Dwarf Fortress: The Detailed Roguelike That’s Easy To Play

By Graham Smith on April 16th, 2014 at 7:00 pm.

Dwarf Fortress is famous for producing anecdotes by the minute. The two-man, twelve-year, donation-funded indie project weaves together procedurally generated geography, civilizations and histories to create a rich fantasy world. It simulates its characters – standard fare like dwarves, elves, goblins, etc. – down to the most minute detail, and when all its systems combine, the results are often hilarious, occasionally tragic, and always surprising.

It’s also blissfully easy to play. The game is free to download and easy to install, the UI comes with a detailed and handy help system, and there’s a community wiki full of guides – not that you’ll need them. I started from scratch last night and was having fun immediately. Let me tell you about my experience.

First of all, you need to download and install it. Visit this thread for PeridexisErrant’s Dwarf Fortress Starter Pack and hit one of the download links at the top. It’s a zip file, so just extract the whole set wherever you want it and you’re ready to go.

When you boot the game up, you’ll get a straightforward GUI setup menu asking you what graphical tileset you want to use. Stick with the clean and clear defaults and press launch. Now you’re in game – simple.

No matter how many games you play of Dwarf Fortress, no matter how many times you die and restart, every adventure you embark upon can take place within a single world. If you leave a particularly noticeable mark on that world in one life, you can go find the remnants of it in the next. Your next step will be to generate that world.

Hit ‘Create New World’, and select whatever you want from the various options. I kept everything at the default “Medium”, but set the pre-generated history from 5 years to 550 years. This means that the process takes longer and my saved games are bigger, but the world is more rich with myths, legends and the ruins of forgotten civilizations. It’s fascinating to watch the game put the world together – mountains leap from the earth, rivers dribble across the landscape, and then some part of the process will reject that world, toss it away and start again. It’ll do this five or six times until some unknown criteria is met, and eventually civilizations will start to appear and the population and deceased counters will tick up into the tens and then hundreds of thousands. By this point, I’m already having fun.

When you’re done, select to start a new game from the main menu, and pick Legends mode. This is basically a browser for the lore the game has just generated. You can pore over maps, review familial histories, and see every dwarf who has lived and died in this world. It’s fascinating. I can spend hours just looking over it; all you’ve done is press a few quick buttons, and fifteen minutes later you have an encyclopedia for a fictional world that’s all yours. Here’s my map (click to make it bigger):

Every symbol is a considerable chunk of land, containing villages, towns, castles, caves, volcanoes, life.

If you can tear yourself away, it’s time to go for an adventure. Quit out of Legends mode and this time select Adventure mode. You’ll begin with character creation, and it’s much like any other fantasy adventure game you’ve ever played. Set your name, your gender, stuff a bunch of points in combat and physical skills and you’ll be ready to go in a couple of minutes. Don’t sweat what you pick too much; just make sure you’re ready for fights.

I created a female swordsman named Akan Seasonveiled. I’m a Hero – stronger than a Peasant, weaker than a Demigod – and I’m out to make a name for myself. I’ve begun on the islands in the north-west of the map above, which is large enough that it would take days to walk from one end to the other.

When you get in game, a message will tell you about the help system. Just press ? (i.e. Shift+/) at any point to bring up a menu with helpful starter advice (about 400 words long) and a page of key bindings. You don’t really need to look at any of it, as these are the only buttons you’ll need:

Arrow keys – move/attack
l – look at a thing
k – talk to a person/creature
g – pick something up
i – check your inventory
Q – check your quest log
T – fast travel

That’s it. Pretty much it’s just like Skyrim. There’s even a compass in the top left of the screen that tells you what is nearby. There were buildings to my north, so I headed in that direction till I came across a round building with a single room. I went inside and there was a small cluster of farmers, some craftsman, and a spearman in some armour. I started a conversation (k) with the spearman.

Hello bud! I was on the look out for a quest and selected the “Services” option in the menu (navigated with the + and – keys). What can I do for you, Kafek Lusterwash? I’m immediately charmed by his laconic response:

I decide to quiz him about the surrounding area and, on a whim, ask if he wants to come with me on my adventure.

Kafek, droll kook! I’ve been playing for less than two minutes and I now have a sidekick. He’s got some armour, a spear, and the text description that appears when I look (l) at him tells me his ears are funny lookin’. Maybe this is why he craves death so badly. Maybe people make fun of his ears a lot. Sorry Kafek, I won’t tease you about them.

I talk to some of the other people in the building, to see if they might have a quest for me. A farmer thinks I’m foolish for attempting to have an adventure, but he does have a job if I want it.

Laka Wordsblotted, your days are numbered. Our weapons are silver, but my shield is copper and I’m betting anything pointy will do the job well enough. It’s still early in the day, so Kafek and I continue north for a while, exploring what turns out to be a fairly large city full of buildings and people. Everyone else is a tradesman or a farmer, and none of them want to join Kafek and I on our adventure. I wonder idly if it’s because of Kafek’s ears, but don’t say anything. I decide instead that it’s time to track down Laka, the nightcrawler.

