Don't Starve 10th Anniversary Full Chronology: From Concept to Release

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Don't Starve is 10 years old today!!!
It is May 18th, 2012 can be considered the date of origin of Don’t Starve, since it was on that day that the public beta began.
I bet you didn’t even know about it! (or you saw my article announcement before/learned from the people whom I had previously told about it:flustered:!!)

Well, in order to properly celebrate this anniversary, I present to you:
Article with absolutely all the content from the early version of the game named:
All About Early Don’t Starve Versions
Oh no, wait... The title of this article is untrue, and the content is almost two years overdue!! Take two!
Three years of searching...
Lots of sleepless nights...
Ransacked over 10,000 web pages...
Found about 45 early game builds from 2012-2013...
I give you...

Article with ABSOLUTELY THE WHOLE development history of the game from the prototype Game Jam 2010 to the release in 2013 and post-release content!
It’ll be all there: and prototypes and concepts and a bunch of screenshots that you haven’t seen before, clipped and unrealized content, as well as puzzles from early update videos and gameplay from all of the found early Steam game builds (including caves)!
Because of the overwhelming amount of information, I didn’t have time to complete it on time. At the moment, only about 35% of the content (the time span from 2010 to October 2012) is almost complete and formalized, and is already available. Also, about 70-75% of the text that is stored in my text document from which I will slowly transfer all the information here. But that's okay, the article should definitely be completed 100% up to the decade since the release of the game :D
As the article is still being expanded, you can make your corrections to it via Google Docs before its full release. Well, I will not delay, enjoy reading!
Don't Starve 10th Anniversary Full Chronology: From Concept to Release


The creation of Don't Starve was a real experiment for Klei Entertainment, which was created in a completely different way than all studios previous games, and at the same time became a stunning success. I bet most of you got to know about Klei through this game series :D
Today, right in the decade of the game since the first announcement, I'm going to walk you through absolutely everything I could get my hands on, starting from its idea during Game Jam 2010, subsequent transformations, and to the game release in 2013.

!NOTE! The text may contain slightly distorted information in some points due to incorrect interpretation of the author. Especially to avoid inaccuracies, I tried to attach as many sources as possible, so that you can read them yourself.

(There is the most recent information)]


Art cover by MEATGOOD

Game Jam 2010 — Game Prototype


Before each winter holiday, Klei held an annual Game Jam where the development team was divided into small groups of several people, each of whom had to present the game concept in a limited amount of time. Actually, 2010 was no exception. One of these teams was the group from Kevin Forbes and Ju-Lian Kwan, which, two days later, presented an early prototype of the game "Don’t Starve". It was written in Python using models taken from the Internet. The goal of the game was that, playing as a 16-bit Link (it was his sprite that was used), we needed to live as long as possible, maintaining health, which also was an indicator of hunger. Every night pigs appeared near the player’s camp: the more there were, the more intensively the indicator fell. To avoid this, the player needs to kill the pigs with an axe from Castlevania and uses their meat to restore their health. Funny that the most of the development time was spent fixing issues with OpenGL.

As you can understand, the concept of the game at that moment was very simple, but it already showed through the main aspects on which the final product would be built.

They will return to this idea already two years later, after the completion of the development of Shank 2 and the parallel start of the development of Mark of the Ninja.



Art cover by MEATGOOD

Formation of the game idea. Alpha version of the game
(December 2011 - May 2012)



Now moving to December 2011: in parallel with the development of Mark of the Ninja, a team of four people (3 programmers and 1 artist) was assembled, whose strength was directed to the development of the game in the shortest possible time, that is to bring it to a minimum viable state, to put it online then. The goal was to see if people would like the product itself to understand whether to continue working on it or not. At the time, it had to be distributed free of charge, as the developers wanted to do an experiment with analytics tools in order to understand in which direction to move forward. What if not a Free-to-play game is going to be better for this? Again, the free-to-play nature of the game was also an occasional stumbling block along the way. The studio has already had a not-so-successful experience in creating Free-to-play games, called Sugar Rush, which is a sort of variation of Super Smash Bros.

The team spent a lot of time thinking about the IP they were going to create, but decided to stop, as is easy to guess, on the prototype from previous Game Jam. So, they got together with art director of the studio, Jeffrey Agala, that made this little concept art:


As you can see, the style at the time was characterized by bright colors and such roundings of all elements of the environment to emphasize friendliness. The main character looked like Flintstone. This style was chosen because of the initial orientation to the casual audience. So, starting with this concept art, formed the original game design called...

