Have you ever wondered how long you could survive if you were left alone in the woods? At some point you’ve probably given it some thought – gather some twigs and grass for a fire, make a simple trap to catch animals, etc.. But have you ever thought about the long-term? What will you do when the giant spiders attack at night? Will you simply sleep next to your trusty wooden spear? Or do you prefer outlining your perimeter with deadly bee mines? These are the kinds of problems Don’t Starve asks you to solve.
Don’t Starve is being developed by Klei Entertainment, the people who created Mark of the Ninja and Shank, and though it retains the consistently fantastic and diverse art direction the studio is known for, the game-play is something very new for the 2D action developers.
It is an open-world, randomly-generated survival game. The basic game-play mechanic has you harvesting resources and crafting them into items to use against the hostile world. It’s a game that has you feeling constantly on edge by implementing things like perma-death, randomly generated maps, and by tapping into the player’s own fear of the unknown.
Don’t Starve is part of a contemporary trend in gaming that represents an answer to much of AAA development’s tendency to produce games that are tightly linear, guided, and often accused of being simple and overly forgiving. Minecraft is probably the most-well known example of a game that successfully applied this more free-form formula – an expansive and unguided world, many interacting systems available for the player to experiment with, and a high level of danger – and proved that there’s a huge audience looking for just that kind of experience.
This style of less-restrictive game design is one that actually pulls heavily from popular games from the past. Games like the original Legend of Zelda consisted of fully-explorable open worlds where death came swift and fast, with not even a map to guide you. The video game Rogue, which spawned the entire rogue-like genre, has a similar set-up, but adds in randomly generated environments to create an almost endless replayability.
Games riffing on these classic styles have been cropping up all over the indie scene in the last few years. Edmund McMillen’s 2011 dungeon crawler The Binding of Isaac draws heavily from both games, and From Software’s Dark Souls, considered one of the best games of that same year, brought a level of difficulty that, like the original Legend of Zelda, encouraged players to experiment with how to overcome obstacles.
Don’t Starve takes these concepts and attempts to create something unique. The game looks as if it’s taking place on the pages of an Edward Gorey book, perhaps poking fun at the fact that players will most likely face death quite often. However the game finds strength in being accessible where games like The Binding of Isaac are not. Where The Binding of Isaac and Dark Souls can be frustratingly unforgiving and stressful experiences, Don’t Starve is a more subtle, tranquil experience. It encourages you to explore and experiment with your environment at your own pace. But like the title implies, you can’t get too distracted, or you might starve, or worse.
The game possesses a humorously Gothic sensibility that is found in every aspect of the design. After the initial days of berry-picking, torch-lighting, and rabbit-hunting, Wilson, the player character, will quickly learn how to build a vaguely-defined “science machine”, which allows him to research materials and eventually become a full-fledged DIY alchemist, creating magical enchantments and spells. Klei has been regularly updating the game, keeping a countdown timer to the next major content release on the game’s main menu, as well as keeping active on the game’s official forums, addressing bugs, balance issues, and listening to player feedback.
Don’t Starve is currently in Beta, and will be released through Steam for around $15. You can play the demo version right now by checking out the Chrome web app, and you can learn more about the game at it’s official site.
Stay tuned for a full review once the game releases!