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.