Minecraft and Bringing Light to Dark Places

How many torches do you actually need in Minecraft?  More than you actually have I am sure.

I mentioned my friend Xyd and his castle last time around.

Xyd's castle at night

Xyd’s castle at night

It fairly glows with the amount of lighting he has in and around the thing, to the point that when my daughter and I were wandering through it exploring, she asked me if I had been putting down extra torches.  I had to assure her that this was not some aspect of her father’s mania, that somebody else had put down all of those torches.

She tends to be rather conservative in her torch usage, while I tend to throw them around more liberally.  This is why I stop and dig out every coal vein I run across… must make more torches.

Or at least my torch usage feels profligate.  But it has mostly involved mining.  And down under ground, where space is restricted, it is pretty easy to get a feel for how much is enough.  Narrow passages and such mean it is easy to spot those dark patches where zombies and their ilk may spawn once the sun goes down.

Secret underground mining facility

Actually needs a few more torches…

But in different sorts of spaces… well, I would have to learn.

I finished up my first run at a castle.  It is three stories tall, with roof access, a tower at each of the front two corners and a wider, keep-like tower in the back.  The walls are all cobblestone, but I felt the need to refine a lot of that material back to stone for the flooring of the first two floors.  The third floor is all oak wood, and the roof above that is back to cobblestone because it is an exterior surface… and I got tired of using my coal to refine cobblestone.

A castle in the distance

A castle in the distance

The roofline is visible because I did that in granite around the perimeter… mostly because I had a ton of granite I wasn’t using.  That turned out to be a useful thing in that, when running up the ladders in the towers, the line of granite serves as a very visual marker of when I reach the roof.

So basic structure complete.  Now what to do with all that floor space?

I know, kill all the freaking monsters that spawn in it!

I found that, once I had roofed everything over, I had essentially made my own series of dark spaces where zombies and skeletons and spiders and such would spawn once the sun went down.  And, of course, once they spawn inside, the are also shaded from the sun, so they don’t burst into flames when daylight comes.  One of the joys of the game is to wake up every morning and look out of the window to watch the burning zombies on the front lawn… and that one skeleton that is always smart enough to jump in the pond out there and just hang out.

Skeletons are wily.  I find them in the middle of the day under the shade of trees.  You can see that causeway I built between the castle and our original house.  It runs straight along the east-west line, so the underneath is always shaded.  Skeletons like to linger under there during the daylight hours as well, sniping at me with their bows when ever I come within range.

Less amusing than the flaming zombies is the sound of one inside the castle.

Just because a spot is dark enough doesn’t mean something will always spawn there, but it seems like something will eventually spawn there.  So the open area outside my workroom, behind the stairs, and next to the shaft down to the mines, seemed to pop something nasty every so often.

I had started with torches around the walls, but that wasn’t enough.  I tried to make something of a torch light fixture on the ceiling to add more light, but still got a spawn now and again.  Eventually I said, “screw it” and just threw down torches where ever I saw a dark shadow.

Spawn now, come on!

Spawn now, come on!

And I am still not sure if that will be enough, but it has kept spawns at bay for now.  I’m mostly just happy that only one creeper has spawned inside so far, and I managed to kill him before he exploded.

Meanwhile, deep under ground, the mining continues to expand.  I originally dug down to level 12 and started on a series of horizontal shafts running along the north-south axis, branching out from a large, well lit, main room.  However, in both directions I ended up running into fairly large pools of lava as I started running shafts further east.  Eventually I used the western most shafts and started digging that direction, every three blocks, to satisfy my thirst for ore.  And I have been suitably rewarded.

Diamond's are Steve's best friend

Diamond’s are Steve’s best friend

I have found enough diamonds to have some set aside for future use, gold sufficient for current projects, enough iron ore for projects as well as keeping ahead of the constant tool making consumption curve, and more redstone than I will likely ever use.  I am about to fill up a full double chest with my accumulated redstone.

Of course, not every bit of ore has been easy to get, and I still run into lava pools in my current direction.

