Tuesday, January 21, 2014

About Don't Starve...

I love Klei.  I love, love, love Klei Entertainment - a love purchased through their earlier action titles, Shank, moreso Shank 2 and the sublime Mark of the Ninja.

Last year, when the inestimably kind Alex gifted me a steam copy of Don't Starve, I was over the moon.  I never thought my crappy PC could run a game - it buckled under the weight of Rochard - but I fired up Steam and gave it a whirl.  It didn't run perfectly on my tired old desktop, but I was elated simply to be playing the next thing from my beloved Klei.  I swore I would conquer the game and, one day, ride the Beefalo.

I never did.  I ended up with a laughable, modest camp.  A crock pot, a few farms, a science machine and so on.  Then some wolves ate me.  I think I tried again, but by then news had appeared of the game's impending launch on PS4 and I decided to save my time with it for a system with a better framerate.

Now it's out on PS4. It's available.  It's free with PS+, so I went back to it, armed with what I'd learned last July and spent five or ten hours with it... but it doesn't move me.  When I get home, I have the option of playing Don't Starve on my PS4 or hunting boss monsters to earn Miike's true ending in Fishy Tales of the Nekomata, and I invariably end up on the Vita.

I really love my Vita.

I told Blue yesterday that I'm not sure Dragon's Crown would have been my Game of the Year if it had only been available on PS3.  The Vita's ability to play the game anywhere, any time, just by slipping it from my pocket made it far too easy and comfortable to enjoy - and that is likely how I racked up 180+ hours on Dragon's Crown.

It's occurred to me that I may enjoy Don't Starve more if it, too, was as easily-accessible as Dragon's Crown or Nekomata on Vita, and I may get the chance.  Today an interview appeared at Edge Online in which Klei's Cory Rollins said
"We’re investigating a proper Vita version [of Don't Starve] at the moment, but we’re not quite sure yet.  Currently, a lot of people play Don’t Starve: Console Edition using the PS4′s remote play, and really enjoy it. So we’re looking into a proper Vita release."
...if that happens, I may find the platform and version of Klei's latest opus that I can fall in love with... but I'm not sure.

The camp of someone who knows what they're doing.

Don't Starve is a pure Roguelike - a genre I don't particularly favor.  The other day, Chamberlain asked me what I thought of Don't Starve, and I couldn't drum up much enthusiasm in response.

"I like it, but it seems to require an investment it doesn't... earn?  I guess is the word?  I don't really feel rewarded when I survive a few more days or get some cool stuff coming out of my science machine - and so, don't feel compelled to keep playing it.

The game and its world are ludicrously deep, with so much to learn and so many interlocking mechanics, it's very successfully-roguelike in its barrier to entry.  It doesn't hand hold - it doesn't actually seem to want you to enjoy yourself.  It's a game one could play for many, many hours if one became involved in it and dedicated themselves to understanding its wild world, but - perhaps simply given the slow-burn of its discoveries and little victories - it doesn't grab me and compel me the way Klei's earlier action titles did.

I want to like it.  I even do like it - but I don't love it.  Not near the way I love Shank and Mark of the Ninja.  But, granted, it's a very apples-and-oranges scenario."
-from the confidential correspondence of David Ferber-

That is, perhaps, looking at Don't Starve the wrong way.  A Roguelike, by its very nature, tends to skirt the "rewards" we associate with other genres.  "Pacing" - what drives us onward - is something that's hard to craft in a game that's randomly-generated (though, one should note, Don't Starve has events that only occur after you've survived a set number of days).

In Roguelikes in general and Don't Starve in particular, the player's reward is not necessarily a cool new power, but understanding.  Don't Starve is built on the conceit that players will be ever-entranced by its remarkably deep systems of interlocking items and cause-and-effect, and the thrill it offers - beyond that of simple survival to see another day - are repeated moments of realization.

Oh, carrots heal more when I cook them, first.

Oh, I can plant pinecones, and they'll grow in to trees.

Oh, I can create charcoal by burning the forest.

Oh, pigmen will fight my enemies if they're in the vicinity.

It goes on and on - and perhaps the game does not seize upon my imagination simply because I'm not wired correctly, and don't feel compelled by the promise of the next little realization.

Many people do - over a million - and its depth and success is a testament to the same intelligence of design that made Mark of the Ninja the best game of 2012.  It's why Klei continues to support the game with regular updates, constantly deepening the game's systems and environments, to ensure there's always something new to discover, always more understanding for its players to earn.

Don't Starve is a game that only rewards in proportion to the amount of time you invest in it, and - by offerings nothing in the way of help - ensures that every victory earned is yours alone, never the result of hand-holding.

I still want to love it, but I can't say that I do.  My gaming sensibilities may be shallower than I'd like to admit.  But I do like it - and perhaps that friendly feeling will draw me back to the wilderness to learn, explore and discover more of it - though I can't say when that'll be.

Maybe when it's on Vita.

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