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Wyvern

A detailed balance analysis:

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Wyvern    10

I'd like to take some time here to analyze the balance situation of Don't Starve as it stands (especially in terms of high-level design) and point out places where I feel it's currently lacking. I've been wanting to do this for a while, but I figured the devs would rather wait until the winter patch hit to really go into it. Warning: this post is going to be very long, very detailed, and maybe a little bit harsh, but I think it's important to get some of this stuff out into the open. The very, very short version: the game is still extremely easy (in the long term, anyway; the first two weeks, not so much).

In the interest of keeping this massive wall of text at least vaguely navigable, I'm going to divide the bulk of my analysis into the three main pillars of survival--FOOD, SANITY, and HEALTH--before bringing it all together.

FOOD:

In spite of the title, it is essentially impossible to starve in Don't Starve. There's just so much food everywhere, and with the exception of naturally-generated carrots, every single food source is infinitely renewable.

Winter has failed utterly to put any additional pressure on your food supply, at least for a well-rounded map. In my current game I actually hit winter completely unprepared (I expected it on day 30, not 20), with no more than a standard food supply of maybe 4-5 days' worth, and I was totally, 100% fine. In fact, by day 30, I not only had more food than I did before winter began, but I had more food than I have EVER had in this game.

The main reason for this is rabbits and beefalo. They aren't affected by the winter climate in the slightest, and either of them is more than enough to feed you forever by themselves, with little to no supplementary food sources. All I did was hunt rabbits a bit every morning and even with the shorter days I had morsels coming out my ears. I made meatballs out of two morsels, a berry, and a monster meat to eat every day. When the berries ran low I just used three morsels. I still couldn't put a dent in my supply. I laid traps, but didn't bother harvesting them; the rabbits I speared by hand were more than enough.

With the reduced food spoilage rate, if anything it was actually EASIER to maintain a steady food supply than usual. I didn't even bother with the beefalo after the first day of winter, but they could have single-handedly fed me just as easily as the rabbits. I could have probably lived off of 100% fish if I wanted to as well, though it would have been a fair bit harder due to the low nutritional content of fish and all the mosquitoes I'd need to swat. Stockpiling food during the summer is 100% unnecessary. You can go into without a single scrap of food in your inventory and do fine. Just settle near some grasslands and your backyard will provide you with more food than you could possibly eat.

And the summer foods are still problematic too (as unnecessary as they are, given that rabbits and beefalo are available year round). Setting up a huge vegetable or berry farm is pretty easy. The only real attempt I've seen at limiting the effectiveness of those farms is the need to fertilize occasionally, but since manure is so easy to get (from beefalo in huge supplies for free, or from pigs using the very crops you're using the manure to grow) it's basically meaningless. If it wasn't for winter, you'd eventually be able to live forever on berries or vegetables just as trivially as on rabbits and beefalo.

SANITY:

Sanity is currently working pretty much the exact opposite of how you want it.

The sanity meter is at its most oppressive at the very beginning of the game. With the change to food values, it spirals steadily downwards, and if you don't take action you'd probably be dead within a week or two from terminal craziness. In practice all this means for an experienced player is that you need to sleep every couple of nights, which is pretty much a non-issue since grass is the most bountiful resource in the game and if you time it right you lose very little food. Once you have a top hat sanity will only ever go up for the rest of the summer. Winter is still easier than that first week, because the winter hat gives enough sanity to offset the bulk of what you lose from the long nights. I don't think I ever went below 170 or so while doing nothing to bolster it.

The only people who will ever suffer from sanity drops in this patch are newer players who don't understand the mechanics (i.e. don't know that they need to make a grass roll and sleep it off). And they'll suffer hard. Sanity is a fairly esoteric mechanic and it'll be very easy to get killed by it without having the slightest idea why or how to prevent it.

And even if you change the numbers around to patch over the most glaring problems, sanity still won't be a threat because it's so incredibly cheap to fix. The worst case scenario is I make a few more grass rolls than usual. I'm never going to run out of grass, and I'm never going to run out of food, so what do I have to fear from low sanity? And the other main protection against insanity is the top hat, which only needs to be built once out of a relatively common material and then works forever. Candy isn't necessary, and even if it was it's only a matter of time before you can build a bee farm and get all the honey you'll ever need.

Moving the sanity meter further away from the food meter was a very important start, but there's a ton more to do to make it a robust and threatening mechanic.