I press Q to bring up my quest log, and hit a button to zoom the map to the location of our target. They’re not far, to the southwest of the same region we’re in. Whenever you’re in friendly territory, you can press T to fast travel, and that’s what I do to arrive at the entrance of a small cave in the wilds. This is “The Ignorant Holes”, and Kafek is by my side as we descend.

As soon as we’re down a short slope, Laka appears and announces himself. “Prepare to die!” he yells, but my new friend Kafek proves himself vicious in a fight. He lunges forward and in two turns strikes Laka down before I’m able to land even a single blow. I’m not complaining. Kafek’s weird ears probably distracted Laka and we’ll both get the credit when we head back to town.

While on the fast travel map, bounding across hills and forests with Kafek at my side, an icon appears dead ahead of us. “You have discovered a camp,” a message reads. A camp! All of my experiences with the people in this region have been positive so far, and I imagine a travelling band of friendly tradesmen who might offer us new jobs or sell us tools. Also, every conversation has an “Accuse of being a night crawler” button, and I’m dying to try it out. Doing so in the wilds with a small group of people seems a better idea than pointing fingers in a heavily populated city.

As it turns out, conversation isn’t an option. The group of campers attack us on sight. First comes The Hammerman, who hits both Kafek and I with a series of bruising wollops. Dwarf Fortress describes combat scenarios in tremendous detail at the bottom of the screen, each turn painting a new picture in scrolling text. This means you infer your success or failure in a fight not via sets of falling numbers, but by evocative descriptions of grotesque injuries. As simple as your control over combat is, these bruises, lacerations and broken bones make every attacking step thrilling.

The Hammerman is joined by a Lasher, but Kafek and I eventually dispatch both enemies. We’re roughed up by the experience – Kafek especailly, who took the worst of the attacks – but it looks like we’ll be oka–

“Overlord” in red writing immediately makes me picture some terrible demon hell beast, but actually it’s just another human. A lady, this time, wearing a considerable amount of armour. Rafeb Greatesttargets, Overlord, is clearly the toughest of the group, but I figure Kafek and I have what it takes to win the fight.

The Overlord hits Kafek once, causing so much pain and injury that he immediately throws up. Her next blow grinds his skull into his brain. “Kafek Icgiltega, Spearman has been struck down.” Shit. When Kafek agreed to follow me, he did so on the condition that I bring him glory and death. Death is taken care of, but now I need to bring him glory.

I turn and run.

It doesn’t work. The Overlord charges, closes the distance between us in an instant, and knocks me on my butt. She then lands a series of blows while I’m stunned, which cause me to “give in to pain” and fall unconscious. While I’m asleep on the grass, she whips my skull to pieces, and I join Kafek in procedurally generated heaven.

Below is a picture of the final scene. The lower most body is one of our enemies. The one a little above and to the right of that is Kafek. Then, above and to the right of that, is me with the Overlord alongside. If you look to the top of the image, near the left, you’ll see there are two more people coming to investigate. Even if I had managed to flee from the Overlord, it seems unlikely I’d have been able to avoid everyone else who made up this camp.

This whole experience has taken around twenty minutes, and while it’s a shame Akan Seasonveiled didn’t get to see more of her homeland, the experience encapsulated much of what I love about Dwarf Fortress. I discovered a town, talked to people and formed a posse. I went on a dynamically generated fantasy adventure and slayed a grim beast. I discovered a camp of travellers out in the wilds, had a tense and hard-fought combat encounter, and finally met my own grisly end. It was exciting! It was just a tiny taste of this world, but I’m itching to go explore more.

Will I ever get back to that camp and find my revenge, or even stumble across my corpse? Shall I create my next character on the other side of the world? Earlier, in Legends mode, I output a heatmap showing locations of “evil”. There’s a particularly strong spot in the south that I’m dying to learn more about.

Dwarf Fortress has been in development for twelve years, available to download for over eight, and has maybe twenty years of development left if the current roadmap remains accurate. It’s an amazing and important game. It ought to be played by more people, and you can get a little taste of why while having fun from the very first click. It’s easy. Go play. I haven’t even mentioned the ‘object testing’ Arena mode where you can pit dragons against elephants in who-would-win scientific battle royales*.

*dragons always win and the burning elephant corpses produce smoke that blinds all future combatants.

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157 Comments »

Top comments

  1. heker_88 says:

    It gets funnyer when you realise that its far better( and funnier) to direct attacks than just go with the game given one. I cant remember the controll for this but i think its “a”, this lets you choose the exact attack on the exact body part you want to try and make. That perfectly trained swordsman stabbing out eyes and leaving the blind to live is always a fun char. Another fun thing is wrestling, oh and biting can be rather devastating.

    Plus the next release is going to preety much overhaul the combat system making it more dynamic, allowing for things such as catching punches and making two attacks at once. Of couse hydras are gunna become multi faceted killing machines, which tbh they already are.

  2. iucounu says:

    What I liked to do a while back was this: I’d gen a world, go in to Legends mode, and find the biggest evil bastard I could. I’d find some genocidal sod who had killed whole villages of, say, elves, and done horrendous things. I would then spawn as near them as I could in Adventure Mode and dedicate myself to taking him out. Very entertaining – the first few spawns would often end up shot full of holes, but I’d work out a build and a strategy after a while.

