Block By Block: Modding Minecraft, Part 2

In part ye firste I fiddled with Minecraft’s fundamentals. This time it’s the utilities that take the spotlight. I’d only planned on mentioning one or two in passing, but there’s a huge number of handy extra addons that you can use . I’ve used them all at some point before even having to write words and words on Minecraft, so they’re worth recapping, especially if you have a vain streak want to show off your sexy Minecraft worlds.

You can do that. If just want a quick view of the world, though, grab Topographer – it’ll take a top-down snap of the map, or MCMap can make an isometric pixel-art image for you. My personal choice is Minetographer. If you have a local Minecraft map that you’d like to coo over, or a server one you’ve downloaded (this program can do that), this is the sexiest map renderer that doesn’t involve a using something as tough to fiddle with as Blender. Minetographer generates an isometric zoomable map of your world, something akin to a Google Map, ensuring each zoom level is separately rendered for maximum gorgeousness. You can tweak the level of zoom and, what the program renders, the compass direction it’s viewed from, as well as few technical bits. It’s not being actively updated, though. In order to get it to work you need to download the base program and then install the latest Tectonicus (the command line version of the program) file from here. Just unzip it, take the .jar file out and rename it ‘tectonicus.jar’ and place it in Minetographer’s lib folder. When you run the program, you’ll be given a number of options to fiddle with at you leisure, but remember multi gigabyte sized Minecraft levels take hours to render, and can break the program. The results are worth the pain.

What if you generated a map of a world that you made yourself? I don’t mean one you build up block by block, I mean you performing an act of creation and sculpting the world? World Painter is one such tool. It’s god’s MS Paint program, enabling you to carve the very bedrock itself however you want it to be. It could be a subtle tweaking of a generated world, or carving your initials and filling them with water. Oh yeah, I went there.

If you’re mangling the world to your own end, then you might as well do the same to the NPCs. I still find vanilla Minecraft rather empty, and part of that is because the game’s NPCs are rather cut and paste. Custom NPCs at least lets you create some interesting people fill that void. More importantly, you’re able to set them tasks, like guards, merchants or mercenaries, so they’re not just wandering, awkward, boring villagers. You can even customise their responses, which I’m sure you’ll in no way abuse.

If only you could make one that would point out where the nearest village or stronghold is. To satisfy that curiosity, there’s Amidst. I’m somewhat loathe to link to it because it takes the act of discovery out of the game. But there’s a good argument for you to use it if you’re curious about strongholds: they’re so rare that it’s possible you might play Minecraft and never come across the underground multi-layered dungeons. Amidst will tell you the co-ordinates of the generated structures on the map. You just need to point it to the level file in your Minecraft saves and it’ll generate a map of the world. You can even use it to move the player on the server. It can be a bit hit and miss, but I’ve had more hits and underground fun with it than not. Mmmm, spelunky. It doesn’t work with Extrabiomes XL, though.

On the ground level, there are a number of things you can do to improve your view. I wish the Water Shader mod was being updated, but it’s currently languishing and incompatible with version 1.2.5. There is another shader mod, the understated Sonic Ether’s Unbelievable Shaders. What it adds is a depth of field, dynamic shadows and wavy grass to the otherwise static plains. It requires the previously mentioned Optifine. It can be a bit overbearing in vanilla, but there are several different configurations you can select. It is incredibly intensive, so make sure your PC stretches before attempting to run it. And it comes with its own installer, but again the faffing is worth the rewards.

So you’ve built your own world, sculpted a giant mountain in the shape of your birthmark and set the shaders to glow like God just polished the sun. How to show it all off? Given the buildtastic nature of Minecraft, I’d suggest Camera Studio, a utility that allows you to create smooth camera movements, elegant dolly-shots that show off the magnificence of the obviously not phallic constructions you’ve made. It is a bit tough to use, but videos from this have a silky smoothness that make you look effortlessly cool. You can use it in single-player, to zoom around a particularly impressive self-build, but it’s real worth is in recording multi-person builds on servers. Set a slow pan around a planned construction and record it, and you’ll maybe come up with something like this?

If you do, please upload it to Youtube: I’m tired of 90% of Minecraft videos showing you how to install mods: one is enough people!