I got those diamonds, but I did so very carefully

I got those diamonds, but I did so very carefully

More interesting have been the wide, open spaces that I run into now and again.  From an effort/reward point of view, those are quite lucrative as I often just see veins of ore there on the walls, ready for the taking.  The downside is that it generally becomes an underground cathedral of torches as I try to keep the place from becoming a zombie mosh pit.

At some point we may pick up and move to a new location… I’ve seen a couple square kilometers in a world that is effectively limitless in size, so exploration is a thing to come… at which point I will be tempted to run down into the mines and collect up all those torches I have planted,  backing out of each shaft as I harvest them, and then plugging them up.  I suspect I would have quite a pile.

Meanwhile, back on the surface, with the castle done, I started working on some related items.  There was the causeway to the house, the flattening of the front yard and the removal of the hills from the back.  I cut back some of the woods around the castle, both to deny skeletons cover from which to snipe and to have enough wood to eventually fence things in a bit.

And then I built myself an automatic sugar cane harvesting system on the castle roof.

Of course, this was not at all my own design.  I went to the internet to look for ways to accomplish this.  The first video I tried on YouTube looked good, however it turned out to be a few years out of date and the design wouldn’t work with Minecraft 1.8.x.  Of course, I only figured that after I had built the whole thing.

I had more luck with the second video I found promising an “easy” automated sugar cane harvesting system.  I was able to create it and… once I actually duplicated the redstone system correctly… I had a block out of place… it actually worked.

Automated Sugar Cane farm

Automated Sugar Cane farm

The hard part was actually getting the parts.  You need sticky pistons which need slimeballs to create, which means finding slime, which only spawns in the swamp biomes and blah blah blah.

So I spent about a day (real world day, not in-game) camped in a swamp trying to find slimes.  And then I started looking up how to find slimes and found a video about how to discover where they will spawn and then spent another day killing enough to get the the necessary slimeballs and then trek back to the castle to build my sticky pistons… and was so totally focused on that whole thing that I didn’t even take a screen shot… or write down the coordinates… so I hope I don’t need any more slimeballs soon.

Anyway, I got my 28 sticky pistons which, in hindsight, watching this system work, is probably twice as many as really necessary.  The whole thing triggers when the sugar cane on the far right gets three blocks high, triggering the whole array to knock down all but the base row.  But I am pretty sure it would work with a single row of pistons just knocking everything down when that first sugar cane got two high instead.

Whatever, I was just happy to make it work and can refine things later.

The one change up I did make was to use the collection system from the first video, which involved a stream of water which dumps all the harvested sugar cane through a hole in the floor into a hopper on the third floor of the castle, which then deposits it into a double trunk.

I will say it was a bit challenging to build the second story on the farm.  The design can be extended horizontally or vertically, but the space on the roof and my use of the water delivery method limited how wide it could be, so I had to go for the vertical.  Having built the whole thing close to the edge meant that my construction scaffolding put me over the edge of the castle roof, facing a 4+ story fall to my certain death if I went over.  That will help you focus.

My goal in all of this was to have ample sugar and to be able to make paper to trade to the villagers in the village we came across back during our further exploration phase.  Though I have to go back and find it.  It is sort of south-east-ish… I think.  Time to explore again.  And maybe build a road.

Meanwhile I also started looking into hosting services to put the world online so the instance group or other friends could join in if they wanted.  There has been some mild interest in that regard.  I will say that the number of such hosting services shows just how popular Minecraft really is.  And exploring that brought up the whole “which server type?” question.  Vanilla Minecraft is the default, but there are other options out there, the most popular… based on what I have seen… being Spigot, which claims better performance, memory management, and finer control over world parameters, and Bukkit, which offers a huge range of ready-to-go mods.  Or such is my take-away.  So the question isn’t just who has the best price and where their data center is location, but also what server type to run.

And such is the state of affairs for us in Minecraft.

12 thoughts on “Minecraft and Bringing Light to Dark Places

  1. Talarian

    I never really got around to making an automated harvesting machine (on my list!), but automated smelters are amazing. A couple hoppers, 3 chests, and a forge. Dump materials in the top chests and then go do other things while it bakes.