Mayor of Pig Town


The game was to be divided into two territories:

• The first is your online gaming base, where the player spent most of his time, built and developed it. It was inhabited by pigs, who were your citizens. The number of the population depends on the actions of the player: positive - growth, negative - decline. In addition, you could buy truffles for pigs for real money, and other players could see what your base looked like.

• The second is the location for adventure races in search of various resources for the development of the base. For example, one location could be the desert, where the player would explore ancient ruins and kill wild beasts like beefalos. All this, of course, was limited to the player’s endurance, which he had to replenish by waiting on the base.

It was with this idea that Klei went to ask for online platforms, one such was the Chrome Web Store, allowing you to run various games in the browser (the ideal example of a game that was distributed under such a scheme, is Angry Birds). The main reason for choosing the option of distributing the game directly through the browser was the frequent updates every few days.

"Mayor of Pig Town" Concept Arts:

An early example was developed from scratch on C++ using studio material from past projects. As the game targeted a very wide audience, the graphics were cut back from the studio’s past games so that it could work on any hardware of the time. Most of the code, as it is now, is written using Lua. After a month of work, only the basic controls and the world on which some entities moved were ready.

From this stage begins the prototyping of the gameplay. Its main concept was to provide easy-to-understand tools for the player in the form of the surrounding world for further interaction with him. That is, the player understood that if he had basic resources like branches and flint, he could create an ax; if he has an ax, he can cut down a tree; if there is meat, he can cook it on a fire made from logs that he got with an ax. So the idea of a cycle was created, when in order to have a tasty meal, the player first had to do the action "A", "B" and "C" in a certain sequence.

Once the core gameplay was done, the developers got some people on Craigslist to test it and provide feedback. In general, the feedback was extremely positive, which made it clear to them that this idea should be developed further.

Initially, worlds had to be created manually through the level editor (at that time Kevin called it "Feast", and the engine was called "Famine"). The further away the terrain was from the spawn, the more difficult it became, giving the player the opportunity to deal with the basic controls at the beginning. In the course of research, the player would find spiders or a village of pigs with a king. The Pig King, as planned, was supposed to give the character quests from the category "There is a bunch of vile spiders nearby, you need to kill them", for which he could give the key as a reward, which would be required to continue. As a result, after about a week of development of level, the result was very unsatisfactory, because the gameplay was simply boring and drawn out. Yes, spending an extra week or two could bring the level to an acceptable state, but there were a dozen such levels to be made, since one of the elements of monetizing the game was unlocking more adventure levels available per day. The developers decided to revise this generation system, and settled on the procedural one, inspired by various roguelikes.

The procedural generation of the world was programmed by Alia McCutchen. Initially, the generation consisted of circles, which eventually carried over to the beta of the game. Each circle had a certain biome and structures in it, and personified its narrative node, which would tell its own little story.


As we delved into the details and revisited some of the key aspects of the game that we'll talk about next, the game's visual design has changed in parallel, from friendliness and bright colors to a more drab palette and a sense of desperation.

Concept Arts

The developers did not want to introduce tutorials in any form into the game, and to emphasize this point, they subsequently introduced a system of permanent death. Thus, learning was based on trial and error.

Alpha Version


[Image Source]

Two months after the start of work on the game, the developers already had such a build in their hands, it can rightfully be called the Alpha Game Version.

The main difference between the alpha version and the final version (apart from a single indicator in the form of hunger and interface elements that changed from concepts to the release of the game about 4-5 times) was the presence of goals that were displayed on top. With the help of them, the player could get acquainted with the game world and by goals understood what to pursue. At that time, the whole process of completing the tasks took 30-40 minutes and the text with the tasks ceased to display, after which the testers asked "What to do next?", but what they got was the answer that this is a sandbox and you can do anything you want. But apparently, after completing all the objectives, they stopped advancing further, because they thought that these tasks were the only interesting experience that the game could provide. That is, what the developers represented as secondary goals, players considered the main goals of the game, after which the game will be considered as passed.