  3. Mr Bismarck says:

    I used to leave my laptop on overnight, generating worlds many thousand years old and then just enjoy my day as I read through the world’s events in Legends Viewer as if it was a history book.

    Which is how I met the Elf, Quithe Sealguard, who took on a mixed army of 1,492 Humans, Dwarves, Elves, Goblins and various lions, dogs and emus and beat them. On his own.

    A year after that he and 18 other allies won another battle, (only against 800 this time) and then shortly after that, Quithe was finally felled, in his adopted home of Waxbrush, the last Elf standing in a battle in which he continued to fight even after seeing his own wife struck down and being hit with two crossbow bolts.

    If you can get past the barriers, DF will give you the best stories.

  4. Cvnk says:

    The DF development blog is an entertaining read:

    Today’s success was to have a crying mother spit on me and call me a murderer, so that’s where we’re at. Of course, people familiar with modding or magma crabs might guess that the first time she spit at me, the glob came out frozen and my murderous character, being handy with a sword, batted the saliva ice cube out of the park. After I fixed that, and some other stuff, it splattered on my toga. There are tears and sweat now as well, coming out of the right tissues at the right times. As with blood, it remembers who provided them up to a point, which should be fun for brewing witches’ potions and so on in some distant future. Fixed some other crashes and mess as well. Hopefully we can move on to cheerier territory.

    The features he’s (apparently) been adding to Adventure Mode make me wonder about his sanity.

  5. Premium User Badge

    Mungrul says:

    I truly love Dwarf Fortress, and it’s gifted me with my most twisted game-related story.
    It’s one that goes down like a lead balloon when I tell it to people. I can immediately see them looking for safe exits.

    My greatest fortress was one called CrestedWhips.
    The outer courtyard was surrounded by a moat of magma and 30′ high walls of glass and obsidian.
    The entrance was flanked by two 100′ towers that doubled as execution platforms. Caged goblins would often meet their untimely ends being pushed off of these towers.
    Inside the courtyard was a pit filled with feral animals that other goblins would be dumped in.

    And to the south of the courtyard was a small, airtight building made from obsidian blocks.
    But we’ll come back to that.

    The population of CrestedWhips really didn’t like dwarven nobility. To that end they devised numerous ways of accommodating them.
    There was the magma shower room operated by a magma proof lever in the same room. It worked on the same principle as the dwarven waterfall happiness generator, where a pool of water is rapidly transported between four pumps placed in a circle. Except obviously it used magma.

    Then there were the plushly decorated noble’s quarters, with added water features.
    Less complicated than the magma shower, these were simply drowning chambers. Nobles would arrive, be assigned a room that made them happy, and then they’d be drowned, although not necessarily immediately.
    One baroness was forgotten about and went crazy before expiring of dehydration. It turns out she had a thing for cheese. For the next 20 years the engravers told her story by carving the walls of the fortress with pictures of her surrounded by it.

    But all of this is pretty standard fare in the worlds of Dwarf Fortress.

    To understand what made CrestedWhips such a conversation killer, we have to head back to that little building in the courtyard.
    Any veteran Dwarf Fortress player will tell you that one of the biggest problems with old fortresses is maintaining a high framerate. There are numerous ways to try and stave off the inevitable framerate death of your fortress, but sadly, if they don’t die to other more interesting enemies, they all eventually fall foul of unplayably low framerates.

    Numerous things cause the framerate to drop unplayably low; the amount of individual items being tracked by the game is probably the biggest one, but a more manageable one is population growth.
    Cats are rightly feared by many fortress overseers, as left unchecked, catsplosion is sure to occur. Their numbers increase exponentially, and the death of one well-loved cat can kill a whole fortress due to the owner going batshit insane at the loss of his fluffy master.

    But to me, cats weren’t the problem. After all, as long as you are vigilant, you can stop the feline menace dead by implementing a good butcher’s regime. As a bonus, you get delicious kitten tallow biscuits and cat leather socks.

    No, the real problem with any fortress is much more pernicious.

    Babies.

    After a while, certain dwarves seem to double down on popping out as many offspring as possible, and these things are dead weight for at least seven years, distracting the workforce and rarely contributing to dwarven society. You can end up quite easily with a situation where more than half of the population of a fortress consists of babies.

    So in my experiments with the dwarven waterfall generator, I’d noticed an interesting side effect.
    Dwarven mothers usually grasp on to their offspring with a vice-like grip. They will not put that baby down for anything. Not even a good sock. It’s why a veteran overseer attempts to ensure any military force they have is entirely male, as dwarven mothers will happily charge into battle while still carrying junior. This causes problems when an irate goblin pokes the mewling meat-shield with a pointy stick.
    But when subjected to flowing water?
    Mothers immediately lose their grip on Urist Junior.
    And another interesting thing?
    Dwarven babies are small enough to fall between the bars of a grate.

    And so I devised the CrestedWhips Baby Drowning Device.

