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

How-To Geek

Lesson 6: Exploring Minecraft Game Modes

Minecraft

So far we’ve installed Minecraft, learned about the biomes, and explored the creatures found within them. Now it’s time to branch out beyond the safety of Creative Mode exploration and learn about all the game modes Minecraft has to offer.

In the first lesson, we spent a fair amount of time highlighting the things that made Minecraft unique with an emphasis on how you can turn Minecraft into the game you want to play based on your own interests.

Game modes play a very large role in helping you shift the emphasis in the game toward whatever outcomes you want. Whether you crave a Zen sandbox to quietly build it, a long distance adventure where you explore the ends of the Earth, or you want to fight to save the world by working you way toward the Ender Dragon, the game mode you select strongly supports your play style. There are four possible game modes: Creative, Survival, Hardcore, and Adventure.

You can select from Creative, Survival, and Hardcore modes from the Create New World screen when generating a new world. You can also choose to switch a game to Creative, Survival, or Adventure from the Open-to-LAN screen, which allows you to share your local game for multiplayer on your local network. Adventure is a specialty mode designed for multiplayer maps and servers. Let’s take a look at each game mode before returning, in the next lesson, to look in depth at Survival Mode.

Creative Mode

Creative Mode is, as its name implies, the game mode with an emphasis on content creation. Unlike other modes of game play, Creative Mode players have infinite access to resources and every craftable item is already available to you in the Creative Mode inventory. You can still craft things, like a pickaxe, if you so desire but there is no need to do so. Imagine if you will that Creative Mode is like having an unlimited tab at a LEGO® store.

You can build, build, and build some more without worrying about the hassle of actually working for the raw materials. If all you want to do is run wild creating things without the grind of actually collecting thousands of resource blocks, this is the mode for you.

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Although access to infinite resources is the primary allure of Creative Mode (making it the perfect mode for those who wish to build to their heart’s content), another huge benefit is that the player is invulnerable and will suffer no damage from falling, from creatures and monsters in the game, from staying under water too long, or from touching lava.

In fact, the only way to die in in Creative Mode is to dig down into “The Void” beneath the bedrock layer of the game (akin to falling into the center of the Earth) or to use the console command /kill [playername] to actually kill the player.

In addition to all the blocks you could ever want and the ability to plummet to the ground without a scratch, there are two other huge perks in Creative Mode. As we learned in the movement section, a simple double tap on the spacebar engages Fly Mode and you can zoom around like a superhero.

Flight is especially handy for exploring quickly and admiring your structures from a better elevation. The second big perk is that blocks break instantly when you click on them (unlike in Survival Mode wherein all blocks require time and/or tools to break down).

Creative players also have access to materials that are completely inaccessible in other game modes such as spawn eggs (which allow players to spawn in-game creatures at will to populate their creations).

Fun Creative Mode trivia: If you want to cut down on accidentally smashing blocks while admiring your creations or exploring, equip a sword. While carrying the sword in Creative Mode the instant-break feature is disabled.

Survival Mode

Survival Mode is the default Minecraft game mode and the mode that most closely resembles a traditional video game experience. The very first versions of Minecraft had no set objectives at all and the game was essentially a pure sandbox experience. As the game evolved, goal-type elements were introduced simply to provide a loose linear structure for players who desired a game-provided goal to work toward.

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In Survival Mode the player is akin to a shipwrecked person or refuge. They’re a stranger in a strange land with no identity or tools. Minecraft has always been purposefully light on a true backstory so feel free to fill in your own explanation for why your character is wherever they find themselves.

The biggest contrast between Survival Mode and Creative Mode is the shift from god-like powers to a distinctly mortal existence. In Survival Mode you do not have access to an on-demand inventory of infinite resources; you must gather resources from the environment around you. Need wood for a ladder? Better start chopping down trees to get it!

Further, you’re subject to physical damage and needs just like you are in real life. You take damage if you fall from a high height. You can drown. Monsters can (and will) attack you. You’re also hungry and need to gather and cook food.

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The on-screen display, seen above, highlights these Survival Mode elements. The hearts indicate the amount of health you have. The little turkey legs/mutton chops indicate your current hunger. The narrow bar separating the quick-access bar and the health/hunger indicators is your experience bar. Many in-game activities like hunting and mining give experience that can be used for later advanced tasks like making enchanted weapons.

The difficulty of Survival Mode can be adjusted via the in-game options menu. By default the game is set to Normal difficulty. You can adjust the difficulty between Peaceful, Easy, Normal, and Hard. The biggest difference is between Peaceful and the other difficulty modes; in Peaceful mode hostile mobs won’t spawn and you never get hungry but you’ll still take fall damage, drown, and get hurt in lava.

Easy, Normal, and Hard all feature hostile mobs and hunger with the only difference between the difficult levels how much damage and how aggressive the mobs are as well as how hunger affects you (in Easy, for example, you will get hungry and need to eat but hunger will never outright kill you whereas in Hard you can die of starvation).

Many players enjoy the challenge that Survival Mode presents and find it more rewarding to build complex structures and developments in Survival Mode. While building a massive castle, for example, is always fun, building it using scaffolding and actually risking falling to your death adds a certain thrill and sense of accomplishment.

