These are a few of my favourite Minecraft things

  1. Spiders. Don’t ask why, but of all the mobs you fight, spiders are my favourite. Maybe because they are so easy to defeat?
  2. Caves. Just love exploring them. You never know what you might find around the next corner… Just don’t forget to bring loads of torches.
  3. Finding iron. No, scrap that, finding diamonds.
  4. Survival. Really like it much better than creative.
  5. When the rain stops. Why does rain in Minecraft bother me so much? Well, it does.

I’ve been playing quite a bit on and off, especially with youngsters aged 7 to 13 as part of my work as a digital educator in Skerries, Co. Dublin (Ireland). And I still love it!


My most-Minecraft Week

Over the last week, I’ve probably been doing more Minecraft than ever before in such short an amount of time. Together with my techie adviser & son, now just one month shy off 14, I ran a 5-day Minecraft summer camp, and then on Saturday, we delivered a 3-hour workshop for 7- to 9-year-olds in a local library. Add to that some evening play in order to suss out this, that and the other, and I think that for a non-gamer adult, I clocked up a respectable amount of crafting time!

Here are some insights and thoughts prompted by that.

  1. I love playing Minecraft and just wish I could do it more often, more regularly. I love going on a mining expedition and I love crafting things.
  2. Redstone is fantastic fun. My son taught us how to make TNT canons and piston doors, and I’m now finally beginning to get the concept. It’s not all that easy at first, all those repeaters and red-stone torches that invert currents and the 15-block-rule, but it makes sense and you can do great things with it. I definitely want to do more.
  3. I don’t like creepers. Not one bit. I’ve had more homes destroyed by them than seems even remotely fair. Many of our campers say they are cute, which I find strange. What is cute about a green hissing mob that seeks you out and explodes in your home???
  4. Mods can be really good, but it can also be quite a wait to download a pack like Feed The Beast and to launch it then. My favourite mod has to be Pixelmon – it’s like normal Minecraft with Pokémon in it. I had never played Pokémon either, so it took me a little to get used to it, but then I enjoyed seeking out other Pokémon and battling them.
  5. MinecraftEdu is great when you’re working with a group of kids, some of whom have never played Minecraft on a PC before. It helps if the kids can actually read…

We’ll have a weekly Minecraft Club in cccSkerries. I’ll write elsewhere about the educational value of sending kids to Minecraft classes… for now, I’ll just summarise it in two words: Extremely high. The Minecraft camp was the first of our camps to be booked out, and the participants all said they want to come back next year. And I want to play more Minecraft, too.

Playing on our own server

For about six weeks now, we have had a server that Ciarán (my son) and I have set up for the kids coming to out cccSkerries Minecraft club.

We use it during the weekly club, and some of the kids spend quite a bit on it during the week, too.

It’s best, really, when all 8 of us (club is limited to 6 kids) are in the same room and playing.

Some of the clubbers have played for quite a while, others for just a few months.

We have set the server to NORMAL and we also made sure that when you die, you don’t lose your inventory. It just seemed too harsh otherwise… Still, if you do go to the Nether and die there, you lose everything! Some had to learn the hard way to put everything into their chests before they go exploring in the strange place that is the Nether.

Personally, I don’t like the Nether much. I much prefer digging along in the normal world, collecting lots of cobblestone which I am storing in my chests, and which I mainly use to repair holes in the top of my mines which creepers create. Sigh.

We all have our own homes, and then there is the village where we started building a road and a few houses around it. Maybe they could be called our town houses, and the other ones are our country homes?

My own house is tiny. Just enough space for bed, double chest, furnace, crafting table and two doors. The one door leads to the outside world, the other to my private mine.

I’ve learned a lot since I started this blog – I know how to make sure I always have food, to replant trees as I cut them down for wood so I don’t have to go too far for more wood, to upgrade my tools as I get better ores, and in most battles with skeletons and zombies, I win. The creepers… well, that’s a different story. I don’t like what they do to my house when I’m offline. Annoying creepers.

