The Blunder Games: Don’t Starve Diary, Part One

By Adam Smith on January 18th, 2013 at 6:00 pm.

That is not my house. It is the house of my enemy, Jonathan Shanks. My house is basically a pile of leaves next to that fire.

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’.

The pose is, weirdly, the avian equivalent of 'flipping the bird'

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.

Howdy, neighbour

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.

On second thought, it's a dump. A rancid dump.

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.

At this point, the small man has decided that the pig is like a Shakespearean maniac who must be killed for the good of a nation. It's a stretch, but he's keen on the idea.

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.

YOU HAS MEAT?

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.

It's a handsome machine and mostly made of debris

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.

OH YEAH

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.

Nature will almost certainly never murder me in revenge

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.

Don’t Starve is available to pre-purchase at the Chrome Webstore and Steam. Buying now provides access to the beta, which receives frequent updates.

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40 Comments »

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  1. Morkai says:

    Survival…FACE?

  2. Tei says:

    My long term plan was to create something like a farm, by collecting all the brush, and planting them in a single place, then a tree started walking WTF GAME!.

    Must do more science.

    • frightlever says:

      Just remember transplanted bushes need to be fed with manure to start growing berries again.

      I’ve played through Don’t Starve beta half a dozen times, but I set it aside so I can wait for the full release. I love the art style and for some reason the Benny Hill chases scenes I seem to instigate never fail to amuse me.

      • Tei says:

        Great!. Thanks!, now I think I can complete my plan. I only have to find what produce manure in this game.

        • wu wei says:

          Also: make a lot of little farms, rather than one big farm. Some of the hounds are hell-hounds, and explode in fire when they die. All it takes is one to BURN EVERYTHING DOWN.

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        Thermal Ions says:

        I didn’t realise this, thanks. I’d transplanted some berry bushes but hadn’t actually taken note whether they’d regrown or not yet as my focus had been on other food sources and supplies.

  3. mixmixmixmix says:

    This should make for a great diary. I picked up this game via the chrome store, gives you an additional copy for free, plus each copy gets a steam key, so almost 4 copies of the beta in all!

    I’ve made it about 60 odd days for my current record, I keep logging in and poking around every 2 weeks as Klei updates the beta.

  4. Premium User Badge

    golem09 says:

    I got that game when it was only available for chrome, and have already played some hours.
    But now I’m at least waiting for the dev to consider it “out of beta” before I continue.

  5. Premium User Badge

    Gramarye says:

    “Nature will almost certainly never murder me in revenge”

    AH HA HA HA HA HA

  6. abandonhope says:

    I’m at 103 days on my current run. A spider queen chased me into my camp and forced me out into the dark. I’ve got a fire going, but I’m too scared to go back. I’ve killed too many of her babies for this to end well.

    It’s an odd but really compelling game, skating the line between deep and casual, being both depending on what you do with it and how you look at what you do with it. Its capacity to facilitate experimentation and discovery is one of the best things about it. I’d describe it as a mix of Minecraft, Project Zomboid, Farmville, and FTL, with some Bullfrog flavor for good measure.

  7. Buttless Boy says:

    I made it to the Science Machine before I broke down and bought this. Curse you, Happenstance!

  8. LionsPhil says:

    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

    Oh, it was, Adam. It was.

    But it’s OK.

    They live inside you now. You will never be alone.

  9. mlaskus says:

    I would recommend not reading too much about how the game plays. While it didn’t entertain me for long, having booted the game up with absolutely no knowledge of it beforehand I was treated to an excellent feeling of discovery for a few hours. It really shines when experimenting with everything you find.

  10. gwathdring says:

    Adam, that was fantastic. :D

    • Chakawi says:

      I agree, fantastic!

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      Thermal Ions says:

      Agree, looking forward to the next part. I find even if I’m not interested in the game itself (not the case here) I usually still enjoy reading the diary articles.

