Minecraft Mod Examination: Wild Caves
As any Minecraft player knows, exploring caves is an important part of the experience. They provide quick access to minerals, are a fun place to fight monsters in, and occasionally there are even dungeons full of rare items hidden within. But they are also rather drab in normal Minecraft, with almost no features beyond basic stone, ores, and occasional bits of lava to give them variety. Furthermore, there are no differences between biomes when under the ground, and a cave in the arctic will look identical to one beneath a desert. While there are some mods that attempt to solve this, many do so in ways that add a lot of pressure to the game's world-generation, which in larger modpacks is often already quite strained. Thankfully, there is an older mod known as Wild Caves that adds a lot of spice to the underground experience, with very little lag.
Wild Caves does this by adding a large number of mostly decorative items to the underground, such as stalagmites, stalactites, cobwebs, and several other objects that work together to make caves much more interesting places to explore. While the primary purpose of most of these items is decorative, many of them can actually be somewhat useful too. For instance, lava is no longer the only source of natural lighting underground, players can now find several types glowing mushrooms when exploring the deep places of the earth. Those mushrooms can be smashed to collect a tiny amount of glowstone dust, giving players a way to gather small quantities of that material without the need to travel to the Nether. The stalagmites are also useful, and if harvested with a silk-touch pick they can be picked up and taken elsewhere to be used as reasonably effective spike-traps. Vines now grow in damp caves such as those underneath jungles, and can sometimes provide quick access to hard-to-reach tunnels or cause fires if near enough to lava. There are also new ore-like fossil nodes that the player can mine, giving them bones, skulls, and occasionally one or two very old arrows. And if any of these items or their abilities bothers you, you can disable almost all of them in the configuration file.
Biome diversity is also a big part of the mod, and now you can sometimes tell when you have stepped between two different biome types. Caves are split into four basic classifications: wet, humid, arid, and frozen, and will adjust the tunnel systems based on those four types. Arid caves are the type found in deserts, and will have a large amount of sandstone embedded in the walls, and much less water will be generated there than in other locations. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the frozen type of caves, which are now covered in ice and look rather pretty, even though they can be rather frustrating to walk or mine in. Humid caves are the type spread underneath jungle and swamp biomes, and tend to have a larger number of vines growing throughout their tunnels. And finally, wet caves are the type that generates underneath oceans, and unsurprisingly have many more water sources than the rest of the tunnels.
But Wild Caves has one issue that, while is not likely to discourage a player from using it, might still bother a player from time to time. The current version is a direct port of a Minecraft version 1.6.4 mod, and so has not been fully updated to cover all of the new biomes correctly. Instead those biomes will be given a generic template which includes vines, rock formations, cobwebs, and glowshrooms, but none of the new cold biomes will have ice caves, dark forests lack swamp-like features, and deep ocean caves do not seem to possess any more water than normal cave systems. Biome-adding mods are also treated the same way, and so while Wild Caves won't be able to drastically improve them, it is still able to improve their caves by a small amount while being unlikely to conflict with anything.
While it can certainly be said that this mod will not change too much about how the player enjoys Minecraft, it is hard to think of a reason to skip it. It adds several nice details that brightens up the game's normally drab tunnels, gives biome-diversity to the caves, and gives the player a few new ways to gather troublesome resources such as skulls or glowstone. Beyond that it can be tweaked to the players liking, and works well with most, if not all, biome mods. So whether you spend all of your time underground or just dip down for the occasional mining expedition, there really is no reason not to use Wild Caves.