Get Started with Minecraft

We'll be setting up Minecraft today to get you playing and enjoying it as quickly as possible. We'll then have daily lessons on optimizing the game and learning about all the cool creatures and terrain.

We'll show you why Minecraft is so addictive if you've ever watched your kids or friends play it and wondered what the appeal was.

It is important for most people to understand the basics of this immensely popular game before they take it out for a spin. We'll start by looking at Minecraft's history and what the game is all about.

What is Minecraft?

Before we get into installing the game and playing it, let's take an in-depth look at Minecraft and where it came from. As of early 2014, it has over 100 million users worldwide. Despite the fact that Minecraft has sold a lot of copies and players registered, many people don't realize the game's appeal and how it has managed to attract everyone, from elementary school students to retired folks.

Markus "Notch", a Swedish designer and videogame programmer, created Minecraft. He created Minecraft in his spare time, while working as a Jalbum game developer. After Minecraft became popular enough to become his full-time job, he founded Mojang.

His work was heavily influenced by earlier videogames such as Dungeon Keeper (a late 1990s resource and dungeon management game), Dwarf Fortress (a procedurally-generated open world-building game released in 2006), and Infiniminer (a small indie game that foreshadowed Minecraft with block-based sandbox gameplay). If you're interested in Minecraft's history, you can explore these games. But what matters is what those games are. To better understand Minecraft's runaway success, let's talk about some of the game terms that we use and how they relate with Minecraft.

Minecraft is one of three video game genres. The way these genres interact with each other creates an experience that draws people in. First, Minecraft is an open-world game. Open world games allow you to roam freely and there are very few restrictions. Most video games restrict you from going where the game's creator intended.

As an example, let's take your average Super Mario Bros. video game. You can't go outside Bowser's Castle to explore the gardens. The video game developers never intended that you would do so. In fact, the code of the game doesn't allow you to see the garden beyond what you see through a window when you're playing in the castle level. The pieces beyond the reach and control of the player are essentially decorative, much like backdrops on a stage.

There are no limits in Minecraft. This is because the game was not designed to be played in a linear manner. You can explore, touch, or interact with Minecraft objects if you can see them.

Minecraft is a "sandbox" type of game. While the term "sandbox" is often used interchangeably to refer to games that allow you freedom of movement and have few restrictions, true sandbox games include tools that allow you to modify the world. Minecraft is a great example of sandbox gaming. It allows you to interact with the environment and modify it in any way you like. It is normal for Minecraft players to use their in-game tools and hands to move, build, and reorder the world.

Minecraft is also procedurally generated. This aspect is closely tied to the open-world experience. The game designers have created a tunnel that allows the player to travel from Point A through Point Z. Even large games, which allow you to make choices about how you want to play the game, are still linear. You start the game, follow the story, enjoy the scenery, and then you reach the end of the linear-game train line. The designers carefully placed every stop along the line, every bit and every dungeon. This is similar to how a director and film crew creates the movie experience.

While there is nothing wrong with creating a game in this way, there are many great and famous video games that were designed in this manner. However, such games are limited in scope because of the delicate balance between how much money and time that can be invested in the game.

Procedural generation alters that dynamic. The game world is created by an algorithmic process and can be virtually infinite (limited only to artificial constraints imposed by the game developer or the computational restraints placed on the computer system hosting it). In this sense, Minecraft is infinite, as 32-bit computing is its primary limitation.

If you could translate the largest Minecraft map (using 32-bit computing limitations as the upper limit of the map's scale) into a real world size (where each block in Minecraft measures a square meter), then the Minecraft map would be 9.3 billion times larger than the Earth's surface. Kurt Mac, a Minecraft player, made walking across a Minecraft map a Zen experience. He has spent the last few decades just walking across the globe. If he continues to stick with the task, he will complete the trek in 2040.

The true appeal of Minecraft is evident in our talk about sandbox play and the vast world. We also talked about Kurt Mac's last bit about how he was just walking around the world for fun. The game is practically infinite in size, but it's also practically infinite in how you play it.

Minecraft isn't all about saving a kingdom or the entire world. It's not about building a city with electricity, exploring monster-filled caves, or creating a new rollercoaster. Minecraft's success lies in the fact that it is a toolbox that allows players the freedom to customize the game to their liking.

Minecraft is similar to LEGO(r), which allows you to build anything you want. You can build castles, racetracks and rocket ships, as well as doll houses. All this while using tools that you are familiar with and easy to manipulate.

Once you are familiar with the tools and techniques behind Minecraft, you can use them to make Minecraft what you want. Minecraft becomes a Swiss Army Knife for building, adventuring and having fun.

Are you intrigued by a game that is customizable to the player's liking? You might be interested in Minecraft because you are looking for a new game or just curious about why your grandchild or grandchild is so obsessed with it. We will walk you through the installation process and explain the more obscure aspects.

What can I play Minecraft on and how much does it cost?

Minecraft is hugely popular and has been ported to many different platforms. The original Minecraft game was developed for desktop computers. This version is still the most popular.