    The new mother in question would be assigned the task of pulling a lever in the device. This lever would lock the door, whereupon a torrent of water would be unleashed from above. The offending article would be swept out of its mother’s arms and down into the water pipes underneath CrestedWhips. The mother, being too large to fit through the grate would find herself released shortly afterwards as the door automatically unlocked so she could get back to being a good, productive member of dwarf society.

    Dwarf Fortress makes monsters, and not all of them are virtual.

  1. Lemming says:

    This is the game that makes me feel like the biggest snob because…I just can’t. I tried -even with the graphics packs- and played it for a solid few hours before I just couldn’t take the look any more. It’s still too damn ugly and awkward to play. I’m glad so many find it fascinating though.

    Gnomeria, and the upcoming Rimworld are far more my cup of tea.

    • Awesumo says:

      Rimworld has peaked my interest too.

      • Premium User Badge

        tigerfort says:

        Since I don’t want tolove being that guy, I’ll suggest you probably meant “piqued your interest”; “peaking your interest” would mean it brought your interest to a maximum and then decreased it again. :)

        • Reapy says:

          I used to make the opposite mistake as the above. I used to pronounce it “PI-QUEUED” as I had always read the word but had never heard it spoken aloud. I also won’t get into detail how much I got ripped on for my pronunciation of superfluous.

          • Lemming says:

            Oh dear you just made me flashback to my early teens when most of the words I learned were in written form – no one I knew had that extensive a vocabulary, so I had to guess most pronunciations that made me sound like a right berk when I got older and went to uni. Example: I use to pronounce ‘maniacal’ as ‘Main-e-ackul’

          • iucounu says:

            Everyone has a story like this, and I’d argue it’s something to be proud of that you mispronounced a word because you read it before you ever heard it spoken. Though I have to declare an interest as the guy who thought ‘albeit’ was pronounced ‘albate’ and was distinct from the fictitious phrase ‘all be it’.

          • tyren says:

            I used to pronounce it “piked.” I think I was finally corrected by playing Morrowind – one of the voiced NPC greetings used it.

        • evileeyore says:

          Hey, that’s exactly what happened to me! I played Rimworld, 5 minutes in it peaked my interest, 10 minutes in I turned it off and erased it from my system!

        • EveryoneIsWrong says:

          How do you know his mistake wasn’t that he meant “peeked”?

    • rexx.sabotage says:

      Nono, you’re not a snob — I am the snob. I am the snob that spits on your dainty loafers for not being beardly enough to train your squishy meat-cameras to appreciate the splendor of Dwarf Fortress; the gamiest of games. ‘Pretty’ ‘games’ are dolls to make believe with, Dwarf Fortress is a board, rules and a fuckload of honking dice to chuck around — a real GAME.

      • Sc0r says:

        AMEN :D

      • Chuckleluck says:

        “Meat cameras” is my new favorite word for eyes.

      • dvorhagen says:

        Yep. A thousand times, yep.

      • JRHaggs says:

        This is a website comment. All commentdwarfship is of the highest quality. It is encrusted with truth, wisdom, and experience, studded with brilliance, decorated with excitement and winning, and encircled with bands of WOOT. This comment is adorned with hanging rings of ASCII.

        On the comment is an image of rexx.sabotage the commenter and Lemming the commenter in pixels. The artwork relates to the smacking down of the commenter Lemming by the commenter rexx.sabotage in the early Spring of 2014.

        On the comment is an image of rexx.sabotage the commenter and commenters in pixels. Rexx.sabotage is surrounded by the commenters. The artwork relates to the ascension of the commenter rexx.sabotage to leadership of The Comment Section of RPS in 2014.

      • Lemming says:

        Surely it would be more hardcore if you just played it in a pen and paper form? :)

        • rhubarb says:

          The true connoisseur plays it on a castle-sized computer whose logic gates run on magma and slaves.

    • lautalocos says:

      i can stand the looks of it, but the UI, oh god, the UI.

      i tried it and read so many quickstart guides, and i still dont know how to mine a wall. still, my last attempt was a mild succes, because i finally discovered that there is an altitude parameter. still, altitude doesnt feed dwarfs.

      oh well, i guess ill have to wait until clowkwork empires

      • Reapy says:

        Seriously? Of all the things to be confused? I haven’t touched it in a bit but its like 1 key into a sub menu, then another for walls, then you draw it out. Basically like clicking 2 UI buttons and drawing a box with your mouse. Though I will give you I think fortress mode is unplayable unless you have a tool like dwarf therapist going.

        • Premium User Badge

          SquidgyB says:

          in actual fact that’s “d” for the dig menu, then “d” again to dig, then draw with rectangles or click with the mouse to set tiles to be dug.

          The military UI though… I’ve built countless fortresses and I still don’t know the ins and outs of fielding a well kitted military yet.

          • poetfoxpaul says:

            A good tip I heard is to train in groups of two. Dwarfs of similar skill will soon be training up combat skills rapidly.

      • evileeyore says:

        You can’t mine a wall. You can mine stone, dirt, etc, but a wall is a construction. Constructions must be deconstructed, press ‘d’ to designate a constructed tile’s removal.