HEALTH:

Surprisingly, death-by-HP-loss is the threat that this patch beefed up the most. In the previous patch most combat was a joke due to the absurd strength of the log suit and the ease of kiting and stunlocking things, but your margin of error is a lot slimmer now.

The new winter monsters are a bit of a mixed bag. The Deerclops is obviously never going to kill you directly, since you can outrun it, but the thing is relentless. It chased me around the map for like half the day before I was forced to dive into a wormhole. That would be a neat little mechanic if it happened more often and if being forced to spend the night in the wilderness away from your camp actually exposed you to any threats (keep out of the swamps and you'll never bump into anything scarier than a common black spider at night).

I decided to go look for the Mactusks on the last day of winter just for the heck of it. Even with flame darts and a tentacle spike it was pretty rough...if I hadn't had the foresight to bring a second set of armor and a few fistfuls of jam I wouldn't have survived (although that was partially due to the hounds being untargetable by the darts for some reason...I'll make a separate report of that later). I was really disappointed by how passive they were, though. For a hunting party they sure aren't very interested in tracking you across the map. They just mill around the biome they spawn in. There's a big missed opportunity there...they could be forcing you on the move with repeated attacks kind of like the Deerclops does but on a different scale.

Ultimately, in my current 35-day game, I've almost died...probably at least four times in various circumstances. That's fairly encouraging, but I'm not sure the feeling will stick. A lot of those near-death experiences were due to me making mistakes that I'm not likely to repeat (don't screw with pigs, only farm silk at dusk and not during the day, a 50% log suit is not ample protection from anything, keep a good supply of health-efficient foods on hand if you're going to hunt bees, bull-rush the hounds as they attack rather than letting them group up, etc.). And apart from the Mactusk fight, they were all pretty early...in the first two weeks. By winter I felt pretty much completely safe. So this might be another case where the current mechanics are making it hard for a new adventurer to get established but not doing much to threaten people who are already doing well.

One thing that I really don't like is that combat is pretty much entirely voluntary. If it wasn't for the occasional hound attack, you could probably survive forever without ever drawing a weapon against anything bigger than a rabbit. There aren't all that many monsters in the world, and what few there are will mostly leave you alone if you leave them alone. And none of the basic essentials of survival are ever guarded by anything hostile. The idea that you can just opt out of being killed by monsters doesn't sit right with me. Hounds help a little, but I feel like you're relying too much on them. They feel like a random encounter rather than a persistent and threatening force in the world, which isn't all that satisfying. Especially since they aren't linked to your pursuit of food or sanity in any way.

(UPDATE: I actually recently started a new character and have hit day 14 without any health-related scares at all, so I'd say that my previous difficulties were completely due to me making bad decisions as a result of unfamiliarity with some new monster attributes. If you're prudent about where you poke your spear it's still pretty easy to stay safe from monsters due to how few of them are actively hostile.)

THE REAL ISSUE:

Ultimately, all of these problems are the same problem: all essential resources, of all types and for all purposes, are categorically trivial to acquire.

That's easy enough to see in terms of food resources, but it's not just food. It's everything. What are the basic staples I need to survive? Mighty armor that deflect a huge percentage of all damage? Made of mere logs and grass. The only weapon you're ever likely to need? Rocks and twigs. Sleeping bags which will trivialize any insanity problem you ever face? Just some grass. A crock pot, which massively increases the efficiency of the most common food items? Logs and rocks. An icebox to preserve my food? Rocks and the spare gold I had left over from the alchemy machine anyway. And most of the rest is silk based, with black spiders being the single least dangerous monster in existence by a huge margin.

Look how easy this stuff is to get! I can grow all the wood I will ever need within the light radius of my fire pit. I can't go two screens without finding a dozen grass tufts. Rocks are lying around by the hundreds in vast fields completely unguarded. Spiders will funnel out of their nests one by one and cough up silk almost without a fight every day at dusk. And apart from the rocks (which you need very few of for the most part), it's all 100% renewable.

Why, in a game called "Don't Starve", can I build a functioning refrigerator out of junk from my back yard on day two? You never need to struggle to obtain anything. You aren't fighting against scarcity. You aren't fighting against a hostile environment that jealously protects its resources. Absolutely everything you will ever need can be found within a two-screen radius of a well-placed campsite, and it all just keeps growing back.

