It's always a special moment when a game grips you. And those special moments are becoming increasingly frequent in this beautiful new world of procedurally generated, emergent, single-player epics. I nearly didn't click with Terraria. Now the clicking is deafening, and I want to play little else. So here's an introduction to my intention to spend an awful lot of time with this one.
My first attempt to play Terraria didn’t go well. A 2D, side-scrolling world, a character equipped with a pick and axe, and the ability to chop up cubes of the world. It was Minecraft with a missing dimension.
Digging down, I found nothing but dirt and stone. Heading left and right I was relentlessly attacked by boring blobs of goo, and found nothing but trees. And after a few minutes I thought: “I could be playing Minecraft,” and quit.
The reason I went back was because someone mentioned a space gun. A what now? Minecraft doesn’t have space guns. Nor a War Axe of the Night. And it definitely doesn’t have a grappling hook. And I want a grappling hook.
It seemed I’d been unlucky with the world I’d spawned. Ditching it, I generated a new one, and this time had the good sense to skin my character to look like a Smurf. His name is Smurf.
It seems with Terraria that talking to someone else who’s played it can be helpful. (Thanks Phill!) Not everything is instinctive. However, there’s also the internal help of a character called Guide, who will wander about the lands and offer you tips if you ask him. Not many tips, admittedly, and they’re on a loop, appearing no matter how many times you’ve previously followed it. And sadly adding nothing new when you discover some of the game’s more esoteric inclusions. However, my Guide was somewhat less helpful by choosing to stand at the bottom of a deep pool.
The game’s world of squares is much like a flattened Minecraft, with tiles representing a large variety of substances, most of which can be hit with something, then added to your inventory. As you reconstruct the terrain, it adapts to your actions. Dig a tunnel at the bottom of a pool and water will flow into it. Knock out the bottom of a pillar of sand and it will fall down to replace it. So really there’s rarely a situation you can’t eventually fix. But my Guide being in this particular hole was not helpful.
I had to jump in, rattle through as many of his tips as I could before my breath ran out, then frantically swim for the surface. It wasn’t perhaps the ideal way to learn.
However, old Guidey now lives in my house. I call it my house. I think he thinks it’s his, what with his telling me that NPCs will only live one to a home, and his never leaving. But it’s mine.
That’s perhaps the first big distinction between Terraria and Minecraft – the NPCs. If you meet certain criteria (have collected so much money from drops, reached a certain level of health, etc) and built homes, people will move in. A house has to have two walls, a roof, background walls (a strange peculiarity of the game’s 2D nature is you must fill in the space between the walls with specifically crafted wall stones before it will be considered ‘indoors’), and be decorated with a table, chairs, and a light source. All that in place and people show up. Currently I’m sharing my little village with a Merchant, who will sell bits and bobs, and a Demolitionist, who has a nice range in bombs and dynamite.
Much of what draws me to constantly return to Minecraft is here too. Digging to explore, essentially. However the results here are far more frequent, and often more interesting. Like stumbling upon the writhing altars that hid deep beneath the ground below my house, from which I’ve learned I can summon the Eye of Cthulhu. You know, that sort of thing.
Of course, knowing what those weird tentacle things are isn’t something I could discern on my own. Which means the game really does require the companionship of its fan-made wiki. (Be a bit careful with that – it seems some pornographic pics have been loaded to its archive, and appeared on the front page for me earlier.)
Crafting is relatively simple. Mostly because you can see the end product without having to experiment. If you possess the ingredients in their right numbers, and are stood near enough to the correct crafting tools (there’s a crafting table, anvil, furnace, and even a chair and table for some more fiddly bits), possibilities will appear in your crafting menu. So it is that I’m now sporting a rather flashy pair of shades thanks to the combination of two lenses, obtained from the creepy flying eyeballs that appear at night time.
I’ve become very house proud. My home has two storeys, and a very smart chandelier. The others? They get grey boxes. I’m the king.
Death has been oddly punishing. You don’t lose any items – in fact you respawns with them all in your expansive pockets. Instead you lose half of your money. Which is brutal. There’s this miner’s hat the merchant sells. It has a light on it. I want it so much, but it costs a fortune. Each death, of which I’ve experienced four in the five or six hours I’ve been playing, has been a massive setback toward that goal. It makes me want to stay alive, an awful lot. It makes me play more carefully. You know, right up until the point that I realise I can store money in the chest in my house, and not lose it, and oh my goodness arrggghhhhhhh.
Anything I’ve seen so far in these first few hours barely scrapes the surface of what I’ve glanced at in the wiki. There is a lot to do, and I’m going to do it. And now I’ve crafted myself an iron pickaxe, upgraded from the copper one I was struggling with, I’m going to be able to do it a lot more quickly. Of course it’ll be nothing compared to the silver, gold, nightmare (goodness), and molten pickaxes that are to come. And the dungeons, the Corruption, boss fights, and figuring out how and when I get magic spells. Oh, and a grappling hook.