    • Echo_Hotel says:

      I once accidentally doubled up on my adderall and downed 3 energy drinks I came to 36 hours later with a fortress 10 years in and a population of nearly 150 and a werewolf that had been locked in a room alone for 3 years.
      But yea it’s a game of details and quirks where you’ll always come away with a story, I once had a noble dwarf who’s favorite thing were cloaks in fact that’s all he wore, cloaks in all his inventory slots cloaks like 12 of them all at once to the exclusion of any other clothing or armor, the fortress ended when he got set on fire at the magma forge by a rogue fire imp while wearing a legendary cloak and the seamstress went berserk after her masterwork was destroyed, details and quirks.

      • ArthurBarnhouse says:

        “A werewolf that had been locked in a room for 3 years” makes me feel very sad for some reason. Couldn’t you have given him a buddy or something?

      • JFS says:

        That stoey makes me sad as well. Why didn’t the beast starve? Not yet modelled in?

    • Neurotic says:

      The graphics here remind me of Rambo II on the Commodore 64, which was one of my favourites. Perhaps this time, I shall finally get into DF!

    • Premium User Badge

      caff says:

      Rimworld is interesting. It’s a bit more Prison Architect than Dwarf Fortress though.

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      To each his own of course, but personally I wouldn’t recommend using a graphical tileset. I find those tiny tiles unreadable, they literaly hurt my eyes.

      What I’ve found to work best is to use a tileset that still uses letters but looks better than the game’s default pixely ones. This one for instance: http://dwarffortresswiki.org/index.php/Tileset_repository#Herrbdog_2
      Once you get used to it, it’s very readable even when zoomed out quite a lot, and being terrified of capital letters is always hilarious.

      EEEEEEE…..D
      Who will win? Dragon or elephants?

      If you wanna get used to letters representing stuff, but in a simpler context than DF’s incredible complexity, I can’t recommend enough Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup. Best roguelike I ever played (including recent commercial releases) with a staggering amount of content and fancy UI niceties once you’re an experienced player. Play it without graphics and l promise you’ll read letters like the Matrix in no time.

      (I wish someone made tilesets for those games with a variety of abstract symbols or very stylized silhouettes rather than letters, btw. It would look better and more fantasy-like while keeping the readability and imagination-friendliness I like so much.)

  2. Michael Fogg says:

    Ha, the most fun I had in DF was to start in roguelike mode, attack random mobs and read the hilariously gory descriptions. Never had the perseverance to actually build something in the main game mode.

  3. Premium User Badge

    RedViv says:

    Yeah, it is an easily accessible roguelike.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    Are there any texture packs that make it colorblind accessible? The base game is essentially unplayable by colorblind players.

  5. Premium User Badge

    Rizlar says:

    This is the page I will send people to when I’m trying to explain DF to them.

    Thank you!

  6. sinister agent says:

    Yeah, there’s some kind of dwarven translation issue there. When you read “whip”, it’s actually referring to an assault rifle.

    Of course, the bugged whips have, like every well known bug, been in the game for several years, ignored by the creator in favour of adding more extraneous bullshit.

    Also it is clear that Graham of Smith has gone mad.

    • Premium User Badge

      RedViv says:

      Maybe it is the spirit of John Bad-Healer The Walker that has possessed him, and tomorrow this post will be joined by one about how rubbishly complicated the situation with the main game is?

  7. Premium User Badge

    JamesTheNumberless says:

    This is a brilliant article. So don’t get me wrong when I say that, unfortunately, reading this article is the most fun that can be had with Dwarf Fortress.

    • JFS says:

      It really is unfortunate. This game could be so much, but it already needs semi-expert knowledge to install it and start some sort of game. What a shame. If only I were a total geek and 14 years old again, I might actually get into it.

      • hbarsquared says:

        There are many, many roadblocks to having fun in DF, but installing it is not one of them. It is literally self-contained in a zip file. Extract all to a folder and double-click the .exe

        • JFS says:

          Yeah, and then you need the quickstart pack. Which might be a different one from when you last checked on the game. And Dwarf Therapist. And maybe some tileset you can handle looking at. Maybe even more. And you need to know these exist, their name/location on the webs, and the wisdom that they are practically mandatory.

          I’d call that semi-expert or at least insider knowledge. Don’t think the average gamer these days has that.

          • Premium User Badge

            SquidgyB says:

            Well, that’s all true unless you heed Graham’s advice and download PeridexisErrant’s Dwarf Fortress Starter Pack, which has everything you just mentioned pre-set up and ready to go.

          • Premium User Badge

            JamesTheNumberless says:

            Yeah, which is good for people who’ve read about it, but not so good for people who’ve just heard of DF and want to give it a go but lack all of this received wisdom. I imagine you find a lot of things in your job easy because you know exactly which tool to use and where to find it.

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            Hypocee says:

            If only, if only only, the article you praised were dedicated to exactly that purpose.

    • The Random One says:

      Now that’s silly. I’m sure you can have as much fun, if not more, reading a lot more other DF articles.

    • noodlecake says:

      I had fun with it. Probably only put 20-30 hours in in total and wasn’t any good at it. Also ended up losing because my dwarves wouldn’t link a lever to the main gate, even after a year and I didn’t know why, as I had managed to get them to link up levers before just fine. Eventually goblins just came in and killed half of my town and I quit, because losing isn’t fun when it’s the game’s fault. :P

  8. Premium User Badge

    caff says:

    I’ll give it another go, but I never find it easy to get into.

