Welcome to Mechanically Beautiful, where we look into the widely debated topic, “Are Video Games Art?” I am here to say that yes, I do believe video games are a form of art and I’m going to give you readers amazing examples of why I believe this. If you are not a believer of this idea, then maybe these articles will change your mind. But even if they don’t, you will get a chance to hear about and maybe look into some beautiful games in the industry. Today we look at the isometric, brutal survival game by Klei Entertainment, “Don’t Starve”.
“Don’t Starve” throws you into the middle of a strange wilderness filled with awful creatures all out to kill you. You have to run around quickly, gathering materials to try and build up a campfire and find some food to survive the days. When night falls, you have to stay around your campfire and wait for the night to pass. This game throws fantastical creatures at you while you run around a beautiful, hand-drawn terrain as you move like an animated sketchbook character.
When you first enter the world, it seems pretty calm; you only sees some crows and rabbits. Things seems pretty normal, but as you wander around more, you start to see some very odd-looking creatures. One of the first odd-looking enemies you will most likely come across are the spiders. Of course, this is a video game, so the spiders are big, mean creatures, but they aren’t your usually big spiders like in “World of Warcraft.” These spiders are like tiny furballs with creepy-looking fangs like a wolf, and two big eyes with their smaller eyes around them. They have four big, furry legs and make very odd hissing noises. After running from a hoard of the angry spider freaks, you may run into the pig men. Strange, hunchbacked, and anthropomorphic, they are not hostile and seem to live in small tribes with little huts all over the place. They have very derpy-looking faces with big, flat teeth; they are very awkward-looking. If you survive enough days, you will eventually be attacked by the dogs. The dogs are small, vicious-looking beasts that growl at you with huge, gaping mouths and jagged teeth. They look very much like a Tim Burton creation with their yellow, beady eyes and strange body shape. In fact, a lot of the creatures look very much like Tim Burton’s beasts. If you cut down enough trees, one of them will come to life with a jack-o-lantern face and start trying to murder you.
As you wander around, you’ll see a high-detail, nicely done painting texture to the different biome grounds. The ground reminds me of something like a children’s book. You can see the strokes and movement of the lines and brushes, but it all nicely blends together to give you the sense of some realism without going too far. It has a nice contrast to the environment of things that you can interact with, too, to keep things clear. The bushes of berries and reeds of grass have a more vibrant look, and a heavy black outline to invoke old cartoon memories. They look like they could be in the backdrop of something like a plain or forest setting of a cartoon. You see various kinds of flowers and buildings that the pig men live in, or weird egg sacs where spiders spawn out of. You sometimes find “worm” holes in the ground that are literally just big open mouths to some weird underground creature that teleports you around the world. The most interesting thing, though, is actually the water around you. When you walk to the map’s edge and see the waves of the ocean, it is done in what looks like papercraft, with large, wave-like cutout shapes that sort of move up and down, like the kind of look a play or puppet show will use to simulate water. While doing all your wandering and surviving, you will be hopping around, animated like an old-school cartoon.
The way the characters move is very strange and yet interesting. Their movements are very quick and over exaggerated. It reminds of the way DeDe in “Dexters Lab” would hop around and do her little jump; very animated and quick. When you walk, your character sort of jumps around and flops his arms back and forth. It is very peculiar, to be sure, but the way your main character acts and moves gives a lot of uniqueness to the game. Klei seems to be a very big fan of the Saturday morning cartoon animation look, such as “Mark of the Ninja” does, with quickly exaggerated movements as well. It is also worth noting that because the edges and outlines of the characters and creatures are very sharp, it adds to the feel of the animations. The dogs and spiders are especially cool to watch as they angrily skitter and walk around, growling or hissing at you by opening their mouths super wide, like they are going to eat a whole cow. Even something simple like the cutting down of a tree has a unique feel to its animation, and tree chopping is in a bunch of games.
“Don’t Starve” is a Tim Burton-esque survival game where everything looks like it was drawn with pencil, pen, and some paint. The game is beautiful and intriguing, and makes you want to keep exploring to find new oddities like a Tallbird. I didn’t mention Tallbirds but you should definitely look them up, they are weird. All in all, the game has one of the most unique graphical styles I have seen in a long time, and has some pretty compelling gameplay behind it. I would say the game is worth getting, but I think getting “Don’t Starve Together” is the best purchase so you and your friends can stay together around the fire, too afraid to leave your base because everything wants to eat you.