Time for something a little different. Unlike the games covered in the other modding guides to date (Skyrim, FO3, and FO:NV), Minecraft is not an open-world Bethesda game. Minecraft comes with a huge amount of promise, with procedurally generated, essentially infinite, open-worlds. You can explore different biomes, fight monsters, build elaborate buildings, or create intricate redstone powered machines. Unfortunately, Minecraft begins to run into problems the longer people play it.
What problems? The combat is bland and has some serious issues (few monsters, basic weapons, and weird scaling for armor), the biomes eventually become stale (though with the 1.7 update, there are now 61 biomes but that includes sub-biomes like beaches and rivers), redstone is extremely powerful but also has some unfortunate limits, and the building materials (while growing) also are limited.
Luckily, Minecraft also has one of the best modding communities out there so you can remedy almost any problem you come across! I will try and touch on the best mods under each of the areas I talked about above (exploration, combat, building, and redpower) with some mods focused on questing and some texture packs for good measure.
Unlike FO3, FO:NV, and TES games, Minecraft also tends not to crash when a huge number of mods are installed. It just becomes unplayable before that happens as almost every mod you install will decrease your performance, at least a little bit. The larger and more complex the mod, the greater the performance hit.
Important Note About Installing Mods:
First, if you begin to mod your game, you have to be prepared to not be able to update the game to the newest version. Mods take time to upgrade, with the amount of time depending on the number of changes to the code. For example, the 1.7 update in late 2013 that added a huge number of biomes and rewrote large amounts of code took months for most mods to update; there are even some mods that have still not updated, or at least have not fully updated.
Unlike with the Bethesda games mentioned earlier, Minecraft does not have the same number of problems that FO and TES games have. It will still crash if you keep piling more mods on top of one another and mods can conflict (sometimes easily remedied, sometimes impossible to remedy without the mod author changing something). The main thing to remember is, the crash report is your friend. It will help you to figure out most of your problems. As always though, you should check the compatibility information that the mod author provides, as this will let you determine which mods you want.
If you plan to make a mod pack to distribute, keep in mind that some mod authors require you to get permission to include their mods and some forbid it outright. Check for a permissions/disclaimer section of the post before using it.
Necessary Tools/Useful Sites:
There really aren't any things that are 100% necessary for every mod, except for the base game. However, there are 2 modding APIs and the majority of mods will require one or the other.
- Minecraft Forge: This modding API replaced modloader (and is backwards compatible with it). It is currently the most popular modding API, with good support for client and server side mods. In fact, most of the mods I am going to highlight will require that you install minecraft forge (download the latest version's installer for the version of minecraft you want and run it).
- Bukkit: A powerful server-side modding API. I've never used Bukkit and Bukkit plugins, so this guide will focus on Forge mods.
- Minecraftforum.net: If a mod exists, there is a good chance that it is on this site. The forums are run by Curse and they also host a large number of mods, bukkit plugins, and texture packs.
One of the best things about Minecraft are the numerous mod packs available. These are great tools for people to easily download a set of mods with a specific theme or just a selection of some of the best mods available. The launchers are particularly useful as they require almost no setup whatsoever.
- Feed the Beast (FTB): This mod launcher contains a large number of mod packs that are available for download. These mod packs collect some of the highest quality and most interesting mods available. I use FTB with a couple mods added that I particularly enjoy. Just choose the mod pack you want, download it, and play! Keep in mind that if you update any of the config files in the mod pack, if a new version of the modpack comes out it will overwrite your changes.
- Technic: A mod launcher that has lost a bit of popularity in the past few years. Still has a good collection of modpacks you can download.
For other mod packs, you will need to search for them or create them yourself. There are so many there is no way I can come close to covering them all.
There are a few mods that add more to explore in the game. These include more biomes and structures. They help the world feel a bit more alive.
- Biomes O' Plenty (BoP): This mod adds 80 new biomes and 12 new sub-biomes to the game and also attempts to correct some of the problems with vanilla world generation. With the biome changes come a large number of new blocks including wood, stone, dirt, plants, and more. If you want more biomes to explore, this is the mod to get. It also includes config files so you can choose which biomes you want and how large you want the biomes to be among a couple other options. This is the biome mod that I happen to use.
