Minecraft Challenge: Farm and Barn, Part 2

A guide for parents to what’s so great about Minecraft, as told through a series of building challenges within the game

So last time I wrote, I got to talking about Minecraft, one of a series of new “indie games” that have convinced me to try my own hand at professional game development in 2016; and that to explain to others, especially parents, why this is such a magical kind of game unlike anything that’s ever been made before, I was going to do a series of specialized builds there and use the screenshots to explain important details about the game. Part 1 of this first photoset is linked above, so you’ll want to read it before reading this concluding half.

Okay so “day” 3 of my build (remember, one “day” or “night” in Minecraft lasts ten minutes of real time), and I finally have enough of a homestead going and producing resources to start building the main barn itself. I play in the “Survival” mode, which I find more challenging and fun, which is basically Minecraft with real stakes — monsters will actually attack you, you can actually be killed, you have to grow/reap/mine/craft all the material you use to build things, and normal gravity applies to you too, not the superhero-style flying and unlimited resources of the “Creative” mode of play. So that means, for example, that I have to build me a literal scaffolding of dirt in order to slowly climb up the vertical space where I’m building the barn’s west facade, then once I’m through I have to go back and destroy all those dirt blocks as I’m walking back down, leaving the wall itself.

As before, once the frame was done, I ran around my estate seeing what it would look like from the far fringes; but you can see it just fine, so mission accomplished when it comes to picking the height.

Day 4, start filling in those massive floors on the first and second floors! This again is another great example of something that seems simple at first in Minecraft, but turns complicated after awhile, which is what makes the game so playable. A block of wood planks is made out of crafting blocks of tree trunks; and you obtain the tree trunks by cutting down trees you find in the wild. But the game starts becoming a real pain if you cut down all the trees nearby you, and have to start walking significantly longer distances to get more; so suddenly it becomes important to start up your own grove of trees on your estate just for cutting down, which you do by planting the seedlings that tree leaves give off as they disintegrate after a tree’s trunk is cut down. But now the question becomes, how many trees do you bother planting? What’s worth your time versus how much wood you need? And shouldn’t you maybe plant those saplings in a straight line, so that you can just walk down a straight line when cutting them down? And if that’s the case, why not make a little park out of it as well, with stone walkways and fountains? This is what makes you fall down the rabbithole at Minecraft, that your activities there can be as small or as large as you make them, and that there’s always an opportunity to do something more there as long as you keep thinking of more things to do.

Day 5 saw me filling in more of the floor and west facade, as well as making my permanent setup of trunks and furnaces I would typically use if I were to stick around and make this a long-term campaign. Trunks become hugely important once you start building up a significant amount of resources for later use; and furnaces (made by crafting together eight pieces of stone, then fueled with the coal you find underground as well) is what does all the important smelting and cooking within Minecraft; it’s where cobblestone is turned into nicer looking decorative stone, where you cook your meat and potatoes for better nourishment, where you melt down blocks of gold into useable gold, etc. You don’t really need more than one furnace just for a small, self-contained game of exploration and survival; but in this case, for example, I was thinking of maybe building a stone fortress up there in the nearby mountains if I were to stick around and make this a long-term game, so I decided to crank out 25 furnaces so I could be kicking out a large supply of decorative stones for later construction.

As well on day 5, I decided to set myself up an enchantment system; because if I were to continue mining and chopping all these raw resources I would need for larger construction projects, I was going to need some magically enchanted tools that will (for example) last ten times longer than normal ones, or chop three times as fast, etc. This was part of the later waves of stuff that Mojang (the original creators of Minecraft) added to the game after they started getting done with the basics; an enchantment system for magical weapons, an entire potions system for spells that strengthen or weaken certain traits of humans and monsters, a new ore called “redstone” that can hold an electrical charge, and thus lets people build actual real, working circuit systems within Minecraft (but more on these last two in a future photoset).

Enchanting is a powerful thing, so there’s a whole series of hoops to jump through before you can start doing so. You need an enchantment table, for example, which can only be built with the ultra-rare materials diamond and obsidian; and you can only mine obsidian with a diamond pickaxe anyway, which means you need even more of the ultra-rare diamonds before you can even start. Then you need to surround it with 30 bookcases for it to be at its most powerful; and each bookcase needs three books in order to be crafted, and each book requires a piece of leather, and you have to kill a cow to get a piece of leather, so that’s suddenly 90 cows you’re talking about having to raise then slaughter to build the structure. Minecraft is highly scalable, which is what makes it a game you can play over and over; and players have to constantly weigh what kinds of benefits they want versus how much it will cost them (in time, in effort, in resources), a great thing for kids to be thinking about as they’re being tricked into thinking they’re merely playing a game.

By the end of day 6, the third floor and roof was now done as well, basically everything except the east facade.

Day 7 — finished! That’s a little under an hour and a half to build the entire thing, then I probably wandered around looking for a spot for about an hour before that, so this constitutes a fun little one-evening self-contained challenge that someone could do just for the hell of it, then start over from scratch again the next day with an entirely new universe. But since you can save an almost unlimited amount of universes on your home hard drive, you could always come back to this world again in the future and expand as another one-evening project; build that mountain fortress I mentioned, create a pyramid in the nearby desert, erect a giant fence around the pasture area and turn it into a proper horse ranch, etc.

And now that the barn was finished, I could take the time to build the final grand set of steps leading from it to the pen of cows and sheep, not only so it will be easier for me to go up and down between the two, but so that the animals themselves can come up and hang out in the first floor of the barn if they want.

And my temporary quarters that contained my mine shaft? Torn down and this canopy built from the new barn. I could’ve also just tunneled down to the right distance from inside the barn, so that you walk underground over to the shaft, but meh.

And more shots. This is the main reason to play Minecraft with a builder’s mindset, to build aesthetically pleasing things; so if you’re not wanting to run around and see your creation from every angle once you’re done, you’re doing things as a builder wrong! But of course there are other ways to play too — I could’ve left just the shack, for example, and spent most of my time hunting monsters.

So that’s it from the Pettus Farm and Ranch, and I hope you’ve found this to be entertaining and informative. Next, I think we’ll be taking things down a notch — I’m thinking of setting up deliberately in a deep forest, and doing a minimalist build in order to invoke the spirit and feeling of Walden, just a cabin and a series of nature trails so that I can spend some time talking about the fundamentals of Minecraft, and showing exactly how you do things like craft and mine. That, and other essays about more technical coding subjects (I promise!), coming soon.