  11. ScorpionWasp says:

    When I started playing this I thought it would become my next obsession, but it’s a bit…. well, “misleading” in its presentation. “Don’t starve”, “the world hates your guts”, “See how many days you can last”, the game appears to be telling you, either explicitly or implicitly. Truth is, once you know what you’re doing, you can survive indefinitely. There’s no challenge. Difficult never ramps, there’s little if any simulation of the world at large for things to really become unpredictable, nothing really emergent ever happens.

    To make things worse, there are a few design decisions that reek of Skinner Box, MMO philosophy to it. There’s no justification whatsoever for research to carry over from game to game, and yet it does. If you want to play it as a blank slate every time, you have to manually delete save files, which in turn doesn’t allow you to play with any of the other characters.

    And from what I’ve seen of patches so far, the developers are more worried about adding more and more items/monsters/whatever that don’t really change the big picture much than about solving these structural issues.

    TL;DR: It’s casual. If you’re looking for a harsh, simulationist survival simulator, this isn’t it.

    • Junkie says:

      You make some valid points, and your post reminded me of a few things I read on the Don’t Starve Forums. This is from the “Don’t Starve Roadmap” thread. This post is from Nov. 2012, so we’ll see if any of these things get implemented.

      We’re currently working on what I’ll call the mid-game. This is when you have a foothold established in the world, and you are going about the business of surviving and exploring. RIght now people are surviving a little too well, so we’re focusing on adding threats (like the hounds) that act as a push-back to your expansion. We’re also re-evaluating the farming/planting/etc systems to make it so that you can’t steamroll your way to success.

      Most of the actual work that is left to finish the game will fall into this category. The central problem with the difficulty curve right now is that once you have found a strategy that works, the game conditions don’t really change over time and you can continue to use that strategy indefinitely. In nerd-speak, people are natural optimizers, and they are getting stuck on local maxima.

      This is why you often see people making massive berry farms and camping out behind tree walls. It’s not particularly challenging, and it quickly gets boring, but people do it anyway because the game rewards them for it. If we continue to (unintentionally) encourage this type of gameplay, I think that people will soon get bored and burn out. The game needs to present a more dynamic challenge if it is going to capture people’s attention for a long time.

      I want individual survival strategies to wear out from overuse, and to become periodically ineffective as the nature of the world changes. This, coupled with a generally escalating threat-level, will make the game a lot more challenging and fun. With enough different periodic threats overlapping, you’ll also start to see neat combinations that will lead to all sorts of cool emergent effects.

      • ScorpionWasp says:

        ……… Wow, just… wow. That’s EXACTLY what I wanted to hear from the developer, and the kind of thing that you never fucking hear because they’re either buzz-word spouting numbskulls with no understanding of game design theory, or only care about their casuals. I have a huge boner now.

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      Thermal Ions says:

      Some significant changes to the research, through moving from a points based to a prototype system sound like it will add a little more interest too, and hopefully remove some of the grind.

      http://forums.kleientertainment.com/showthread.php?1822-New-Research-Plan

      Dev’s (Kevin’s) posts in the thread:
      http://forums.kleientertainment.com/search.php?searchid=98091

      There’s been discussion on whether to reset research between games, and as I understand it research will still persist if you restart the same world again, but as is the case now I believe, reset if you roll a new world. There have been some pushing for an optional reset or a hardcore mode, but no specific comment from Kevin on this possibility that I’ve seen.

    • abandonhope says:

      Valid complaints. In its current state, there’s something about the game that feels incomplete from a design perspective. Once you’re done discovering the gameworld and its tricks–still one of my favorite gaming experiences of the year–things kind of take a dive toward pointlessly repetitive, social-game territory.

      There have been three fairly major updates since I bought it, and while the focus of each seems to be a thematic addition including a bounty of items and creatures, it’s also apparent that the dev is creeping toward changes to gameplay. Things that were easy have become much harder, with more connections in between everything you do. So far there’s just an inkling of what could be a game that maintains its momentum after the discovery phase (allies, controlled creatures, random attacks on you/your camp), but I’m not sure where the dev is going with that.