- Alternate Terrain Generation (ATG): Similar to Biomes O' Plenty. Adds biomes with more of a focus on improving generation instead of focusing on adding more biomes. It actually is compatible with BoP, though there can be some issues with generation (particularly in the nether).
- Better World Generation (BWG): Again, modifies world generation. This time with some options to generate the world with different options, including the ability to have beta world generation with the latest mods.
- Shipwrecks!: I have to plug my own mod here (I promise, I wouldn't do it if I didn't think it was good enough!). Minecraft really shows no love to the oceans (actually with the next update they do! New underwater mob and ruins!). I decided to make a reason to explore underwater and on beaches. The mod currently adds 5 shipwrecks with various levels of damage, a diving suit, and Piranhas that swim in schools (and spawn near the larger shipwrecks). Oh, and did I mention treasure?
These mods expand on the redstone machines available in Minecraft and add new machines that allow for intricate machines that you can also use for mass production and automation.
- Thermal Expansion: Adds a lot of machines for energy production and material production as well as liquid storage and transport. The energy system used in TE is very good, and has pretty much taken over as the dominant system for mods, with the majority of mods adding compatibility with TE energy.
- Project Red: Redpower 2 used to be the go to mod for machines that allowed for greater automation. This mod has painstakingly recreated Redpower 2 when the mod author ceased updating the mod. It also adds the ability to cut blocks into various shapes so you can build with greater flexibility and adds volcanoes and marble caves. Very useful for moving items around through pipes.
- Buildcraft 3: A great mod that adds autocrafting, mining machines, building machines, and logic gates for transport pipes added by the mod.
- ComputerCraft: Computers in Minecraft. Adds a large number of tools to the game, though they will require that you code some to make them work (though you can download code that others have written). Also adds turtles, mobile computers that can perform various tasks.
- Factorization: Adds numerous object to improve automation. My favorite addition from this mod are barrels, which can store a huge number of stacks of a single item/block. Though I haven't gotten far into the autocrafting capabilities of the mod.
- IndustrialCraft 2: A wide variety of new features including resource production, mining tools (e.g. mining lasers), armor, and more. Want a nuclear reactor or nuclear weapons? This mod can provide you with them.
- Modular Force Field System (MFFS): Powerful forcefields that require power and can be upgraded in numerous ways. Quite a bit of fun.
- Wireless Redstone Chicken Bones Edition: Transmit redstone across distances with transmitters and receivers. You can also control switches with a wireless transmitter.
These mods expand on the number of available minecarts, as well as giving new rails and new ways to build the rails.
- Railcraft: Adds new carts, the ability to link carts, new types of rails, new ways to craft rails (takes longer and is more complex but produces more rails for the material used). Also adds large multiblock storage tanks that are very useful.
- Steve's Carts: Modular carts. Build carts to perform numerous tasks. I've used it to create an auto-harvesting and planting tree cart that runs on coal and solar power for example.
- Traincraft: Adds a large number of trains and wagons. If you actually want to build a railroad, this is your mod.
Minecraft's UI is pretty good overall, these mods just add some useful features, particularly when you start to get a lot of new mods.
- Not Enough Items: Once you start adding more and more mods that add large numbers of craftable items and blocks with complex recipes, NEI becomes a necessity. This will allow you to search items by name and mod and allow you to see the recipe for it. Also useful in creative mode as the list is easier to navigate than the default creative tabs when you want to give yourself items. This mod also requires you install the CodeChickenCore mod (on the same page).
- Inventory Tweaks: This mod can sort your inventory and chests, allows you to move all of a specific type of block from your inventory to a chest (or vice verse) or move the entire inventory at once. It also will automatically replace your tools with the same version when they break. A fantastic mod.
- Minimaps: These mods add maps to Minecraft, usually with various customizations and overlays (e.g. slime chunks). REI's Minimap is a good one and so is VoxelMap.
These mods add new worlds to visit that usually require some sort of ritual to create a portal to them. If you want new, unique worlds like the Nether or the End, these are perfect for you.