Original Concept Revisited

Original Concept Revisited

But even at this stage of creation, it was not even half of the plans, like, for example, a game base, where elements of monetization should have been present. Consequently, the developers have completely redesigned the monetization scheme and further development of the game, leaving behind the concept of "Mayor of Pig Town", although the game should still be distributed according to the Free-to-Play scheme.

So the main changes are:

• Second world has been removed. Now there will be no semblance of a "lobby" in the game - the player enters a new world, and already there he must develop his base

• No fatigue indicators. Since the separate world with the player's base was removed, there was no need for a fatigue scale that would limit the number of different quests on expeditions around the worlds.

• There should still be calls to action in the environment that would send the player on some small quest, like that King Pig quest, where the player had to kill a bunch of evil spiders to get the key

• All monetization had to go to the look elements (a.k.a. skins), and the opening of new types of biomes with new mobs, structures and other things. More flexible customization of the world was also offered for an additional fee.

In the end, even this concept had to be abandoned and switched to a completely paid distribution basis. The main reason for this was that if exploits were discovered, they could completely break the game economy, which would have a negative impact on monetization. You would have to be on guard around the clock to immediately fix any kind of exploits and holes found, which a small team of three programmers could not cope with. Especially for such a complex game, where the player interacts with a bunch of things and structures in a randomly generated world. This stage of development has become known as...

"The Anti-Social Game"

This version of the game design became the final one. It was built on four pillars:

Dark Humor. The game was supposed to have a bad taste, which would be mixed with cynicism, as a slander over all sorts of gloomy topics like the death of a player.

Constant Scarcity. A player could not become too strong to disembowel any enemy with one blow, and absorb a dozen of damage. Even if he advances as much as possible, this will not mean that he will not be able to lose it all in one moment, because he would still have the risk of dying in a blow or two, or inadvertently forgetting to take the necessary resources on a torch at nightfall.

Player Discovery. The player had to get to know the world through experimentation, trial and error.

Mysteries. The game should be much more than what the player could expect. So, a vivid example of this is the adventure mode, which the player could stumble upon only by chance, because the developers would not tell a new player about it. As a result, this forced the players to talk about various finds with each other, sharing their finds.

Focusing on this direction of subsequent development of the game, within a short period of time (from a few weeks to two months), the first game announcement post was published online and its public beta test began.


[Confirmation that development started in December 2011]


Art cover by Pfannkuchen

Public Chrome Beta Test (May 18th — November 3rd)



I will add all the information here in a few days. You can view it now in
Google Documents Article Version!


Art cover by DeusNUST (Unfinished)

Steam Beta Test (November 3rd — April 23rd)




Art cover by Pfannkuchen

Game Release & Post-Release Content




Also, I want to thank these people:
Third Porkus for his help in finding a huge number of differences in early Steam builds of the game and help with various trivia in the article 
MEATGOOD for drawings for two chapters of the article and help with some small things
Pfannkuchen for drawings for two chapters of the article and translation of some fragments
Deerclops Mika for helping me find information about the various puzzles in the update trailers
DeusNUST for a drawing for one of the chapters
• And other people who made their small contribution to the article
Without them the article would be far less good than it is now! :wilson_love:

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One funny thing I realized while writing this article:
• Terraria Birthday is May 16th
• Minecraft Birthday is May 17th
• Don't Starve Birthday is May 18th

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I apologize that I abandoned working on the article and did not write anything for so long. I still remember about it, but, it is a pity, because of some circumstances, I cannot continue working on it right now. I can’t promise anything yet, but I really hope that the article will not be in vain.

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Looking forward to your full article! This is in my top 3 favorite games, and I still recommend it to people and gift it occasionally. I have two things that may help with your writeup.  


Jamie and Kevin's Penny Arcade article from 2012, discussing early design theory. Looks like you're already referring to it, so here are sources:


An absolutely fantastic lore compilation writeup by @Spazmatic of all the teasers, puzzles, and hidden meanings from original "vanilla" Don't Starve - no DLC - in an easy-to-read story format:


I don't know if Klei would be willing to comment, but I would be interested - maybe not in your article but sometime - about the drama that surrounded DS-vs-DST. The player base was really split, and a lot of old-timers said they were abandoning the game because of the mere creation of DST. I personally was really interested in DST and held no ill-will towards Klei, but ultimately abandoned it and only play DS. I'd love a peek behind the curtains on the stats of all of that.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic rewards in Klei’s latest game; Don’t Starve.pdf

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