Mapping the infinite world of Minecraft

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Minecraft is pretty much the only game I play anymore. Sure, I can spend wait time playing games on my phone but when it comes to investment, Minecraft stands alone. I’ve written about my love of Minecraft here before and thanks to regular updates – like the one that came out this week – Minecraft will continue to suck up my gaming time and resources, both in and outside of the game.

Video game cartography

Earlier this year I wrote about gaming life before the time when you could just look up answers online. It was a time when extras like maps were not a commodity and cherished tools of the trade. Now things are different but games like Minecraft still bring a lot of that old school excitement because worlds/levels are randomly generated. There’s not going to be a map out there for you to find because each experience will be different. This is exactly what gaming needs to continue to be interesting. More and more games have been taking the randomness approach and it works. Lazy people might hate it but players that love to invest more than just “controller time” into the game (like me) can’t get enough.

Minecraft gives in-game mapping ability. You get some paper, combine it with a compass and boom, you have a map. As you walk around your world the map exposes more and more of itself until you have a complete section of map. Given that a world in Minecraft is near-infinite, each map you make in the game is only a tiny fraction of what’s out there to explore but it’s most surely a wonderful tool that is fun to create as much as it is in helping you find your way. But recently I started look beyond the game to help get my Minecraft mapping under control.

In-games maps look wonderfully old school but are a patchwork quilt of work

In-games maps look wonderfully old school but are a patchwork quilt of work

Despite in-game maps having defined sizes and limits (simple math would guide you), I always felt like my maps were lacking. Wandering to fill out your map is a great way to go beyond your “safe zones” and see what’s around you, but without simple abilities like marking waypoints or landmarks a map eventually ends up just being wall art. So to help fill what I felt was a void in my maps, I looked to outside tools to improve my experience. I found two programs that do a great job at showing you your world as a whole without all the effort of exploring.

Wait, isn’t exploring is the whole point of Minecraft!!

Exploration is 90% of Minecraft and that doesn’t change because the programs you use can only show you where you’ve been. It won’t show you anything that you haven’t seen. So why not just make your own in-game maps? Well, to be honest, this is just easier, prettier and more useful. The maps you generate on your own can show where landmarks and resources you maybe missed are located, which helps injects some new excitement into your game. It’s easy to get bored in Minecraft so you keep on moving but there is so much stuff to do and find in every tiny region of the game that without nice maps it just ends up being an exercise in monotony. Plus, just because you know where things are doesn’t mean you can get there or do so easily. A map doesn’t eliminate the need for battle, resource gathering or inventory management. But enough excuses…bottomline is you’re going to either want these awesome maps or not, so here’s what I’ve found.

Minecraft Overviewer

Minecraft Overviewer seems to be the big boy in the small market of Minecraft mapping programs. It’s big, it’s beefy and it spits out some really nice maps. Minecraft Overviewer looks are your world and generates a web-based map that you can navigate exactly like Google Maps…actually, it uses Google Maps to function. As is such, you get a very detailed map of your world down to the individual block types and it’s a lot of fun to explore and play with.

Minecraft Overview gives you a lot to look at but takes a lot of work to configure

Minecraft Overview gives you a lot to look at but takes a lot of work to configure

Minecraft Overviewer is also very configurable almost to a fault. The program is pretty easy to get running and have it spit out a basic, useable map but if you want to get more detailed and have the map show you caves, minerals and highlight other features it will take some time to figure out. The program has some really good documentation but the lack of a nice interface to guide you will likely become a frustration point for many users – I myself have raged quit a few times when trying to get things just right.

Minecraft Overview tries to be everything to everyone and many times that can be a huge disadvantage. Of course, if you can wrangle the program then you’ll be able to make it dance and spin to create some incredible maps of your world. Just be warned that if your world is big that it can take some time for the program to do its things, and the resulting web maps can be pretty big. Just as a case study, when I had Minecraft Overview chew on my world, the resulting map files were more than 6GB…so yeah, things can get big very fast.

Unmined

If you’re not looking for finely detailed maps of your world and want to retain more of the fun in exploration and digging, then Unmined might be a better option…it’s certainly an easier program to use.

Like Minecraft Overview, Unmined will only generate maps for the places you’ve explored, but unlike the other, Unmined only gives you a topographical map so it’s very much like the in-game maps you make but a little more detailed and all connected together. You can zoom in and out of your map to see land formations and surface features like villages, pits, etc. and you can save it all as an image file so you can post it on your web site or whatever. It’s pretty basic but incredibly handy and that’s where Unmined shines.

Unmined's topographical maps save you a lot of time without giving too much away

Unmined’s topographical maps save you a lot of time without giving too much away

Unmined is also a lot easier to use as it is a more typical of other programs you’d run on your PC. It has menus to guide you and a few filters that you can use to turn off certain map features like vegetation, water depth and other things. All you need to do is point Unmined at your Minecraft world file and it’ll do the rest. Just sit back and watch it render your map, then save it and you’re done.

Despite Minecraft Overviewer having more bells and whistles, I’ve found myself using Unmined more just because it’s quicker to navigate and for the most part I’m just wanting to see which direction to go to get from Point A to Point B and maybe stop by a village or cave I missed along the way. I just want maps to point me in the direction of a challenge, I can do all the rest myself. Discovery is the name of the game when it comes to Minecraft and that’s how I like it.

Enhance your experience, don’t ruin it

Old school game maps did a lot to show you where all the secrets in a game were located. Which blocks to push to reveal secrets or which blocks to break to get a special item, and for many of those old games that was fine because the overall goal was to just get to the end of the game. Games like Minecraft are quite a bit different…it’s not about the end of the game, it’s about playing the game and everything inbetween. Having all the answers in Minecraft doesn’t really get you anything because the game is what you make it. For me, having a map of my world changes my experience and makes things more fun and challenging. For you that might be a little different.

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About Author

Brian is a staff writer at TMA. He races Hot Wheels at RedlineDerby.com while watching cartoons with his kid. You can follow @morningtoast on Twitter.

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