The Minecraft Experiment, day 18: The Red Sea

Posted on December 30, 2010

When I first started playing Minecraft a few months ago, I played with a rule: if I die, I have to delete the entire world. Now I’m trying to get to hell and back. The diary starts here, and over Christmas new entries will go up weekly on Wednesdays.

World 10, deaths 9

Right, a sea of lava. I can probably do this. There’s probably a way to do this. This might be doable.

I could turn around, of course, but the whole point of this experiment is to get as far as possible in one direction in the Nether realm, so that I’ll be eight times as far from home when I build a portal back to the real world. If I turn back every time I hit an obstacle – well, it’s hell. It’s made of obstacles.

The only thing I can think, staring out at the lava sea while dodging the occasional Ghast fireball, is that I’ve been in a situation like this before. Trying to avoid Creepers back in the real world, I moonwalked through the air building a one-block bridge beneath me as I went.

Ghast fireballs would make that tricky in this situation – you can’t stop and carefully peer over the edge to place the next block. The fireballs don’t just hurt, they destroy everything in a four metre radius. The bridge itself would be smashed and I’d fall – which, over lava, is frowned upon.

But it’s really the only option. If you do it perfectly, aiming at exactly the right spot and slapping a block down with metronomic precision when the end of your bridge comes into view, you can keep moving continuously as you do this. Not fast, but maybe fast enough to be out of the blast radius when the next Ghast shot hits.

So I have to do it exactly right, and it still might not work. I hate things like that.

I do need some breathing room to get started, so I can’t build this bridge from the surface. I duck back underground and tunnel out to the cliff face, so I can start my bridge out of sight of the Ghasts, in a hopefully fireball-free zone. Isambard Kingdom Brunel was famous for his strict insistence on a fireball-free working environment, as I recall.


OK, well it’s less perfect now.

That’s better.

This is daunting. But there is a clump of land out there – an island of zombie pigmen I can drop down onto when I’m half way, to restock on blocks and hide to let the Ghasts disperse. I gulp, turn around, and walk backwards out over the sea of molten rock.



Donk. Donk. Donk. Donk. Donkdonkdonkdonk- BOOM.


Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck. After minutes of being able to see nothing but the lava beneath me and the blocks I’m frantically donking down, I’ve glimpsed the island and it’s in the wrong place. I need to be at least ten metres to the right to land on it when I drop off this bridge. With the storm of Ghast fireballs reaching fever pitch, my bridge in tatters, I have to very, very carefully change direction.

BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOMBOOMBOOM Donk. Donk. Donk. Donk. Donkdonkdonkdonk-BOOOOOOOOOM

It hits me. My bridge is obliterated and I’m sent flying into the air, exacly over the lava coast of the island below. But the fireball hit in front of me, sending me backwards. Backwards is the way I want to go. That gives me just enough momentum to reach dry land during my fall, at which point I pummel a hole in the blood-red rock until I’m sitting at the bottom of a dark pit, safe from Ghast eyes.

I dig a chunk out of the rock and light a fire in it to see my surroundings, and immediately burn myself on it.

God damn it.

Next Wednesday: Crossing the other, bigger lava sea.


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The Minecraft Experiment, day 17: A Ghast

Posted on December 22, 2010

When I first started playing Minecraft a few months ago, I played with a rule: if I die, I have to delete the entire world. Now I’m trying to get to hell and back. The diary starts here, and over Christmas new entries will go up weekly on Wednesdays.

World 10, deaths 9

Minecraft is loading the Nether, which is its version of hell. I’m usually impatient with loading screens, but this is one I wouldn’t mind lasting indefinitely. If it’d just crash and dump me back in the real world, that’d be fine too.

But no, it’s cruelly quick, and now I’m in hell. I step out of the portal in a vast cavern, thin lavafalls pouring out of the impossibly high ceiling in the distance, and a handful of zombie pigmen shuffling around in the dark in front of me. They’re harmless, so long as you don’t attack them, and actually a rather good source of grilled pork if give them a friendly nudge into a bonfire.

It is, in other words, the last thing I expected it to be: quiet. No immediate danger, nothing scary in the distance, lots of open space to get my bearings. Exactly what I need, because now I’ve got to pummel the bejesus out of this portal with a diamond pickaxe, so I can take all the blocks with me on my journey across hell. Without them, I’ll have no way back home – only obsidian can be used to make a portal between worlds, and it doesn’t occur naturally anywhere in hell.

It takes a long time. Every block has to be hit dozens and dozens of times before it breaks off and can be picked up, and there are 14 of them. I’ve just chipped off my eighth when there’s an ungodly screech.


They sound like a kitten with chalkboard teeth trying to eat a hyena made of razorblades. They’re giant jellyfish that float, unreachably high, and spit fireballs down at everything on the ground.

Most of the time, they’re not a huge problem – they fly high enough that you can avoid their projectiles in time so long as you keep moving.

