Dwarf Fortress

12 02 2011

I found the most amazingly nerdy thing ever.  It’s a free modern PC game called Dwarf Fortress that has ASCII “graphics”, meaning it basically doesn’t have graphics.  Of all the games I’ve ever played in my life, it has the steepest learning curve by far.  This is largely because it is immensely complex, but the complicated and not-too-terribly intuitive interface contributes a great deal.  The game has two modes of play, with the primary mode being “fortress”, in which you control* a group of dwarves.  The basic task is to get them to survive and thrive in a dangerous world of goblins, underground monsters, and potential booze shortages.  Once players have scaled the learning cliff, they discover that the game isn’t really that difficult and attempt mega-projects, such as a 72-story stone dwarf that can pee both water and magma (though, not both at once).

Your dwarves do not have hit points.  They have all the body parts you’d expect them to have and their bones will break if they’re hit hard enough.  They have personalities and gain skill in whatever labors you task them to perform.  This can cause you to feel a great sense of loss when you foolishly order to your legendary miner (who you named “Dig-Dug”) to cause a cave-in that will ultimately lead to his death, which could’ve been prevented had you only managed to produce some soap for your hospital.  Much of the time, the game plays like a sim game that you can neither win nor lose, and then suddenly hostile invaders present themselves and hopefully you’re prepared for it.

If you were to try and play this I would highly recommend you keep your browser open to the Dwarf Fortress Wiki, which currently has 1185 articles; and that you download the Lazy Newb Pack, which includes several hacks utility programs and an interface that allows you to easily turn on and off features. It also includes the most popular tiles sets which dramatically improve the visual interface.

This game is not for everyone.  In fact, most folks are far more likely to enjoy reading or hearing stories of other people’s experiences than they actually would trying to play the game themselves.  Seriously, if stories involving magma, mad dwarves, burning goblins, and belligerent elephants sound interesting to you, check out the story of Boatmurdered, a fortress that some fine folks at Something Awful took turns playing, back in the 2D days.  Even if it sounds like your kind of thing, understand that the game is technically in alpha, has one programmer, and has numerous outstanding bugs and half-implemented features.

This game is one of the reasons I haven’t posted anything since Xmas.