Can’t Craft, Won’t Craft

Crafting requires commitment. How does a person wary of settling down survive in the barren worlds of Minecraft, Terraria and Starbound? A tale of tourism, travel and cooperative tension.

In a perfect world, I’d have a robot butler to make me an Old Fashioned at the end of every day’s work. He’d have a metallic moustache, and a stannic stovepipe hat. Occasionally the hat would emit bursts of steam and toot out the opening motif of Beethoven’s Fifth because if I’m going to have a robot butler I might as well go the whole hog and have an absolutely ridiculous robot butler.

I think the dapper chap would have a single wheel to trundle around on rather than anything resembling legs, because I imagine robotic limbs to be either spindly and kind of terrifying, or chunky enough to crush my throat. It’d be very important to ensure that no aspect of Andre Martin 3000 could be weaponised. Unless he’s preparing drinks, he has no place in the kitchen. He can’t handle a knife and, heck, I might not even give him hands hands because hands can strangle and ‘Throttled by my own robot butler’ is third on my list of debilitating fears.

Even though I balk at the idea of a knife-wielding robot and the bionic butchery that might ensue, I’d like my butler to be a clever creation. In fact, I’d like it to be a creative creation, able to compose music for quartet and paint the imagery from his electric dreams. I look for something similar in a certain kind of game – the genre that you might think of as open world crafting, I think of as a sort of machine, serving up new worlds on a plate. I’m as likely to spend time building a complex castle in Minecraft as I am to spend the time, money and effort it takes to make a really good Old Fashioned. I’m more likely to build a one-room shack or, to carry the analogy far beyond breaking point, crack open a can of cheap lager.

All of this came to mind as I installed Starbound for the umpteenth time a couple of weeks ago. Every time I read update notes for the game or watch a video of somebody playing, I find myself powerfully attracted to it. The appeal is obvious – its procedural everything promises infinite planets packed with STUFF. Aliens, loot, dungeons, villages, flora – it should be a fantastic tourist simulator.

As with every other time I’ve taken to the stars, it didn’t take me long to realise Starbound doesn’t provide what I’m looking for. All of the ingredients are there but they’re laid out on the countertop and I’m expected to put them together myself. There’s plenty to see, as I gad about a new planet’s surface, but I find myself growing weary of the crafting routine before the basics of the tutorial are done.

I want the game to offer its worlds to me, full of mystery and wonder, and I’m interested in establishing real estate on many of the planets I discover, but the actual processes of hunting, gathering and building fail to hold my attention.

Starbound isn’t the only game that I’ve responded to in this way. The obvious precursor, Terraria, fascinated me but left me cold, and I’ve never built anything of note in Minecraft. With the latter game in particular, my lack of interest in the crafting hasn’t prevented me from spending countless hours playing. I wander from place to place, seeing the sights and reaching for the horizon.

I’ve trekked through deserts, slept beneath the stars on oceanside clifftops and tunnelled through mountain ranges. Deep in the blocky bowels of the land, I’ve fought horrors and chipped through gem-encrusted veins to discover vast caverns that resemble the antechamber to hell. In dense jungle, I’ve struggled and sweltered, desperate to find a river that leads to the freedom of the open sea.

These journeys have mostly been solitary affairs but when I have had a companion, the wanderlust has been more happily sated. But companions bring problems because no matter how itchy my feet might be, it doesn’t take long for my partner to suggest that we think about settling down. I’m content to have all of my belongings on my back but eventually my habit of leaving precious metals and stones in the dirt where I find them becomes an issue.

“If we had a house, we could take all of this stuff back there. We’d be rich.”

And so it is. We build a house, a simple thing with a bedroom, a basement full of storage chests, and a stove by the window that overlooks the bay. The design is crude but it’s home and it becomes a base that we return to after each expedition.

Now the process has begun though and there’s no turning back. We’re a mile deep and I suggest digging through the night, eventually breaking the surface in some new, unknown land.

“Sure. You do that. I’ll take this haul back the way we came and see you tomorrow.”

I dig for what seems like hours and when I emerge, the moon is shining on a desolate plain, a bleached bone beacon in a melancholy sky. It’s beautiful but it’d be even more beautiful if I had somebody to share it with. I let the families of skeletons and spiders feast on my flesh so that I can wake at home, where we can sit around the fire and tell our tales.

“I took the fireplace out. I’m thinking of building a conservatory.”

We’ll need plenty of glass. There’s an unusually large, curved beach beyond the picturesque forests to the south. I’ll head there and gather the resources we need.

“It’s ok. While you were wasting time in that tunnel I grabbed everything from the bay just there. That’s the great thing about this house – everything we need is within spitting distance.”

