Sunday, September 28, 2014

It`s happened.

The road to where I find myself, now, with Don`t Starve has been a long one.  In July of 2013, I was down and out because Klei - my beloved Klei, who made action-masterpieces Shank 2 and Mark of the Ninja - had confined their latest game to PCs only.

Alex gifted me a copy of the game on Steam, and lo!  My shitty computer, which is used exclusively for blogging and YouTube/GameTrailers videos, could run it!

I tried it out, eminently grateful for Alex`s generosity... and found a game so completely unlike what I expected - nay, wanted - from Klei, that I walked away after a week or so.

But so much of Don`t Starve appealed to me - the art (Klei - natch), the... character of the game.  It was so inventive and hinted at so much depth beneath the surface my doomed corpse splattered across, again and again.

I resolved to give it a second shot, when it came to PS4.

Turns out you can`t ride the beefalo.  This is a fan image. 

In January of this year, Chamberlain and I had a brief conversation about Don`t Starve, after it arrived on Sony`s new-gen console.  I`d managed to put another five or ten hours into the game, and had come away no more endeared.
"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-  

Don`t Starve is oranges compared to anything Klei has made in the past.  It addresses a very different audience, it asks very different things of its player, and offers an entirely different experience.

"Experience" is a perfect word to apply to the game.  A lot of games - a lot of game executives, a lot of publishers, a lot of developers - talk about the experience players will have with their console or game or franchise, but Don't Starve feels like an experience that very, very few games outside of pen-and-paper, imagination-fueled RPGs could provide.

This past January, when I established that I wasn't in love with the game, I closed by saying

"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."
-about Don't Starve-

And that last part, my friends, was prescient.

Butters would flee, come nightfall.

The Vita is, as suspected, where I could fall in love with Don't Starve - and I have.  The fact that I can take it with me anywhere, that I can stretch out in bed with it while Kayla watches How I Met Your Mother, that it's always just a tap of a button away, lowers any sort of barrier to access and ensures the game is always present and ready to rock.  That ease of use makes diving back in, making new discoveries all the more enticing, and I find I've now poured more hours into Don't Starve on Vita than any game save Dragon's Crown.

And you know you don't want me to get started on Dragon's Crown.

Perhaps just as important, though, returning to Don't Starve a third time has permitted me to come at the game with my eyes entirely open as to what, precisely, it is.  It is incredibly, ridiculously deep, it permits the player a myriad of strategies to ensure their survival, and it is absolutely unforgiving of ignorance of inexperience.

Willow's Journal, Day 26.  My hunger meter is two pixels from total starvation, and night is coming.  I have trapped three bunnies, however, and have loaded them in to my crock pot, along with a wooden stick.
I pray it finishes cooking before I die.

I think I fell in love with Don't Starve after the Treeguard.

I had been playing as Wendy, who is immune to fire damage, will randomly set things on fire when she gets nervous and carries a sweet lighter.  Is was a few days before winter and I was involved in setting up my camp - I'd need boards for this and wood for fuel, so I set off to the forest north of my camp and began hacking away at trees.

Then one of the trees got up.  It heaved itself up by the roots, and came for me.

I didn't know what to do.  I'd never seen this before, or heard of it.

I ran.  South, to the grasslands.

Willow's pyromaniacal insight proved helpful - I lit a fire in the middle of the field and fed it until it was wildly out of control.  The Treeguard, this lumbering floral T-1000, never stopped coming, and would dumbly step across the fire as I circled and led him into it, again and again.

He burned and burned, but didn't die.  In a last ditch effort, I equipped a luxury axe, its gold blade gleaming, and charged to deliver the killing blow.

The Treeguard lifted its branchy claws, brought them down, and killed me with one swipe.

I respawned at a touch stone far to the north, using my only, precious rout to life after death, and went back to camp.  The Treeguard, now satisfied, passively wandered the game world, uninterested in me whenever our paths crossed.

I gave it a wide berth, and eventually succumbed to bee stings.

I soon learned that Treeguards will heave themselves up and come for me, randomly, when I chop down trees.  They are the forest's way of telling me to fuck off - but their murderous rage can be soothed by digging deep, finding my inner Boy Scout and planting fir trees near it, as it comes for me.  Every pine cone stuck into the earth will make the thing emit a soothed, gutteral purr of sorts, and eventually - if I'm lucky - it will root itself back into the ground, and become dormant.

After a while, though, that wasn't enough.  Merely surviving.

The next time a Treeguard showed up, I had barely been surviving in the world for a week.  It broke free of the soil and came for me.  I went to my pockets to find some pine cones and thought to myself... y'know what?  No.

I can take you, you colossal fucker. The kind of hubris that usually serves as one's epitaph in Don't Starve. 

I ran back to camp, loaded down with all the logs I'd harvested and ran up to my science machine.

Three bunches of grass, woven together, create a rope.  I quickly assembled three.

With one rope, one shard of flint and two twigs, I slapped together a spear.  The weakest pure weapon object in the game, it does slightly more damage to enemies than an axe.

With two ropes and eight of the wooden logs I'd gathered, I built a Wood Suit.  I'd never made or used one before - wearing any type of clothing on my torso forces me to drop my backpack.

I dropped my backpack.  I put on the suit and brandished the spear, and turned to face my enemy.

It took a long time.  Baiting the thing into throwing out a swipe of its colossal, thorny claws and dashing in to slash at it.  "It's you or me!" Wilson would bleat in his trumpet-voice.  We fought on and on and y'know what?

It didn't hit me once.

Check out the durability on that log suit.  Not a scratch.

Shortly thereafter, I was killed by pig men.

But that's okay!  'Cause I keep wanting to dive back in.  I've been finding myself okay with it when I need some charcoal and accidentally torch an entire forest.

After all, that just means I'll get a lot of charcoal.

In my most recent game, I finally got bees, man.  Bees.  I tore apart a bunch of hives (protected beneath my log suit and beekeeper's hat) and set up my own bee boxes and with the honey, I was able to make some taffy, some berry jam and honey-glazed ham.

With my newfound respect for the log suit, I traveled to the grasslands and killed my first beefalo.  With a razor, I cut the beard from my face and charred up the steaks and assembled them in to my first-ever meat effigy - one of the only player-driven ways to survive after death.

After I made it, I headed north.  There's a beast named MacTusk - an anthropomorphic Walrus of Scottish descent - who leads a hunting party that only shows up in Winter, and with MacTusk's tusk, I could create a walking stick that'll let me get around the map much faster.

I didn't find MacTusk.  I let myself stay away from camp too long, and I could hear the distant baying of the hounds that would soon be upon me.  I needed to get south, to the grasslands, where the hounds would make the foolish mistake of attacking the beefalo herd - but began freezing to death on my way.  I stopped to build a fire, and in the time it took to assemble, they killed me.

I respawned at my meat effigy and headed back north to get my stuff.

Then I froze to death.

Don't Starve.

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