Terra Nil

Most builder games have you break down nature to add technology. Nature is viewed as chaotic and random, whereas technology is clean, orderly, and proper. Civilization and SimCity are the grandfathers of that particular mindset, and truthfully, it is often the foundation of most urban engineer educations. Yet, it’s 2021 and this planet is having a hell of a time supporting us. We are going to be gone long before it. So perhaps our hubris that we somehow mastered the complexity of millions of years of evolution and balance is a tad off…

Ok, weird rant aside, there’s an interesting game making some social rounds on rebuilding greenery. We’ve seen a few of these in the past, though mostly relegated to terraforming Mars in some fashion. (And then, only terraforming so that it can be torn down and technology can take its place.) The game in question is Terra Nil, which is a rather small demo you can find on Steam.

Small in the sense of less than a gig in size, and effectively just the tutorial without the ability to save. You get to see the large brush concepts here, and a “full” playthrough is about 20 minutes. As much as it’s a game, there are metrics and bars and whatnot, it also feels more like building a zen garden.

There are no people in the demo, and all the technology in use has as a sole purpose to improve the expansion of nature. I used a solar dish to burn a field, to make ash, in order to grow a giant lush forest. I’ve dug trenches to increase the sprawl of water and then turned them into marshes.

The rules of the game are pretty simple, and the tutorial is more like “here’s things, figure it out” than actually helpful. But games are more than a set of buttons. The best of them put you in the conductor’s seat for a private journey that feels self directed. A movie where you can’t really see the edges of the set. There’s a spark here of that, some potential. Who knows what we’ll get in the end.

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