    Pretty much how I turned my cobble into stone. Go mine, get like 14 stacks of cable and a couple stacks of coal, dump them in the smelters, go back down again. By the time I came up with the next batch of materials the first batch would be nearly done. No way I could go back to manual smelting after that.

    And you’re not alone with the torches everywhere. I’m fanatical in how many I lay down. I also generally use them as a beacon for areas that have already been explored underground, because I’m super forgetful about what I’ve already checked out.


  2. MasterpieceMaker

    This is a really great post you have here! I try to conserve torches, so if you ever come into my mine, you’d see a few dark spots with a torch up ahead. I mine coal only when I find it while mining–if it’s on the hills across the ocean I see all the time, I leave it be. However, I do use torches sometimes in an aesthetically pleasing way, such as over and beside my door, on a “chandelier” in my small house’s first floor, etc. It was nice hearing your opinion on their use, though. Well done on the sugar cane farm! :)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. TheGreatYak

    Learn about making maps. Make a zoom 3 or zoom 4 map and wander around with it in hand to fill it out. Also throw a couple of copies into frames on a wall somewhere. You’ll get a nice sense of the lay of the land from that, it really brings a sense of space to your habitat and opens up other ideas for roads, rail lines, or waterways.

    For alternate lighting arrangement, go harvest a few stacks of netherrack. They make great bonfires or tiki torches.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. TheGreatYak

    The game has some behaviors with how it keeps a “chunk” of map “loaded”, and what needs to have a player in the chunk (or adjacent) vs. what continues working as long as the chunk is loaded. You’ll notice this if you travel in game much, you’ll come back to crops that haven’t grown.


  5. Tomalie

    Also carry a bucket of water with you or two. When you get down low mining you can dig a 3 block trench, but water in both sides, and refill your buckets from center. Water will let you cool lava for getting around, and toss it above you when ya fall in to put you out.


  6. Knug

    Just out of curiosity, did you build your castle under normal combat settings? i.e. were the zombies chasing you while you were trying to construct? This is the usual fun I have, where I don’t have time to place torches while working at heights trying to place sandstone arches 3 or 4 stories in the air and being chased by spiders and creepers.


  7. Whorhay

    I always carry a bucket of water when exploring and mining underground. When you find lava that you want to cross just place the water such that it falls onto or across the lava. It’ll form obsidian so you can just pick your water back up and walk on the obsidian without danger.

    I’m liberal with torches, died too many times from creepers spawning behind me in tunnels I thought were safe.

    The best way I’ve found to keep mobs from spawning in my structures is to make the floor out of halfslabs. Simply place the half slab in the bottom half of the block space and mobs won’t spawn on top of it because it’s transparent. It isn’t a perfect solution but lets you get away without having to smother your living space in torches.


  8. mikeazariah

    Darn, I was almost cold turkey from Minecraft when I read this and thought . . . I should start up again.
    Now my wife is looking over disapprovingly as I expand my mining operation


  9. Telke

    With the right equipment (Silk Touch enchantment, I believe it’s called) you can mine the Glowstone in the nether and use that in the walls and floor. It’s got a quite good glow to it and doesn’t stick out the same way torches do.


  10. Fenjay

    Reading this, I was feeling smug, thinking about the new house I just built and hadn’t had any mob problems with yet. Then, as I was showing the house off to my wife, a creeper comes down my staircase…

    I managed to kill it before it detonated, but it shows that I apparently have some overly dark areas also.


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  12. .xyd

    Congrats on the sugar cane mining operation! Great redstone mechanism to help learn all the strange ways redstone works (and doesn’t).

    The “carry a bucket of water” tips above are great advice, kinda like carrying a flint & steel into the nether: never leave home without it! You can also tell I’m a torch liberal. While mining I always place torches on my right side facing away from my main shaft. (Well, I _try_ to do that.) Also, lava is a light source. Grab some with a bucket and you can light up your home with some style. Just don’t place it near wood. :-) A bucket of lava can also power an oven for a long time.

    One more tip in the form of a quest, of sorts. You’ll notice a lack of torches in my main inventory aisle yet the entire aisle is well lit. Why?


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