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THE HOW-TO GEEK GUIDE TO MINECRAFT / HOW-TO GEEK SCHOOL

How-To Geek

Lesson 3: Meet the Biomes of Minecraft

Minecraft

In our first Minecraft lesson we learned how to start a simple world and move around it. Today, it’s time to learn about all the cool biomes and terrain you’ll run into while moving around your new world.

One thing we won’t be spending time focusing on in this section (or those that follow) is the raw blocks. Most of the blocks you encounter in Minecraft are pretty self-explanatory, e.g. dirt, stone, wood, water, and mineral ores, and a listing of all the types of inert materials, plants, and simple structures like fence posts would be pretty dry. Instead, we’re going to focus on highlighting the incredibly cool biomes and the creatures found therein.

The Minecraft universe is divided into three distinct dimensions. The dimension you start the game in, a world that looks much like our own with hills, grasslands, swamps, and other Earth-like geography, is known as The Overworld. Many people happily play Minecraft without ever attempting to leave The Overworld.

The second dimension is known as The Nether and is analogous (in appearance, at least) to a sort of Hell like place with lots of lava, stone, and creatures not found in The Overworld. If you are playing Minecraft in a linear get-to-the-end-of-the-game fashion, it’s necessary to work your way toward building a portal to The Nether in order to gather supplies.

The final dimension of Minecraft is known, appropriately enough, as The End. The End is sort of time-out-of-place purgatory where the player encounters the Minecraft equivalent of an End Boss, the Ender Dragon.

Our exploration of the biomes (and our subsequent exploration of the creatures and structures) in Minecraft will be focused on The Overworld both to help familiarize you with the most abundant and common elements of the Minecraft experience and to preserve some of the mystery of the game. If you wish to play Minecraft like a linear adventure game wherein you progress toward the ultimate goal of reaching The End (and exploring The Nether on your way there), we hardly want to spoil the experience for you!

Meet the Biomes

Before we dive into the kinds of creatures you’ll meet in The Overworld, it’s useful to have a basic knowledge of the Minecraft biomes. There are 61 unique biomes, which can be divided into five basic categories where they are found.

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Let’s take a look at the major biome categories and the biomes found therein.

Lush Biomes

For those who have just a passing familiarity with Minecraft, the lush biomes are likely the ones they think of when they envision the game as they feature prominently in game covers, screen shots, and other Minecraft related artwork. It’s the most common place to find the iconic grass-topped-dirt-block that serves as Minecraft’s program icon.

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In the lush biome category you’ll find grassy plains and temperate forests, including variations on those themes like sunflower plains (heavily flowered areas), flower forests (where the ground is virtually carpeted in flowers), and very dense forests where the tree canopies are so tightly linked together they practically make a roof over the forest floor.

The lush biome is also home to swampland that features darker grasses and trees, heavy vine growth, and abundant pockets of water and sand.

The jungles found in the lush biome are like a mix of the features found in the standard forests and the swamp. The foliage is darker, the trees are bigger, and there is much thicker undergrowth with heavy vines. If you’re looking for a place to build a palatial tree fort, the jungle biome works perfectly for the task; jungle trees grow extremely high and are usually draped so thoroughly with vines you can scamper to the top of them with ease.

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Finally, there are the Mushroom Islands, the rarest biome in the Lush Biomes category. A recent introduction to the game, the biome features huge mushrooms (as big as trees), mushrooms that grow in direct light, and are largely devoid of any creatures save for the peculiar Mooshroom Cow.

Snowy Biomes

If you’re craving a bit of winter wonderland, the snow biome should be your destination of choice. The principle feature of the snow biome is snow and ice. In ice biomes the rivers, ponds, and often the water just off the shorelines are frozen over. When there is precipitation it falls as lovely 8-bit snowflakes and piles up on the ground and structures like white carpet. Build a winter cabin getaway here and after the next snowfall you’ll have snow piled up on the roof.

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The snowy biomes are divided primarily into ice plains, which are essentially snow covered grass plains, and equally snowy hills. The cold itself doesn’t affect the player in any way but it does provide a nice change of scenery.

clip_image010 A rare but really pretty variation on the ice plains is ice plains with huge spikes of ice scattered about like large trees (if you find enough of them closely packed together, you can carve out quite an impressive ice fort). The ice spikes are one of the most unique geographic features in the game and we never get tired of stumbling upon them.

The forests in the snow biome are known as Cold Taiga and feature thick and tall tree growth. A common variation of the Cold Taiga includes large hills and mountains with steep elevation changes.

Cold Biomes

Closely related to the Snowy Biomes, the Cold Biomes are Minecraft’s equivalent of the mountain steppes and heavy forests found in Europe and Western Russia.

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There you’ll find extreme hills and mountains, some of which climb right up through the cloud cover. As you can imagine, the cold biomes and their expansive mountain ranges are home to the most frequent and extensive cave systems found in the game. The mountains of the cold biome are also the only place in the game you’ll find emerald ore.

