A year ago, "Minecraft" wasn't exactly what you would call user friendly. The game plopped you into a massive, open world and said "Survive!" Invariably, new players did the exact opposite, getting rocked by exploding zombies and giant spiders at the first sign of nightfall. Recent updates, however, have made things a bit easier to follow. The last major update included achievement support, which acts as a way to guide players through their first steps of society creation. The next update will provide them even more guidance, thanks to the addition of maps.
One of the things new "Minecraft" players often do is get lost. That's part of the charm, sure, but when you spend six hours building a magnificent castle, you really wouldn't be too happy if you forgot where it was. Version 1.6 of the game will add maps as craftable items. Details on map functionality were posted to Notch's development blog:
"When you craft a map, you will be able to somehow select how "zoomed in" you want the map to be. It will be centered on the location where you craft it, and it will fill in as you explore the land. If you go outside the edges of the map, it will stop updating, so each map is of a specific area. (like real maps!)"
He goes on to say that if you happen to discard your map somewhere and another player picks it up, they'll see where you've been. You can even make paired maps so that two players can fill out the same map and easily locate one another thanks to a blinking dot.
The maps are viewed like actual, physical maps where you have to equip them from your inventory and actually hold them up to see where you are. It's a pretty neat feature which I'm sure will only get more involved, allowing players to note landmarks and promising ore deposits.
In addition to the map announcement, Notch revealed Mojang's plans for modding support, which will grant developers access to the "Minecraft" source code. Players will have to sign up as mod developers and can't sell their "Minecraft" mods (unless a seperate agreement is made with them and Mojang). The end result is something similar to Bethesda titles like "Oblivion" and "Fallout 3," which allow for player modding on the PC and have been expanded massively thanks to fans.
No word on when both of these features will be available, but considering the speedy development pace of "Minecraft" thus far, I wouldn't be surprised if we're mapping and modding within the next month.