Minecon Memories

Hi all, haven’t been writing much lately, mainly because I was too busy to even play Minecraft much, so the last thing I did manage to do was go to Minecon with my son, and that is now more than six months ago! It was the best weekend ever, seriously, we thoroughly enjoyed being in one place with some 5,000 other Minecrafters (and some non-playing parents who came along and seemed to spend most of their time patiently queuing for T-Shirts and Minecraft articles).


Minecon 2012 took place in Disneyland Paris, and I had some misgivings about this, you know, thinking that there would be no avoiding Mickey and Pluto and so on. It turned out to be quite OK, the hotels are run very professionally, and the event itself was nearly completely Disney-free. (I do like Disney comics, I just wasn’t so sure about a Disney theme park.) We managed to come back with no more than one Disney fridge magnet between the two of us, so I guess we did pretty well in avoiding the consumer trap!

Ciarán in Minecraft Land Sabine in Minecraft Land

We did come home with lots of new insights about Minecraft, and having met loads of nice, likeminded people.  Wherever we were, it was incredibly easy to strike up conversations as we all shared a common interest. I particularly enjoyed the night when Minecon took over one of the three Disneyland amusement parks and even the queues were great fun… everywhere, Crafters were discussing mods, plug-ins, servers and The History of Minecraft!

Notch was there. Jeb was there. And they were both … well,  I guess, awesome hits it. Notch was already no longer directly involved in the day-to-day business of guiding Minecraft towards its next stage (some – including my son – think that’s a big pity), but he gave endless and very honest and interesting interviews ( is just one), and it was great to see him live. Also, word has it that he actually donated a sizeable amount from his own cash so that people wouldn’t have to pay too much to attend! Jeb, who took over the Minecraft responsibility within Mojang from Notch, was amazingly patient in meeting fans and never (as far as I know) declined having his picture taken with them.

Ciaran and Jeb

We listened, played (especially my son), watched, queued to get our picture taken inside a Minecraft world, or to have us digitally painted Minecraft-style. The buzz was incredible, and that is true for the trip across as much as the time there. On the flight back, there were five Irish teens & pre-teens, each with an adult companion!  They found each other quickly as they all opened their laptops in the waiting area.

Us Minecraft style

This blog was meant to be about something completely different, but as I was writing it, I realised that a weekend like that deserves to be remembered by a blog post. So there you have it. We won’t make it across the Atlantic to Minecon2013, but to be honest, it would be difficult for any weekend to be better than Minecon2012 was for us!

Day 8: More Minecraft Steps: Saplings? And: I want a chest!

After a few days away from Minecraft, I’m eager to get back my basics, which I lost in my recent fights with skeletons, creepers and zombies, and to mine for more exciting stuff, such as iron.

What I want to get is:

  • an axe
  • a sword
  • torchesAdd New
  • a chest – haven’t had one before, but I believe that if you do have one, it’ll keep your belongings for you, should you get killed

Oh, and I’ll need food, too. Sorry, pigs, don’t really see what I can do right now except for killing one more. I’m trying to get some agriculture going, promise!

Quick research on the chest thing: – Right, I can put items from my inventory into the chest, and vice versa, but things don’t just go there if I die. Still, I can keep backup materials there.

Easy enough to craft – wooden blocks, eight of them!

Let’s go and do it!

Obviously, I’ll need wood first…. Have crossed a small inlet, am now chopping down some trees, and the music comes on. It’s only just morning, isn’t it? Better check out what music means in Minecraft – is it always that night approaches?

In-game music is cued by the time of day, with a random track being played at sunrise, sunset, noon and midnight. Thus OK! Now I know.

Back to my trees so.

I can’t quite get used to the way that the crowns of trees just hover in the air after you chop down the trunk.

Whether it’s just me being very tidy, or whether it makes any positive difference at all – I always tidy up the crowns afterwards. Sometimes I get saplings – not sure what I’ll be able to do with them, though.

Wiki? Any opinion / information?

Saplings are an important resource obtained from leaves that allows trees to be grown.

In Survival mode, saplings are dropped with a random 1/20 chance when leaves are broken or wither; 1/40 for jungle trees.

Ok, but what can I do with them? Grow trees, granted – but how?

