There are fewer things more comforting than warmth in the cold. Games like The Long Dark, Don’t Starve, and even Skyrim tap into that comfort as a way of demonstrating safety and danger. Close to the fire? You’re okay! Far from the fire? You might be having a terrible time. A Very Warm Fire distills this gameplay mechanic down to its most bare-bones version, and in doing so shows how you can turn fear of losing the fire into its own kind of horror.
A Very Warm Fire is a jam game, but it doesn’t have the rushed, throw-it-at-the-wall quality that many jam games do. It’s a thoughtful, considered game that demonstrates some fundamental rules about food gathering, safety, and risk-taking. There is a fire. You control a little person who needs to collect food. Eventually, you will exhaust the sources of food closest to the fire. That means you need to travel into the dark.
There are mushrooms there, a kind of myconid species that shoots out musical spore clouds that gradually sap your health. There are also little dog things, and birds. They all make noises, and they all frightened me the first time that they emerged, speedily, from the background of the low-fi forest. My body temp dropped slowly, but my health stayed up until my body temp dropped below a livable threshold. Then it was all about collecting apples so I could power my way back to the fire.
The wonder of A Very Warm Fire is that it’s easy to get lost. I couldn’t find the fire, and I was kicking myself for getting turned around. All I had to do was head back north and maybe a little east. I would find it, I was sure. It had to be there. And I didn’t find it, and I smiled, and the rest of the heat drained from my body.