. Because I’d learned that sleeping in a bed made it so that you woke up in daylight (bypassing the night entirely), I’d slept in a bed back at the mountain village. What I didn’t know was that sleeping in a bed sets your spawn point, in that when you did, that bed is what you go back to. You could be 8000 blocks away, but because you slept in that bed, that would be where you showed up unless you slept somewhere else.

Anyway, I’d concluded that the mountain village “was my home now.” That’s just the way it was and we would start afresh, smarter and ready to take on the challenging of subduing the dangers around me and bending the world to my whim…. or at least setting about finding diamonds and such.

That was about when I started watching Youtube videos about Minecraft: how to craft this and that, how to breed cows and sheep and pigs, how to make fences to keep them from wandering off and to keep them safe. I began to dig into the mountain, creating pathways down toward bedrock and coming across cave systems that held both treasure and monsters. At one point, I heard the sound of an Enderman in one of the caves, promptly said, “NOPE!” and walked away as quickly as my little feet would take me. I eventually went back down, but my “There be Endermen here!” sign was a reminder of the danger that lurked around every corner.

I figured out how to craft armor, to plant and harvest crops, and that if you broke glass, you didn’t get it back. It was just broken. I also decided to protect this now completely empty village (somehow the last of the villagers just died somehow), by changing the direction of a high-up waterfall and creating a sort of protective “aqueduct” to keep monsters from getting in that way. It took a long time, and I learned some of the weird ways that water works in the game, almost drowning a few times. It’s not super impressive, but it was one of my first larger building projects and it has done its job of protecting only me.

Eventually, I decided to venture out once more, to see if there was anything else nearby for me to discover. Leaving all of my valuables “at home,” I set off – still hoping, too, to find my old base – and did a much better job of marking my way forward. I spent hours wandering, admiring the new biomes (land types: extreme hills, plains, desert, field of flowers, etc.) I hadn’t seen before. I eventually returned to the mountain village before setting off in a different direction. I repeated this process a few times, coming across another village or two, but being sure to leave at night, staying far enough away that I knew mobs wouldn’t spawn inside the village and kill everyone AGAIN.

After watching more videos and gaining more insight into how the game works, I eventually figured out what the F3 button does…

…It shows coordinates.

X,Y,Z, coordinates. Clear and simple numbers, the direction you’re traveling (positive/negative X/Z), light levels (for figuring out if mobs can spawn in the area), and other super useful information I could have used on Day One.

I also learned how to run. About two or three weeks of playing, wandering to and fro… walking. Good heavens, running would have been good to know about.

I also learned what villages are good for! Trading! By right-clicking on a villager, you could offer specific items for emeralds, and then use those emeralds to buy better things… or just have emeralds… which are pretty… But you can use them to buy enchanted books from specific villagers, allowing you to add incredibly useful stats to your gear. Need a better pickaxe? Find a book with Efficiency and combine it with your pickaxe on an anvil.

Upon deciding to hang out in one village for an extended period of time, I spent the daylight minutes building up a wall around the whole thing, enclosing all of the buildings in a protective layer of dirt, at least two blocks high. These villagers needed to live! I would not have a repeat of my mountain kingdom, with a stale breeze blowing through the stone church, and the only sign of life being the faint sound of chickens clucking nearby. No, I would protect these weird, androgynous, strangely grunting beings with my life!

With the problem of being lost now permanently solved by simply writing down coordinates, I was able to return to my home base (with all my good loot) and wonder what would come next.

The Nether.

By this point I was slightly less intimidated by zombies and creepers and skeletons, and decided to see what that whole Nether thing was all about.

Come to find out, there are three dimensions in the Minecraft world. The Overland is where everyone starts out, the place with the mountains and trees and deserts and really stupid villagers who actually come in handy. The End is where you fight the “last boss,” but I’m barely close to even going there, so all I know about that is from the copious amount of Youtube videos I’ve seen. I’ll get there eventually.

The Nether is a sort of “in between” world with new enemies, new resources, and plenty of opportunities for you to die really quickly if you’re not paying attention. For example, a baby zombie pigman somehow aggro’d and came at me, so I had no choice but to fight back, which alerted ALL of the surrounding zombie pigmen and they came and killed me. Then I had to go back into the Nether to get all my stuff, but they were still angry with me and killed me again. It wasn’t until the third time I managed to get most of my stuff (fortunately all the important gear), and I was able to block myself in until they had a chance to calm down.

Oh, and I don’t remember exactly when it was, but at some point I learned that holding Shift while standing on a block will keep you from falling off. I definitely tried making a couple of bridges the hard way.

Ghasts are a constant concern in the Nether. They’re basically large, gray, floating boxes with tentacles that hang down, and they make an odd cooing/mewing(?) sound when they’re nearby. The problem, though, is the volume of their sound doesn’t change if they’re 10 blocks away or 50. You can hear them, but you don’t always see them. If they are within range and they spot you, they’ll shriek and shoot a fireball at you, and if you’re standing on a precariously perched bridge, they’ll knock you off and very likely kill you. That makes constructing bridges a bit more dangerous.

And did I mention that the floor you stand on in the Nether is flammable? Yah, it is. Having a fireball shot at you means that if you don’t get out of the way quickly enough, you and the blocks around you will light on fire. Super fun!

