Longtime fans of Terraria, a sandbox adventure game in the vein of Minecraft that had been exclusive to Windows PCs, decried last year's announcement of a console version that would be released on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network. They felt slighted by the news because Re-Logic, the developer of the PC version, said it would no longer update the game — whereas the console version would include new content from developer Engine Software.
But during a demo of the XBLA version of Terraria conducted last week, Logan Rosenstein, community manager for console version publisher 505 Games, pointed out, "Not everyone is a PC gamer ... not everyone's on Steam."
The company wanted to bring Terraria, renowned for the near-boundless exploration available in its game world, to a larger audience, but it faced a few obstacles — aside from the PC community's complaints. Terraria's interface and controls are designed for a mouse and keyboard: Players make frequent use of their inventory, and major elements such as digging and building require fine control for aiming.
And perhaps the most significant hurdle in bringing Terraria to a console audience — one that may be less hardcore than the game's PC fan base — is its lack of direction. By design, the PC version explains only the most basic gameplay elements, and it doesn't include any set missions.
The developers of Terraria on console wanted to make the game more accessible to new players, but they didn't want to change the fundamentals of the experience: namely, that Terraria is about exploring and finding your own way through the world. Implementing too much structure risked stifling that spirit of adventure, one of the principal similarities between Terraria and Minecraft that makes both games so appealing and engrossing.
So Engine Software added explanatory tips that pop up periodically to point out information to players, although according to Rosenstein, the studio took care to ensure that the tips don't explain everything about the world of Terraria. "It's more of the very basics, just to get you up and running," he said. "Once you get into the game, you start to figure it out."
A major element of playing Terraria is something that isn't actually in the game: the Terraria Wiki, a massive compendium containing the entirety of the world's collected knowledge of the game. It's a tremendous resource for Terraria players, and Rosenstein said he "relied heavily on it" when he played the PC version. According to Rosenstein, the tips in the console version of Terraria are "designed so that you don't feel like you have to" check out the wiki just to understand what's going on, but since they're just basic instructions, 505 Games expects console players will refer to the wiki just like PC players have been doing.
"The tutorial stuff isn't there to replace the wiki; it's there to kind of supplement the basics," Rosenstein explained.
But before the developers worried about implementing tutorials, they had to bring the game mechanics over to the consoles. Doing that entailed a "complete rewrite" of the game, according to Rosenstein, since the console version is controlled completely differently.
For elements like digging and fighting, Terraria on console allows players to choose auto and manual aiming modes. In auto mode, you'll just have to aim your tool in a particular direction and pull the right trigger for an action. We pulled out a pickax, pointed the left stick downward and pressed the right trigger to start swinging. The character immediately began digging into the ground and automatically harvesting the elements that broke free.
You'll just keep going in whatever direction you're holding the stick, since the game automatically keeps clearing out the three blocks' worth of free space that your character needs to move. "It makes it so digging is a lot faster," said Rosenstein. Auto mode is also useful in combat, since you can just keep hitting the trigger to swing a sword or fire a gun while you move the reticle with the stick.
"The tutorial stuff isn't there to replace the wiki"
Clicking in the right stick engages manual mode, which gives you full control to aim at individual blocks that you may not be able to reach with auto mode. It also offers more precise aim for some weapons, and for designing and decorating structures that you build. Another new element is a world map, which offers an at-a-glance look at what you've explored and excavated in the 14 different environments available in Terraria.
Engine also had to redesign the inventory and the crafting system for a gamepad. You use the bumpers to move between a few items in your active inventory, and you can open up the full inventory to start crafting. The screens tell you the ingredients you need for an item or potion, and whether you have those ingredients in your possession. The studio brought over the game's multiplayer component. too; it supports eight players online, and up to four in local split-screen action on an HDTV.
"There's really no downgrading," said Rosenstein, when we asked him to compare the content and mechanics in the PC and console versions of Terraria. "The goal is to bring a popular game to an audience that didn't have it before."
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