Don't Starve developer: don't be afraid of polarizing design

In a talk titled "Don't Starve: Creating Community Around an Antisocial game," Klei programmer Kevin Forbes detailed the lessons learned across the development of Don't Starve, Klei's unforgiving survival sim. Chief among them — don’t be afraid to take design risks

Don’t Starve started life at an internal Klei game jam, and was long slated to be a casual free-to-play title, a far cry from the unforgiving final product, the "survival horror crafting death simulator" that Forbes likes to call it. Early versions of the game were extremely casual — and not terribly exciting.

The team found their way when they embraced the survival theme whole-heartedly. "We found inspiration in the roguelikes we were playing when we weren't thinking about free-to-play," said Forbes. "In order to emphasize the point, on a whim, we just threw in permadeath," he said, referring to a game feature where death is "permanent," and ends a play session.

That decision would ultimately be polarizing — but Forbes contends that permanent deaths were a good thing. "It gave Don't Starve two things: it gave it an identity. And it emphasized learning."

The free-to-play model just wasn't going to work with a game based on "white knuckle scarcity," and the message that "life is meaningless and finite." So, the team ditched that model for a soft launch, with constant iteration and content updates, heavily influenced by a community of early players.

"Don't Starve is not for everybody," said Forbes, noting that that is part of its appeal. "It's not afraid to be what it is."

More from Polygon

Destiny's beta comparison video: PS4 versus Xbox One

  • The Crew closed beta - Overview video

  • Polygon goes to Poland

  • DOTA 2 gameplay video

  • Battleborn debut trailer

Latest Discussions

Log In Sign Up

Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.



Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.