The work-in-progress castle complex below, for example, was constructed entirely in survival mode:

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It might lack the flair of more stylized Creative Mode builds, but it’s extremely satisfying to build a big project in Survival Mode and actually have it come together.

If you wished to play Minecraft like a traditional video game with a distinct “end game” goal, here’s a rough outline of what that experience would look like:

You start the game with nothing, placed somewhere on what is known as The Overworld (the traditional map that looks like our world completely with mountains, rivers, grasslands, etc.). You then have to survive on The Overworld by first gathering enough resources to build a simple shelter and make simple tools, and then eventually working your way up to more advanced shelters and tools by, for example, mining resources from the ground beneath you.

Eventually, using advanced enough tools and weapons, you will be able to build a portal to another portion of the game, known as The Nether, which is for all intents and purposes, the Minecraft version of Hell (just as spacious as The Overworld but filled with lava, fire, and underworld type creatures). There you can find even more resources to continue your quest.

Using the resources available only in The Nether, you can continue extending your reach throughout the game realm until you are able to access the final area known as “The End,” which is essentially a sort of purgatory-like place in-and-out of time. There, you’ll find the Ender Dragon who, if you want the game to have a final big boss at the end for you to beat down, is the guy you’re looking for.

If you’re worried about “beating” the game because you don’t want to leave behind all your bases, mines, and hard work, don’t worry. When you slay the Ender Dragon you don’t lose your world. You can return to it and continue playing (only now you’ll have a nice achievement trophy and an enormous amount of experience).

Now, as we’ve emphasized from the beginning, Minecraft is whatever you want to make it. We’ve been playing Minecraft for years and very rarely make getting to The End and confronting the Ender Dragon any sort of priority whatsoever. It’s there if you want the challenge and the linearity, but you can completely ignore it if you couldn’t care less about beating any sort of end boss.

Hardcore Mode

Hardcore mode is well, hardcore. If you’re a veteran gamer you’ve already got a few entries filed away in your old game’o’dex for what hardcore means, but if this is your first time coming across the concept it’s easy to summarize: death is permanent.

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In Survival Mode you can die, but you always “respawn,” either at your original start-of-the-game spawnpoint or in the last bed you’ve slept in.

You lose all your experience, you lose all your gear, and the loot you’re carrying (but if you’re close to your point of death you can run back to grab some of the experience orbs and all of your gear before it vanishes).

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In Hardcore Mode (indicated above by the shading on the health hearts), when you die not only is the game over and you lose all your stuff, but the entire world itself is deleted. There’s no saving your gear, keeping the base you just built, or even keeping the world you were exploring.

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Despite our best efforts to stay alive in the Hardcore Mode game we used for the screenshots in this section, sometimes the best plans fall apart. In the screenshot above we hadn’t actually intended to die (we were playing to stay alive as long as possible) but during a resource gathering expedition away from our initial base we got turned around, the sun set, the monsters came out, and we ended up dying in a mob of them without ever finding our way home.

Many players find Hardcore Mode to be a fun break the total safety of Creative Mode and the relative safety of Survival Mode and use it as a sort of back-to-basics way to test their Minecraft skills. We’ll be the first to tell you that you play the game very conservatively when you have but one life to live.

Note: If you really love your randomly generated Hardcore Mode map and would like to reuse it for a Creative Mode or Survival Mode map you can save it, in a roundabout way. Before you die (and the world is deleted) press the “/” key to pull the in-game console up and enter the command “/seed.” The numerical readout (e.g. “Seed: 2120846590878356”) is essentially the DNA of the map and can be used, as we’ll learn in a later lesson, to recreate the general structure of the map but not to save any progress you’ve made on it.

Adventure Mode

Adventure Mode is designed to allow players to visit a map and roam around within it but without the ability to destroy blocks without using appropriate tools. Think of it as a hybrid between Creative and Survival Modes with an emphasis on creative play (like exploring the map) but without the flexibility of just smashing everything in one click like you can in Creative.

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As such, Adventure Mode is used for adventure servers and adventure maps wherein the creator of the map is trying to create an experience that is dependent upon restricting the player.

For example, if you designed a map to simulate the players being stuck in a spooky mansion or seemingly endless maze, it wouldn’t be much of a thrilling adventure if they could just panic and dig their way right through the bookcase maze with their bare hands.

On a smaller scale, Adventure Mode is useful for letting people explore your creations without worrying about them damaging them. If you’re having trouble with siblings smashing up each other’s creations for example, you could have them showcase their work in adventure mode to cut down on accidental destruction.

You cannot create a new world set in Adventure Mode, but you can toggle the world to Adventure Mode when sharing it with others either via local multiplayer or via server.

Next Lesson: Surviving Your First Night in Survival Mode

Once you’ve put a few dings in your pickaxe, surviving in Survival Mode isn’t quite as intimidating. For a new player however, the first Survival Mode game is usually pretty rough. It’s challenging to get into the rhythm of managing your hunger and health all while fending off the myriad of things in the Minecraft universe that want to eat you.

In the next lesson we’re going to run you through the start of a Survival Mode game to highlight the things you need to do immediately after you find yourself plunked down in the middle of a new map. Starting the first day on the right foot (and surviving the first night as a result) is key to a successful run in Survival Mode.

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 06/16/14