- Twilight Forest: Create a portal in the ground and step through it to enter the Twilight Forest. This world has new bosses, animals, mobs, structures, terrain, and loot. There is a lot to find in this new fantasy world.
- MystCraft: If you've ever played any of the Myst games, you know about linking and descriptive books. MystCraft adds the ability to travel to new ages with linking books. It also adds the ability to craft custom ages (entirely new dimensions) with your own parameters. Careful though! Incomplete world descriptions or worlds that are too complex will be unstable and either produce negative effects (blindness, mining fatigue, meteors, etc) and they can begin to collapse, slowly corrupting blocks and destroying the world. Also, don't forget to bring a linking book home or you can find yourself trapped! This is also great for players who want to stip mine an area without destroying the beauty of their main world.
- Galacticraft: Want to travel to the moon or mars? Craft a spaceship and blast off to a new world. Don't forget your spacesuit though! There is no air in space after all!
- The Lord of the Rings: Want to go hang out in Middle Earth? Craft your gold ring, throw it into fire, and jump through the portal! This mod adds different biomes and creatures based on J.R.R. Tolkein's work. New weapons, armor, and a faction and alignment system that allows you to befriend different races and hire mercenaries to help you fight.
- Aether: Currently Aether 2. This mod adds a sky dimension with floating islands, new mobs, new resources, and new things to explore. Unfortunately, it is still in an alpha and quite buggy. The original Aether mod ceased development a few years ago. I mention this more because it is such an interesting mod that is worth keeping an eye on.
Useful Items/New Crafting:
These mods expand the crafting and items in the game without the focus on energy powered items (though Forestry does use a lot of energy at the later stages).
- Forestry: Beekeeping, crossbreeding trees to make new variants, backpacks, and farming (among a few other things) are possible with this mod. Great mod if you are interested in making farming more complicated and rewarding. Rare bees that slowly produce emeralds? Yes please! Don't worry, getting those rare bees will require multiple generations of crossbreeding bee types, it's not gamebreaking.
- Tinkers Construct: Customize your tools. Set up is complicated, but once you are prepared, you can start producing extremely customizable weapons and tools (add moss to auto-repair your tools, or a lot of lapis lazuli to add a fortune enchant). One of the best things from the mod is that weapons will have different effects, so you can craft swords that cause you to lunge forward and attack when right clicking instead of just blocking.
- Iron Chest: Transform wooden chests into iron, copper and silver (if you have them from other mods), gold, diamond, and crystal chests. These chests will greatly increase your storage density while still costing enough to prevent rapid upgrading (each tier takes 8 of the material, e.g. a diamond chest takes 8 diamonds and a gold chest, or a gold bar if you want to create a gold to diamond upgrade item). As you begin to install more mods, this becomes a necessity as you end up with a huge number of new items.
- BiblioCraft: Bookcases, armor stands, weapon racks, chairs, item shelves, and more. This mod adds a lot of furniture to allow you to organize your items while still having them visible.
These mods add magical machines and items to the game.
- Thaumcraft: Thaumcraft is amazing. It adds a huge number of magic based tools, items, armor, creatures, resources, and recipes that also need to be discovered using an engaging puzzle based research system. It's a large mod and very high quality.
- Ars Magica 2: Also adds magical spells, monsters, bosses, items, and machines to the game.
New Creatures and Plants:
These mods expand the flora and fauna of Minecraft.
- Natura: From the same mod author as Tinker's Construct. Adds a couple of plants, trees, and mobs to the game. Gives it a little more life without overloading the game.
- Mo Creatures: Adds a massive number of creatures to the game. If you want a lot more monsters to fight and a lot more animals living in the world, this is the mod for you. You may recognize the horses added by the mod look almost identical to the horses in vanilla minecraft, Mojang actually asked DrZhark to put the horses from this mod into the base game.
These mods don't really fit into the other categories but are still worthy of note nonetheless.
- Millenaire: This mod adds better villages and villagers than vanilla. As you help the villagers collect materials for new buildings, fight off invading villagers, and go on quests for them, you will increase your standing with them and collect money to purchase building materials and items. I haven't used this mod in a few years but it was very impressive when I did use it. Unfortunately, I know that a couple years ago the mod had some serious problems with compatibility and stability and I haven't kept up to date on it so I'm not sure if they have been resolved.