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In the screenshot above you see one of the immediate benefits of the Extreme Hills biome: lots of exposed coal. Coal is the principle fuel used in Minecraft and early in the game gathering enough of it is critical. If you’re lucky enough to start in or near an Extreme Hills biome you can quickly gather a nice little starter pack of coal.

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The cold biome is also home to the Taiga forest systems that include both regular Tiaga forest and Mega Tiaga forest. The trees here are radically taller and bushier than in normal Tiaga forests. Prior to the introduction of this biome in the game the only place to find this volume of raw wood was in the Jungle biome. Stumble upon one of the Mega forests and, just like with the Jungle biome, you’ll never want for wood again.

Additionally, Mega Taiga biomes are the only non-structure location in the game where you can find mossy cobblestone in the form of large mossy “boulders” you can collect. If you want a lot of mossy cobblestone for a building project, you won’t find a higher concentration of it anywhere else in the game.

Dry Biomes

In the previous biomes, there is some sort of precipitation be it heavy or light, rain or snow. In the dry biomes, there is no precipitation to speak of.

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The most natural fit for a dry biome category is of course, the desert. It’s just as dry and barren as you imagine, and you won’t find any animals wandering around like you will in the other biomes (but hostile creatures will come out at night, so you still need to take shelter at dusk). There’s sand, sand, and more sand, with cacti spattered about the map. The only variation is hills, essentially giant sand dunes that break up the plains-like smoothness of the desert.

Although the desserts are quite barren in terms of plant and animal life, they have hidden gems: both villages and dessert temples can appear here. We’ll explore those worth-seeking-out structures in a later lesson.

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The savannah is closely equivalent to the grasslands of Africa. It’s a wide open space, lots of grass, sparse Acacia trees, and no rainfall. Like many other biomes, the savannah is a combination of plains and hills.

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The mesa biome is a recent addition to the game and features sweeping canyons and high mesas very similar to those found in the Southwest region of the United States. Mesa biomes are rather rare in the game so if you find one, we’d definitely suggest making a side trip of exploring it and enjoying the views.

Mesa biomes are also the most abundant source of clay in the game, so if you need clay for one of your projects you’ll definitely want note the coordinates and return to set up a quarry. Without access to a mesa to quarry your clay, you’ll be left scraping it, bit by bit, out of river beds.

The plateau biome is a hybrid of the savannah and mesa biomes. It has cropped flat-top hills like a mesa, but grass and sparse trees like the plains of the savannah.

Ocean Biomes

Many Minecraft maps have huge expanses of oceans, areas of water that can extend 2-3,000 blocks across. The ocean biomes come in two flavors, difficult to tell apart at first glance: regular ocean (with a depth of 15 blocks or so) and deep ocean (depths exceed 30 blocks).

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The regular ocean biome has topography similar to a grass plain, but the deep ocean biome has sweeping changes in elevation more like the mountain biomes found on land. Throughout both ocean biomes you can find small islands with sparse vegetation and small sand beaches.

There are larger islands scattered about on most maps that feature large bodies of water, but most islands bigger than a chunk or two take on their own biome characteristic, e.g. you’ll find islands with a savannah micro climate or, if you’re really lucky, a Mooshroom Island biome.

Identifying the Biome

While some biomes are unmistakable (no one wandering through the ice spikes would mistake it for a savannah), sometimes it’s a bit trickier to tell what the biome is. You can happily play the game never caring about the technical names for the biomes you’re in, but if you’re curious you can find the information you crave in the debug menu.

Remember the F3 trick from the previous lesson? Press F3 to pull up the debug menu and then look under the coordinate/direction information (second line from the bottom):

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There you’ll find the b: (some biome name), indicating what biome (or its variant) you’re currently in. The biome readout will either be the greater biome you’re in, e.g. Swampland, as seen above, or if you’re standing directly over a geographic feature that is considered its own biome, e.g. River or Beach, you’ll see a readout for that specific sub-biome feature until you move off of it and back onto the host biome.

The biome readout is the same for the coordinates you’re standing on, whether you’re all the way up in the sky or standing on the bedrock in a cave. In this regard, the biome readout can be a handy “cheat” to employ if you’re contemplating digging up to escape a cave you’re lost in (digging straight up into an ocean biome would result in a flooded cavern and a potential drowning).

Next Lesson: Exploring Minecraft’s Structures

Now that you’ve taken in an overview of the diverse biomes found in Minecraft, it’s time we turn our attention to the structures found within them. Tomorrow we’ll explore villages, dungeons, and everything in between.

For homework, set off on a hike across your Minecraft world in search of new biomes. Admire everything you find but make it a goal to come across at least one of the more rare biomes (such as the Ice Spike Plains, Mega Taiga Forest, Mesa, and Mooshroom Island); you’ll be surprised at how satisfying it is to find one of the unique biomes.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 06/11/14