Saplings can be planted on any dirt or grass block, and will grow into a new tree if they are exposed to a lightlevel of at least 9 in the block above the sapling, and have at least a certain number of empty blocks, depending on sapling type, above the dirt block it is placed on.

I’m not sure about the light level thing, but I like the idea of growing trees and might just try it around my house. Would look nice, too.

So I’ve planted my trees! Another day over – more the next time!

Day 7: Minecraft spiders and cave-pigs fly

Let’s go spider hunting

How do you deal with a spider, I ask The Son. And: How do you use arrows? Because I had some from the last fight. And he says: Make a bow! But you need string.

And now I see that I do have string, from that last fight!

So I’m going to try and make a bow and arrow, to shoot that spider on my roof.

But no matter how I rearrange sticks and string, I can’t get bow and arrows.

Maybe I need arrows while crafting?

No luck. I’ll check it out online. – And yet again night falls and surprises me! This time I do make it to my bed and sleep.

So, the results of my research: Bad news.

I have arrows, so that’s ok, I don’t need to craft them, but I need three pieces of string for one arrow. I only have one.

You get string when you kill a spider. That means: In order to make the best weapon against a spider, I first need to win in a direct fight with a spider.

Sigh, Let’s get that spider down for a fight so! Or let’s get up to that spider, who is still sitting on top of my landmark tower!

I have no more dirt to get up to the it, so I dig some.

That might make a nice ditch for safeguarding my house later!

– OK, I’m on the roof, easy enough, using the dirt cubes. Right-click and jump…. but oh no, what’s that, I fall off!

Need to use the left-shift for creeping, that stops you from falling, I believe. (Is it called creeping? Crawling? We’ll see.)

But there is a new development right now: Looks like the spider used my dirt stack to come down itself!

Bring it on, spidey, bring it on! And once more I’m so inside my fight that I forget to take pictures.

You’ll have to take my word for it: I fought, spidey fought, I hit, and I won.

Two more string units came out of the spider! Let’s go craft that bow!

But no – another disappointment. I mustn’t have picked up the string fast enough, I still only have the one string, although two strings came out of the dead spider. So annoying. And I’m hungry again.

What’s that (above), you ask? That’s me eating! Pork chop! That’s what it looks like.

After this victory (albeit not resulting in more string), and having done some quick basic repairs to my house, I feel adventurous again. The Minecraft world beckons!

Finally – cave-searching again!

I’ll find myself a cave yet! It’s supposed to have a large opening on the side of a hill or mountain. Is this one?

Let’s go and explore! I use my left shift and carefully lower myself down, digging at the cobblestone.

A floating pig! strange. So pigs can fly! (OK, so I dug away the cobblestone underneath Piggy. Still!)  I’m determined to avoid killing more pigs and let it float.

Strange sounds from the dark… What is it? Oh no, another zombie / creeper combo. And this time I’m not ready. Too few torches to keep them away. Too slow fighting. Can’t do anything…. respawn in my bed, miles from my stuff, which (as I now understand quite well) will be lying around where I died for a limited amount of time.

Will I make it back to the cave in time to get my things? I run, I run, I find the cave entrance, I’m back, but Creeper is still there and I am unarmed.

Is it worth it? Or should I just start (nearly) from scratch? (I do have a house, a crafting table, a furnace, and a bed!)

Who dares, wins – I got all my stuff again – but then the creeper had me before I could use a proper weapon, and once again I respawn in my bed.

I once more make it to the cave, once more am beaten, and when I reach the cave a third time, everything is gone. So is my will to fight.

This time, I’m calling it a day. I’ll just have to start again next time. Bye for now, dear reader!

Day 6. Struggling with the Minecraft baddies.

As you may remember, yesterday I encountered my first creepers and zombies. And a skeleton. And I lost everything and respawned. Now I’m wondering whether I can get any of my things back, you know, the stuff I collected, mined, won in fights.

Having just about made it to my bed yesterday, wake up refreshed. Let’s see, have I most of my stuff? I did manage to gather up a few things last night before running for shelter (bed) – The Son (my resident authority on Minecraft, if you’ve been following this blog you’ll be aware of him) had luckily mentioned to me that you can get your items again if you make it to the place where you ‘died’ within a certain number of minutes, five, I think.