    I love reading stories about it such as this article though, and the scale and ambition of the game is quite stunning. A donation is surely worth throwing at the devs?

    • frightlever says:

      A donation is absolutely worth throwing at the devs. Even if you’ve never played the game, you’ve probably read someone else’s stories about it. As indeed you just have in the above article.

      I just hope that the guys who are heavily basing their games on DF, like Gnomoria, keep them right.

  9. heker_88 says:

    It gets funnyer when you realise that its far better( and funnier) to direct attacks than just go with the game given one. I cant remember the controll for this but i think its “a”, this lets you choose the exact attack on the exact body part you want to try and make. That perfectly trained swordsman stabbing out eyes and leaving the blind to live is always a fun char. Another fun thing is wrestling, oh and biting can be rather devastating.

    Plus the next release is going to preety much overhaul the combat system making it more dynamic, allowing for things such as catching punches and making two attacks at once. Of couse hydras are gunna become multi faceted killing machines, which tbh they already are.

    • heker_88 says:

      Oh and theres going to be dynamic army interactions during adventuremode timeframe. As well as lots more interaction ability with people. And you’ll be able to engage in fistfights that wont end with everyone ether dead or dying. Theres the addition of armies ocupying location and towns that can be ousted and stuff. Basically the next update is going to be huge for the adventure mode gameplay.

      Go read the devlog

      • popedoo says:

        hey,

        do you have any rough idea when that update is going to be released? :)

        I notice on the site the last major revision is June 2012..

        cheers

        • heker_88 says:

          In a word, no. Toady moves at his own pace but he does seem to be getting to the end of this patch as of when it will happen maybe a couple of months maybe 6 i think within the year though

    • Damien Stark says:

      “Plus the next release is going to preety much overhaul the combat system making it more dynamic, allowing for things such as catching punches and making two attacks at once.”

      Oh thank goodness, because what Dwarf Fortress combat really needs is some more features and added complexity. It was way too simple as it is…

  10. thebigJ_A says:

    Ive played it on and off for years. I always always play the build-a-civilization mode. Probably because when I started, Adventure wasn’t played much… or remotely playable actually. Maybe that’s changed.

    Still am only interested with the build mode tho. Trouble with playing off and on, every time it’s ‘on’ I have to spend hours re-learning controls and looking up what’s been added/changed/deleted since last time.

  11. Mr Bismarck says:

    I like to use Adventure Mode to play Super Happy Animal Death Pyramid Adventure Time, (SHADPAT).

    Make a grappling character, then go kill a wild animal. Then use that animal as your weapon going forward, until you kill a larger one with it, at which point you can swap.

    You haven’t lived until you’ve beaten a camel to death with a monkey.

    • Premium User Badge

      caff says:

      I think you might have issues.

      • Mr Bismarck says:

        I think you might have issues.

        Framrate issues, maybe.

        I mean, I once made a room filled with trapped people who had nothing to drink but the blood of the vampire I was impaling upstairs, so that I could make an army of immortal pump operators. And that one time I built a giant dragon largely of pure gold, with a lava filled mouth, then used a drawbridge to fire my mayor through the dragon’s maw and into the distance. On fire.

        Does that sound like someone with issues to you?

        • rexx.sabotage says:

          the only issue here is. “why aren’t you working on more let’s plays?”

          • Premium User Badge

            caff says:

            I would agree, you really should pen some let’s play!

            Then, we will have you committed.

        • Reapy says:

          Sounds like someone with upper level management written all over them!

          I am convinced that several of my previous bosses would have turned me to the undead to increase productivity.

  12. rexx.sabotage says:

    I am always glad to see the Dorfs get a nice, big ol bump, more people need to have it in their lives, there is nothing else as uncompromising out there.

    While we’re on the topic of detailed roguelikes, I think UnReal World also needs a respectable shout-out!

    • Premium User Badge

      JB says:

      I’ve been playing UrW again this last week, I’m having a whale of a time with it as I always do.

      I’d already bought a major version a while back, so I feel I should point out it’s free now. FREE. IRON AGE. FINNISH. ROGUELIKE.

      Go get some.

    • poetfoxpaul says:

      It’s about that time again for my yearly attempt to kill a moose with a shoddily-carved spear. Or maybe I can try skiing!

  13. derbefrier says:

    OK fine i’ll try it. You did a good job of making it sound fun.

    • derbefrier says:

      so i tried it. did exactly as the article said. Made a world and created a dude. spawned around a bunch of empty buildings ran around for 15 minutes not seeing anything fell into a river and was torn apart by an alligator. What a wierd game

  14. poetfoxpaul says:

    It’s about time we got some good ‘ol dwarf love around here. I find it rather odd the number of DF naysayers present in the comment sections of any new DF-like, spouting this and that about unplayable graphics or impenetrable interface. Where did all the patient people go? I remember learning the game in 2004, when I was 12. It was certainly simpler back then, only existing on a 2d plane, with cave ins occurring in oddly predictable ways and digging too deep would cause you to find a game over screen. I struggle for a few hours, with nothing but a short tutorial with five screenshots of a crudely-designed dining room. Was it worth it? Entirely! No other game gives the sort of freedom of choice that dwarf fortress does. On top of that, the game is designed (imo) to cater to the needs of roleplayers and storywriters.

