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Around the Block: Snowy Tundra

Ice to see you!

When you click the “Create New World” button in Minecraft, a little bit of magic happens. An impossibly complex series of algorithms generate a totally new world, unlike any that has been seen before. You might spawn in a jungle, or in plains, or on a desert island. But my favourite place to spawn is snowy tundra.

Not because it’s an easy life, you understand. Tundra biomes are a difficult place to set up camp – wood is rare, wildlife is scarce, and water will fairly rapidly freeze into ice. But with some careful preparation, and knowledge of what you’re getting yourself into, it can be one of the game’s most beautiful experiences.

The first snowy biomes in Minecraft came with the addition of “Winter Mode” in Alpha version 1.0.4, which were the first “biomes” to appear in the game. A map in winter mode would have snow instead of rain and ice instead of water, as well as fewer wild animals.

When proper biomes were added in Alpha version 1.2.0, winter mode was removed and replaced with a Tundra biome that had most of the same features. In the Adventure Update, they were removed, and then added back in as Ice Plains in version 1.0.0. Eventually, in version 1.13 (The Update Aquatic), Ice Plains were renamed to Snowy Tundra.

Today, snowy tundra isn’t a common biome. To find one, you’ll want to hunt around other cold biomes, like snowy taiga. You’ll know you’re in the right place if you see large, flat expanses of snowy ground, frozen lakes, a total lack of cows, sheep, pigs and horses, and the occasional spruce. Oh, and polar bears. Watch out for those. They’ll eat you alive if you get too close to their cubs.

The other danger to watch out for in the snowy tundra emerges when night falls. Strays are variants of skeletons that shoot arrows of Slowness, making it harder to run away before you’re turned into a pincushion. But the biome rewards the careful explorer. Villages and pillager outposts generate there, and it’s also one of the few places where igloos can generate, which hide a terrible secret.

In real life, tundra refers to places where it’s too cold for trees to grow – mostly along the very northern edges of continents. There’s still vegetation – mostly dwarf shrubs, grasses, mosses and lichens. There might not be snow on the surface the whole year round, but the soil is permanently frozen.

Nonetheless, a few peoples make the tundra their home. Cities in the tundra include Nuuk in Greenland and Longyearbyen in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. The Ngansan and Nenets in the northern parts of Siberia and the Sami in Scandinavia are nomadic reindeer herders. But climate change, which is happening much faster near the poles, is dramatically changing these herders’ way of life as the permafrost melts, species move in and out, and reindeer migration routes are permanently altered. 

Luckily, there’s no climate change in Minecraft. So next time the temperatures soar where you live, you can take shelter in the game’s snowy tundra biome, watching snowflakes fall as the sun sets.

Duncan Geere
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Duncan Geere

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