Friday, November 30, 2012

Terraria Physics

I wrote a short story recently for the Unfettered anthology, entitled The Jester. In doing the final polishing the following happened that illustrates how strange life can be for a writer of fiction who is also a gamer.

"There's a problem with your story," my wife Robin said walking slowly into my office, head down with a concerned look.

I stopped typing a blog post I wasn't all that interested in. I've been hard pressed to come up with anything worth writing about. I prefer to either publish essays that are informative or at least entertaining, and I've not thought of anything in a long while. "There's nothing wrong with the story."

"Yes there is."

"No there's not. You've read it, I've read it. We've had the writer's group go over it—there's nothing wrong."

"It's physics," Robin said in an ominous tone as she flopped down on the bed. The dog followed her.  

Instantly I knew what she was talking about. "The water and the shaft?"

"Yes." Again she sounded morbid as if the test results had come back malignant. "It won't work."

"Yes it will," I said. "Trust me, I thought of that. The thing you don't know is that the source is a mountain lake high above the exit. The reader won't know that either because Royce and Hadrian can't know. But I don't think anyone reading the story will think about it to that degree."

Robin gave me an, are you kidding, look.

If you've not been published, you've not known the joys of detailed scrutiny. I'm not talking about harsh critics complaining about typos or cardboard characters, I'm talking about superfans who believe so deeply in the books that they need to know the fate of everything and are very disturbed if there's inconsistencies, or an error of any sort. In my upcoming novel The Crown Tower, some beta reviewers wanted to know the fate of the barge. This is equivalent to feeling it's important to know what happened to the boats that were left at the bottom of the Cliffs of Insanity in The Princess Bride. Then there are those who question how Hadrian draws that long spadone off his back, or how in Percepliquis did Hall build a ship on the beach when the tide so quickly erases it? One fellow mentioned that the baker's table in Nyphron Rising wouldn't jar when Constance slammed her hand on it—because baker's tables are very solid.

It's not that I don't have answers for these sorts of questions, most of the time I do—the rest of the time I'll make one up—but I'm always amazed that people ponder my work to this degree. Robin knows this, hence the look.

"But it won't. Think of a diving bell. Water won't fill a bell—air gets trapped underneath. The water won't flow up a shaft like that."

"Sure it will. Think of siphoning gas. As long as the end of the tube is lower than the gas tank, gas will flow up hill. The water will fill until it reaches the same level as the source."

"I don't think it will." Robin had a very convinced expression—so did the dog. The dog always takes her side.

It was at this point that Robin fixed me with a serious stare and said. "I've done it in Terraria."

For those of you who don't know. Terraria is a computer game—sort of a 2D Minecraft—where you dig to find minerals to craft armor and weapons. You can build homes, and fortresses as well as fight monsters. Sometimes, while digging you encounter water or lava.

"So have I." I countered. "That's how I drain shafts."

"But I made my ocean home that way. I built a room and then just pumped the water out. The room never refilled."

"You must have been pumping air in the room to replace the water like divers clear goggles underwater by blowing out of their noses."

"But I wasn't pumping air in," she insisted. "I was only pumping water out. And the room never refilled."

The dog had that condescending look that suggested she was right. Personally I think Tobi takes her side for political reasons.

"Has it occurred to you that Terraria might not be real?"

Robin looked at me as if I'd just suggested Santa Claus was a myth (Santa Claus is also in Terraria.)

"Think of it this way." I stood up and used my hands to illustrate the complexity of my theory, wishing secretly that I had a hotline to Bill Nye. "If I put a glass upside-down in a sink filled with water, it will trap air, just like your diving bell. But if I poke a hole in the top, the air will rush out and the glass will fill with water."

"I don't think so."

At first I thought she was going to be clever and say I couldn’t poke a hole in glass—I actually didn't have an answer to that one. Instead she surprised me.

"It doesn't happen that way in Terraria." She was sticking to computer game physics.

My story integrity was on the line. As absurd as it was, we went downstairs to the kitchen and I began to fill the sink with water. I suggested I demonstrate with the colander, but she wasn't going to go for that. We found a plastic cup. It was actually the old container for chocolate covered almonds we bought at the supermarket. Only a few left so they were eaten in the name of science.

Upside-down and submerged the cup remained filled with air.

"Feel the resistance?" I asked.

Robin nodded. "Now cut a hole in the top while I hold it in the water."

I took a knife from the block and saw the next day's headline: AUTHOR SLICES LATE WIFE'S WRISTS, CLAIMS IT WAS FOR SHORT STORY.

I poked a tiny hole and watched her.

Robin hesitated for about a minute staring in the sink, a little smirk rising on her lips. "Okay, maybe your right."

She let go of the cup and started to walk out of the kitchen then stopped, turned and said as a parting shot, "But it works in Terraria."

I returned to the keyboard and realized I no longer had a blog post problem.


  1. Could be worse, Michael. You could start to incorporate Skyrim physics!

  2. As long as you don't let her play anything with the Unreal Engine where you can fall from 100 miles in the air and take no damage when landing... I think you'll be ok.

  3. I'm glad you took my suggestion! Sorry for adding to any book delays :) Such a great game.

  4. Phinigel Autropos approves of this science experiment.

  5. Cute Chris.

    No real delays Pickle, only play after work. I don't eat desert until after dinner either.

    Stopped Skyrim, Beat, sorta lost interest when the mainline insisted on my good character stealing and pinning the crime on another to progress.

  6. Laughing out loud in the coffee shop.......people staring. Thanks for the snort!

  7. Great blog post, sience discussions are the most annoying, but enjoyable at the same time!

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