How Not To Get Lost In Minecraft | Roads, Tunnels and Signs
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A major part of the challenge in Minecraft is exploring and exploiting an ever growing, randomly generated world without forgetting where you left your pants. There are several methods of doing this, I'm going to share the ones I've found most effective. Be aware that some of them are time consuming, but in a game like Minecraft, one really has nothing but time. When survival depends on knowing where you left your stash of swords, being able to get around the world without getting lost becomes vitally important.
The best way not to get lost is to make a compass, however a compass requires steel and redstone, which you may not have at the outset, or indeed, for several minecraft days. A compass can be crafted by putting a piece of redstone dust in the middle of the 3x3 crafting grid and placing steel above it, below it, and to each side of it. I highly recommend you obtain a compass as soon as possible, but if you're redstone deprived, these other hints may help you.
The most simple, and one could say, most effective way of finding your way over short distances is through the use of torches. At present, torches burn forever (though this may change in the future and really ruin people's days). A torch placed on a high landmark provides a very decent way of orienting oneself, especially at night. Unfortunately, night time is fairly dangerous for people who don't like arrows being shot into their chest, so if you can find a better way of getting home, you may as well do that.
Signs serve something of a purpose if you want to leave yourself a bit of a note. In extensive developments, they may help differentiate roads from other roads.
Tunnels and Roads
I like to build a shelter right where I spawn for reasons I have elaborated in other pieces. Put simply, if I die, I don't want to have to start over from the beginning trying to find everything I found before. If you don't build at least a makeshift shelter at the spawn point, then when you die you become extremely vulnerable.
From the first shelter, you will start identifying resources you want to exploit, and places you want to explore. I've decided that the best way to do this on any great scale is to create roads to these places. It's quite easy to build a serviceable road of a kind that is easy to follow and that means you have a quick easy access route, not to mention escape route if things get a bit dangerous. Building tunnels and roads means a fair bit of earth moving, but I personally find it a rather enjoyable task.
Tunnels are easiest in maps with gently undulating terrain that gets in your way and slows you down. A short run through the middle of some earth is better than having to leap your way up and down across grassy hills, and it also provides a solid reference point in terms of knowing where you are.
Creating a road can be as complex as digging up the dirt and laying stone. This is a grand undertaking and probably unnecessary. Roads can be nothing more than consistently flat trails leading from one place to another, or if one is determined to make a special affair out of them, one can craft fences from six sticks placed in the two bottom rows of the 3x3 crafting square to create two fence links.