By Adam Smith on January 18th, 2013 at 6:00 pm.
Being the first part of a journal of adventures in the Don’t Starve beta.
Good day to you and allow me to introduce myself. I am Jeremy J. Happenstance, a gentleman scientist trapped in a barren and sometimes monstrous land. Regrettably, there is insufficient time to set up an embassy/laboratory from whither to study the inhabitants because, when night falls, the dark has teeth. And, besides, my stomach is rumbling. How much simpler could the instructions be? Don’t Starve. Better find some food then.
My first view of this new world is promising. Grassland stretches before me, scattered with berry bushes, from which I pluck a handful of juicy treats. I’m convinced they won’t poison me because life abounds here – there are rabbits hopping and skipping from their warrens, butterflies flitting from flower to flower, and even a hive from which bees lazily buzz, spreading pollen and good cheer.
I gather some branches from tiny saplings, already thinking of the coldness of night and preparing the materials necessary to build a fire. Some tufts of grass too, for kindling. Next up, a nice bit of roasted meat to go with the berries I’ll be enjoying as I sprawl beneath the stars, content and at ease. The rabbits are fast and even after I gather some flint and fashion a spade, I’m unable to dig them out of their underground homes. Then, with memories of Watership Down chewing on my brain, I feel kind of guilty and nauseous that I even tried to do that, so I fix my attention on the birds instead. They are considerably less fluffy, although it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to call them ‘innocent’, ‘adorable’ or ‘light-winged Dryads of the trees’.
So, here I am, witless wanderer between worlds, chasing a songbird like an idiot Basset Hound flopping around a beach in pursuit of a seagull. I’m made to look a fool as it exercises its wings, leaving me tripping over myself and running in circles. But as it takes flight for the third time, I notice that it has left a small bounty there in the grass, a glistening golden glow that cannot help but appeal to my Magpeyes.
It’s a pile of seeds. Probably more useful than the coins I’d initially hoped for, since I don’t think there are any shops in this land of forlorn thorns and ghastly night-spiders. Seeds though – why, a man with seeds is a man with prospects.
In no time there will be ripe fields of corn stretching to every horizon and I’ll sit on the porch of my neo-Georgian manor house watching them sway gently in the breeze, a pipe in my mouth and a faithful hound at my feet. Let’s call him Barnaby Quiz.
Cruel fate and crueller design are the pins that prick the squiggly thought bubble of that last paragraph. On my first night in Don’t Starve’s devil dimension, I am roasting the seeds on a dwindling fire and faithful Barnaby is nowhere to be seen. With no tender, roasted flesh to warm my belly, I gorge myself on berries and seeds, but before the darkness spilled across the world, I did make one more discovery.
Meet my neighbour and nemesis, Jonathan Shanks the pig man.
He doesn’t like me, or at least he doesn’t trust me. But that’s OK because I don’t trust him either. I’ve read House on the Borderlands and I’ll be damned before I turn my back on this little squealer. That said, I must admit he’s got it made. His house might look more like the outdoor toilet that my grandpa still had when I was a kid and that I always assumed was basically full of bloated, cistern-dwelling spiders, but, hey, at least he’s got a house.
He lives at the edge of a thick wood, which I don’t quite trust, at least not while the branches are casting tendrils of shadow across its mulchy floor, so I set up camp almost directly outside his front door. Let’s see how he likes that. There’s something comforting about the lights that burn in the windows of his outhouse, even if I’m all but certain he’s constructing some sort of exceedingly ungentle gentleman-trap in there.
Two can play at that game. While I was chopping down trees earlier, with an axe I added to the spade and pick I’d already constructed, I gathered not only logs but pinecones as well. As the quiet of night settles around me like a shroud, I begin to obsess over those pinecones. Can I cook them? That’s a stupid idea. I throw some more wood onto the fire as a cone pops and sparks, sending the soul of a tree blazing into the inky black sky. Goodbye tree.