I hate spitting distance. I want to stride far and wide. If we’re going to build a world where everything is within reach, we might as well be gardeners rather than adventurers.

“Good idea. I’ll plant a garden tomorrow.”

As the days roll by, our humble home becomes a convenience store, crowned with impressive fortifications and an elaborate chimney. I haven’t contributed a thing and I hardly spend any time inside, always working late in the mines or on distant mountain tops. My secretary is a creeper.

We’ve grown apart and eventually the promise of the infinite landscape seduces me completely. One day I head out to dig up some redstone and never return.

I’m incapable of staying in one place for long when the promise of fresh procedural content is hanging in the air. Minecraft’s day/night cycle provides an incentive to push on and to rest and hunker down from time to time, but there’s always something new to see. With Starbound, I find the limits of each world too soon and feel like the game isn’t willing to indulge my itinerant instincts.

More than likely, that’s because I’m in the wrong, refusing to engage with the game on its own terms. No Man’s Sky might be the game I’m waiting for. Whatever else it might be – and I’m still not sure what the experience of playing will be from moment to moment – I hope it will serve up fresh sights for a humble space tourist with no intention of settling down or putting in the work to bring the best out of any given plot of land.

No home, no hearth. When I do find my butler, I hope he’s a positronic Passepartout, catering to my needs as I play out the rules of my own arbitrary games.

Pictures by people who can actually craft are from the following places:

Header image.

Minecraft Notre Dame.

Minecraft mansion.

This article was originally published as part of, and thanks to, the RPS Supporter Program.

34 Comments

  1. Wowbagger says:

    That was lovely thank you. I own all these games and have hardly scratched the surface; Because I’m a feckless clown when it comes to creating anything.

  2. Premium User Badge

    DantronLesotho says:

    I get the same feeling of wanderlust that you do, but at least with MC anyway, it is quickly squashed by the need to keep myself perpetually full so I don’t die out in the barrens.

    On the flip side of No Man’s Sky though, although it looks like a great exploration game, I’m not sure if there is any crafting, so the incentive to just jump from planet to planet is somewhat waned because all I’ll be doing is flying around on it.

    • parkourhobo says:

      Nah, there’s no crafting, but as I remember there are ship upgrades laying around to incentivise exploration. Which is a good compromise between having a game in there somewhere and leaving you completely free to explore.

      I want that game :D

  3. bonuswavepilot says:

    Great piece!

    I do find myself building things in Terraria, but mostly of the ridiculous variety – grand projects which do not contribute toward the progression of the game, or the housing of new NPCs. I have a mighty tower in my oldest saved world, featureless but for the basic repeating pattern of wooden platforms I use to ascend and add to its lofty heights. It is so tall now it takes a good long while to plummet all the way to the ground when I miss my footing or get knocked off the top.

    Fired Terraria up recently to have a mutiplayer go with my gf, and there was loads of new stuff in it since last I had played – well impressed that the devs are still adding things.

    • ulix says:

      I thought they were done adding things, after that last amazing and massive update last May.
      But according to the Wiki there is another update planned for 2015. Yay!

      link to terraria.gamepedia.com

      • vanhisa says:

        With things they added, its feel like terraria 1.0 is just a beta early acces version of the game

        • Cymra says:

          I think the last bit you said is the nail on the head for me – Minecraft stops being challenging once everything is set up “just so” and there isn’t really an incentive to move forwards.

          Starbound tries to induce the need for progression by holding certain materials back but in MC once you’ve got the garden all set up that’s pretty much it danger wise.

      • Sian says:

        Afaik, the guy who started it all has now turned to other projects, but he now has other people working on the game.

        • Bassen_Hjertelos says:

          No, Andrew Spinks came back to the Terraria forums in January 2013 asking players what they wanted in a future update to the game. The result was 1.2 and the upcoming update. There were others maintaining the game and fixing bugs during his 2012 hiatus, but he’s been active on Terraria since the comeback.

  4. GameCat says:

    Don’t forget about Let’s Wander Just Little Further (Last Time, I Promise) Because This Place Isn’t A Perfect Place To Start Building.

    • madeofsquares says:

      Exactly. I always end up with a network of houses. I’ll settle down, then while I’m out sourcing stuff I’ll think “That cliff would look great with a small tower on top of it…”!

  5. Frank says:

    Good stuff. I also much prefer exploration to building. The genre does give good youtube, though.

    I think you’re conflating building with crafting (you know, by recipe), by the way.

