Analysis of Don’t Starve

Don’t Starve is a survival game where the player aims to survive as many days as they can by managing three conditions: Hunger, Health and Sanity. The player is able to choose from several characters, who each have their own unique advantages and disadvantages.

Game play: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9-Wjz_Gn-8
Game’s website: https://www.klei.com/games/dont-starve

Lens #7: The Lens of the Elemental Tetrad

Mechanics

  • Rules: If the hunger bar or the health bar reaches 0, the character will die and unless the character had activated a resurrection item, the player must restart the game from Day 1.
    Apart from maintaining the health and hunger bar, there are many other dangers that the player needs to avoid or be prepared for in order to survive.
  • Player actions: Players are able to craft items from a menu and collect items from the map in order to prepare themselves.
  • Goals: The primary goal of the game is to set the highest personal record for the number of days survived. There are also several other goals, like exploring the entire map and solving the puzzles scattered around the map.

Story

  • Back story: Maxwell, the ‘king’ of the The Constant (the playable world), has dragged the player into his world and has forced them to survive within it.
  • The story is not told throughout the game. The player knows the back story and will only know the next part of the story if they manage to complete the game. Hence, players are kept in suspense as they try to survive and complete the game to find out what has happened to their character.

Aesthetics

  • The game has a whimsical, dark look.
  • The animals, environment and music of the game becomes creepier as the Sanity of the character drops.
  • At night, the game heightens the player’s fear of darkness throughout suspenseful music and complete darkness.
The representation of rabbits when sanity is high (left) and when sanity is low (right).
The screen goes completely dark at night. The character is equipped with a torch in this picture.

Technology

  • The character can be controlled fully through mouse and/or keyboard inputs.

Overall, I believe that the game has managed to use each aspect of the Elemental Tetrad to build upon one another and improve the player experience. The technology of the game is simple, which reflects upon the simple goal of the game. The story and aesthetics build suspense and desire for the player to complete the goal of the game. The mechanics and aesthetics works together to strengthen the player’s fear. For example, the rule of the game is that if the player does not find a light source at night in a certain amount of time, a monster that cannot be killed will be spawned and the character will likely die. The light sources that the players must equip will also run out over time. This creates suspense and a real consequence which, paired with the atmospheric tension, heightens the fear that the player experiences when night comes.

Lens #4: The Lens of Curiosity

The player is able to develop many different strategies for each challenge and character in order to survive the game. After each iteration of the game, the player will often wonder how they can tweak their current strategy to survive longer and be more efficient in the next game. Leaving out a tutorial also makes the player more curious as to what comes beyond the current day. The map also has many mysterious items which hint towards a puzzle waiting to be solved.

Lens #31: The Lens of Challenge

The game does not provide a tutorial on how to survive in the world. The player has to experiment and probably die several times in order to gain some experience and survive past the first month. The environment of the game is also constantly changing over time, bringing new challenges to the player. For example, the game has 4 seasons that they cycle through. In Winter, the main challenge is in staying warm and surviving the winter boss. In each iteration of the game, the map also changes. Hence, the game is ever changing and the players will have to figure out how to survive in each iteration. The player also has to figure out by themselves how they can progress forward from the current map. This challenge inspires the players to continue playing and break their own record.

Lens #41: The Lens of Punishment

The game often punishes the players if they do irrational actions. For example, if the player randomly attacks animals or monsters, they will often find themselves dead and having to restart the game. If the player carelessly uses their torch to burn an item near their camp, their entire camp will go up in flames and all the items built will turn to ashes, resetting the progress that they have made. This constant punishment manifests a sense of caution and tension in every action that the player makes. This tension adds to the suspenseful element of the game and makes the game feel thrilling.

Lens #49: The Lens of Visible Progress

The game has a ‘Morgue’ tab that keeps note of the amount of days survived for each iteration of the game. The player will be motivated to continue playing and break their record as they can see the improvement in the number of days survived. The progress of the game can also be observed from the player’s ‘camp’, (the place where they have built most of their items), as the players can see their camp growing and looking more organised as time passes. The number of days that they have survived in this iteration can also be seen easily from the screen, giving the player satisfaction and motivating them to continue playing. All these factors allow the players to see how much they have improved over time and encourages them to continue playing and improving to beat their record and complete the game.

The player is able to view their progress from the current state of their camp, and from the current day counter on the top right of the screen.