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Crossing Paths with Terraria

According to our Steam stats, the Rumble Pack somehow managed to put 108.6 cumulative hours into Terraria in just a single week. Granted, that’s split among half a dozen people, but still – that’s a lot of time devoted to digging holes in the ground. The Minecraft influence is pretty clear, but everyone has brought their own reasons for playing this wonderful little sandbox title. I’ve heard comparisons to LEGO sets, Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, Dig Dug and more; with a game so expansive, it’s only natural for it to evoke memories from a bunch of different sources. For me, though, Terraria offers everything I always wanted from Nintendo’s Animal Crossing, fulfilling that game’s potential for amazing social interaction whether your buddies are playing online or not.

Back in 2001, when Animal Crossing was a non-gaming novelty, I had these lofty dreams of maintaining a village with my entire family. There were four houses available for my parents, brother and I, and we were to usher in a new era of peace and prosperity for those furry chatterboxes that populated the game. Though Animal Crossing doesn’t offer simultaneous co-op, you can take turns with the upkeep. Anything that one player does – either good or bad – will have consequences for anyone else who boots up the game. And when you’re not playing, the game “plays itself” – plants grow, villagers leave and mail arrives at everyone’s doorstep. If I were to leave a note for my dad or plant a tree next to my mom’s house, they’d  eventually discover my good deeds on their own time.

Unfortunately, the grand experiment of “Yetisburg” never got very far off the ground. My dad and brother wanted nothing to do with the babyish dialogue and feng shui interior decorating, while my mom, the other big gamer in the family, had little patience for paying a virtual mortgage to a crooked raccoon.* Seeing as I was left stranded, not even the allure of NES games could sustain my interest, and the village was soon taken over by weeds. (Tom knows this phenomenon all too well.)

Yetisburg’s tragic demise was but a footnote in my gaming career, but the memories came flooding back when Terraria was included in Steam’s “Summer Camp” sale. I’m not a big PC gamer and Minecraft has left me confounded in the past, but I’m not one to turn down a popular game when it’s under five bucks. Upon booting Terraria up and entering my randomly generated new world, I was asked to chop down lumber and gather supplies for a small house. Doing chores in a video game? That sounded awfully familiar. I dug a few tunnels, fought off a couple blobs and planted some torches before shutting it down for the afternoon. It seemed fun, but I could see that other Rumble Pack group members were picking it up and I figured I’d wait until we were all playing that evening.

When I signed in after dinner, I was invited to a friend’s server. I could already see that the group had put a fair amount of time into their world, but I was completely unprepared for the progress they had made. The first thing I saw was their towering, multi-story base with multiple NPCs and multiple doors for them to open. The tunnels were expansive and well-lit, and all of my friends had decked themselves out with colorful armor, hook-shots, double jumps and other wild stuff. In just a few short hours, it felt like Terraria had completely transformed into something that was both wildly exciting and intimidating at the same time.

Now, if you know me well at all, you’re aware that I burn that midnight oil almost every night. I pick up the controller long after the rest of you have hit the pillow, and this makes for some fairly solitary gaming habits. (Don’t feel bad for me – I much prefer my single player adventures.) So after everyone sheathed their swords for the night, I was free to tinker with the world as much as I wanted. Not being an ass, I kept almost everything in tact, but I did build myself a little above-ground fort, and I left a sign with a hidden message deep underground. (Nobody has found it yet.) Though my pick axe was only of the dull, copper variety, I was able to carve out a path to some untapped iron ore, and I then I too retired.

Since that opening evening, my play sessions have been sporadic. I’m still plugging away at games like Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and Ms. Splosion Man, which leaves little time for an endlessly fun timesink like Terraria. However, I felt oddly satisfied about my small contributions to my friends’ world. My little fort had apparently been converted into a makeshift nursing station, my own tunnels had extended to the lava-filled depths and my little avatar helped down the Eye of Cthulu in the group’s first major boss fight. I’ve been wanted to craft a virtual world ever since user-generated content became de rigueur, and now thanks to Terraria, I’ve finally helped do just that. And unlike Yetisburg, I think its future looks quite bright.

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