So I’m checking my inventory, a bit like a dog licking its wounds after a fight. The gunpowder is gone before I found out what to do with it. A few cobblestones, too. But I’m off to mine more now anyway. So it’s not too bad.

Actually, good news lie in store for me: More things are just at the back of my house, waiting for me when I go outside! Including my gunpowder, the other sword – some arrows and even bones!

And some rotten flesh… it seems you need to cook it within a day or two. Or did I get it from the zombies?

Mining Adventure 2

Off again to mine. I’m trying to get better bearings, because last time, I got lost a few times and wasted valuable daylight time. For that purpose, I have built another dirt tower. So, where I can see just about see my house, I build a dirt tower, then walk on until I just about can still see that new tower, build a new one, and so on. It’s not always easy to remember to build them, especially when you’re getting all excited about finding new hills, caves, things, but more or less I do remember.

I’m also getting better at reading the signs within the Minecraft world … piano music comes on just as I’m chopping down some. I make it back to my house just in time for sunset:

Quick sleep – enough of those creepers and zombies for a while, thank you very much…. and The Son says they do not even spawn when you sleep! If you don’t sleep, they do, but the sun destroys most of them. Note to self: Must ask The Son what mobs (as they seem to be called, sheep as well as pigs and creepers and zombies and skeletons etc. – guess it stands for “mobile items” because they can move by themselves) are destroyed by sunlight!

Walked on straight ahead for a while. Strange whooshing sound, something black, seemed to fly – bird? Dangerous? Went away. Pigs came up to me, just looking. How could you kill them? They are so cute.

I didn’t, not this time, anyway. I still have some pork chops, but I also want to find out how to eat non-mob food. No sheep, no cows, no pigs. Apples? Grow food?

Anyhow, let’s see what else is to be seen in this world. I run and look and it’s all great, and I find something that looks worth exploring…. and then, what a wally, I realise I’m lost, no Sabine-made landmarks within sight! I have to run around until I see a vaguely familiar forest, and find my dirt towers. I won’t forget to leave landmarks this time!

The sun is straight above my head, which means it’s mid-day in Minecraft, and I’m just eating my last pork chop. Hmmm, pigs might come in handy soon…

Off we go again! More adventures beckon!

And just as I know where I am, and am building my towers, night falls again – this time I didn’t hear any music, and I am surprised by darkness. Pretty — and dangerous…

I wisely ran to my house, panicked somewhat and wasted some time trying to get in as quickly as possible, which took ridiculously long as I kept missing the door, then somehow I got in but couldn’t get into bed, kept throwing dirt instead of right-clicking the duvet (my aim must have been off) — and — a skeleton that followed me inside got me, so now I’m dead again!

And I respawn and I try to sleep to make the night pass safely, but no, “You may not rest, there are monsters nearby” – and those monsters get  me! Again!

And then I came back, and this is where I am now – note the randomly-thrown dirt blocks close to my bed:

It seems you go back to level 1 when you die. And why is my inventory not empty? Because luckily I was slain in my house, next to my bed, so when I respawned, I could get all my things very quickly. At least that!

Some monsters are still around, though. Creepers, skeletons, spiders…. Fights and more fights and fights, and it is all quite confusing, I respawn a number of extra times, and then it’s day and I go outside.

At first I just look around, but then there is this awful sound I can’t get rid of:

A spider on my roof! Plus a creeper (I think) destroyed my door and a good part of my house. It’s all getting a bit much for me….  Let’s call it a day and try to sort out the mess next time… Bye for now, dear reader!

Day 5 – When Minecraft got “creepy” for me

Difficulty setting: Normal…

I’ve done it. I’ve dared. I’ve gone from “easy” (where so far nothing bad has ever happened) to “normal”, expecting those favourites of all the children I have talked to about Minecraft: Creepers.

Will they now come and find me? What will happen next? I get some basic info from the Creeper page in the Minecraft wiki.

Hmm, they seem nasty enough… No wonder all the kids love them (I guess)….

So what’ll I do while (also) waiting for my first creeper to show up? The tutorial suggests for Day 3 to build a cobblestone house. Got that. For day 1, to explore a cave – haven’t done that yet!