My current character has lived to day 35: the end of the first winter. What could POSSIBLY kill me between now and the end of the second winter? Or the third, or the fifth, or the tenth? Every tree I've ever cut down to make tools is still there for me. So is every berry I've ever plucked, every rabbit I've ever speared, every spider nest I've ever raided, every beefalo I've ever hunted and then some. All just as pristine and bountiful as the day I arrived, if not MORE bountiful. They fed me and clothed me once, so why won't they again? And this time I don't just have them. I also have all the infrastructure I've added to the world: my transplanted bushes, my farm plots, my bee boxes, my crock pot, my iceboxes, my traps, my tools. Without the looming threat of growing scarcity or some kind of shifting threat in the wilderness, the game can only ever get easier and easier the longer you live. The ONLY exception to this right now is the hounds.

Even if the strongest food supplies get nerfed, and even if the winter gets harsher, this core issue will still remain. Surviving until day 35 might get harder, but unless something fundamental changes, that's where the difficulty curve will end. Hounds aren't going to cut it. I'm not going to grind through the same routine for dozens of hours just to see whether or not maybe a hound pack would have finally gotten me a hundred and fifty days from now.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

I want to take a minute here to look back at the very first game of Don't Starve I ever played, back when I didn't really know what I was doing yet.

I started out trying to live off roasted rabbit morsels. It kept me going, but there weren't all that many rabbit holes around. Catching them was time-intensive, and it didn't leave me with much buffer to travel on. Eventually I discovered a pair of spider nests not far to the southeast of my campsite. Eager to access the new technologies that silk would unlock, I made hunting them part of my daily routine. The amount of time this took put a dent in my food supply, and I wasn't all that great at kiting yet, so sometimes I took damage. Healing off that damage required eating more food than was necessary to satisfy just my hunger, pressuring my food supply even more. Sometimes I left myself at half health while waiting for my hunger meter to wind down, trading some security for efficiency. Sometimes I had to eat a bit of monster meat here and there to make ends meat, planning on offsetting the sanity loss later on. But I overdid it, and got crazy enough that the rabbits turned into beardlings. Deprived of my only reliable clean food supply, the situation rapidly deteriorated, and I was ultimately devoured by a figment of my imagination after trying to eat monster lasagna in desperation.

This is what I want. I want the act of satisfying one of my needs to put pressure on all the others. I want the daily drudgery of collecting food to steadily drive me mad. I want to be forced to venture deep into the wilderness is search of the precious resources I need to keep me sane. I want to be faced with monsters that try to guard those resources, putting pressure on my health. I want the need to restore that health to cut deeper into my already-strained food supply. I want to be forced to venture further and further away from my camp each time, while the world gradually grows more hostile and less productive until I either succumb to the monsters or am forced to flee through the teleporter. I don't want to just cycle through my own backyard every day, tending to my hunger-fixing farm and my sanity-fixing farm and my health-fixing farm before going back to bed, day in and day out, without variation, forever.

The game already has most of the basic framework you need to make this happen. All that's missing is a tech and resource system that forces the player to get bolder and more reckless as time goes on rather than becoming more withdrawn and more self-sufficient, and a more hostile wilderness that's ready to punish that boldness. It probably wouldn't even take all that many additional assets if you play your cards right.

Edited by Wyvern

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Danwood    9

I 100% agree with this analysis, couldn't have explained better myself. Devs should seriously take in consideration this feedback, since its very well put and reasoned.

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SwiftShadow2    18

Part of the problem is the fact that the Devs are putting out exactly what they're changing, and seasoned players can read the changes and work out fixes immediately. Honey goes down? I guess I'll find a pig village and steal their berries. Now, I'm not stating the Devs should stop doing this, as I believe that having a healthy relationship between consumer/producer is necessary and vital to the survival of an indie game - I'm just pointing out what I see happen.

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Wyvern    10

Part of the problem is the fact that the Devs are putting out exactly what they're changing, and seasoned players can read the changes and work out fixes immediately. Honey goes down? I guess I'll find a pig village and steal their berries. Now, I'm not stating the Devs should stop doing this, as I believe that having a healthy relationship between consumer/producer is necessary and vital to the survival of an indie game - I'm just pointing out what I see happen.