  6. Ashrand says:

    I do exactly the same thing, and I’m hoping sometime someone will copy Ubisoft regarding the main mechanics so that i can be hunting rare woods, plants, and animals to finish something rather than having everything at my fingertips till there’s nothing to do but slowly, agonizingly build

  7. ulix says:

    So can someone who isn’t cynical about it, explain to me how Starbound is coming along?

    Apparently they released a big update a couple of days ago?

    “Starbound has a new stable update—the first since March, 2014. It rolls together the various changes from the last year of experimental branch updates to create a massive and wide-ranging overhaul.”

    So how is it? In terms of content and usability, how does it compare to Terraria?

    • ThatFuzzyTiger says:

      Update came down the pipe, I’m going to fire it up once I’ve got some painkillers and done the washing up. It looks really promising. FINALLY some real love for the game. Seems like it’s coming together.

    • Kestrel says:

      I gave it another go but combat was still dull. I’m spoiled by the tight gameplay crafted by Vlambeer games.

    • SalaciousJames says:

      I hadn’t played it since February of ’14, and I’ve already sunk about 15 hours into it. The early game quests are much better now (especially for folks who aren’t already familiar with Terraria and its progression system), they got rid of that stupid hunger and hot/cold meter, stopped requiring you to fill your ship with coal just as long as you’re staying inside the solar system, and perhaps most importantly for me, the game runs much better on my 5 year old PC in 64-bit mode, just to name the things that stand out to me the most. Love the space outpost you can reach through a warp gate in any system too, as well as the action platformer-style missions. Oh yeah, and the many, many mini-dungeons that will reward your spelunking instincts.

      I don’t really have many criticisms, except that I still can’t pause in single player mode, but there may be a reason that hasn’t been addressed. I think the combat’s great, especially once you find a decent weapon (as you would expect) – I like how the axes and hammers actually feel different than broadswords, rather than just being slower and having a bigger arc as in Terraria. Anything else I can think of is pretty minor and superficial, and shouldn’t be hard to address before final release. The game feels like it’s basically all there, so dig in – I don’t think there will be any more save wipes, but don’t quote me on that either.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Compared to earlier, some major regressions I and my friends have found:
        – The backwards slowdown is just annoying, given you can turn in place instantly.
        – We’re not keen on the removal of knockback from weapons either
        – The sodding coffee mission makes us want to burn that place to the ground, except you can’t
        – Picks seem completely useless now; can’t even repair them
        – As does food, since they not only made it worse than bandages (and not necessary to eat), but they then put a huge cooldown timer on using it
        – So much faff to get to the part when you can actually roam infinite planets expounded by…
        – …remember that update where they said you’d never have to restart from chargen again? They lied. I expected them to be lying to the degree that it’d be “oh, you don’t have to restart, you’ll just miss out on all the new content if you don’t”, but they’ve actually gone and disabled/removed all existing characters with this update pending some future conversion tool. I wouldn’t hold your breath.

  8. sicanshu says:

    So I have to ask, what are nos. 1 and 2 on your list of debilitating fears? Mine are 1) those big eels that hang out in the pools under waterfalls and come out to gorge on whatever’s unlucky enough to go over, and 2) airplanes (which in fairness to eels tends to come up more often in my life). . . Number 3 is also eels (saltwater this time).

  9. Ejia says:

    It’s the tedium of having to hunt down materials that prevent me from building the grand projects I want to in Terraria, which I otherwise love. I’m still trying to flood outer space, so maybe if I finish that I’ll get to that nice sky castle I’ve also been planning to make.

  10. ajf0 says:

    “hands hands because hands”

    Oh lawd, for want of a sub editor

  11. Moth Bones says:

    Very enjoyable article. I liked Minecraft a lot, playing it in exactly the same way. I have real admiration for all the fantastically creative things I’ve seen people do with it (I think Ordnance Survey had someone make a 1:1 Great Britain), but I can’t build that stuff. The wandering is the thing.

  12. pund says:

    Yes, very well written. Good read.
    I’m planning on revisiting starbound somewhere in the future again when it has a lot more content.

