Mark of the Ninja dev turns to sandbox mode with Don't Starve
Klei Entertainment is preparing to venture into new territory. After a banner year in which the independent studio released Shank 2 and the highly acclaimed Mark of the Ninja, Klei is now bringing their affinity for tough-as-nails titles to the sandbox realm with Don't Starve. To learn more about this survival game, Shacknews talked to Klei's lead designer, Kevin Forbes.
Don't Starve takes place in a mysterious island wilderness. Players take the role of Wilson, a gentleman scientist from 1920's New England. Forbes points out that Wilson isn't particularly good at what he does, so he tries to take a shortcut by making a deal with a demon named Maxwell. Like many deals with the devil, this does not end well, as Wilson is tossed in the middle of the wilderness with few means of defense.
While the story contains bits of dark humor, Forbes says there's nothing funny about the game's difficulty level. "The point of the game is to learn and we aren't afraid of killing the player in order to teach them a lesson," he said. "With this game, we're really trying to make the player think for themselves. There is no tutorial and there never will be. We want the primary game mechanic to be learning and exploring the interconnected systems in the game."
Don't Starve represents a departure from Klei's previous efforts. Forbes explains that the Shank games were narrative-driven and Mark of the Ninja was complex and systems-driven, but both games were considered a linear experience. Don't Starve's nature as a sandbox title removes any sense of linearity, requiring a change in design approach. While Klei could arrange the difficulty curve of their previous titles by levels, they aren't able to do that with Don't Starve's sandbox world.
Wilson quickly discovers that the wilderness isn't empty. The world is filled with creatures that look and act similar to their real-world counterparts, like birds and rabbits. However, Forbes also said there are a number of creatures that venture into the weirdly surreal. The foes include giant spiders, walking trees, and anthropomorphic pig people. "Most of the newer characters that we are adding are more alien, like the swamp tentacle or the tall bird," he added. "We have some upcoming things that should be pretty surprising and out-there. I think that you need a baseline level of normality in order for the truly weird aspects of the game's world to stand out. I want the game to get progressively stranger the longer you survive."
Perhaps the player's greatest enemy is nature itself. Many areas of the wilderness are dangerous, as Forbes notes that darkness and fire can lead to an untimely demise. As the title implies, players can also starve to death, so a good portion of the game requires Wilson to be on the hunt for food. Forbes explains that the team is still actively researching new and interesting ways to die, so look for Klei to toss in unexpected ways to leave the mortal coil as the game inches closer to release.
Memorizing the wilderness's layout won't help, as Don't Starve will feature randomly-generated worlds, a benefit to both player and developer. While random worlds help keep the game fresh for players, Forbes also explains that it saves developers the trouble of having to create individual set pieces. "Players can generate a new world whenever they die," he said. "You don't have any direct control over the generation at this point, but you may in the future."
Don't Starve is looking for an early 2013 release, but the beta has already started for early Steam adopters. Forbes looks at the beta as an opportunity to present the game to as large an audience as possible and also refine certain mechanics. In particular, Klei is still researching what will comprise the game's final end-game scenario. Just know that for now, escape from the island is futile.
"You can't escape yet, but we're planning on some form of escape as our eventual end-game," Forbes explained. "We're focusing on the moment-to-moment gameplay first, and trying to get that to feel 'just right' before we blow out the meta-game."
The wilderness is a dangerous place