Sunday, May 29, 2011


I've been playing the PC game Terraria recently, so I thought I'd post a bit about that. The above video is the first of a whole series on YouTube, and they got me interested enough to buy the game myself. (There are many other YouTube videos about Terraria, too, of course - here is another series I've enjoyed.)

I hesitated, because the game seems to have stolen a lot from Minecraft. Well, we knew that was going to happen, right? And this is a side-scroller, so the gameplay is quite different. Besides, I sort of like to see games borrowing from Minecraft (and Dwarf Fortress, which I've seen happen, as well), since those games contain features which I'd love to see become more common.

I also hesitated, because Terraria is available only on Steam. Frankly, Steam is my least favorite gaming platform. I particularly dislike the fact that I have to start Steam, and connect with their servers, before I can play even a single-player game. But Terraria was only $10, and I figured I'd go ahead and try it anyway.

At first, I thought I'd made a huge mistake. I'm really, really bad at this kind of game. Those videos make it look easy, and it probably is for most people - but not for me. But I did get a little better as I continued, and it is fun. Still, I think I almost prefer watching those YouTube videos of other people playing. Heh, heh.

Well, not really. I won't ever get very far in the game, but it's already been worth the money. I'm easily bored, so I tend to jump from one game to the next, without getting very far in any of them. But if it wasn't fun, I wouldn't do it.

I should, however, note a huge design flaw in Terraria: There's no way to pause the game! Isn't that crazy? Was the game made for eight-year-olds who, presumably, can play entirely without interruptions? For the rest of us, that's nearly impossible, don't you think? Heck, I'm better off than most, since I live alone. But what about when the phone rings, or when someone comes to the door?

But this is still a great game. Like Minecraft, you start on a new world in the morning, and you have to build a shelter before nightfall. So, just like Minecraft, the first thing you need to do is chop down trees to get lumber. You start with a copper axe and a copper pick (for digging through dirt and rock). And you can make everything else you need (again, like Minecraft).

In Terraria, though, you're not safe even during the day. Even when you first arrive on your new world, slimes will come from both directions. They're not actually aggressive, not if you don't hit them. But since this game is entirely two-dimensional, they will hit you - and hurt you - while they're traveling through, unless you actively avoid them.

But you need to kill some of them anyway, since you get gel from slimes, and you need gel to make torches (gel plays the role in Terraria that coal and charcoal play in Minecraft). Torches are needed for light, at night and underground, though they don't stop monsters from spawning (solid walls, placed as a background, do that). And yes, at night, zombies and demon eyes appear.

Terraria is a side-scroller, and you can move right or left along the surface of the world. But the biggest part of the world is underground. You can mine pretty much anywhere, through rock and soil, but you're better off finding a natural cavern. There are caverns extending far, far underground, and they get more dangerous the further down you go.

But there's treasure down there, too. You can find some copper and iron on the surface, but there's more underground. And there's also silver and gold. And gems. And treasure chests. And the monsters all drop loot when you kill them.

For someone as inept as I am, the neat thing about the game is that you can play at your own pace. No, there aren't any difficulty settings. But I can decide when and where to go underground, and I can decide when to leave my secure little home at night. Plus, death isn't much of a setback.

When you die, you just reappear at your spawn point (where you initially started the game, unless you've made a bed and set your spawn point elsewhere), with your entire inventory intact. You do drop half of the coins you were carrying, but you can go back and pick them up again. And if you store your more valuable coins in a chest in your house, you won't lose any of those.

Death is rather common. Well, it's a dangerous world. If you're a long way from home, you'll probably hate dying, since it will be such a long trip back. But it's not all that significant, either. And this encourages exploration. Especially when you're underground, the temptation is just to keep going a little further. That can keep you playing for hours. So maybe dying occasionally isn't so bad, especially if you need to get some sleep at night.

Terraria really is a great little game. I don't normally play side-scrollers or platformers. (That might be why I'm so bad at this.) But Terraria takes from Minecraft two features that really make a difference. The first is crafting. In both games, you can make a wide variety of furniture and equipment. And you can make homes, too. That constructive part of these games is important to me, since I get really bored just killing things.

And second, you can completely re-arrange the terrain. You can dig anywhere and put the rock and soil anywhere you want. You can completely level a mountain, or build one. You can cut down trees and plant them. Minecraft is 3D, while Terraria is more like living in an ant farm. But in both cases, that freedom to re-make the world is a really big part of the gameplay.

There's no demo of Terraria, but there are a lot of YouTube videos showing how the game works. And it's only $10, so it's not a big investment, even if you don't play it much. If you do buy it, you might need to check the Terraria Wiki sometimes (there's a link on the Terraria website, too).

But it's really not that complicated. Pressing the escape key opens up your inventory and shows you what you can make out of what you're carrying. If you click on an item in the crafting area, it will show you exactly what components it will require. And if you stand near a forge, a workbench, an anvil, or an alchemy table, you'll have even more crafting options.

You can see, in most of those videos, gamers figuring out these things. They often miss some things - for example, that a hammer can remove what an axe or a pick cannot - but that's just part of the learning process. If you get confused, just check the wiki. But you probably won't need to do that very often.

I can see why Terraria has become such a big hit. Well, Minecraft was an even bigger hit. That should tell game developers something. Meanwhile, if you like to waste a little time playing computer games, like me, you could do far worse than Terraria.


Chimeradave said...

I was thinking about getting this one too. I was going to email you and ask if you'd played it yet.

WCG said...

It is fun, John. It keeps pulling me back, again and again.

Have you tried Minecraft? That's more of a sandbox kind of game, with a bigger emphasis on building. The worlds in Minecraft are lovely - and far bigger than you'd ever be able to explore completely.

Minecraft needs more people, though. I'd like to be able to discover NPC civilizations on the world. I don't usually play multi-player games, but that might really add something in this case.

Terraria probably has a little more "game" to it, since it's basically a side-scrolling platformer. And multi-player could be fun there, too, I'm sure (but only when playing with your friends).

Well, they're both fun. And they're different enough that they don't feel like you're playing the same game, not at all. They just share certain features.

Chimeradave said...

I'm more of the action-adventure games type. The Minecraft game just wasn't my style at all. But this one looked like fun.

Anonymous said...

You said there's no difficulty setting, but there is when you make your character.....

WCG said...

Thanks, Anonymous. This was posted three years ago, when the game was still in development. I don't think it had difficulty settings then, but I could have missed it. Either way, it's good to have the correction. Thanks!