Next Week: I fall down a Minecraft modhole.


  1. hello_mr.Trout says:

    i looked at the water shader page, and apparently it is 1.2.5 compatible? or in ‘alpha’ at any rate – but the system requirements seem to have increased, and the new version doesn’t work for those with feeble computing power… no reflective water for me! thanks also for mentioning the minetographer! rendering map now :)

  2. psyk says:

    Smart moving
    Rei’s minimap
    water shader
    dynamic lights
    and the other required files

    Ahhhh if only installing the things wasn’t such a pain in the arse

    ooo also soon to include that other Millénaire like mod where you build up a city (name escapes me) when I can be arsed to install it.

    GLSL Shaders working with optifine? YES PLEASE, time to read about conflicts WOOT

    • noodlecake says:

      You could just download the technic launcher which includes a bunch of massive modpacks all installed to separate instances of minecraft. If you JUST want certain mods you could, for example, choose Yogbox and then deselect all the mods apart from rei’s minimap, millenaire and minecolony.

      I’m not sure if minecolony s the city building mod you were talking about but you can definitely build your own town using it.

  3. El_MUERkO says:

    Never mind shaders, mods like finite water/liquid are where the fun is at!

    • psyk says:

      Still need to get that installed, sure it conflicted with something ARGGHHHHH back to the forum :(

  4. Radiant says:

    Is Minecraft rubbish?

    I built a house built some other stuff and then got bored.
    What exactly am I missing?

    • LimEJET says:

      It’s certainly not for everyone. If you like exploring the formations of the world, you can do that. If you like designing and building, you can do that. If you like experimenting with basic logic through redstone, you can do that.

      Other than that though, there’s not much to it.

      The reason I still play is that I like to play around with mods like IndustrialCraft.

    • Blaaaaaaag says:

      It’s not rubbish, but it might not be to your tastes all the same. It’s something I’m more inclined to consider a productivity tool (productivity is of course subjective here) rather than a game. I have fun with it when I’m feeling creative, but when my inspiration well is dry, I go elsewhere for entertainment.

    • UmmonTL says:

      Minecraft is simply a game that appeals to certain kinds of people because some of the game elements are missing from or less impressive in most other games. But it’s not for everyone and I wouldn’t say it’s worth the 20$ price they are asking now. I got rather bored of it but might mod it and try it again.

      My obvious reasons for playing minecraft:
      1. Building
      You can build freely without any worries about messing it up or having to spend lots of money on it. If someone would spend a lot of money and time on building a perfect little valley for their model train, Minecraft is a much cheaper alternative.
      2. Cooperative play without being focused on fighting.
      It’s a game that the entire family can enjoy (ugh), but really I can’t think of any other games that can be played cooperatively, are accessible for casual gamers and can still appeal to the more hardcore minded gamer (meaning me). If I want to show a girl what current gaming is about for me I can show her various cool singleplayer indie games but actually playing something with her? Minecraft is probably the answer.
      3. Exploration
      This aspect however is rather weak because you’ve quickly seen it all, it ties more into the building. It’s about looking at an area you found and thinking where you would build what. “I will build my gloomy little village in this valley with the dark castle on that hill there and as a final touch a giant monster crawling over those twin mountains.

    • mendel says:


      Minecraft is raw material for creation. If you don’t want to create anything, of course it’s boring.

    • rustybroomhandle says:

      I think RPS should replace the comment system in all Minecraft-related articles with a script that just generates the comments randomly. It always ends up being the same jabs, counter-jabs, etc.

    • Freud says:

      I haven’t played it. At first I thought I would wait until it was released and then when it was released it seemed it didn’t have enough game elements to it for it to peak my interest over other games. I guess I always was able to find something I’d rather try than Minecraft and with the backlog I have already I might never get around to playing it.

    • fish99 says:

      An imagination.

      (balls, someone beat me to it)

    • Radiant says:

      Wasn’t a troll!
      I knew that it was essentially self made lego but I guess I was unwilling to pour the hours into it.

      I mean I tried to do a bunch of things but it just never turned out how I wanted it [redirecting water for example].

