Though many are already veterans of Minecraft, some of you may be experiencing the open world sandbox game for the first time. Once you get the hang of things the mechanics seem pretty straightforward, but it can be a bit overwhelming when you're just getting your feet wet.
As a result we've put together a list of pointers to help get you started on your adventure; all information is either acquired via this writer's experience or from information pulled off of Minepedia, and we'd highly recommend you look there if you need a comprehensive explanation of anything in this game. If you feel something should be added to this guide or something needs to be tweaked, feel free to share in the comments below.
Find Some Wood
The first and arguably the most important thing for any player starting a new world in Minecraft is to build a good supply of wood blocks. Wood will be the cornerstone of everything that you do; it's used for making all of the basic tools of the game and works as a burnable fuel source until you stock up on coal.
Build a Shelter
Time waits for no-one and it's no different in Minecraft. Daylight only lasts for ten minutes, followed by ten minutes of night. During the night, zombies, spiders, skeletons, creepers and other ghouls freely roam the surface and will actively try to kill you. It's certainly possible to roam around on your first night and survive, but it's far easier to build a shelter. Either actually build one out of available materials or dig yourself a nice roomy space in the side of nearby hill and craft a door to keep out the monsters. Ideally, do this near your spawn point, unless you have a great sense of direction and won't have a hard time finding your shelter again. While you wait for the night to pass, make yourself a chest and some tools out of the wood you've collected.
Establish a Beacon
Once the night passes empty your inventory into your chest, exit your shelter and collect as many dirt blocks as you can. Once you've gotten a good amount hold down the jump button and begin to place the blocks below you with each jump. Build it as tall as you want, the point of this is to give you a reference point that will be visible from far away. Once you're finished, jump off and respawn at the spawn point. You can now freely explore the area without fear of getting lost, as the beacon will be visible from quite some way off. This won't really be necessary once you have a compass, but it will come in handy until you do.
When it comes to mining just keep one thing in mind above all else: NEVER dig directly above or directly below your character. For all you know, the block you're standing on could be the only thing between you and a long fall into a lake of lava. Similarly, the block above you could be the only thing holding back a massive column of sand or a lava reservoir. This becomes more relevant the deeper you go, as the subterranean environments of Minecraft are less than friendly.
Caves are an excellent source of finding new or rare ores that you need to craft various materials. They are also very easy to get lost in, especially when you find yourself in one that has several branching passages. When placing torches in caves, just remember the phrase "Right to the light, left to the depths" and place torches on the right or left of each passage accordingly. If you follow this rule to the best of your ability you won't get lost very easily, as the torches will indicate whether or not you're going deeper into the cave.
It can be easy to forget, but your character can die of starvation and it's important that you keep your hunger meter up. Early on it's a good idea to destroy some tall grass to get some wheat seeds or to get potatoes or carrots from farmers or zombies. You can also kill animals - like cows or pigs - to get meat, but you might want to keep animals around initially so you can breed them. Whatever you choose to do, make sure you have a safe expanse of land where you can properly cultivate and harvest crop production.
Once you have some crops, you can use certain types of food on certain animals to initiate 'love mode'. Do this to two animals of the same type in close proximity to each other and they will spawn a baby. Ideally you'll want to get cows, chickens and pigs, and create a fenced in area so you can keep all of the animals in one place. Once you grow the population to satisfaction you can slaughter them for food and not have to worry about running out.
Into the Nether
Once you've established a pretty good understanding of the world, you may want to consider travelling to The Nether. Here you can collect materials and blocks that are unavailable in the main overworld, such as netherrack and glowstone. Additionally, you can use it as a means of fast travel; every one block traversed in the nether is equal to traveling eight blocks in the main overworld.
Entering the Nether is fairly simple, but difficult. Before anything else you need a diamond pickaxe; nothing else will be able to mine obsidian. Next, you'll need to take a bucket of water and find a stagnant source of lava; you can usually find these at the bottom of deep caves. When you find the lava, pour the water off to the side of it so that the water will flow over the lava. This will create obsidian, which you can then mine with your diamond pickaxe. At minimum you'll need ten blocks, but you might as well just get fourteen.
Once you have all the obsidian, build yourself a 4x5 portal out of it in the place of your choosing. To activate it, just strike the inside of the portal with flint and steel - the portal will turn purple and then all you need to do is stand inside for a few seconds. Make sure you're prepared before exploring the nether; it's infested with powerful enemies, lava lakes and fatal drop-offs.