Minecraft PC Edition

The Java-based PC version of Minecraft can be used on any Windows, Mac, Linux, or Linux machine that has Java installed and the appropriate hardware. Despite Minecraft's minimalist user interface and graphics, it looks very simple. However, the game's procedural generation and in-game physics require more powerful hardware than you might think.

The Minecraft PC Edition has an extended demo you can use to test your computer's ability to provide a smooth and enjoyable Minecraft experience. We'll show how to do it in a moment.

If you have access on all platforms Minecraft can run on we recommend the original PC edition. We strongly recommend it over other editions such as those for mobile devices or game consoles. The PC edition costs $27, making it the most costly edition of Minecraft. However, it is the most versatile and offers the best value for money.

Minecraft Pocket Edition

There is also a Minecraft Pocket Edition (PE) available. Minecraft PE costs $7 and is available for Android and iOS devices. The Pocket Edition is much easier than the PC version. We were able to play Minecraft PE on an older iPad 1 without any issues.

Minecraft PE is great for playing on the go, but it has some very strict restrictions compared with the PC edition. All content is different from the PC and Console editions. You can only join Minecraft PE-specific multiplayer servers.

Redstone, Minecraft's version of electricity/electrical circuits, and a pretty significant element of many constructs in the PC Edition, is completely missing from the Pocket Edition. Pocket Edition maps are smaller than Minecraft PC Edition's almost infinite world map. They can only hold 256 x256 blocks. There is still plenty of space to build and roam around, but it is not as spacious.

Many players are fine with the Pocket Edition's limitations, but almost everyone complains about how awkward it is to use on-screen controls in comparison to using a mouse and keyboard for the PC or a quality controller for the Console Edition.

Minecraft Console Edition

Console gamers can purchase Minecraft Console Edition (CE), for the Xbox platform or for the PlayStation platform, both of which cost $20. The Console Edition is optimized for each platform, so you can expect smooth gameplay without worrying about hardware requirements.

The Console Edition's early editions were a little rough around the edges. The Xbox and PlayStation releases had significant differences, and were not in sync. All Console Edition releases now have concurrent updates and are in sync. Console Edition is more advanced than the Pocket Edition and closely resembles that of the PC Edition. The world is smaller than the Pocket Edition, but it is still small at 864 x 804 blocks.

The Console Edition is unique in that it supports local split screen play, so you can couch-co-op with up to three of your friends.

Minecraft Raspberry Pi Edition

Finally, Minecraft has been port to the Raspberry Pi. The Pi Edition is especially interesting from an educational perspective. Pi Edition is meant to be used as an educational tool. It also includes tools for budding programmers or enthusiasts who want to modify the game code.

The Pi Edition is based on Pocket Edition, but includes Creative Mode. Survival Mode and any elements related to Survival Mode are not available in the Pi Edition.

We can't stress the educational/experimental part of the Pi Edition strongly enough. This won't give you the full Minecraft experience. The Pi version is for you if you want to feel the thrill of picking apart your video game at the code-level, and peering inside its guts.

Follow along with any edition

We will be focusing on Minecraft's computer version for the purposes of this How-To Geek School series. It is the most widely used, has the most features, as well as providing the best platform to discuss and highlight all that Minecraft can do.

Even if you aren't interested in playing on the PE or CE editions, we recommend that you still read the series. The majority of the information is applicable to all editions. To see which elements of the PC edition you are missing, you can refer to the Gamepedia Minecraft Wiki links above.

Installing Minecraft

After you have reviewed the requirements for your computer, it is time to download Minecraft and give it a try.

Let's take you through the signup process and how to install it.

Register for an account

Signing up for an account is the first step. You can create a Minecraft.net account to play the demo or purchase a copy. Signing up is easy. Simply enter a valid email address and choose a password. Wait for a verification email to Mojang (Minecraft’s parent company), and confirm when it arrives.

After clicking the verification link, you will be taken to the second step in the registration process: choosing your Minecraft username and buying the game.

You can download the demo first before you buy. You can download the demo from this link without creating a username or purchasing the game. The demo allows you 100 minutes of gameplay (roughly five Minecraft days). You can reset the demo to play it again but you are limited to 100 minutes before you have to reset the world.

You can download the game and then install it, regardless of whether you have purchased the game or are trying the demo. Select the appropriate download from the download page. Windows users should download Minecraft.exe (a Windows-friendly wrapper for Minecraft launcher and the tool we'll use); OS X users should download Minecraft.dmg. Linux users or anyone using an alternate operating system that can run Java should download the Minecraft.jar file.

Java must be installed on your computer before you can play Minecraft. Java 7+ is available for download from the Java support page. If you have a 64 bit processor/OS, it is strongly recommended that you use the 64-bit version of Java as you will see significant performance improvements.

Save the file to your computer. Once the download is complete launch the file. After a brief loading sequence, you'll be prompted to log in.

Always log in using your email address. Only registered Minecraft users in 2012 or earlier will need to input a username.

