IGF Factor 2014: Don’t Starve

The 2014 IGF Awards have finished and the winners have been announced, but we still have insights to share. Before reading on, you should relive John’s liveblogging of the IGF Awards ceremony so that you can see if Klei’s Jamie Cheng left the event happy. Don’t Starve received a nomination for the Grand Prize but Cheng was backing a different game – a game that he describes as ‘a masterpiece.

RPS: I remember reading that the basic idea behind Don’t Starve emerged during a company game jam – do you hold regular jams or take part in external competitions like Ludum Dare?

Cheng: We hold a yearly internal game jam, which we affectionately call the Klei Kiln. For 48 hours (actually just 2 working days), we find 1 to 3 people to work on a project together, and see if we can learn something meaningful.

RPS: What are the advantages of working at a relatively small and independent company like Klei? The background of Don’t Starve suggests a flexibility that might be harder to achieve at a larger studio.

Cheng: In the case of Don’t Starve, I think being independent is much more important than being small. No one really thought that Don’t Starve was going to be a massive success, but we did all believe it was a game worth making, and being independent allowed us to choose to focus on that over financial motivations. Even if the company was larger, we’d keep the teams small so we can quickly try a lot of things without worrying that the rest of the team is waiting for things to do.

RPS: Don’t Starve has a very distinctive art style – was that always part of the design or did it come later?

Cheng: We evolved the art style over time — I think we had 3 or 4 styles in total (see below). How our projects typically go is that the design and art evolve together, and each heavily influences one another. For Don’t Starve, the design started getting a lot darker, and so we shifted the art to meet it.

RPS: I first played the game before release and a great deal changed and there have been additions post-release as well. Even with all of those changes, is there anything more you’d like to do with the concept?

Cheng: As a game I think it’s pretty complete, and I think there’s a danger that if we keep just adding stuff it won’t necessarily make the experience better. However, if we start to lean into different concepts and take the game in new directions, then I think there’s still a lot to explore.

That’s the idea of the Reign of Giants expansion we’re creating — we’re creating all new seasons, and really leaning into that concept of seasonal change, and see where it takes us. I think it’s important that it’s an expansion and not simply added on to the base game, because we do feel it’s quite a different experience.

RPS: Have you played many of the other entrants and are there any that you’d like to see win in their category?

Cheng: We’re all huge fans of Papers, Please, and in fact, I said many times prior to going to GDC that this is the game I’d vote for, even though they’re in our category. It’s just that good.

RPS: Were you particularly pleased to be nominated for the Seamus McNally Grand Prize and have you played any of the other entrants in that category specifically?

Cheng: It was a pretty big surprise for us, and obviously an honour. Again, I was rooting for Paper’s, Please, and super happy about his win. To me it’s a masterpiece.

RPS: The future looks bright for Klei, with Invisible Inc on the horizon – are the Don’t Starve team working on that project or is there something else in development as well?

Cheng: We like to have several experiments cooking, so yes, we’re working on other things too. Personally I’m loving how Invisible, Inc is shaping up — once again, we’re just concentrating on making it a game worth making, and I think tactical espionage is a genre worth exploring deeply. We put our trust in the fans to keep supporting us.

RPS: The title of the game – Don’t Starve – is a very sensible instruction. In the ongoing bid to avoid starvation, what is your favourite meal and/or snack?

Cheng: Deerclops eyeball. Because it’s baller to eat it. As an aside, I love how starving is almost never how anyone ever actually dies, but just a very effective way to cause players to explore and take mortal risks.

RPS: Thanks for your time!


  1. almostDead says:

    For the price, I just bought the expansion DLC. So far, apart from the obvious bonuses of new content, and getting to mess with it, there is one considerable new downside, in my opinion.

    The way ‘summer’ works currently, is even more deadly than winter. It’s pretty brutal.

    But the real issue is that it adds another season, where you really can’t do much, and end up waiting out the clock.

    So now, one half of the play seasons are very difficult to do anything, and you end up just doing nothing much, because permadeath.

    I played Don’t Starve from the very, very beginning, and learnt how easily going for early access burns you out on playing the finished product.

    • misterT0AST says:

      You also wait out the clock every night. Don’t forget the day/night cycle.

      • salattu says:

        You don’t have to wait, you can go out and take risks. Once you have you a few sets of log armor, beef clubs and torches. Maybe that’s why I’ve never gotten very far…

      • almostDead says:

        I try not to be bound by this, with a miner’s helmet and lots of bugs. I think caves were another thing ‘to do’ without worrying about night.

        I find caves ridiculously hard though. In fact, the game has such a high barrier to get set up, that once you die once, you invariably are in such a dire situation (deerclops camp destruction), that no matter how many other resurrects you have, you’re done.

        I can only come back to it every few months.

        • MattM says:

          If you put your meat effigy near your camp you shouldn’t have much of a problem getting back on your feet. I make sure to have some fuel in a chest near the campfire, some food on the crock-pots, a prebuilt meat effigy, and a tent. I also like to have a few pig hutches nearby so I can get meat on demand for the effigies and ham bats (feed them monster meat before killing them). Its a fair bit of prep work, but once I had done all that it felt like permadeath got turned off.
          Most of the difficulty in Don’t Starve is in the learning curve. Once you know what everything does, the game becomes easy. If you don’t have a plan to kill deerclops (there are some reliable ways to do it) try to have him spawn away from your base and then run away. If he does arrive at your base just let him wreck some buildings and leave.

      • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

        Nights shouldn’t be inactive. At the very least they’re when you check/make/replace nearby traps, pick and plant crops, cook food, plant trees, make new armour and weapons… You know, like life.

    • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

      Once you know how to situate camps and how to prepare, you can still be active in the winter. The only times I find it really dangerous is if a hound or queen attack forces me to abandon my main camp. (I haven’t played the expansion so I don’t know what summer’s like.)

    • Flank Sinatra says:

      I thought the summer here in New Orleans was miserable but summer in RoG is insufferable. Random things just catch on fire, nothing grows, and you can’t leave your magic endothermic fire for more than a minute to do anything unless you stocked up on ice during the winter. You can’t even go out at night without suffering heat stroke. I know Don’t Starve is not supposed to be realistic, but COME ON! A campfire made of gold that cools you off? Dying of heat stroke at night or in caves? It’s just brutal.

  2. MattM says:

    I loved the base game but there were two big areas I would like to see improved. 2nd tier magic crafting and above actually feels a bit underpowered compared to the effort required to craft them and by the time you can make them there isn’t any challenge so tough that you need them. For example, thuclite armor is better than log or marble, but its such a pain to craft that I just stashed it in a chest and stuck with log suits. The same goes for most of the rest of the items. Calling down a star to serve as a campfire is neat, but regular campfires work just fine and can be crafted from
    Adventure mode provides a nice challenge and some narrative closure to the game, but it doesn’t incorporate any of the cave/ruins content. It would be nice to have that added to adventure mode in a meaningful way or to see sandbox mode have some sort of end game that allows you to escape the island after mastering it. It could be something like the teleportato, only it requires parts acquired from both exploring the surface and from crafting rare components on the ruins alter.

  3. cpy says:

    This game lacks cooperative multiplayer. It would be 10x more fun to play it with friends, as any other game does. Give game coop/multiplayer and you earn at least 2x more on the game :)

  4. Cowboybibop says:

    Am i the only one that saw a video of “Papers, please” and 4 minutes later just said “Fuck it… i can’t get the hype and i’m not playing this” ???