Friday, 26 May 2017

Minecraft Coding and Mod Creation Options for Kids and Teens

There are tons of options for Minecraft coding and modding. You might want to tap in to your child's interest in Minecraft to encourage them to develop useful coding skills or they may have told you that they want to 'create a mod'. This guide goes through the main options, what you can do with them and who they are suitable for.

We'll start with the simpler options and work up to the more hardcore options for dedicated tweens and teens. It's hard to learn Minecraft coding and modding on your own. Kids are likely to need some support in the form or a book, course or products and there are some excellent options. There are lots of videos on YouTube too but they are often out of date because there have been a lot of changes to Minecraft and it can be hard to find the good stuff.

Coding and Modding Minecraft comes in a few forms:

  • Mods are 'modifications' to Minecraft that give behaviour that's not present in a 'Vanilla' edition. These are written outside Minecraft and then loaded to add features. Mods are usually written to be shared with other people. 
  • You can also write code that directly interacts with Minecraft for 'live modding.'
  • There are coding features built in to Minecraft itself. 
  • And there are mods that add additional coding capabilities to Minecraft that are accessible within the game. 

Confused? Sorry, it's going to get worse before it gets better. 

You need to know which version of Minecraft you want to code or mod.

There are (at least!) five very different environments that you can code:
  • Minecraft PC version - this is the version that has a history of amazing mods. This version of Minecraft still exists and is being updated. 
  • Minecraft Windows 10 Edition and Pocket Edition - these versions are on a common code base and don't support PC mods but there are still options available or coding. 
  • Minecraft Education Edition is only available for education use, home users can't get it. It doesn't support many of the options for coding but has it's own tools. 
  • Minecraft for the Raspberry Pi is a cut down version of Minecraft designed specifically for coding. 
  • Minecraft console edition is somewhat similar to Windows 10 and Pocket Edition but not the same. 

OK, let's consider the options. We've included videos so you can see what each option looks like. 

  1. Minecraft Adventurer and Designer. This isn't coding Minecraft itself, it's Minecraft-themed coding in the web browser, but it's a good place to start for younger kids. Kids drag and drop blocks to write code to solve Minecraft themed levels or code Minecraft animals and other mobs. It's suitable for kids from around age 7 or 8.

  2. Redstone deserves a mention here. Redstone is Minecraft's version of electricity and it's rather awesome. You can build up amazingly complicated machines using a few blocks and a lot of ingenuity. It might not be what you think of first when you think of Minecraft coding, but it's a great place to start. We recommend redstone for everyone but particularly for kids who struggle with reading. Some kids can do awesome stuff with redstone long before they are competent readers who can access some of the other options.  Redstone is available in all editions of Minecraft except Raspberry Pi.

    TechRocket offer a free Minecraft Redstone course.
  3. Minecraft Education Edition has recently announced Code Builder which allows kids to program using block based editors. There are options for working with Tynker, ScratchX and Microsoft's own Make Code. These all offer drag and drop coding. Frustratingly this option is only available to schools (and some other organisations) and homeschoolers. As we often say on Tech Age Kids when it comes to technology a lot of us are forced to be homeschoolers due to lack of priority in schools.
  4. There are block-based options available for home users too. Tynker offers block-based Minecraft coding including some free content. More details in our review.  

  5. Code Kingdoms offers Minecraft modding courses for kids which use graphical blocks which correspond closely to Java code, putting kids on the path to creating mods for Minecraft PC edition. My older son tried this out last summer when he was 9 and really enjoyed it. 

  6. LearnToMod offers drag and drop coding with progression to text-based JavaScript (confusingly this is completely different to Java.) This allows progression to ScriptCraft which supports JavaScript modding.
  7. ComputerCraft adds programmability within Minecraft through a mod. It's like having virtual computers inside Minecraft and uses the Lua scripting language. My 10 year old loves ComputerCraft.

    There's also ComputerCraftEdu which adds a graphical layer for less experienced coders.

  8. Customizing Windows 10 edition or Pocket Edition isn't exactly coding but does allow kids to do some interesting stuff and may actually be what they really want when they say they want to 'create a mod'. Microsoft has recently announced an Add-ons capability which allows mobs to be customised with more coming soon. This requires editing JSON format text files to change the way that existing mobs work. There's also integration with Windows Paint for creating custom resource packs that change the way things look in Minecraft. It's likely that we'll see a lot more capability in Add-ons in future.

  9. On the Raspberry Pi you can program Minecraft Pi using the Python programming language. The interface is quite limited but you can do some cool stuff.

    There is also integration with Scratch and EduBlocks for a graphical interface that is easier to learn. There are also offerings built on top of Minecraft Pi such as Piper and Kano. (We should also mention that RaspberryJuice offers the same interface for PC users.)
  10. Command Blocks are probably my personal favourite way to code in Minecraft (and can be combined with redstone.) Command Blocks are part of Vanilla Minecraft, you don't have to install anything and they have recently been added to Windows 10 and Pocket editions. They bring coding into the Minecraft environment and really integrate with Minecraft itself. This isn't just making coding cool because you've linked it to Minecraft this is like the real world was programmable (yeah I know Minecraft is virtual but it's pretty real to kids.) There are also new features on the way with Minecraft functions. The downside is the lack of good educational material to get started. The fact that there have been so many changes to the way Command Blocks work make it really tricky to use online tutorials - they are often out of date. Make sure you check version info really carefully.

    We really like Jragon's YouTube channel for learning about Command Blocks.
  11. Then there's full on modding of Minecraft PC written in Java. This approach only works for PC, the other versions aren't written in Java. This guide for grown-ups explains the basic setup but there are tons of options and frameworks.

    Youth Digital offer Minecraft modding courses that teach kids to code using Java and professional development tools.
Did we miss anything important that we really should have covered in this list? Let us know in the comments or contact us.

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Lauro said...

Dear Elbrie and Tracy,
for the Devoxx4kids sessions held in Switzerland we developed a simple Minecraft plugin for creating programs in Minecraft. It uses a "blocks" interface and it is focused on being simple and fun to use.
The plugin is aimed to the 11-15 years old, is simple to install and free to use.
We are also running an open Minecraft server so that anybody can immediately start using and testing it.
The software and all needed information is stored on the site where you'll find also some explanatory videos.
We hope that this resource will be valuable for parents and schools wanting to run local "learn to program" sessions with a simple and free resource.

Unknown said...

Great stuff for parents!

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