    Embark anywhere, build anything, grow everything, fight anyone. With 3 quick key presses, you can be reading the in-depth character description of any dwarf under your command, complete with their appearance, likes and dislikes, physical and mental skills, general personality, familial relations, and if they choose to worship any gods or goddesses. And out of the most fantastical of dreams of any video-game roleplayer, all these things have an impact on gameplay (or will in due time). While the writers behind some the greatest LP’s in DF history (http://lparchive.org/Dwarf-Fortress-Boatmurdered/ for one) are worthy of every little bit of praise, those stories couldn’t have spawned from any other game.

    I’ve tried a fair selection of the recent wave of DF-likes, as well as a few games that seem influenced by this dwarven simulator. Most fall utterly short, and the few that do improve only do so here and there, leaving the feeling of huge, gaping holes throughout the game (Banished was particularly offensive in this regard – the lack of individual logic or personality meant you were effectively controlling a bunch of androids, programmed to take up whatever job was closest to their house. They didn’t even gain skill!).

    I’m not critical of anyone who wishes to create a df-like, I just hope that they spend more time playing dwarf fortress so they can really get what makes it great. A successful translation (complete with interface and graphics) that boils down all the greatest elements into an approachable formula would earn my money.

    At the end of it, however, is the crazy guy that is Tarn Adams. His motivation is unlike the majority of developers these days (capitalism) – he’s producing an astounding and deeply personal digital fantasy, and sharing that with the world. That is super cool, way outta left field, somewhat genius and entirely commendable.

    So, uh, listen to Graham here. Play dwarf fortress (not everyone starts in adventure mode, though it is much, much easier), study it, then really play it. Get involved in the community at bay12games, start up a community fortress, write a story – melt some goblins. By playing this game you are further cementing it’s place in gaming history. And what a beautiful place that is.

    • jo-shadow says:

      Seriously, everyone should read Boatmurdered – http://lparchive.org/Dwarf-Fortress-Boatmurdered/ – It is positively magnificent.

      • Grygus says:

        It is. Matul Remit is also worth many clicks.

      • Eldiran says:

        Boatmurdered is fantastic.

        I even made a game inspired by it! :D /shameless plug

        But honestly, Dwarf Fortress is harder to learn than, well. Making your own game. I just can’t get into it.

      • Kaeoschassis says:

        I – and many others, I’m sure – came here to post this exact comment. If you are one of those unfortunates who can’t get into DF for whatever reason, but still enjoy verteran players’ “war stories” or similar, you absolutely owe it to yourself to experience Boatmurded.

        Elephants, magma, miasma and awesome. So much awesome.

    • ArthurBarnhouse says:

      I banged my head against that game for six hours across two sessions. In that same amount of time I can be a third of the way into Shadowrun.

      I’m not saying DF doesn’t have its charms, it obviously does and is well liked. I’m happy it exists. But you can hardly call stopping after six hours of failed effort a fit of pique.

      • poetfoxpaul says:

        Of course not! I don’t want to come off as saying DF is for everyone – just like some people bounce off first person shooters people will bounce off DF. For many, the game that is waiting is not worth the time invested, it’s just not their cup of tea. I understand that – what ruffles my feathers is when people call it unplayable. It is entirely playable without outside hacks or programs.

        You wouldn’t expect someone new to an FPS to play like a 300-hour veteran, yet people seem to judge DF based on the fact it’s tough to ‘get in to’. That’s downright silly! It takes skill and study to enjoy, unlike quite a few single-player games (not bashing anything, just observing).

      • evileeyore says:

        ArthurBarnhouse says:
        “I banged my head against that game for six hours across two sessions. In that same amount of time I can be a third of the way into Shadowrun…”

        And you consider that a good thing? That’s what’s wrong with gaming these days… hang on, let me get my cane handy to wave in the air whilst I rant about “youths these days”…

        • Mokinokaro says:

          It all depends on what he found difficult about it. No need to be an elitist prick.

          The UI is rather stupidly complex for how much interaction you actually have in the game. It’s poorly designed and poorly explained and that is a fact. The game is great in spite of its issues, but there are tons of ways accessibility could be improved without hurting complexity.

          He also might just not be the type of player who likes seeing things fall apart, something essential to really enjoying DF. DF isn’t about “winning” it’s about holding on as long as possible before the inevitable destruction comes (in hopefully an entertaining way.)

          • evileeyore says:

            Mokinokaro says:
            “It all depends on what he found difficult about it. No need to be an elitist prick.”

            It wasn’t elitism… it was ageist comedy aimed at “being 1/3 through into Shadowrun in 6 hours”. Why in my day 6 hours would be just scratching the the surface of the first missions… hang on, my cane waving arm is getting tired, gotta switch arms.

            “The UI is rather stupidly complex for how much interaction you actually have in the game. It’s poorly designed and poorly explained and that is a fact.”

