[Updated post with a video tutorial and more decorating tips, here!]
Recently, I’ve been playing a lot of Terraria - a lovely little 2d side scrolling game where you fight monsters, build homes for NPCs, mine for ores and treasure, and explore from the top of the skies to the depths of hell. It’s just one of the batch in a relatively recent revival of interest in games with mining and building – from the insanely brilliant (and insanely inaccessible) Dwarf Fortress, to the breakout hit, Minecraft (with Infiniminer before it), and now Terraria. Each one takes a different graphical approach, but each one has you stepping into an uncaring, unknown, wilderness with just a few meager tools with which to bootstrap yourself to self-sufficiency.
More interestingly, though, each of these games starts out being all about survival (and several of them are quite unkind to the beginning player in terms of danger) but once the player has achieved a level of mastery, they all then develop into creative outlets. YouTube is bursting with Minecraft videos – from custom made music videos, to demonstrations of block based pseudo-computers, to tours of cube-recreations of places real and imagined.
Above, for example, is a screen shot of my third Terraria world – one where I went out of my way to try to make the NPC dwellings as nice as possible. The shelves, trees, potted plants, raised beds, hanging vines, underground stores with labelled chests – all of these are player-placed. I find it particularly interesting that in all these games, the world is procedurally generated (i.e. random, with added cleverness) and thus hasn’t had the touch of a level designer or a world-builder – it’s a blank canvas on which many players feel encouraged to make their own creative marks.
* Please note, if you start playing any of these games, you would be well to check out a tutorial beforehand. All three have their quirks and obfuscation – from what exactly constitutes a ‘house’ in Terraria, to how to survive your first day in Minecraft, to absolutely everything about Dwarf Fortress.