Block of the Week: Netherrack

You'll nether need to rack your brains for info about this block again!

Here’s a quiz for you. What’s seven and a half years old, red, a bit spooky, and frequently on fire? No prizes, because the answer’s literally there in the title. It’s our block of the week - netherrack!

Netherrack isn’t the toughest block around - even a wooden pickaxe will break it in a fraction of a second, and an explosion will tear through it as if it were paper. But its handiest feature is its flammability. Light a block of netherrack on fire, and it’ll burn forever.

Netherrack was added to the Java edition of Minecraft in Alpha version 1.2.0, the Halloween Update, alongside pumpkins, clocks, fishing and the Nether. Spoiler alert: the Nether is where netherrack gets its name from (though it was originally called “bloodstone”, eww), and it’s also where you’ll find more netherrack than any one person could ever need.

Here’s a pro tip: if you’re stuck in the Nether and desperately need a tougher block, then we recommend plopping some netherrack in a furnace - it’ll sizzle up into nether bricks, which are less flammable but far more blast resistant and a great building material for an emergency shelter.

You’ll also find netherrack in the Nether in the Bedrock edition of Minecraft. But although the Nether was only added to the Bedrock edition in version 0.12.1, it’s actually been possible to get netherrack since version 0.6.0. How? With a little slice of Minecraft’s history called the nether reactor.

The nether reactor was developed when Bedrock edition was still called Pocket Edition, and when smartphones didn’t have as much power in them as they do today. Worlds were limited to a size of 256 x 256 blocks to keep things running smoothly, but this meant that it was quite easy to light up the whole world.

So former Mojangsta Johan Bernhardsson (who now works at Midnight Hub on a game called Lake Ridden that’s coming out soon and is looking like it’ll be amazing) came up with an idea. “I thought we needed some sort of endgame goal for survival in these very small levels,” he told me in an email. “Something that players were able to do that would sort of end a survival world while still allowing players to keep building on a world however long they want to.”

His solution was the Nether reactor - an arcane device that would create a “tear” in the world. With four blocks of gold, some cobblestone and a reactor core made of iron and diamonds, a player could access all of the resources of the Nether - but with the risk of invasion from the beings that live there.

After constructing the reactor and right-clicking it, a “nether spire” made of netherrack would form around the reactor - pumping out items like glowstone dust, nether quartz and more. At the same time, though, angry zombie pigmen would begin pouring out of the rift - which the player would need to deal with.

“Back then, it was a bit harder to play Minecraft on phones than it is today,” Johan explains. “We had some issues with multi-touch and generally our fingers being too big for us to see anything in the game. I remember that the very first test I made - I set it up for 60 seconds survival, four zombie pigmen spawning every eight seconds together with up to two randomly spawned creepers. Surviving that, even with full diamond armor, was one of the most difficult things I have ever experienced within a game.”

The reactor’s power was limited, and after 45 seconds the core would burn out - ending the event and allowing the player to collect all the resources dropped by the zombie pigmen, the reactor, and mine the spire. But there was a surprise waiting outside - during the event, the time would be fast-forwarded to night. “They could still meet other mobs - like creepers - right outside”, says Johan. “This all led to an infamous bug where players could abort the reactor in a specific state, turning their worlds into endless night:”

The nether reactor was removed from the game in version 0.12.1, when the full Nether was added. Since then, Bedrock Edition has added even more of the features that Java edition has - including potion brewing, jukeboxes, fireworks and the End.

So if you normally only play the game on your computer then give it a try on your phone! You’ll be impressed how much Minecraft we’ve managed to cram into it.

Duncan Geere
Written By
Duncan Geere