Minecraft was first released just a few years ago, but when a paradigm-shifting piece of media comes along the rest of the world is quick to take inspiration from it. The absolutely terrible XBLA knock-off FortressCraft was the first, and last month a much more interesting game called Terraria came out on Steam for $9.99. It is clearly inspired by Minecraft, and there is a long checklist of identical features. It is, nonetheless, a very different product, and just might be called the first in the new genre of games that Notch and Minecraft have created.
Both games begin very similarly. First, a random world is created. Players are deposited in it with minimal instruction and are expected to build, fight, and explore their way to no goal other than their own satisfaction. In both games, players can explore mining, the crafting of items, building of structures, day and night cycles, and hellish regions full of demons.
Beyond these simliarities, the games feel very different and emphasize different parts of what might be deemed the Minecraft experience. Here's a breakdown of their similarities and differences in three key areas:
- Minecraft: Minecraft is played from a first-person perspective in a blocky 3D world. The 3D allows players to construct much grander and more diverse structures than they can in Terraria. It also means that each randomly generated world has more to it than a Terraria world, resulting in a much more interesting environment than the maps in Terraria.
- Terraria: Terraria took the Minecraft formula and applied it in a 2D side-scrolling environment. This limits the coolness and breadth of different types of structures players can build, and removes much of the appeal that Minecraft held for its obsessive builder fanbase. It does prove a more suitable place to apply the Minecraft combat system though, and the one-button fighting from both games feels much better in Terraria's 2D world. The sprite-based graphics are also considerably more charming than Minecraft's so-ugly-it's-cute 3D, and the ability to customize characters' appearance without importing skins is a welcome aesthetic addition.
- Minecraft: Minecraft's crafting system is the basis of its building-based gameplay. Players harvest resources and make them into elaborate items for their homes/castles/spaceships: redstone to trigger switches, beds to sleep on, and cakes to show off with. There aren't too many different objects to craft or raw materials to craft from, so the focus is on harvesting lots of the few materials you need at any given time efficiently, then applying them en masse to major building projects.
- Terraria: Players still harvest materials and craft them into objects, but the focus is placed much more on weapons than homewares. While players can construct doors, lights, and beds still, they also have more than 100 different weapons to craft, as opposed to a mere handful in Minecraft. This plays into the game's greater emphasis on adventure and combat vs. building, as it forces players to find a staggering variety of elaborate resources to construct their weapons, which in turn allows them to venture out further from home for better materials and weapons.
- Minecraft: A single-player game of Minecraft is a truly solitary experience. The player will never encounter another friendly creature of any type, and a feeling of isolation and self-reliance is part of what makes Minecraft so special as a gameplay experience. For more social players, however, this gets dull after a while. Multiplayer Minecraft is much more satisfying, allowing friends to work together buidling their masterpieces and protecting each other. It is also well-coded, easy-to-use, and relatively stable.
- Terraria: Even in single-player Terraria, the player is seldom alone after the intial phase of the game. This is because Team Terraria (they don't have an official name) added an NPC system to the Minecraft brew. If the player builds unitary housed containing all the basics (bed, door, light, etc.), NPC characters will eventually move into them. These characters will sell your items, heal them, and provide other services while giving the game a very different flavor than Minecraft. While in Minecraft players can build whatever they want, it can seem pointless without anyone inhabiting their creations. In Terraria the player builds a town, and it can be very satisfying to watch people move in. However, players do have to protect these townsfolk from monsters, which is a chore for single-player players. This can be mitigated by playing Terraria with friends online, which works simliarly to Minecraft multiplayer on paper but doesn't function as well. The game was made very quickly by a small team and recently released, so this might improve with time as Team Terraria gets to know what sort of servers they need to run (and make some money to buy them).
Terraria operates within the same framework that Minecraft created, but encourages players to use the game to different ends. Minecraft emphasizes creating glorious structures, while Terraria emphasizes the conquest and exploration of a charming world. To call Terraria a Minecraft clone is largely accurate, but need not be derisive. Many games, movies, and paintings have started their own genres in their wakes. Minecraft, like Grand Theft Auto, Rogue, and many other past great games before it, now has created its own genre. Terraria is not the first other game in that genre, but a very good one. I would consider it the Saint's Row to Minecraft's Grand Theft Auto: derivative, but in a meaningful and positive way.