And most of the time, mining obsidian is not a problem – it takes a while, but you’ll get it eventually so long as you don’t move at all.

This presents a dilemma, and it’s the kind of dilemma you have to solve with a fireball on its way to your face. I chose move.

This is when I discover the rock beneath me is not in fact rock, but a sea of screaming faces that stick to my feet in such a way that I can barely move. Shit like this is going in my TripAdvisor review, Nether. Two stars MAX.

I wade through the face-mud with fireballs slamming into it behind me, then finally drop off a ledge onto normal, non-screaming land. I scramble underneath it and consider my lack of options.

There are many – all kinds of lacks, really. I can’t go back to the portal – there’s no hope of chipping any more obsidian off with the Ghast there. I can’t wait it out – more Ghasts are as likely to come as this one is to leave. I can’t go on without the obsidian – you can cut corners to make a portal with 10 blocks instead of 14, but it leaves you exactly as boned if you only have 8.

The only way to get back to the portal without getting torched is under ground. I can dig through the screaming face-mud until I tunnel underneath the last few chunks of the portal, and chip it out from below.

It’s a good idea, but one which very quickly leads to me bursting up through the mud in the worst possible place: directly beneath the Ghast, and nowhere near my portal.

I bolt back down as the fireball hits above. OK, I saw it. It’s about three blocks this way, then five that way, then a couple up and whunk! I’ve struck obsidian. Congratulations, Tom, you’ve discovered the thing you just came out of.

Once I’ve mined it all out – I get all 14 blocks just in case I screw something up later – I’m ready to set off. My quest is to just walk in one direction, as far as my tools will take me, then portal back to the real world. Distances travelled in the Nether take you 8 times further in the real world, so when I get back I should be absolutely miles away from home. I’ll then trek all the way back, with a compass to guide me.

The only thing I have to decide now is which direction to head. I don’t want to have any risk of getting confused and doubling back on myself, so I orient myself with the only constant in this world: screaming facemud. If I look directly down at a block of it, and move so the faces are the right way up, the direction my portal was facing when I came through is left. That’s where I’ll head.


Next Wednesday: Crossing the lava sea.


Go to Source (PC Gamer)

The Minecraft Experiment, day 9: Making Waterfalls

Posted on December 06, 2010

When I first started playing Minecraft a few months ago, I played with a rule: if I die, I have to delete the entire world. This is the ninth entry in the diary I kept of that experiment – the first is here.

World 3, Deaths 2

I’ve built the tower on the cliff above my cove, so it’s easy to hit the water and land safely – but briefly terrifying anyway. When I surface, I admire my handiwork, and immediately hate it. That is the most ugly, stupid thing I’ve built since the Millennium Dome. Forget navigation, I don’t want to get home if it looks this shitty. It even undermines the prettiness of the waterfall I had my landscape gardener (me) install earlier.

Hmm. I think I nearly had an idea there. Waterfalls… pretty? Towers… ugly? Ability to create waterfalls… limitless? Nope. There’s some kind of solution there, but I’m not getting it.

I go back up, building a second tower next to the first to get to the top. There, I very carefully build a stone platform, and a small scaffold to stand on beneath it. I use the scaffold to place torches on every side of the column, then build my way to the top level with a few extra blocks.

At the top, I empty a bucket of water off the edge of the platform. It forms an ever-flowing waterfall, spilling down over the treetops below and into the sea right next to my existing waterfall, forming a veil across the entrance of my cove. It looks awesome, even from up here.

I want the torches to glow through the water from all sides, because I think it’ll look cool at night, so I have to make a waterfall on each side. For the left and right waterfalls, I can stand in a free square and tip a bucket out in the direction I want. But for the last one, facing inland, I want it to start from the only dry square left. Otherwise, my beacon will have a bald spot – one I’ll never see, but one that will bother me eternally anyway.

I stand in the current of the first waterfall, fighting it to stay on the platform, then tip the final bucket out. I’m paranoid about falling backwards off the ledge, so I push forwards constantly. The second waterfall spills down, flowing inland, and suddenly I’m standing in it. Holding forward.

I’m swept violently over the threshold, flung clear of the falling water, and left mid-air, sickeningly high over dry land. My only hope is if the water somehow hits the ground before me, spreads out into some kind of pool and…

It doesn’t.

A fountain of metal, stone, sand, torches and sticks explodes from me as I hit the ground, and the last thing I see in front of my dying face is the egg, still intact.



Go to Source (PC Gamer)

The Minecraft Experiment, day 6: Melting

Posted on November 29, 2010

When I first started playing Minecraft a few months ago, I played with a rule: if I die, I have to delete the entire world. This is the sixth entry in the diary I kept of that experiment – the first is here.

World 3, Deaths 2

OK, so the jump key lets you swim. I didn’t know that, but hammering it in my panic let me squirm out of my hole into the flooded tunnel, where the current swept me back to the staircase I was digging.

Good news, guys! I found the river!

