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Minecraft Basics

This chapter is from the book

The Lay of the Land

Just like the real world, Minecraft has many types of land. The different areas are called biomes, and each has unique features, such as certain plants, ores, or landscapes. Minecraft biomes are mostly divided by climate (snowy, cold, lush, dry, and so on), and each category has a variety of more specific biomes, for a total of 61 different types.

When you start a new map, the biomes are randomly generated, though in such a way that you won’t find a hot desert next to a snowy mountain. They aren’t very large, so you can travel from one to the other pretty quickly (Figure 4.40). When you’re looking for cocoa beans and jungle wood and are in the middle of a desert, you are going to have to go exploring until you find a jungle biome. With relatively small biomes, chances are it won’t take you very long.


FIGURE 4.40 Here we see how small biomes intersect.

Sometimes it is hard to tell which biome you are in. Press F3 to display a lot of information, including your coordinates, the direction you are facing, and your current biome.

We’ll look at the main features of each biome (Figures 4.41 and 4.42), but if you’d like more information, see the biomes page on the Minecraft wiki.


FIGURE 4.41 Three neighboring biomes. From left to right: plains, taiga, extreme hills.


FIGURE 4.42 Three more biomes: roofed forest, swamp, extreme hills.

Plains and Sunflower plains

Plains are grassy flatlands, with small hills, scattered flowers, and the occasional tree. Many animals spawn on plains, including cows, sheep, and pigs. You’ll also find horses and donkeys here. Sunflower plains are simply plains that also contain sunflowers.

You can find villages here that contain NPC (non-playable characters) that you can trade with.


The savannah is rather like a dry, rain-free version of plains, although there is also the very mountainous Savannah M biome. The same animals, including horses and donkeys, spawn here, but the grass is more brown and dry. You can also find acacia trees in these biomes.


Many types of forest biomes exist. Although they share similar traits, the most obvious being that they are filled with trees, they have a lot of variety. In some, like regular and birch forests, you will find slight hills, a lot of grass, and many trees. Others are more hilly, have larger or taller trees, or in the case of roofed forests with dark oak, are much darker and more difficult to navigate. Hostile mobs can be common in forests, even during the day, because they may not be exposed to the sunlight that will cause them to despawn.

Flower forests have a higher number of flowers, including some that can’t be found elsewhere.


Swamps are wetlands that are found along the shore. They are often made of many small islands in shallow water and are a good place to collect sand, clay, and reeds. Slime spawns here, and you’ll find witches’ huts as well, so be careful!


Jungle biomes are divided into two types: flat and more mountainous. Jungle edges are considered to be their own biome as well, with fewer trees. All jungle biomes feature thick forests with tall jungle wood trees (which produce cocoa beans) and vines. You can find jungle temples here. Jungles are the only place you’ll be able to find ocelots, which you can tame to become pet cats by using fish.


Deserts are relatively large sand and sandstone biomes, filled with cactus, villages, and the occasional desert temple. You won’t find friendly mobs like cows or pigs here, and most hostile mobs don’t last once the sun rises, because there is no shade.


Mesa and the Bryce mesa are less common biomes. They are hot and dry, made of layers of clay, and have red sand instead of regular sand. You’ll find tall formations and columns in the Bryce mesa (Figure 4.43).


FIGURE 4.43 Desert biome in the foreground with mesa behind.


Much like a forest but filled with spruce trees, ponds, and rivers, taiga biomes can be warm or frozen, and flat or mountainous. Common features are spruce trees and ferns. These are the only biomes that contain wolves, which can be tamed to become pet dogs.

Extreme Hills

Much like the name suggests, extreme hills biomes feature high and steep hills, mountains, and cliffs. Extreme hills biomes have snow at high elevations and are the only place to find emeralds.

Mushroom Island

Extremely rare, mushroom island biomes are covered in giant mushrooms. You’ll find mycelium blocks in this biome. Mooshrooms (mushroom-covered red cows) spawn here, but no other mobs spawn naturally.

Ice Plains and Ice Plains Spikes

Another uncommon biome is the ice plains—large plains covered with snow and packed ice and little else. Ice Plains Spikes is a related biome that is very similar and has spikes of packed ice rising from the ground (Figure 4.44)


FIGURE 4.44 Ice Plains Spikes biome.

Rivers, Hills, Plateaus, Beaches, and Oceans

Many biomes don’t have any distinctive features, but form a border between other biomes; they are a variation of major biomes.

Beaches and stone beaches occur along oceans and deep oceans. River biomes are simply rivers, often cutting between other biomes. Like swamps, they are a good place to collect clay and sand.

Biome Variations

Many biomes have several similar variations. Some are in hill or plateau form, which are exactly as they sound. You can find hilly savannah or mesa plateau, for instance.

One other variation in biomes is the climate—many biomes occur in warm, snowy, or icy versions. For example, you’ll find regular plains and snow plains.

Combining all these variations along with the biomes results in 61 different biomes.


The Nether is more than simply another biome—it’s more of a world-sized dimension. You can access it only through a Nether portal. The Nether has its own map and is completely underground, with no sky, no night and day, and no weather. Water evaporates here, but there are many seas formed of lava (Figure 4.45).


FIGURE 4.45 The lava-full Nether.

Many blocks and mobs are unique to the Nether. The blocks include netherrack, quartz, glowstone, and soul sand. Mobs that are unique to the Nether include magma cubes, ghasts, blazes, wither skeletons, and zombie pigmen. Nether fortresses, which are large dungeons, are located here.

To access the Nether, you will need to build a Nether portal by making a frame out of obsidian (though the corners can be any material). Your frame needs to be at least four blocks wide and five blocks high, but it can be as large as 23 blocks on each side. To activate the portal, light the inside of the frame with lava, flint and steel, or by using a fire charge. The center will fill with swirling purple light. Step into the opening and you’ll be transported to the Nether (Figure 4.46).


FIGURE 4.46 A nether portal.

Nether portals, also known as gates, can be complicated, as moving one block in the Nether is the same as moving eight blocks in the Overworld. This means that portals can sometimes overlap—while you take one portal to get to the Nether, you may end up somewhere different on the trip home, but it also means that you can make and use Nether portals to help you travel great distances in less time.


The Sky, or End, is a dark, bare dimension that you can access only through an end portal, which occurs only in a rare, difficult-to-find stronghold. The End is the only place to find and fight the Ender Dragon, the main (and pretty much only) boss fight in Minecraft. You’ll also find End stone here, as well as many, many endermen (Figure 4.47).


FIGURE 4.47 The End, complete with Ender Dragon.

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