I still have yet to do more exploring of a Nether Fortress, so I can’t speak much on that other than to say that a Blaze spawner on top of a building is just plain unfair! I see videos of how to make a Blaze grinder, and they’re all neatly inside of enclosed rooms. Mine’s out in the open… Life is hard.

At any rate, I figured out that making portals in and out of the Nether requires just a little bit of math. Not sure exactly what would happen, and not wanting to lose my super great (actually not super great) gear, I left all my tools behind. Just a quick pop-in, pop-out and get my feet wet kind of thing. If I died, I wouldn’t lose anything!

I went in through the portal the first time, was greeted by a not quite so friendly Ghast, and went back through the portal.

Only, the game had done some math of its own and plopped me down in the middle of a dark cave, underground.

I had no torches, no pickaxe, and nothing to… well, do anything. I couldn’t go into the cave because I would die, and while you can punch cobblestone to get it out of your way, it takes a REALLY long time. I didn’t feel like that was a good way of spending an hour to simply keep from dying.

After several minutes of eyebrow scrunching and lip pursing and grunting and other things one does when trying to figure out what went wrong and weight options, I decided it would simply be easier to throw myself in lava. I’d be losing the 30 or so levels I’d painstakingly acquired, but at least I knew what the Nether now looked like and could go back in with gear to help me get out.

I went back through the portal I’d constructed and then exited back to the Overland, appearing once more in the dark cave. I gradually began digging up, hoping it wouldn’t take too long, and hoping I wasn’t digging into water or lava or something else that would kill me. I ended up under a lake, and falling sand almost killed me, and the water almost killed me… but horseshoes and handgrenades! I made it up out of the lake, ensuring I wouldn’t die the next time I came out of the portal.

Still curious and not to be defeated, I traveled to another location a fair ways away. Having done a little research on how the portals worked, I set up a second one and went through. With no small amount of confusion and copious amounts of sighing, I came through the same exit portal as the first, which meant that when I left, I would go back into the under-lake cave.

Long story short, after some experimenting, learning more about how the game will approximate where to put a portal if the math would otherwise dictate it should be built in thin air, I was able to deconstruct one, construct it out over lava (trying not to get shot at by a Ghast) on a homemade platform, and eureka! It finally went where I wanted it to go! I’ve since constructed a few more portals, and if you’re wondering why anyone would want to, it’s because it’s actually faster to travel through the Nether than in the Overland. If you would have to go 800 blocks in the Overland, it would only take about 100 blocks to go to the same location in the Nether.

For the last several weeks, I’ve put off watching TV shows and movies in favor of watching videos of people constructing things in Minecraft, watching a lot of the Youtuber Mumbo Jumbo, numerous how-to videos, and seeing the impressive designs that people have come up with (while I’m just moving away from making boring square stone houses). I see more and more what people can do, tricks to make the game easier, contraptions that can be built to automate some functions of the game, or fun and frivolous bit and pieces that just about anyone can incorporate into their own game if they put in the time and effort.

Where am I now?

Now that I have better gear and a better understanding of how the game works (and because I’m an overly cautious player), I’m pretty comfortable with the Minecraft world. I love not fumbling around in the dark, trying to figure out how the night is going to try and kill me this time.

I know an easy (barely cheaty) trick for killing Endermen and I now look at them directly. I’m not afraid of zombies or spiders or witches or ghast. Blaze are a little annoying, but they can be dealt with. Now, the only mob that occasionally drives me up a wall is the skeleton, because they use a bow and arrow and can shoot you from the darkness before you know they’re there.  They’re easily dispatched, but that initial jumpscare of being struck by an arrow… that’s just foul play.

I seek out Desert Temples for sweet loot, try to enchant ALL THE THINGS so I now have awesome stuff, and I’ve built two contraptions using redstone: an automatic sugar cane farm in my single-player game, and an AFK (away from keyboard) fish farm that allows me to get all sorts of sweet stuff without actually having to be there to hold down a button. In fact, that’s running on my desktop right now while I do other things.

It’s not really cheating. It’s an exploit!… And anyone else who plays on our server is welcome to use it… though I’m pretty much the only one on this server at any given time. I want to play more with others, to explore new places together, to collaborate on buildings and contraptions and other things that make the game fun and are limited only by one’s imagination!

 

So, if you’ve made it all the way through this post, first off, good job! If you are tl;dr’ing (“too long; didn’t read”), well, okay. Good on you for doing other stuff!

Just about anyone who’s spoken with me in person in the last month has known that I play, that I’ve lost sleep over it, and that I’m loving every minute of it. Have I put off other things and lost motivation to be a productive member of society?… Well, I still make it to work on time, but I finally cleaned the bathroom yesterday. I always knew I just had to get out of this “honeymoon” phase of a new game. There’s so much to figure out, so many mechanics to learn, and much more experimentation to be done…. And there’s a dragon to kill some day in the future.

For those who still play, if you’re ever looking for someone to join you in an adventure, I’ll sign up, though I’m more good for gathering materials and just random knowledge at this point, I miss playing online with other people.

For those that don’t play, I hope you’ve enjoyed my summary of what I’ve been doing for the last six weeks or so. When people ask what’s new, this is it.

 

And in case you’re wondering, I still haven’t found my original base. If anyone’s seen a rectangular box made out of cobblestone and glass in the middle of some grass, yah, that’s mine.