Coming terrifyingly close to death has shaken my resolve to discover everything for myself, so rather than mine aimlessly downward in the hope of discovering metal, I just ask Graham where you get it.

It turns out I already have metal, about 16 blocks of it – it’s those lumps of Caramac I’ve been finding in the stone. I thought it might be, but I couldn’t figure out a way to turn them into something I can craft with.

It turns out I need a stone furnace. Once I know that, finding the particular arrangement of blocks to build one isn’t hard, and I love torches so I have a ridiculous amount of coal stocked up. Soon I have a healthy fire melting all my Caramac into purest iron, and then a whole new world of crafting opens up.

I made a hat! I made a sword! I made a bucket! I made metal trousers! I made a spade! I’ve run out of metal! I forgot to make a pick!

I nip back upstairs to scoop up some of the flood water with my new bucket, then don my metal trousers and clatter back down to the rockface. I’m chipping away at it for more ore when a loud growl stops me.

All the areas I’ve dug are well-lit, so there can’t be any monsters there. I dig a little further down and the growling gets closer, more frequent, and eventually joined by others. There must be at least four of them, whatever makes that noise.

I’m just about to analyse what I’m doing, and probably decide that it’s stupid, when my pick hits some mossy stone I’ve never seen before. I am scared, and I do want to play it safe, but some mossy stone I’ve never seen before? Of course I’m going to smash it.

As soon as I do, I strike legs. A rich vein of purest legs. I wasn’t mining for legs, I am not trained in leg extraction, but legs I have found. In quantity.

What I’ve actually found is a dungeon. I’ve read about these. One type of monster – in this case zombies – spawns endlessly from a cage in the middle, and chests of rare treasure lie around the edge. I know they lie around the edge because I can see two of them through the one metre gap I’ve dug, between a forest of legs.

In fact, I can reach them.

I don’t know if reaching through zombie legs to loot treasure chests is dangerous, but it feels dangerous. Enough that I don’t even look at what I’m taking – I just frantically click icons until everything’s in my inventory. When I back out, brick up the hole and take stock – zombie gurgles unsettlingly close – my haul is bizarre.

String! Yay? I guess that’s valuable in that I haven’t found any before, but what I can do with it I have no idea.

Wheat! Oh, precious wheat! These zombies really knew how to hoard.

Eggs! For that souffle I’ve always dreamed of!

Gunpowder! For that gunpowder souffle I’ve always dreamed of!

A leather thing! I think that’s leather. I have no idea what it is or does, or what this thing dangling off it is.

When I stop dancing, I get back to digging my tunnel. And before long, I hit another type of block I’ve never seen before. I have a split second to identify it as ‘lava’ before it floods into my face.



Go to Source (PC Gamer)

The Minecraft Experiment, day 5: The Depths

Posted on November 28, 2010

When I first started playing Minecraft a few months ago, I played with a rule: if I die, I have to delete the entire world. This is the fourth entry in the diary I kept of that experiment – the first is here.

World 3, Deaths 2

I’ve heard a few people suggest Minecraft is a ‘waste of your life’. Generally, I think it’s weird that anyone would home in on a particularly creative game, over the average first person shooter, as being unproductive.

But if they’d made that suggestion while I was chipping out the huge cavern I had planned, block by painstaking block, I might have burst into tears, curled into a ball and said “I KNOW AND I CAN’T STOP.”

I realise all I’m doing is hitting blocks until they pop, but I’m not thinking about that. It’s like whacking kobolds in an RPG, but in Minecraft the reward you’re working towards is a creative vision in your head rather than a stat bribe for your character.

I do stop, partly out of frustration with how quickly my stone pickaxes are wearing out. I know it’s possible to make metal ones, but not how. In general, I like to hit my head against a problem for a while before pestering my Minecraft playing friends for answers, rather than binge on the (excellent) Minepedia and spoil all the game’s secrets.

Whatever the secret to finding metal, it probably involved mining downwards. But mining directly downwards is a bad idea: at the very least, I know this world contains armless exploding things and that dropping on their heads would be a bad idea. Normally I’d do it anyway, but with the whole world on the line – and an awesome cove-world at that – I wasn’t taking any chances. One painstakingly carved staircase please!

At some point my staircase hits an earthy patch, and I can hear running water. An underground river! The best thing possible! I start scrabbling out the dirt in every direction, trying to figure out which way I have to move for the sound to get louder. After burrowing left a little way, it seems to get quieter in every direction. Because I am stupid, it takes me a second to realise which way I need to dig to hit water. And then, because I am extremely stupid, I actually do it.

The second I whack the soil above me with my spade, a cubic metre of water falls on my head. I’m submerged, and because this earthy tunnel is irregularly dug, the current quickly traps me in an akward corner.

As my oxygen starts to tick rapidly down, I amend my ‘Don’t dig directly down’ rule to include ‘Don’t dig directly up’.

On Monday: it gets worse.


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