Thursday, 31 March 2016

Minecraft Mods - A Guide For Tech Age Parents

Screenshot using Archimedes Ship and Myths and Monsters mods
One of the key skills you need for being a tech age parent is installing Minecraft mods. Well, maybe not, but if your child plays Minecraft then eventually they are likely to ask you about mods. Well hopefully, they'll ask you. It's the kind of thing you'll want to know about and supervise.

I've recently gone through this process with my 9 year old son so I thought I'd share what parents need to know about installing Minecraft mods. The process isn't too bad but there's tons of old out of date information out there and it's easy to get lost in all the terminology.

Note that mods are for the desktop version of Minecraft (rather than console or tablet.) The instructions here are for PC, the process is similar for Mac and Linux.

We ended up using Forge to load mods and multiple profiles with different game directories to keep everything organised.

Read through this article first to get an overall understanding of how mods work and what you'll need to do and then you can follow the steps at the end to get up and running with specific mods.

What is a Minecraft Mod?

A mod or modification changes or adds features to Minecraft. There are mods for adding different kinds of furniture and mobs (creatures), for adding trading and different ways of crafting, and even mods that allow coding within Minecraft. 

Minecraft mods are not officially supported by Microsoft / Mojang. Use of mods is unsupported. Microsoft won't help with issues related to mods and updates may (and often do) break mods written for earlier versions. 

Microsoft have said they are working on an official plugin api or Workbench for Minecraft. The would provide an official framework for player-created extensions. This could offer much more stability and safety for mod users. An official plugin API has been discussed for several years. There's no date for the release of the official plugin framework. Source

Mods aren't necessary to play Minecraft but they do add variety.

A mod is packaged as a .jar file which you will need to download.

Before You Get Started

There are a few things you need to be aware of before installing Minecraft mods. Set kids expectations that you'll need to get some things set up first.

Install Virus Protection Software

We'd recommend that you have virus protection software installed when working with mods. If you're careful you shouldn't have any problems but you need to be cautious whenever you're downloading executable files from the internet. 

Backup Minecraft

Before you start working with mods make sure you have a backup procedure in place for Minecraft. You don't want to lose saved worlds if something goes wrong.

Mods are Not Official

Remember that mods are not official Minecraft / Mojang features. You will not get official support for Minecraft if you are using mods. There's lots of unofficial help available online but you need to understand that mods are generally unsupported.

Beware of Download Buttons and Ads!

Mods are often found on pages that are littered with Download buttons that are actually adverts or links to download adware. You'll need to pay attention and make sure you find the actual download button for the mod you want.

To download a lot of mods you will need to pass you will need to pass through a advertising site such as, this may have non-child-friendly advertising. You're usually looking for a 'Skip Ad' button in the top right of the page to actually download the mod or mod loader.

I'd recommend that you don't allow young children to download mods themselves and you have a discussion with teens about the issues involved.

How Do Mods Work?

Mods actually change the Minecraft code which is written in the Java programming language. It's a neat trick. 

If you're just getting started with mods then using a mod loader to add mods to Minecraft is a good idea. Some mods depend on a specific loader. Forge is very common and a good place to start.  

Mods are dependent on a specific version of Minecraft so you'll need to make sure that your mod(s), Forge and Minecraft all have compatible versions. 

Some mods are dependent on other mods. The download page will usually mention this but Forge will tell you if you try and run a mod without a dependency installed. 

You can combine multiple compatible mods but the more complicated you make it the more likely you are to run into problems. 

Finding Mods

If all mods were available for the latest version of Minecraft then things would be much simpler! However most mods are developed by volunteers. It may be a while before they have time to update them for a new version of Minecraft. Or the developer may have moved on to other things and a mod may never get an update. 

This means that in practice, mod users will often end up running an older version of Minecraft. This is fine, the Minecraft launcher offers profiles that allow you to choose a specific version of Minecraft to run. 

You'll also find that kids want to run mods that run on different versions of Minecraft. That's also doable, just not it the same world. Any particular Minecraft world will need to use a compatible set of mods with a compatible loader and Minecraft version. 

If your child is asking for mods then they will probably have a specific mod in mind that they have heard about. Make sure you find the official home for that mod. 

If you're looking for a mod to try first then my son suggests Mr Crayfish's Furniture Mod which adds lots of new furniture for building with. 

Planet Minecraft is a good place to look for mods by version to find those that will hopefully work together. 

Organising Mods

You can use Minecraft profiles to keep everything organised. For each set of mods that you want to use together you can create a Minecraft profile with its own game directory. That means that it will use a specific set of mods and will save worlds created using those mods separately from other worlds. 

This approach keeps everything organised and means that you won't accidentally open worlds with the wrong set of mods applied. 

The profile also specifies the version of Minecraft and Forge to use with the worlds created using that profile.

You can create multiple profiles and game directories for the same version of Minecraft and Forge if you want to use a variety of mods.

Minecraft Mod Instructions

  1. Make sure you have virus protection software installed. You'll be downloading stuff from the internet. If you accidentally end up on a dodgy site you could end up downloading malware. 
  2. Backup the .minecraft directory and ideally make sure you have a regular backup procedure in place in case anything goes wrong when using mods.

    At the very minimum take a copy of the .minecraft directory (in Windows you can find this by searching for %appdata% in the search bar.)
  3. Find the most important mods that your child (or you!) would like to have. Mods are Minecraft version specific. Minecraft gets updated regularly. Mods may not be available for the latest version. If there are particular mods your child wants then you'll need to check that there are compatible versions. For example, you might find that one mod is available for 1.8 and 1.9 but the other is only available for 1.8. If both mods are important then you'll want to go with 1.8 (until the other mod gets an update.)
    Some mods are incompatible with each other (they might make incompatible changes to the same kind of objects.) Check and see if they mention any incompatibilities.
    The goal is to find a single mod or a set of compatible mods that use the same version of Minecraft. 
  4. Now you can install Minecraft Forge for the version you have selected.
    If you don't have Java installed then Minecraft Forge will prompt you to install it. Sometimes the Java will want to install 'sponsored offers.' These are optional and you may want to turn them off on a child's machine.
    Unless you're managing a Minecraft server you'll want the Client version of Minecraft Forge. 
  5. Run the Minecraft launcher and create a new Minecraft profile to use with a specific version of Minecraft and Forge and a compatible set of mods. Set gamedir to a directory under .minecraft with a descriptive name.

  6. Run Minecraft with the new profile and the game directory and its subdirectories will be created. 
  7. Open up %appdata% and navigate to .minecraft and then the game directory you choose. You should see a mods directory inside the game directory.
    This is where you'll save the mods you download for use with the profile you created. Now it's time to download the first of your mods. Again you may hit advertising that's not kid-friendly.
    We recommend that you install mods at a time so you can see what worked and also to give your child a chance to try each one out.
    Note that some mods have dependencies on other mods.&nbsp
  8. Now run the Minecraft launcher and choose the profile you created. You should now be able to use the new mod(s) you added. 
  9. You can use the same process to add other versions of Forge and other combinations of mods. 

Minecraft mods are lots of fun and add some amazing features. They also help kids understand the kids of things that can be done with mods which will be useful if they want to create their own mods in future. 

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Steve said...

Might be worth pointing out that this is for the PC/Mac version of Minecraft (as opposed to, e.g. PS3).

Tracy said...

Good point. I've updated.

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