  13. Niddhog says:

    You aren’t thinking about Starbound right- the endless fields are the endless planets. Your backpack is your ship! You can do all the “required” crafting out of a few stations in your ship. Put a bed up and a stove. Then spend all your time exploring new worlds! I cross a desert to find a rainbow forest where I find a shiny rainbow cape (essential starbound pimp gear!). I then chop down one of the trees to make a rainbow wood bed on my ship. I fly off to a sweltering jungle. As I battle the wildlife and cut through the jungle, I collect a vast wealth of food before stumbling across a giant avian temple! I plunder its golden thrones and expensive statues, putting one up on my ship. I then put on my long undies and brave a frozen wasteland. I crest a hill to find a simian laboratory! I slaughter the damned dirty apes and toss their combat-stims in my pocket. I then exit the other side of the lab to find a crystaline wonderland to explore! I let out a whoop of joy the first time I found that mini-biome! Then I set course for a rocky, arid planet dominated by steep, rocky cliffs. I turn a corner and find the tower of a robo-wizard! Naturally, I kill him and take his pointy blue hat to match my rainbow cape ;) Once again I board my ship and land on a forest planet. I find nothing of real interest on the surface other than an asian-style fishman’s house, so I start spelunking. In one cave I find a saxophone to jazz out on before pushing into the planets core to find feroucious beasts and ancient statues!

    There is no need to craft in starbound! All the food you need can be picked up while hunting for ruins and dungeons (I had massive amounts of spare food+meat). Bandages can be crafted from vines you cut down in jungles and caves. Ores can typically be skimmed off the surface. Powerful techniques can be found in caves. Vorpal blades that spit acid can be looted from the corpses of fearsome bosses found roaming desolate worlds! You can both explore and craft on the go- its the best game for never settling down!

    While no one planet will hold as much diversity as a world of minecraft or terraria, there are an infinite amount of worlds to plunder then move on. The game actually rewards this, as you find various sub-biomes (Rainbow forest, bone trees, crsystiline fields, etc) and various villages, structures, pirate airships, etc. The goal is to keep loading up more planets and plundering them. You dump the loot on your ship and then set course for the unknown!

    • parkourhobo says:

      All of this may be true, but unfortunately you have to do the tutorial first and also track down enough fuel to start moving. Not THAT herculean of a task, but as Adam said, he never made it past that stage. (Neither did I – looks like a revisit is in order!)

    • MrFinnishDude says:

      They are going to make some things unplaceable in ships to encourage settling on the surface, And without crafting its hard to get all the good gear and survive on radioactive planets and such.

  14. MellowKrogoth says:

    I play Minecraft the same way as you, I prefer exploration to building.

    This discussion brings up an important point, by the way: nobody wants the same thing from this type of sandbox game. And unfortunately a sizable part of the “community” is made of assholes who get very angry and resort to insults towards the creator and players with differing opinions, as soon as the game isn’t heading in the way they want. Which is part of the reason Notch and friends quit.

    If I had my way all the effort would be spent on more interesting world generation, plants and creatures. That’s no excuse to start insulting people who aren’t interested in that and just want more redstone gadgets.

  15. DaedricShadow says:

    I think Starbound’s great in terms of exploration and building. The only thing that does annoy me, however, is how long it takes to find some copper (which is now required for most basic crafting recipes after the newest update) and how there aren’t many structures on the planets I’ve come across. If you’re looking more for the side of exploration and adventure, try out the missions that have been added. There’s one that requires you to go to a mining facility overrun with flesh-spitting aliens, it’s pretty fun if you’re searching for a more fast-paced part of the game.

  16. KurashiDragon says:

    Sir/Madam, I made an account on this random as all hell site because after reading your tale of travel and treasure because after reading it, I could only clap and say, “well done, excellent story.” I’ve rarely ever seen Starbound myself. I never really had an opinion of it but I have both minecraft and terraria and through your story I could see my own and the striking amount of similarities between them as I myself prefer to travel and find resources over building. (though I like still like to settle down eventually.) Makes me wanna play minecraft once more.

  17. aozgolo says:

    I think perhaps the biggest issue I have with these games is simply the “lifeless-ness” of the worlds. Sure Minecraft has it’s villagers, Terraria has it’s NPCs, but even once I’ve built a handsome village for all these people to mingle in I still feel overwhelmingly…. alone. I guess perhaps it’s a bit much to expect robust AI out of these NPCs or any kind of purpose beyond being random shopkeepers but I am reminded somewhat of the game Dark Cloud where as simplistic as the building simulation aspect was, each character had their own wants and preferences “I want a sign for my store” “I want my bedroom window to face east” “I don’t want to live next to THOSE guys”. I loved the little touches of personality everyone had and how they actually drove me to perfect my little towns to appease every person.. I love crafting but big huge empty castles are just big empty castles, bereft of life, I feel like Anna from Frozen bored to death with nobody to play with. I long for a game that gives me the freedom to do as I wish but still challenges me to deal with other personalities and make a choice of whether or not to appease them.

  18. JoeTheVideoGameGuy says:

    Don’t like crafting?
    Try Factorio.
    It’s like a top down Minecraft BUT you can automate EVERYTHING. Including crafting. And gathering resources.