After logging in, the Update Notes tab will appear. This tab keeps you informed about the latest changes to Minecraft. You will also find tabs for the Profile Editor, Development Console, and Local Version Editor. These tabs are not necessary for a beginner player. They are only useful for troubleshooting and a few specific needs.

We are now ready to get into the game. Before we get into the game, there is one thing we want to emphasize.

Profiling

The "Profile" section is located in the lower-left corner. There is only one profile by default. It is named after your Minecraft.net username and it will use the latest stable version of Minecraft.

While you can live with one profile, there are many benefits to having multiple profiles. Multiple profiles enable you to play with different versions, such as older releases or beta releases, and allow you silo your game data.

Let's take, for instance, three children who play Minecraft on the same computer. It's easy to create a profile that each child can access, so you don't have to fight about them deleting worlds or messing with other worlds.

To get an idea of how it works, click on the "New Profile” button.

Although you can specify many settings in the Profile Editor's Profile Editor, the most important and useful ones are "Profile name", "Game Directory", and "Use Version."

You can use profile names to identify who or what your account is for. "Steve," Jenny," "Testing Beta Release," "Multiplayer Serve,r" etc. It is very useful to change the "Game Directory" because it allows you, as we have already mentioned, to separate the player's data. In the case of "Steve" or "Jenny", we can create profiles and name them after them. Then, we can add the default.minecraft naming scheme to the data folders to.minecraft.steve and/or.minecraft.jenny for their respective profiles.

The default location for all Minecraft game data depends on the operating system Minecraft is running on.

The Minecraft launcher automatically creates the appropriate folder structure and populates it with files from Minecraft servers whenever you create a new profile.

Your First World

Now that you've seen the benefits of the profile system, it is time to create your first world and start playing!

To get started, click the "Play" button. When Minecraft is launched for the first time (or after an update), you'll see a green progress indicator at the bottom of your launcher. This indicates that it is downloading the new material. After that, you will be dumped into Minecraft.

Let's start with the Singleplayer experience. Later lessons will cover Multiplayer and Minecraft Realms. To get started, click on "Singleplayer".

Here you will find your local worlds that are linked to your profile. This is a brand-new installation so there are not yet any worlds.

To open the world creation dialog, click "Create New World". This is where you can name your new world, choose the game mode, or set additional options.

"Survival" is the default game mode. To switch to "Creative" click the "Game Mode” button at the top of the screen.

We love to name the worlds we use to experiment and learn "Learning Lab", or an iteration thereof.

We'll leave "More World Options " alone. Later lessons will focus on custom worlds and how to create them. Once you have named your world, switch it to "Creative" and click "Create New World," you can relax and let Minecraft do the rest.

Maneuvering around the Minecraft World

If the view you see is different from the one we have, don't be discouraged. Each Minecraft world is unique unless it is loaded from the same source. You can still navigate the map and use the keyboard shortcuts, regardless of where you are located.

After dropping you on the map, you'll notice the game prompting you to press "E" to open your inventory.

We are currently in Creative Mode and see the entire creative inventory (all available blocks, materials), as opposed to the Survival Mode inventory which only shows materials you have gathered in-game. The tabs around Creative Mode inventory make it easy for you to narrow down the materials/objects that you are interested in. The tab with the sword shows you in-game weapons and the tab with a little rail section shows you your in-game transportation tools.

The quick-access toolbar is located at the bottom of your inventory screen. It is made up of a gray band of blocks. You will have access to any items placed in the nine spaces between the inventory menu and the inventory screen. Place some blocks in the quick access bar now. We'll be using brightly colored wool blocks to make them stand out from the normal terrain in subsequent screenshots.

It is worth noting that Creative Mode has no sense of urgency. You don't have to race against the clock or towards any goal. Creative Mode is like sitting down on the ground with a box of LEGO(r), bricks (a classic building toy that is also of Scandinavian origin, like Minecraft). Creative Mode is not rushed so take your time.

After you've looked through the inventory menu (don’t be overwhelmed by the sheer number of objects and blocks there), press the "ESC” key to return back to the game.

Minecraft uses keystrokes and mouse movements. The traditional WASD + Spabar setup controls movement: "W" stands for forward, "A", is back, and "S" stands for left. The spacebar acts as a jump key. Double tapping the jump key to activate Fly Mode allows you to fly up and above the landscape in Creative Mode.

You can control the direction your character looks by moving the mouse (which controls a focal point for the first-person camera). As we know, "E" opens the inventory. Left-mouse attacks creatures or smashes blocks. Right-mouse clicks on the item in your hands (if it can be eaten/drink) or places it down (if a block/other object). To drop an item, press "Q".

Let's start with some basic movement and block placement, before we look at the keyboard and mouse controls in a table. Grab a block and start building near your spawn point.

You've completed your first in-game structure. Why not look up at it from the sky? Double-tap on the spacebar to activate Fly Mode. You can fly up to admire your new creation.

The map's edge fades into a fog. This is the game's render distance. The render distance can be set higher without causing performance issues if your computer is more powerful (we'll get to this in a moment).

Take a moment to fly around your creation and see it from all angles. Next, take some time to review these keyboard/mouse commands.