As you all know, Don’t Starve is in open Beta right now. That means that we are developing the game at the same time as you are playing it. This inevitably leads to the question: “When will the game be done?” To answer that, I’ll need to explain where I believe the game currently is, and what I think it needs to be “complete”.
Where we are, and where we need to go
In my opinion, the early game is pretty much fleshed out. The process by which new players teach themselves how to play seems to be working, and if you know what you are doing, you can build a pretty nice base within a couple of in-game weeks. The difficulty curve is pretty good in this part of the game and I don’t want to change very much that happens before, say, day 10.
We’re currently working on what I’ll call the mid-game. This is when you have a foothold established in the world, and you are going about the business of surviving and exploring. RIght now people are surviving a little too well, so we’re focusing on adding threats (like the hounds) that act as a push-back to your expansion. We’re also re-evaluating the farming/planting/etc systems to make it so that you can’t steamroll your way to success.
Most of the actual work that is left to finish the game will fall into this category. The central problem with the difficulty curve right now is that once you have found a strategy that works, the game conditions don’t really change over time and you can continue to use that strategy indefinitely. In nerd-speak, people are natural optimizers, and they are getting stuck on local maxima.
This is why you often see people making massive berry farms and camping out behind tree walls. It’s not particularly challenging, and it quickly gets boring, but people do it anyway because the game rewards them for it. If we continue to (unintentionally) encourage this type of gameplay, I think that people will Soon get bored and burn out. The game needs to present a more dynamic challenge if it is going to capture people’s attention for a long time.
I want individual survival strategies to wear out from overuse, and to become periodically ineffective as the nature of the world changes. This, coupled with a generally escalating threat-level, will make the game a lot more challenging and fun. With enough different periodic threats overlapping, you’ll also start to see neat combinations that will lead to all sorts of cool emergent effects.
The end-game is a trickier matter. As I mentioned in the article that we wrote for the Penny Arcade Report, I’m not a big fan of explicit goals and rewards, so I’ve been hesitant to add any. Many players, however, require a sense of narrative completion to be truly happy with a gaming experience. We’ve come up with a solution that I think preserves the open-ended spirit of the game, while at the same time providing just enough structure for those who want it.
So, here’s the list of big things that we need to put in the game before it is done:
Two Big Periodic Threats
The Sanity meter:
Seeing scary things and performing certain actions will slowly drive you insane. While insane you can regain sanity via dapperness, and other acts of civility. This will give you one more ball to juggle, and let us introduce all sorts new interesting uses for existing items and systems.
There will be a large-scale change in the game’s ecosystem that comes and goes. Certain animals and plants won’t appear, and others will show up. You will need to stay warm, or you will freeze to death. Night will be longer. Winter will be very hard.
The End Game
Free Play Mode:
This is the mode that you are playing right now. You get a randomly generated level, and see what you can do. We’ve been working on a new level-generation system in the background for a while now, and once it is complete, you will have more control over what kind of level you are going to play in. You should be able to adjust the overall difficulty of the experience to suit your playstyle by controlling the prevalence of the various biomes and by removing or adding certain features.
You will be able to build a one-way portal in each world that will take you to a newly generated world. This world will be harder and may be lacking in certain resources or have new types of challenges. You will come into this world carrying whatever you had in your inventory when you left the last one, so pack your backpack carefully. Once you escape from enough worlds, you learn the terrible secret of Don’t Starve. Doing so will unlock some of the more unbalanced options in Free Play mode.
As I’ve mentioned before, the current science machine system has some issues. We will be replacing this, or at the very least radically re-tuning it. http://forums.kleientertainment.com/showthread.php?1822-New-Research-Plan
Our posted completion date is “Early 2013”. We made this intentionally vague because when we started the Beta we were still figuring out the scope of the game. Now that we have a defined scope, I can give a more precise date: Late March 2013.
This is a little longer than we had originally planned, but the game will be stronger for it. We have received a tonne of great feedback from our players, and we want to have the time to do the game right.
This won’t be the end of development, however. We will continue to support Don’t Starve with new content and tuning for at least 6 months post launch. We hope to continue to support it long after that, but that will depend on whether that’s financially viable for us or not. If players keep coming, we’re certainly going to keep updating!
I hope this clears up a lot of questions that you all have been having about the project. You all are shaping up to be a great and supportive community, and I look forward to finishing this game with you!