Minecraft: Diary of a Total Newbie, Part 1

I’ve always been curious about Minecraft. I have kind of an addictive personality when it comes to big, open games – and this one seemed like it was tailor-made to wrap me in its clutches and never, ever let go. On top of that, it looked like a good challenge to learn: all that building, all that crafting, all those wide-open, fully customizable spaces…the world was my oyster.

Not to mention the game has practically followed me everywhere, appearing inevitably on any platform I have in front of me, occasionally intruding in the most unlikely places: a friend’s smart phone in a bar, an otherwise gaming-adverse acquaintance – even my own preteen nephews were building crazy.

So, when Minecraft: Xbox One Edition arrived at the start of September, I could no longer resist. I grabbed my virtual pick and started on my journey to see what my imagination was really made of. What follows is my actual experience with my first six hours of Minecraft. Be warned: It’s not always pretty.

00:02: Oh, thank heavens – a tutorial. I won’t lie to you: Even though I like a good challenge, part of the reason I’ve been holding off on this game is that I assumed it must have a very steep learning curve. I should have realized that nothing so popular could be as difficult as I was imagining. The tutorial is definitely useful… especially for someone like me, who’s coming in to this pretty blind. But I could probably have figured out most of what I needed to know just from onscreen prompts: mine that; use this; craft the other thing. First order of business is gathering some raw materials to build a shelter. Apparently, bad stuff happens at night.

00:16: I just created a mini-tsunami by mining all the sand around my picturesque tutorial pond. I broke through a wall, and the water came pouring through. With the world being so blocky, it’s easy to forget that some sorts of physics do apply, at least to an extent.

00:18: I am already starting to get why everyone and their nephew plays this game. I think part of the attraction here is that it’s very, very difficult to screw up irreparably. Accidentally mine something you didn’t want? Just put it back! Put something in the wrong place? Dig it up, and put it somewhere else. Even mini-tsunamis can be repaired by walling up the water again. The only expense comes from a bit of wear on your tools, and it’s extraordinarily easy to replace them: With a few simple ingredients you can build a crafting table pretty much anywhere, and as long as you’ve got wood and stone nearby, you can build a near-infinite supply of long-lasting tools.

00:25: Built my first shelter of wood and stone. Then I discovered, while mining the stone, that it’s a lot easier to dig into the ground for shelter. Then I discovered I could just keep digging. Send help.

00:40: Hmm, what’s that sound? Is that a cow, or something?

00:41: Not a cow. Turns out the world of Minecraft is populated by some nasty creatures, especially at night: zombies, spiders, skeleton archers… and the now-legendary Creeper, which explodes if you get too close, vaporizing anything nearby. What sounded like a cow turned out to be a zombie, moaning and lurching toward me no matter where I ran. Fortunately, the sun was just about to come up; the shambler followed me into the sunlight, and promptly burst into flames. Satisfying!

01:51: Nearly two hours in, and I keep learning new things in the tutorial clearing. I keep thinking of things I can do to my cave, making little tweaks and refinements. Also, I’m trying to see how deep I can dig (for science!). My pick and shovel have both broken, but I’m so deep that I don’t want to make the effort to climb back up to my crafting table, so I’m making do with materials on-hand. I’m not entirely sure how it’s possible to use a block of dirt to mine more blocks of dirt, but I am OK with this.

02:10: I finally forced myself to explore the nearby village. Oh man, this game is even deeper than I thought! I can make potions? I can trade with villagers? There’s farming? Animal breeding? Enchanting? Smithing? This is perhaps the biggest surprise so far: This isn’t just a game about mining stuff and building stuff, it’s something like a virtual world simulator.

02:24: I can’t imagine that anyone in this village will be happy with me stealing all their stuff. But it’s just so easy to hack away at everything. Free bed! Free mine cart! Free anvil! Though these things look like they’re being destroyed while you “mine” them, they’re actually just being transformed into easily pocketable materials.

02:29: Note to self: Verify that fire resistance potion is still in effect before hacking down a wall holding back molten lava. This is my first experience with death – and like everything else in Minecraft, it’s surprisingly user-friendly. You revive back at your original spawn point, or else in the bed you’ve most recently slept in. Make it back to where you died, and you’ll find everything you were carrying, ready to be picked up again. Well… unless some of it has been buried under molten lava, anyway.

02:31: So, I’m not saying I released an apparently endless flow of lava onto the farmlands or anything. I’m just saying: free barbecue!

02:54: I think I’ve gotten familiar enough with the game at this point to create my own world. It’s a nice touch that you can pick out texture packs for your creation. In addition to the default pack, the game offers many cool add-ons, including : Candy, Cartoon, City, Fantasy, Natural, and Plastic – as well as packs inspired by Halo, Marvel, Mass Effect, and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (many of which have pre-made worlds ready for trying out, if you don’t feel like creating your own). I try out Natural first, which is an upgrade from the original graphics, but still very retro; everything now looks 16-bit instead of 8-bit!

What’s up next? Find out soon, in the second part of this two-part feature! And in the meantime, grab your very own copy of Minecraft: Xbox One Edition. If you’re already hooked on the Xbox 360 version, you can upgrade for a mere $4.99!