Monday, November 21, 2011

Dwarf Fortress: Losing is FUN!

Greetings, readers! Today we are happy to present a special piece by one of our readers, Mr. Dan.  We hope you enjoy his look at a lesser-known gaming gem, Dwarf Fortress!

Losing is FUN.

This is the mantra that Dwarf Fortress has held from the start, and some 60 forts and 300 hours later, I'm inclined to agree. Dwarf Fortress is a multifaceted Roguelike (a genre of generally ASCII games in the same ilk as the original Rogue, but more popularly known through games like NetHack and even recent, graphical games such as Dungeons of Dredmor and Cardinal Quest), composed of a different suite of modes. The main focus of the game is the Fortress mode, although the game also contains an Adventurer mode similar to most Roguelikes, and a Legends mode that allows the player to read up on the procedurally generated history for their saved games.

Describing Dwarf Fortress to the uninitiated is a difficult process in itself. Dwarf Fortress is primarily a game about taking seven Dwarves from the Mountainhome, and establishing a Fortress, and leading them toward eventual failure. You can't win Dwarf Fortress, there are no goals other than survival. The best you can ever hope is to have a stable Fortress that isn't besieged by Goblins, Dragons, or Lovecraftian Horrors from the deep. More likely, you will kill your Dwarves accidentally, and lose a dozen hours of progress. The first time this happens, it's almost traumatic, all this time and effort is now gone and it is entirely your fault. You adjust. You do a little better next time, explore some new options, and you survive until another calamity grasps your Dwarves.

The hardest time you'll ever have with Dwarf Fortress is learning how to play it. It's natively in ASCII (although a plethora of tilesets do exist, and I highly recommend using one), and the control of the game is unwieldy. You never actually directly control anything, in a sort of Majesty-esque kind of way. For example, if I want a Dwarf to mine for me, the process goes as so: Find a Dwarf, and ensure he has the Mining job (one of some 50+ labor options, ranging from Forestry to Cheese-Making), ensure I have an available pickaxe, and then designate mining to be done. This is done by pressing 'd' (for designations), 'd' again (for dig), and then using my keyboard or mouse to select squares to be dug out. The issue is heightened when you realize that Dwarf Fortress is a 3D world presented on 2D planes, from a top-down perspective. If you want to make a downward staircase, you'd need to 'd'esignate, 'd'ig to the appropriate place, then use 'j' for a downward staircase. THEN use '>' to go down one vertical z-level, and below that use 'u' for and upward staircase. Congratulations, assuming the Dwarf is not preoccupied with being murdered or drinking, you have created a staircase!

Things get even hairier when you take into account the sheer scope of Dwarf Fortress. The game includes:

- Seasons, with temperature changes. This means in the Winter, assuming the area you live in isn't a desert of some sort, your lakes and ponds will probably freeze over. This means you won't have access to any water (which sick and injured  Dwarves need, healthy Dwarves refuse to drink anything but booze), and any rivers that once served to protect you are now bridges to your fleshy friends.

- Complex medical treatment. Every Dwarf (and every other creature as well, from Groundhog to Dragon), has a skeletal system, organ system, circulatory system, lymphatic system, and nervous system. Think about that for a moment. This means that if a Dwarf has a hand lopped off by some zealous Goblins, the following happens, assuming he does not bleed to death: Dwarf loses consciousness from blood loss, Dwarf loses a hand permanently, a wrist is broken, the Dwarf is wracked by pain, a Medical Doctor Dwarf must diagnose, disinfect the wound (and hope it's not too late), then suture shut the bleeding stump. This is assuming you have a Medical team to speak of. If not, chances are likely that said Dwarf is going to die of infection. Welcome to Dwarf Fortress!

- 80+ unique types of stone, each with different physical properties and containing different gems, metals and surprises.

- 130+ vertical z-levels on average.

- Procedurally generated everything. Skeletal Giant Eagles? Sure!

- Everything else forever, and it's constantly (see, continuously, but irregularly) being updated and released.

Yeah, that can happen too
In my time with Dwarf Fortress, here are a few of the ways various Fortresses have fallen: I accidentally flooded my Fortress with lava; zombie Elephants stormed in and killed everyone; I accidentally opened a cavern floor and unleashed Hell on my Dwarves; I chopped down too many trees, angering the Elves who declared war on my people; a 12-eyed Spider that radiated acid, bled acid, and was made out of patchwork pieces of various deceased critters crawled out of my basement; a legendary Macedwarf, wracked with the grief from his dead wife and child, went insane and brained my entire Fortress.

This isn't a game for the faint of heart, but if you're interested in unique, incredible games, and you're willing to traverse a Wall of Difficulty not unlike that associated with EVE Online, and you don't mind using the DF Wiki literally every 30 seconds for the next few months, then this might be a game for you. Just don't blame me when you lose 20 hours to your life when Urist McButtpunch goes crazy after his pet falls down your well.


           Dan is learning to accept loss, one Fortress at a time

                      Follow Dan on twitter @mmmslash


  1. Oh wow, this is an awesome surprise!
    Thanks Dan!

  2. This sounds like the most horrible thing ever. I'm intrigued.

  3. More than happy to contribute, folks. Let me know if you guys want any more in the future.