So, inspired by just how restful and zen-like it felt watching James punch a chunk in Minecraft over the weekend, my wife and I decided to try it out for ourselves. We ended up doing it in a "casual mode" (difficulty was peaceful, torches were allowed on the walls, etc.), but after around two days of digging, I made it down to the bedrock layer.
For anybody who wants to see my giant hole, the pictures are here: https://imgur.com/a/zCyrLJG
Based on what I experienced as I worked my way down, I think there may need to be a couple of rule changes:
1. Torches should be allowed to be placed on the walls as you dig. If anybody ends up in an area without sheep nearby (as I did), then making a bed and sleeping through the night isn't an option. With torches, you can keep digging.
2. You should be able to preserve iron pickaxes once they reach the red in durability. The reason for this is that there are types of resources that you need iron to break and collect (like diamond, redstone, etc.), and with each iron pickaxe lasting less than one level, it is far too easy to reach an impasse because you ran out of iron. Being able to preserve an iron pickaxe once it reaches the red zone would allow you be able to deal with this.
3. The victory condition should be reaching the first level with bvedrock. Having gotten there (and the first picture in the link is of the bedrock level), the bedrock level is...odd and confusing. You can mine out the first layer once you reach it easily enough, but once you get past that, it becomes almost impossible to figure out which layer you've mined and which one you're working on. There are mine-able blocks that appear UNDER blocks of bedrock. So, removing anything that isn't bedrock involves hunting for blocks while going up and down up to 3 layers over a random landscape.
And, I think that covers it. For my next trick, I'm going to add platforms with glass floors in my hole to turn it into a tourist trap...
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