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Crafting games could learn something from My Time at Portia

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A small change makes crafting less of a chore

A man stands next to a boat overlooking a new town Pathea Games/Team17 Digital Ltd

My Time at Portia might seem like familiar territory. It has all the farming, crafting, relationship-building, mining, and monsters you’ve seen in other farming and crafting sims. But where it sets itself apart from Stardew Valley and its ilk is not only in its charm, which it has in spades, but also in how developer Pathea Games streamlined some of the genre’s biggest time wasters.

Before the game delivers its twist on the formula, it treads some common ground first. After I created my character, I set off to claim an old cottage that was bestowed upon me in a town called Portia. As is often the case with these types of games, it’s up to me to restore the aging home to its former glory, improve the lives of the town’s residents by taking up odd jobs and slowly piecing together the potentially post-apocalyptic subplot.

A man stares at large ruins in the distance
Most of the town is cute and dainty, but what about these old ruins?
Pathea Games/Team17 Digital Ltd

In order to do any of that, I have to do a lot of crafting. In fact, crafting is an integral part of everything in My Time at Portia. Taking on jobs in the town’s community board is the fastest way to make money, gain experience for leveling up, and improve relationships with my fellow neighbors. Crafting is also a huge component in advancing the story, with one of the first major tasks involving building a bridge to open up more of the map.

However, it wasn’t long before I ran into one of my least favorite things in sims like these: Just about every crafting item requires a Matryoshka doll-like path to creating them.

For instance, to make copper pipes, I need to gather wood and stone to make a smelter. I’ll also need to gather other crafting materials to make a grinder. Then I’ll need to smelt some iron ore to finally have what I need to make my pipes. In the process of gathering all those materials, I had to make some boxes to carry the overflow of other crafting materials I gathered.

The copper bars needed here can be in my inventory or in an item box. It doesn’t matter.
Pathea Games/Team17 Digital Ltd

Normally, this would cascade into intense resource management that would suck all the fun out of the process, but I love how easy crafting is in My Time at Portia. Pathea implemented a simple feature to dramatically reduce the headaches involved with the process: As long as I’ve gathered the crafting items I need, and it exists in either my inventory or any of my item boxes, I can use those items to craft. There’s no need to hunt them down again.

I’m not sure why so many other games in the genre require you to have materials literally on hand to craft, instead of streamlining the process in a way only video games can. It may seem like a simple quality-of-life addition, but it’s actually become my favorite part of My Time at Portia.

To be fair, some of the larger, multistep projects do require me to not only have on hand, but physically place crafting materials to build what I need. It’s an odd process, considering how streamlined the rest of this system is.

Despite that blemish, there is still more to love about crafting in My Time at Portia. After a while, I found myself juggling several projects. In those cases, it becomes easy to forget what exact items I need to make, how many materials I need, and where I need to gather those materials in the first place.

A crafting screen which shows all the necessary info to create a fishing pole
Everything you need to know about making any item is on full display.
Pathea Games/Team17 Digital Ltd

In other crafting games, it’s usually up to the player to take mental stock of not only what they need to craft next, but how much of each resource they need, and where to find them. It becomes a complicated process that usually involves me having a crafting guide open on my computer to help streamline the process in games like Stardew Valley.

Thankfully, Portia’s developers solved this issue by further simplifying crafting. As your story-based tasks pile up, each crafting station has a special section dedicated to crafting projects required for missions. This section is great to turn to if you’ve stepped away from the main path to do side missions and forgot what needs to be made to advance the story.

Once it’s time to craft, all the guesswork is removed. I never had to question what I needed to do when crafting because I could easily see what items need to be made for missions, how many resources are required for that project, and where I could find the resources I need. All of this is displayed on a single screen, which made progressing through the story a breeze.

Farming and crafting sims can be irresistible, even when they are dark and gloomy. But inherent to all of them is a lot of labor. The effort is usually worth it, as there’s plenty to enjoy in seeing all the fruits of your labor pay off. But nearly every game in the genre shares the same rough edges around unoptimized, unavoidable busy work.

My Time at Portia’s developers proved that another game can slide into this crowded space if it has something new to offer, like a well-designed crafting process. Those thoughtful decisions made crafting essential items for the game’s colorful and flamboyant cast of characters enjoyable. Plus, unraveling the darker subplot contrasted against the otherwise cheerful game kept me eager to explore Portia even further.

My Time at Portia is available now Windows PC via Steam and the Epic Games Store with a Mac release planned for the near future.