I wouldn't consider that an issue. While it's true that the process of learning the game on your own is a difficulty curve unto itself, ultimately a well-balanced game should still be able to challenge a knowledgeable player. You don't really want a situation where a game loses all challenge once it's "solved". If anyone here is familiar with roguelikes, I could point out Dungeon Crawl as a positive example of this (its mechanics are fairly simple, but it continues to pose a tactical challenge no matter how well you know them) and Nethack as a more negative example (it's extremely complicated and loaded with nasty traps for the inexperienced player, but if you read all the spoilers, you'll find that the optimal course of action in any given situation is usually becomes very obvious).

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OnyxShadow    10

As a counter-balance to the above analysis, let me give another example.After encouraging her for a while, I finally got my mother to play this game back just before the sanity patch. Now, obviously sanity and winter made the game significantly more challenging since then. However, even then she died very early in every play-through generally with me giving her hints as she went along and having heard me talk about strategy quite often before even playing. The best she could do was day 8.I realize that the players that understand this game inside and out, have an often-used bookmark to the wiki and this forum, and have tons of experience in this game and in games in general will not have an exceptionally hard time surviving in Don't Starve especially after many hours of play. I don't either for the most part. However, that's like saying that hardcore raiders in WoW are not aggressively challenged by leveling or basic dungeons.My hope is that this game can be enjoyed by many types of players with many levels of skill.

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K-Dawg    15

Good post :)I kept wondering lately if the food's sanity heal could be reworked: how about it say, if it gives you a +15 sanity, that instead of being a sudden, flat +15 that it becomes a +15 overtime (basically an ingame 12 to 24 hours to reach the full +15). If you do anything that affects negatively your sanity score, it would immediately halt the ongoing sanity recovery that was provided by food? I think this would join on the idea to recover sanity in this matter with getting some options shutdown in order to profit from one investment. I really like the time it takes for us to recover when hugging befriended pigmen for example, as it gives you a fair feel of the time required for your character to recollect his spirits and the impact it has on your intended schedule being slowed down or some actions forced into being postponed until you're sane enough again. I'd like to see this happen with food concerning sanity. The idea of sanity healing period being shattered if you do anything "shocking" would ensure that this type of pressure is applied (might consider lumbering to be risky if a Treeant pops, breaking your sanity healing overtime, camping far away but not far enough from spiders at night, ensuing the chances of getting your sanity healing break appart, etc.I was even wondering if say, my value has been 50 sanity for a while but after some events I am down to 30; I try to reach back to 50 after eating crocked food and have to wait - what if during a given short timing, that if my sanity takes some form of damage before I reach back to 50, that it cancels the remaining sanity AND bring me immediately back down to 30? If this could work as well regarding clothes that help recover sanity as well, the insanity factor would really have its meaning while not denying ways to recover it, only that the conditions would have a better meaning on sacrificing other things you can/cannot do. This way it would become an excellent new pressure tool and prevent full days dedicated with tasks that would constantly bang on your sanity meter w/out it being an issue since every time you consume good food right now it fixes the 3 meters that we have to worry about anyway.

Edited by K-Dawg

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Wyvern    10

As a counter-balance to the above analysis, let me give another example.

After encouraging her for a while, I finally got my mother to play this game back just before the sanity patch. Now, obviously sanity and winter made the game significantly more challenging since then. However, even then she died very early in every play-through generally with me giving her hints as she went along and having heard me talk about strategy quite often before even playing. The best she could do was day 8.

I realize that the players that understand this game inside and out, have an often-used bookmark to the wiki and this forum, and have tons of experience in this game and in games in general will not have an exceptionally hard time surviving in Don't Starve especially after many hours of play. I don't either for the most part. However, that's like saying that hardcore raiders in WoW are not aggressively challenged by leveling or basic dungeons.

My hope is that this game can be enjoyed by many types of players with many levels of skill.

And what, exactly, is wrong with someone dying on day 8? Sounds like par for the course for someone who's still learning how things work. I went through at least four or five characters who were brutally murdered before day 16 before I had completely figured out what I could do with my resources and what situations I could and couldn't handle. Death in Don't Starve doesn't mean you failed because the game is too hard. It means you made a mistake and learned something you can use to adjust your strategy next time. I had way more fun back when I was dying left and right than I do now feeling immortal. People dying on day 8 isn't the problem; people who live past day 100 are the problem.