- Morph: Want to transform into a bat, squid, zombie, villager, or enderman? With this mod, you can transform into any mob that you kill. You will also get certain buffs (and weaknesses) when you transform (as a zombie you will have a stronger attack but catch on fire when in the sun). Fun mod, but a bit OP when you can transform into a bat that is 1 block high and able to fly.
- Equivalent Exchange 3: A mod that allows you to transmute items and blocks into other items of similar value (one dye color to another for example). Seen by some as completely OP but it is a nice mod when you need cactus green and there are no deserts within 1000 blocks.
These mods modify a large number of aspects of Minecraft to provide a new and more difficult experience.
- Terrafirmacraft: This is a large mod that modifies a huge amount of the game. It seeks to make Minecraft a more difficult game. It's a complete game overhaul designed to make resource management more important and technology progression more difficult.
- Better Than Wolves: Though the mod author is a bit (quite a bit) arrogant, he has made quite an impressive total conversion mod for minecraft. This mod will not work with most other mods. It changes pretty much everything, and there is so much added and changed that I really can't describe the mod; check out the linked post to see if it interests you. This is one of the few mods here that does not use Minecraft Forge.
A couple of the better graphics mods.
- Optifine: A mod that allows for greater customization of graphics options, adds multicore support for Minecraft, and allows greater functionality from some mods (e.g. better support for animations and higher resolution starfields). Can improve FPS drastically. However, it doesn't always work nicely with certain launchers/modpacks (getting it to work with FTB can be problematic).
- MC Patcher: Similar functionality to Optifine, but in an external program.
- Sonic Ether's Unbelievable Shaders (SEUS): Adds support for custom shaders to Minecraft. If you see shots of Minecraft with improved lighting and reflections, it's a very good chance they were using SEUS. This will drop your FPS dramatically.
Minecraft also provides support for custom texture packs (resource packs). There are a huge number of texture packs, so if you want something new you will need to find a texture pack that you like. There are packs with steampunk, medieval, fantasy, etc. aesthetics; choose the one you want!
Installing Mods / Troubleshooting Problems:
Installing mods has gotten much easier as time has passed. You no longer need to open up the minecraft.jar, copy your mod in, and delete some files. If your mods use Forge, it is as simple as running the installer, moving your mod files (the .jar or .zip files you download, don't unpack them) into the mods folder in your .minecraft directory (type %appdata% in the start menu for windows or press command + shift + G on the desktop and type ~/Library/Application Support/ in the prompt that appears for macs).
However, there is still a good chance your game will crash when trying to load the game. This is where the crash report is extremely important. The most common cause of a crash from mods is a mod conflict. This means that two mods are trying to use the same id number when registering the item. In your crash log, you will get a message like "error, unable to load modname1 moditem1, id 20432 already taken by modname2 moditem2" (not exactly that, it's been a while since I have seen that). Luckily, most mod authors (and if they don't do this, it isn't a good sign. It's easy to do and just shows they don't care about their work) will provide a config file with the mod when they include items. This will allow you to change the item id number so that it no longer conflicts (one of the nice things about mod packs is that this is already done).
More complicated errors could mean you installed the mod incorrectly, are using the wrong version of the mod (1.5 mods won't work with the latest version of Minecraft), or the wrong version of your API (mods made with Forge require Forge to be installed, usually minor version changes in Forge will not cause problems however). It could also mean that there is a conflict between two mods that are incompatible (Better than Wolves will not work with many mods).
Also, the game may load fine, but there may still be incompatibilities between mods that mean they don't work correctly when actually playing. For example, my mod does not work with Better World Generation; the mod items and creatures are there, my mod just doesn't recognize any of the biomes as viable spawn points for the shipwrecks so you will never see any when exploring oceans or beaches with BWG installed.
This is a small fraction of mods that are available; there is no way I could cover all of the fantastic mods out there. One of the things I have not mentioned yet is that there are a lot of mods that add cross support between two mods. For example, Magic Bees adds new bee species for Forestry depending that help produce items for Thaumcraft 3, Ars Magica, and more depending on what you have installed.