So let’s dig and see can we find ourselves a cave.

The Cave Adventure

For 15 minutes, I’ll simply dig and see where I go. I’ll try and go a total of ten blocks to the front, then down and back….

Oops, water again! What now…?

I feel like swimming to the platform ahead! It turns out to be incredibly easy to swim, just like walking – perhaps because it’s a stationary lake, not like the little stream I saw before.

When I got out, it was so dark I needed to use another one of my torches.

HELP! There I was, digging away, all well… and then there was this awful sound, like someone groaning, and of course I had to go and look – and now a zombie and a creeper are making their way through the water towards me!

Why did I switch to “normal”…. easy was so nice and easy…

The Son says: Take the sword, fast, and punch them….

Here goes….

Hitting the zombie with the sword got rid of him, hooray, and I’m now at Level 2 (see the green two in the middle of my bar?). The creeper can’t get me as he bobs up and down when walking / swimming and keeps hitting his head. The Son says to go and get him. Aww okay.

Got the creeper, too! And more green stuff and the gunpowder (see picture) the creeper left behind. What’ll I do with that, I wonder?

But I forget, I meant to go and mine some stuff!

Wet and hungry and running out of tools.

And I mine and mine and …. my pickaxe goes! I decide to go back to my base, where I left the crafting table, but it’s quite tough and tiring to be digging through some cobblestone and some dirt (much easier than cobblestone, though) with just my sword. Which needs replacing soon, too.

And then there is another new sound…. water?

Yes, in a way it is water – rain!

And it looks like I’m quite hungry, too. I make my way back, see my house – not too far away at all – but walking seems tougher than usual, or is that just because I feel wet?

Having eaten, I make it home safely.

Let’s not waste any time – I need some tools!

I make three stone pickaxes, so I don’t run out again, and a sword. The pickaxes are easy enough, three stones and two sticks. But how do you make stone swords??? Ah yeah, two cobblestones, one plank. No, doesn’t work. Let’s try one cobblestone, two planks – for which I need to make planks first:

And phew again! There was a creeper outside my house, but luckily I know now that I can beat them. Went outside, had heard him first, located him, and killed him! It all happened so fast, there is no pictorial record. Sorry, folks. I’ll try next time…

Back to work. Planks made, now for the second sword.

Nope, no luck. Have to look at the recipe again… two cobblestone, one plank. Let’s try! Maybe I positioned them wrongly…

Got the recipe wrong! Two cobblestone, one stick! Details make a big difference. And to be ready for the next day (it’s night outside, and still raining), I’m cooking some pork chops in the furnace, too. [It seems I made a mistake using wood, planks would have given me just as much heat, and coal would have been the best choice. Guess who the fountain of that knowledge is…]

But as I’m happily sizzling those, there is that by now too familiar groaning outside. More zombies or creepers? Where is my sword?!?

Oh no…. I was getting too cocky and now I’m dead. The skeleton got me, or was it that spider?

“Respawn” my Minecraft screen says. I seem to wake up close to my bed.

I have nothing left in my inventory – nothing! I remember reading you can get your things back where you died, and go outside straight away, having respawned in / near my bed – but then the skeleton and the spider are still there!

It’s actually all quite exciting now, much better fun to just about have made it back to my house with a good few of my possessions than not having been attacked at all.

My life bar is so low because the skeleton’s arrows (do skeletons have arrows?) got me a few times.

I make for my bed, try to hop into it – and luckily, it works! I sleep! Let’s call it a day and see tomorrow what happened to all my things.

Day 4: Stuck with roofs in Minecraft? Internet to the rescue!

Finishing my house. Roofs are tricky….

My house needs a little something. Like – a roof? Tried to put one on it but I don’t seem to be able to simply place new stones next to the top stones. I know it couldn’t work in the real world, but I thought in Minecraft…. and I’ve seen pictures of other people’s houses being built, where they did just that.

What am I to do about a roof? I’ll Google “build roof in minecraft“. [The Son would YouTube it, another difference between us.]