But then, as I stare into the flames, an idea! Maybe I should be greeting new trees rather than mourning the passing of those that never were. Don’t Starve is packed with moments of discovery. While there are slide-out crafting menus at the left side of the screen that provide handy ‘recipes’ for construction, there are many secrets in this world. Some are obvious. Pop some seeds in the ground, or a pinecone perhaps, and the earth will cough up its bounty.
And so it was that I spent my first night planting a small forest around the door of the pigman’s home. The trees grew quickly and I couldn’t wait to see his face when he emerged to find them there, like Macbeth seeing Birnam forest on the march.
Imagine my disappointment when he came snuffling out of the door, rooted around for some berries, chomped them down and then blundered toward me demanding answers to his poorly phrased questions.
I can only presume that he’ll eventually realise I’m made of meat and then he’ll devour me in my sleep, the bastard. And thus, it was at that moment that I decided to burn down the forest the following night, surrounding his house with an inferno and barbecuing the pork bellied poseur while he slept.
Before that episode of survivalist sadism, however, there was plenty of daylight in which to explore the woods to the north. I chopped down a few trees as I went and split a large rock into pieces with my pick. There was gold inside and although still sure that I wouldn’t be finding a shop anytime soon, I decided to keep it. And then it struck me – because the menu on the left let out a ‘ding’ and lit up green – that with all the bits and bobs I had collected, I could construct a Science Machine. So I did, right on the border of the woods, near the pigman’s crapper.
New opportunities were now available – clothing, tools, traps, wooden boards. Maybe I could build a toilet of my own to live in? But first, I needed a hat. The science machine allows the Gentleman to harvest objects in exchange for research points, which are then used as a currency to purchase new crafting recipes. I wanted a top hat, of course, but that would be expensive and difficult to construct, so I went for the simple straw hat. I needed forty research points to learn its secrets.
After lobbing a few flowers into the Science Machine to no great effect, I decided to try shoving a log in, as if it were a woodchipper. Six points per log. As I lived in a dense wood, this was delightful. I was surrounded by science. Science wasn’t just growing on the trees, it was the trees. Every pinecone was a potential Professor of Hats, ready to offer up learning. In the name of scholars everywhere, I constructed a new axe and began a process of violent deforestation.
As dusk bruised the sky, the blueprints for my fashionable farmer’s hat were complete. All I needed to make the design a reality was a large quantity of grass. The woods did not have the long tufts that I needed so I headed back to the south, where the bees, bunnies and butterflies live. Once there, I tore up every blade of the green stuff in sight and soon…well, judge for yourself.
Rather fetching, no?
In good spirits, I returned to my campsite, beside the pigpen. He grunted a greeting. Perhaps he was less hostile toward me now that I had displayed a talent for haberdashery or perhaps I simply felt more kindly toward the oaf, but I decided not to burn him to death while he was sleeping after all. All those trees around his house, now growing large, would be going into the Science Machine tomorrow so that I could invent something new. A trap, perhaps, for those pesky birds? Or a razor, but then why would I want to shave my beard when it did finally blossom, manly and proud?
Evening. A few spiders scurry from the forest and receive an axe to the face for their troubles. I yank the silk from one corpse’s bum, like a magician retrieving handkerchiefs from his sleeve. I collect their meat, cook some and then retch when it passes my lips. Back to the berries and carrots.
As midnight falls, troubling noises can be heard – or so Mr Pig must be thinking. In the darkness, at the periphery of my fire’s light, I chop down trees until dawn. THUD THUD CREEEEEAAAK CRASH “FOR SCIENCE” THUD THUD THUD THUD CRREAK.
He won’t be so brash tomorrow, this solitary squealer, not after a sleepless night like that. And I can feel the first prickles of growth upon my pointed chin. I am defiant and ready for whatever horrors this world can throw at me, armed with science, a backpack and a cruel streak a mile wide.
Next time: haunting visions of a grim future; a pheasantly proportioned turkey-bird makes wibbly-woobly noises and causes alarum in the camp; swamps prove to be dangerous, being the abode of tentacled monstrosities; a frog is slain as the quest for meat becomes ever more pathetic; and Mr Pig makes his thoughts on the Professorial Interloper very clear.