      If the game is going to be limited to the survival content and discovery the dev can produce, I expect most players will find a point when continuing to play feels pointless. However, I think there’s room to build a strategic element into the game, something almost Bullfrog-y (but not quite), where you’re working to build/improve in a world that otherwise goes on living without you, with an eye toward impending changes to the world, in the same way you build/improve with the danger of night in mind but on a grander level.

      These changes could be anything–spiders working together to build a structure (altar, etc.) that, when completed, would bring the unseen creature of the night into the day, who wreaks devastation on the land, which could be countered by encouraging the pigmen to get off their fat asses and deconstruct the spiders’ structure, which the player might facilitate by setting the pigmen up with some sort of agricultural facility (maybe a beefalo farm/slaughterhouse).

      Anyway, that’s just a bad example. Hopefully people who’ve played the game know where I’m going with this–gameplay where you’re attempting to get creatures working for you while other creatures are working against you, giving research/survival/building a point other than simply going on forever.

    • SimulatedMan says:

      You sound like you need The Unreal World in your life.

  12. Cytrom says:

    This looks really interesting, and I welcome a good survival style game (there aren’t many of them), but I fear if I’d play it right now, I’d completely burn out on it before the ‘good stuff’ even gets implemented, so I’ll just wait until its in a state you could call finished.

  13. Monkeh says:

    I’m totally in love with this game, already my GOTY since I played it more than anything else in 2012. :P

    You should also state that buying it gives you an extra copy to gift to a friend.

  14. MikoSquiz says:

    I bought this sight unseen because it looked super good, but it just hasn’t clicked. It’s dull, irritating, and frustrating by turns. In my first game it took me 40 minutes to find one piece of gold so I could make the science machine, and I was immediately attacked and killed before I could make it, and the trend’s carried on in roughly the same manner. Very ‘eh’.

  15. HinduBob says:

    This was one of my favorites of 2012 so I’m glad it’s getting attention. Definitely something to look at for anyone who’s been craving a survival game.

    If you’re in the mood for a bit more of this sort of thing, I have a website devoted to game diaries and Don’t Starve happens to be the latest one. Here ya go! http://robertgreenstories.com/dont-starve/

    WARNING: my article doesn’t have a clever title.

    • sub-program 32 says:

      Your blog is awesome. I will probably spend some time reading all of these. Except the Red Cloud series, but only because you convinced me to get that mod, and I have no wish for spoilers.

      • HinduBob says:

        Thanks! Red Cloud is fantastic and the guy who made it is really good about answering questions and keeping up with fans. It’s a great mod for Terraria if you like Dark Souls or Legend of Zelda.

        • sub-program 32 says:

          I have not actually played either, but watched both Dark Souls and Zelda games (as well as playing the Zelda-like Binding of Isaac) and they are both really intersting. I will probably get Dark Souls 2 if the reviews are good. Also, if I may ask, are you supposed to be able to break blocks with the pickaxe? I just tunneled through a wall in the Earth temple to get to a golden chest after a skeleton-based booby trap frustrated me too much. Is that supposed to happen or have I messed up the installation?

          • HinduBob says:

            You’re not supposed to tunnel with the pickax, but I can’t remember if you can’t. I know in older versions you could dig, but I’d thought that was changed in an update so that you couldn’t anymore. Maybe make sure you have the most recent version. The forum there would know the answers to any questions you have better than I would since it’s been a few months since I’ve played.

            http://www.terrariaonline.com/threads/adv-dark-souls-mod-the-story-of-red-cloud.87617/

            In any case don’t dig if you want the full experience. Have fun!

          • sub-program 32 says:

            Ah, I checked and apparently I needed to save and reload once. Which I did when I finished my session, so that won’t be a problem. Thank you anyway!

  16. apachebreak says:

    Millinery.

  17. HothMonster says:

    I believe you forgot to mention that you get two copies if you purchase it?

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