– Hmmm, yes, others have had the same problems. One (with some interesting spelling) suggests: “You cant place blocks in mid-air per-say however you can just build your roof up ontop of a supporting block, then remove that supporting block afterwards.” That might work, though it seems clumsy.

I try it all the same, and yes, it did work! I put down cobblestones from the ground all the way up, and then knock all but the top ones again. For some reason, I seem to lose some of the stones I place and then knock again, but at least I have a roof.

Ran out of stones again, too. So mined some more. All that was uneventful, unless you count the sheep that wandered into my house, had a look, and wandered off again. I need to finish that house and then set myself some more exciting projects, it’s getting a little boring.

Here is another bit of info from a forum site:

Upon further inspection you target the side of the block and right click that. It places a block on the SIDE of the block meaning there is no need for a block underneath.
P.S Sand and Gravel have gravity

The bit about gravity in sand and gravel means: Whereas you can mine a block out from underneath another block of cobblestone or earth without anything tumbling down onto you, you can’t do that with sand and gravel. Or, as The Son puts it: Physics is off for cobblestone, but not for sand and gravel. So there!

And now I have it. All I need to do is actually aim at the side of the other block, then the new block will attach. Easy. When you know how…. I also know how to get down off the roof without hurting myself. I build a scaffold from dirt. And here is my “scaffold” down:



Another day ends, and I’m the proud owner of a real house.

My home! With a roof! And light! (I made those torches earlier, didn’t mention them in the blog – coal made from wood in the furnace, and sticks). All that’s left to add is a door!

Easy-peasy! Six planks, on your crafting table, and you get a 3×1 door.

The door is easy enough to build, but I can’t place it at first. The Son comes and gives some more unasked-for advice: Put it on the ground… yes, that works. Thanks, I guess….

And if I don’t think it looks right, he adds, I could do that from the outside, adding “that’s what most people do….” Sigh. But I change it. And it does look better!

Those days are really short. Piano music heralds the next night. I make for my bed, but I’ve also played for a good bit. So once more I call it a day. See you next time!

Day 3: Stone, Water, and other Elements

The start of my house….

Welcome back to my third blog entry about being a new player in Minecraft (Survival Mode), dear reader. I only have a half an hour and I’d like to build a house. So I just start building walls with cobblestone, no real plan – just somewhere to put my bed, my crafting table and my furnace. I start placing blocks of cobblestone, in some sort of house shape.

Is it big enough? Should I have a door and windows? Better check with the Minecraft wiki…

The tutorial suggests a 5×4 cobblestone house, so mine is 3 x 6 inside, that’d be 5 x 8 outside. Should do the trick. But 3 blocks high and then a lip against spiders. Spiders??? Haven’t seen any yet. Then again, I’m still playing on “easy”…

Hey, help, it’s dusk again, and I don’t seem to be able to get into bed! Panic! What do I do again? Calm, calm…. And just in the nick of time I remember to walk to the bed and right-click. I’m informed “The bed is occupied” (by me, I hope), and in a flash the night is over.

And then I run out of cobblestone. Sigh. Need to go and mine me some more cobblestone. But I remember that it can be difficult to find your way back, so I’m making a nice big dirt tower for orientation purposes. However… how do I get back down? I decide to be brave and jump, and lose three hearts. Seriously. Still, I’ve got my tower!

Hey ho, hey ho, it’s off to mine I go…

Mined down a bit, good, found some cobblestone – but hey, what was that greenish stuff that fell down from above as I mined stone? And why is there lots of blue now???

Water!!! It’s tough to get back to where I was, and I cannot jump out as the opening is not high enough!

That is exactly the solution – get rid of some of the earth on top of the opening on my right, and I manage quite easily to get back. Mine some more cobblestone, and now (using the old jumping-and-putting-dirt-underneath-yourself trick) I’m making my way upwards once more.

And I’m quite close to my little home on the prairie, too!

Felt a little peckish(as you can see above, the first two symbols to the right of the green number one are greyed out)  – and just had my first meal! Held one of the cooked pork chops (selecting it using the mouse wheel, then right-clicking) and munched away. That works well!

So now I have a half-finished house, and have learned some more about Minecraft. It’s good, but it’s time to call it a day.

More soon!