New sandbox craft-'em-up TUG comes to Steam Early Access

Tim Clark at

It would be lazy and reductive of me to describe Nerd Kingdom’s TUG as a Minecraft-a-like. But this is the internet, where attention spans are measured in picoseconds and hummingbird flaps, and the fact is the game is quite a bit like Minecraft. However, it’s also different in a number of of important ways, as you can find out for yourself, because it’s just gone live on Steam Early Access, where the price of entry is $9.99.

The biggest difference is the ethos behind TUG’s creation. It was originally incepted as an academic project, and the team creating it at Nerd Kingdom has a background in economics, psychology and other fields of sociological research. “The data we get in the game we actually apply to real world understandings as well,’ says Peter Salinas, founder of Nerd Kingdom, and owner of one of the best beards in development right now. “How people collaborate and learn socially, or deal and don’t deal with problems. All those things happen from an interesting play.”

In May of last year TUG raised $293,184 on Kickstarter. The early access alpha will enable the LA-based team to A/B test new features as they iterate on the game’s procedurally-generated voxel world. Key items on the wishlist include additional crafting content and the arrival of AI creatures.

Currently there are two gameplay types available to try in the alpha. The main Creative Mode, which we haven’t tried yet, and Survival Games – which is PvP using hastily crafted weapons. Think Lord Of The Flies meets Saturday morning cartoon. (Thankfully, the programmers I play against are polite enough to wait while I run around gathering resources for an axe before brutally caving my skull in.)

There’s one very obvious competitor on the horizon, though, which went into closed beta this week. “We’ll be able to do just about anything EverQuest Next can do,” says Salinas. “Even Creative Mode, for instance, we want to feel playable and interactive. We want to see what fun looks like to a 10 year-old… That being said we want to feel that there’s enough flexibility and freedom for a sophisticated user to actually jump in and make the experience everyone wants.”

So what about the Minecraft comparison? “The easiest thing to associate [TUG] with obviously is Minecraft,” says Salinas. “We want it to be open. They did it right, but we don’t want to just recreate it… We’re trying desperately to get away from blocks, for very obvious reasons.” Hmm, better not use my trusty ‘it’s chip off the old…’ outro then. Instead, allow me to direct you to TUG’s Early Access trailer, which you’ll find embedded below. Oh, and bonus fact: TUG stands for The Untitled Game. Although the team’s favourite user suggestion so far is ‘The Uncanny Gerbil’.