Or, more to the point, people who are expecting to be able to easily live past day 100 are the problem. Death is supposed to be an inevitability in this game. That's why there's a little popup that says "How long will you survive?" every single time you start a new world. Your objective isn't supposed to be to live forever, it's supposed to be to live a little bit longer than last time. A lot of people on these forums don't want to play an uncompromising wilderness survival game, though. They want a game like Minecraft or Terraria where they can build a nice little hut in a sandbox world and mess around with their toys forever (until they get bored and ask for new toys in the next patch). Those kinds of games are fine, and the market for them is pretty big right now, but I don't think that's the game the devs are interested in making, and I'm concerned that if they spend too much time listening to feedback from people who want everything handed to them and aren't willing to put thought into struggling and dying and discovering new strategies, the game is going to be stuck halfway in between and not really be able to satisfy anyone in the long term.

Maybe I should make a post in the general forum about this...

Good post :)

I kept wondering lately if the food's sanity heal could be reworked: how about it say, if it gives you a +15 sanity, that instead of being a sudden, flat +15 that it becomes a +15 overtime (basically an ingame 12 to 24 hours to reach the full +15). If you do anything that affects negatively your sanity score, it would immediately halt the ongoing sanity recovery that was provided by food?

This sounds like an overcomplicated mechanic that doesn't actually do a whole lot to address the main issue, which is that there is no meaningful cost associated with spending resources to increase your sanity. You could quadruple the rate at which sanity decays and all it would mean is that you need to spend a few more minutes a week gathering grass, which isn't going to kill anyone. Being forced to spend a day not farming silk every once and a while isn't going to kill anyone either.

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K-Dawg    15

My point wasn't to find a way to get someone killed with a reworked sanity recovery via food, it was more of an idea of another element that would cause delaying your progress and making Sanity more susceptible to becoming frail, less easy to keep at a value the player specifically wants to keep at, which could also help against voluntary near insanity stages to farm those essences from rabbits that have been stored in a while, then just popping the food to be rid of the nightmare creatures that are just about to attack the player to just become sane all the sudden again, as if nothing happened. Getting nightmare fuel - at least to me - seems to be something that shouldn't be so easily and quickly piled up. Right now it's more of a "today I'm on a glutton diet, being mad just for about 10 seconds and get nightmare fuel." At the very least I'd venture to say that's a bit lame. Insanity is supposed to be a problem, not something you use to get an edge.

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KlinkKlink    10

I haven't really dabbled in farming in the short time I owned Don't Starve, but if it breaks the game as much as you say it does, maybe a mob could be made to desecrate your farm plots. Perhaps crows can fly in and damage your crops, or an entirely new creature can be implemented.

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Wyvern    10

For the most part, when I'm talking about "farming", I mean it metaphorically, in terms of setting up a safe place to grind for infinite amounts of a renewable resources. Literal farm plots are not that big of a deal compared to a lot of other stuff. Rabbit and beefalo meat are drastically easier to accumulate in large amounts than grown vegetables (on top of still being available during the winter), and berries have less overhead. The most useful thing about them is probably the small chance to get pomegranates and dragon fruit, which can be cooked to restore a huge amount of health, but honeyed ham fills a similar niche and honey can be amassed more reliably.

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KlinkKlink    10

As for food, there could be a penalty for carrying too much food on you. What if having a lot at once will have BEARS spawn? That'll be something. One thing I noticed about rabbits is that there is absolutely no reason to craft a trap. You can just assault it from the exact opposite side of it's respective hole and you can kill with no problem. They could at least go around you or run to another hole. If making a trap is mandatory, it could draw out the process of gathering morsels, reducing how many you can gather at once. With berries, Gobbler spawn rates could be increased and as for Beefalo, Krampus should be made a larger threat. Perhaps reduce the naughtiness threshold?

I've too have noticed that Sanity has been rather wimpy towards killing me. I'm not entirely sure what to do about it but I think there are just not enough factors that lower your sanity yet. Perhaps your sanity could go down if you're starving or gravely wounded, thus forcing you to be more liberal with your food reserves. On a different note, I think the 80% damage resistance you get from the blasted LOGSUIT is downright absurd. I mean, It's just a bunch logs. I'd say a 50% resistance, give or take, would be more appropriate.

Other than these points, I don't know what else to say. Very good thread, by the way.

Edited by KlinkKlink

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