You’re familiar with the setup: you’re in a procedurally generated world tasked with surviving by using only the resources the land provides. It’s a game premise that’s been around for a while but has been popularized by Mojang’s Minecraft. But today I’m not writing about Notch’s colorful, square universe. I’m writing about Don’t Starve, Klei Entertainment’s brutal survival game.
For those who know anything of Klei’s work, they know right off the bat that Don’t Starve is guaranteed to have at least one thing: fantastic 2D art. Like Mark of the Ninja and the Shank games before it, Don’t Starve continues Keli’s tradition of gorgeous worlds. Don’t Starve’s aesthetic looks like it was formed out of the point of a pencil. Characters and items have nice, dark edges, while the landscape is dotted with sketches of ground and oceans. The exaggerated features of the main characters provide a cartoony look, but the darker color palette enforces the somber theme of the game: man against nature. I’ll let the screenshots speak for themselves, but it’s easy to see that Klei continues to make awesome visuals.
While Minecraft was referenced in the opening paragraph, there are for more differences than similarities. Minecraft more often acts like a canvas for people to create upon in the midst of trying to survive. It’s about building a gorgeous stone and log home while avoiding creepers and digging holes. Don’t Starve doesn’t have any of that creative expression though- it’s a game very much focused on the dangers of surviving. Even its title is an imperative aimed at making sure the player keeps an eye on the ever sinking hunger bar that signals death if emptied.
Don’t Starve’s game loop is a short one, but merciless: gather resources to stay fed and survive the night. When morning comes, start again. Players make degradable tools made of resources strewn across the landscape to gather more valuable resources that will allow for temporary bases. Axes and pickaxes are made from the flint and saplings that can be picked by hand. These tools lead to wood and stone resources that are used to create fires and fire pits, the latter being a permanent base that takes up less resources to ignite but costs a greater initial price.
With wise use of the things around them, players can eventually gain headway and move up to longer lasting tools and more useful items like chests, farm plots, and armor. To access any of these higher recipes though, players must use the game’s research system. This consists of building a costly research machine where precious resources can be traded in for research points. This allows players to unlock the more complex recipes though, which are persistent throughout playthroughs.
The persistent recipes and research points are one of the few mercies the game provides. Aside from the danger of hunger, the game’s time cycle has a night period where the pitch black means death. Setting up a strategically placed fireplace that allows activities to be accomplished in the short radius of light provided by the flames is important as is making sure that a main base is never too far away when dusk falls. Getting caught in the dark doesn’t just mean not knowing where to go, it means getting immediately chewed up by the unseeable things that stalk the land at night.
The game is currently in a pre-purchase beta, where the developers are conversing with the community about the game’s directions. In the few weeks I’ve been playing it, items have been removed and added, but the same great anxiety of making sure I have enough to survive through the night remains. Add to that Klei’s always gorgeous art, and you have a project worth keeping an eye on.
You can check out the demo for Don’t Starve through the Chrome Web Store here.