My Current Obsession: Don’t Starve
As I mentioned back in my Card Hunter post, it is pretty rare that I get 100% engrossed in a given game. The all-in immersion in a game’s delicious logical systems is precisely what I desire, but gaming today is typically focused on front-loading the fun, followed by a tapering off of stimulation. So color me surprised when I found myself playing Don’t Starve until 6am again, trying (in vain) to get myself prepared for a winter I have never survived long enough to see.
In a nutshell, Don’t Starve is an indie survival roguelike. You wake up, get taunted a bit by the above-pictured guy, and… that’s it. As the Steam store description states:
Uncompromising Survival & World Exploration:
No instructions. No help. No hand holding. Start with nothing and craft, hunt, research, farm and fight to survive.
They’re not kidding. Just when you think you’re getting the hang of a particular mechanic… BAM! You get stung to death by angry bees.
If you die, that’s it, game over; your save file is erased. Occasionally there will be a sacrificial altar-looking thing, which acts as a one-time respawn mechanic. You can even construct your own Meat Effigy, which will also respawn you once… but you will have a lower maximum HP for as long as it exists. And keep in mind that you don’t resurrect with your gear – all of your shit is piled on the ground next to the giant spider nest or
murloc Merm camp or swamp filled with giant tentacles or whatever nightmare area you died in.
And that’s another thing: there’s a sanity meter too.
But, seriously, Don’t Starve is one of the most brilliant games I have played in years. While I sort of feel like it’s still in beta (there’s a countdown until the next patch on the title screen), how all the game systems already interlock is astonishing. As you might imagine from the title, getting food is important. But actually getting enough food to survive is pretty easy. The problem is that actually foraging all that food will consume a large portion of your day, leaving you little time to explore before nightfall. You can’t just hoard food either, because it spoils. Even worse, no crops grow during the winter and the ponds freeze over and you can’t eat monster meat without going insane and… you get the idea.
What I find so engaging is how I feel like I’m… juggling. You know in RTS games like Starcraft (etc) when you’re trying to micromanage some battles and having your base produce more units and sending scouts out to look for expansions? I actually dislike RTS games that are structured that way – I can do any one of them well, but not all simultaneously – but Don’t Starve somehow threads that needle. I would spend a few days making food supplies, then trek out into the wilderness looking for more of a certain resource I was lacking, foraging when I could, and trying not to get too far afield. Then come back, craft some new feature in my camp, and then get attacked by Hounds and die on Day 22.
And I’m not even mad.
Each world is procedurally-generated, which means next time I might be able to locate an even better starting location for my camp. Or maybe I’ll run across one of those random set-pieces and get a huge leg-up on survival with the ready-made supplies there. Or maybe I’ll actually find that goddamn Maxwell’s Door again and be able to play the game within a game. Oh, did I forget to mention that? The base game is a sandbox, but you can do Adventure Mode (a story-ish game mode) if you walk through Maxwell’s Door. If you die inside though, you get booted back outside into the “normal” world and it’s forever closed to you on this world. Collect four mysterious items though, and you can jump to a brand new world with another Maxwell’s Door located somewhere on it.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves though, because none of us are likely to make it. As it says on the Steam page:
Randomly Generated New Worlds:
Want a new map? No problem! At any time you can generate a new living and breathing world that hates you and wants you to die.
One day, I will see the winter. And die horribly, no doubt. But seeing it will be enough. For now.