    • spelvin spugg says:

      No, it’s really not rubbish.

      You may very well find that you don’t like it. Try putting it on hardcore, read the FAQ on “winning Minecraft,” then try to win it. The game is hard as fuck.

      It is sort of pointless and I think is ultimately a social activity of sorts. I’ve had hundreds of hours of fun with it… and I sort of don’t like it that well. But it’s a very very good game nonetheless.

  5. OrangyTang says:

    As the author of Tectonicus, can I first say thanks for the mention. :) A small correction though – Tectonicus and Minetographer are two seperate things. Tectonicus is a command line tool that does the actual rendering, and Minetographer is someone else’s GUI tool for it.

    Sadly, Minetographer isn’t being maintained these days, which is why you have to do the funky jar swap dance.

    Tectonicus is still being actively updated though, and I’ve just recently open sourced it ( link to ). Since I’m moving on to new projects I don’t have as much time myself to maintain it any more, so if you’re a programmer type and want to help out then add yourselve to the google code project. Fortuntely sambenedict is also helping out as well so a big thanks to him.

    Oh, and do check out the Tectonicus pages on the minecraft wiki (no link or the spam filter will eat me :( ), since there’s lots of funky extra stuff you can do that Minetographer doesn’t have buttons for.

  6. Neurotic says:

    Read this earlier this afternoon and picked out Custom NPCs. I’ve been playing with it ever since, and I have to say, BRILLIANT.

  7. FriendlyFire says:

    If you don’t mind the more involved installation process, Dynmap is one of the most interesting map generators out there. It generates maps in real time, as they are modified, it shows players on the map, also in real time, it lets players place markers on the map, it has a LOT of configuration options (isometric or top-down rendering, map the Nether and the End, switch between maps, change the texture pack used for rendering, etc.), and it generates very pretty and efficient Google-maps style stuff.

    It’s not as intuitive or simple as most (you need a web server and Bukkit), but it’s most definitely an awesome little plugin.

  8. creakinator says:

    For some reason, I could never get the mods to work for me. I’m pretty techie, but no matter what I did, the mods would not install for me. I found this program: Magic Launcher ( link to ) that solved all of my issues. Now I can play with mods when I want to. I do like the vanilla (no mods) Minecraft. The only mod I use all of the time is Optifine as it helps with the lag issue I have. I can’t tell you how many hours I have used up playing Minecraft. I am not a first person shooter game even thought I played Doom all the way to the end through all of it series, so Minecraft got me back into computer games.

  9. Crius says:

    “If you do, please upload it to Youtube: I’m tired of 90% of Minecraft videos showing you how to install mods: one is enough people!”

    Im the only one who’s tired of video about fantastic postcard scenery that is pretty empty and desolated if you look closely?

    I bought Minecraft when nearly no-one know about it but i feel a little sad about all the potential has been wasted. Meh.

  10. noodlecake says:

    It’s odd that people take jabs at it. Why comment on a genre that you don’t like? I generally don’t like flight simulators, racing games or sports games but I don’t post comments on them saying that they’re rubbish because I can’t get into them.

    Minecraft is the only game like Minecraft. If you don’t like it then you probably won’t like any of the games that come after it that are of the same “genre”. They will be called clones for a while like open world games used to be called GTA clones but eventually people will just accept it as a genre. I know minecraft is loosely based on some ropey unfinished barely a game that someone started before it but I don’t think that the beginnings of a not game really count.

    Obviously there’s Terraria and KAG but they are more about the platforming and combat than the building and play completely differently.

    I think saying that it’s not worth $20 is nuts! I bought Skyrim for about £30 and have put about 55 hours into it and am now bored. £35 for 55 hours of enjoyment is insanely good value! I’ve put at least 80 hours into minecraft and, while I don’t play it that often, the modding community always come up with something that makes me go back to it. I think that most people who do really like minecraft have put in way way more hours than I have.

    It’s not even one of my favourite games but I’m just amazed by the idea of it and what I’ve seen other people do with it. I get much more enjoyment out of a game with a well crafted world and narrative and a unique art style than a game that’s totally open. I enjoyed The Witcher 2 and the Mass Effect series much more than Skyrim or Minecraft.