February 25, 2015

A Hellivator to Heaven: Adventures in Terraria

I just finished building my first Hellivator. It is a modest one, comprised of a 3-block wide shaft with periodic wooden platforms spaced roughly before my fall damage threshold. Some torches light the path downward. And I still need to go back through and tweak the spacing of a few platforms, as I take a bit of damage when riding my express wonka-vator all the way down to the fiery underworld. But it sure beats crawling through the dangerous labyrinth of tunnels and passages I hollowed out so much longer ago. 

But now that I'm down here, amidst the lava pools and demons, I'm wondering what to do next. And so it goes with Terraria.

I dabbled ever so briefly with Minecraft, the progenitor of the rising tide of survival-craft games (zombies optional of course). For all of Minecraft's earth shattering novelty, I was never that taken by the experience of actually playing it. The casualness of the game's aesthetic never compelled me to spend my gaming-at-my-PC-desk-time on it over other titles. Likewise, I could never imagine playing Terraria, a 2D side-scrolling version of Minecraft for lack of a more detailed explanation, at my desk either.

Coming up for air...

But on my mobile device, Terraria has captivated me in a way that I never expected to be captivated. So much so that I've found myself perched in all sorts of strange positions around the house starring at my iPhone (or iPad) screen, feverishly pickaxing my way through some corridor or piling up blocks in hopes of erecting some monument of extraordinary magnitude. Should I be playing this at my desk? Would I be more comfortable there? No time to figure it out - there are blocks that need to be mined!

Terraria, from Re-Logic, came out in 2011 on PC and 2013 on various mobile platforms. I picked it up just a few short months ago on a whim to see what all the fuss was about. For those that are totally in the dark about the game, essentially you make a character and then spawn them into a procedurally generated world. This 2D, side-scrolling, pixel-art ant farm has a variety of surface biomes (temperate, desert, jungle, arctic, etc.) as well as a number of subterranean layers that extend far below the surface; way, way down a land of fire, brimstone, and flying devil monsters.

A zoom-out of the surface and that little floating island above my house ... how curious indeed!

At night, zombies and other baddies spawn and come after you, but the jabbering hordes are easily dispatched with your trusty sharp/clubby thing. The rest of the time is spent merrily digging into the ground, chopping down (and replanting if you are wise!) trees, using various materials to craft tools, shelters, platinum chandeliers, hellforges, light sabers (okay "phase" blades) multi-story apartment complexes, and Chinese paper lanterns that you can hang from the rafters.

The crafting is pretty extensive (although my experience in the survival craft genre is pretty NOT extensive, so what do I know) with lots of base materials leading to all sorts of enticing (or mostly useless) items. Of course, pretty soon you are carrying around a small moving truck worth of cobbled-together knick-knacks. And so you build a house and dump the booty into newly-minted treasure chests. Pretty soon a "bloodmoon" event happens and you have a legion of zombies pounding through your futile wooden doors. So you drive them off and swear you'll get around to making "iron doors" once you manage to find more "iron ore" on a future excavation foray. And so it goes: crafting, building, and dreaming.

It's the dreaming part that's fun - thinking about what sorts of maniacal dwellings and impossible architectural wonders you can build. But I'm not there yet. So far, my one-room hilltop dwelling has a basement and second floor. And then I added a second basement level (woodshop) and a third floor. I wasn't happy with the sleeping arrangements on the third floor, so I built a glass walled room at the top, with a great big demon bed. I also hung my platinum chandelier that I admire in the moonlight while watching the zombies hammer pitifully on my brand new iron doors. Life is good.

And then my daughter showed up. She is three.

Behold the platinum chandelier!

Terraria has multiplayer and I'm determined at some point to get my wife, my 3-year old, and my 1-year old (for good measure) all playing at the same time. Until then, I'll settle for the 3-year old. But having a 3-year old, with only a rudimentary understanding of the finer nuances of movement, saunter into your meticulously arranged domicile and start swinging their pickaxe around is cause for alarm! I also discovered her love of emptying my treasure chests and depositing the contents all over the landscape. Something had to be done! She needed her own place to call home. But not too far away - she is only three after all.

So the next project was building a little house on the adjacent hill. So up went a cute little tower with it's own glass bedroom at the top, and DOUBLE iron doors - because she really, really doesn't like the zombies, even through I crafted her an awesome red lightsaber limb-remover that would make Darth Vader blush. Unfortunately, she usually puts the lightsaber in the trunk at the foot of her bed and calls for daddy to clamber across the rope bridge we built so I can dispatch the zombies. Kids! Do I have to do everything myself?

Skybridge to the house-also-with-a-glass-bedroom next door

After she goes to bed, I wonder what challenge I should take up next. I already built an apartment complex for the all of the NPCs. The NPCs by the way are like herding cats. I'm pretty close to just sealing them inside their sarcophagus of tiny rooms and calling it a day. For as it stands, when the zombies come knocking they like to smash into the apartment building, causing some of the NPC's to vacate their rooms and take up residence in my beautiful glass bedroom. No! You can't stay here! So I go back and fix up their apartment building (am I a digital slum lord now?) and lure them back to the menagerie with promises of beholding the platinum chandelier. Such is life ...

Terraria features a curious mythos of sorts, something about crimson and corruption taking up root in the land. And there are big bosses to fight that advance the narrative forward. The final chapter involves throwing a voodoo doll into the hot "magma" of the underworld and thus summoning the wall of flesh! Once defeated, so the legend goes, the world will turn into "hardmode" and the corruption or crimson will start spreading and devouring the land until it is contained and stopped. That sounds like a lot of work to deal with.

The multi-story apartment building with paper lanters hanging over a rooftop deck, complete with a green roof!

For now, I'm content NOT having to deal with the wall of flesh and the wonders of hardmode; at least in this world. I don't want my hilltop village to succumb to evil forces. I'm already paranoid enough about meteorites landing on my glass towers. One was dangerously close already. I should really build a safety dome over the whole compound to keep it all protected. Do I have enough glass? Where can I find more sand? Where will I put the platinum chandelier? I'm going to need a LOT of paper lanterns!

That said, perhaps I'll have my character slip through the fabric of space-time and go into a different, parallel universe. Characters are not bound to a particular world and can move between other spawned worlds, which is a clever concept. I'm thinking long-range here. Eventually, I'll want to go into hardmode to get the hardmode ores to craft the hardmode sharp/clubby things to defeat the hardmode bosses and figure out how it all ends. But I can do all this a different world, keeping my house, and my daughters house, and the tenement building with the mumbling NPCs and the zombie trapped in the basement all perfectly intact.

I'll need another hellivator too.

A gravely reminder of past mis-steps each I drop through the underground...


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