            That is not a fact. The UI is designed fine, yes it’s stupidly complex, but that complexity is depth, as someone else mentioned, once you learned what 8 keys control 9/10ths of the game it’s really simple.

            Also, if you actually read the help files (in game help) the keys are very well explained. Sure, there’s some “non-intuitive” stuff to memorize (in that the controls are not mapped like “most games”, but it’s also not a broshooter).

            “He also might just not be the type of player who likes seeing things fall apart…”

            Which has nothing to do with “length of play” which is what I was making a joke about. It’s also perfectly valid criticism… that he didn’t actually make. ;)

          • Premium User Badge

            P7uen says:

            I think the point is that comments (not yours specifically) complaining about people that don’t have enough time to throw at DF is not helpful. DF players saying you should just dedicated swathes of time, be cleverer, etc, is not helpful. The comments above saying that Graham chose the wrong mode to demonstrate, etc, is not helpful. I know it’s the Internet, but still.

            What is helpful is articles like this, that do nothing but encourage people to get it installed and start exploring the game and have fun as easily as possible, and let them take it from there.

            Brilliant stuff.

          • Malarious says:

            If you have any experience with traditional roguelikes of any kind (e.g., Nethack) then you won’t find DF’s controls particularly distressing. It could be improved, sure, but it’s perfectly playable as-is, and the learning curve isn’t half as steep as people make it out to be.

    • rexx.sabotage says:

      Well said, thank you for taking the time to write this. Either you love Dwarf Fortress or simply you haven’t played it enough.

      The game is a torrential fount of substance. I’ve spent three times as much time lurking in the bay12 forums, following the various community fortresses, engrossing myself in their legends as I have spent actually playing the game myself.

      • JFS says:

        In a way, DF is akin to professional football. Or war movies. Interesting and fun to watch, but I wouldn’t wanna be the protagonist.

      • Talvieno says:

        Aye, so have I. I’ve spent quite a bit of time into writing up stories. Dwarf Fortress isn’t for everyone, but for those it is, they can approach it however they want to.

        @Poetfoxpaul: beautiful comment, there.

    • Cockie says:

      I think I’m going to read your comment right before the next time I throw myself against df’s difficulty cliff. I really want to learn that game.

      • Reapy says:

        It is worth it. It honestly took me three tries over the coarse of a year or two before I was able to get any length of time in the game. The first try I was very confused, the second I got distracted shortly after getting going with some tutorials. The third I finally got it going and it was really worth it.

        I now posses several epic level stories in my head that I have remembered quite clearly for several years. My favorite of which was an early goblin raiding party essentially wiping my fortress out except for one dwarf who happened to wall himself off in the food storage room. The goblins roamed the halls mercilessly killing all they encountered. The sole sole dwarf slowly tunneled a narrow access shaft to the outdoors, worked around to the front, and sealed in the goblin raiding party. There he camped until a new wave of migrants arrived to continue the work.

        There are few people out there like Tarn Adams and his Dwarf Fortress, it is well worth the stretch to eventually get to it at some point in your life.

      • Premium User Badge

        Rizlar says:

        It’s worth following a guide to building a functional fortress to begin with, like this quickstart guide from the DF wiki:
        http://dwarffortresswiki.org/index.php/DF2012:Quickstart_guide

        Take it one step at a time and it’s not so intimidating. You will pick up all the skills as you go along, and the wiki links to pages explaining all the various concepts in more detail. Then your fortress will succumb to goblins, riots or a rogue minotaur and you will have to start all over again, but this time better!

        Strike the earth!

        • Cockie says:

          I was using that, but at a given moment my brain gave up because it was too much stuff to remember. In hindsight, perhaps the week after 1.5 months of exams and studying wasn’t the best time to try to learn it

          • poetfoxpaul says:

            To be fair, that article is written is a less-than-friendly manner. That diagram at the beginning is hilariously overcomplicated, especially for a quickstart guide.

          • evileeyore says:

            Do a google search for Captain Duck’s Dwarf Fortress Tutorial Videos, they are what made me the beardy dwarf Overseer I am today.

          • Premium User Badge

            Rizlar says:

            Pretty audacious to call it a ‘quickstart’ guide as well. When I used that site to learn fort mode I interpreted the flow diagram as a joke more than anything else (you don’t need most of the industries it lists).

          • Mokinokaro says:

            I second the recommendation for Captain Duck’s videos. They’re a great tutorial to the game.

          • Cockie says:

            Thanks, gonna take at look at those videos.

    • frightlever says:

      For me the DF-likes generally fail for the reasons you mention. The dorf analogues are automata. Gnomoria has the building down reasonably well, but gnomes really only have hunger, thirst and tiredness. A typical dorf has more personality in one of its little fingers than a hundred gnomes.

      Dwarf Fortrtess, in fortress mode (all I play, though I’m tempted to try adventure mode now), is largely about balancing the needs of your dwarfs while trying to get shit done.

    • Syphus says:

      I couldn’t get beyond “12 in 2004″. I am now going to have an old-age crisis.

    • smarticus says:

      I agree that the game is unto itself so indescribably different and refreshing. I have been playing for 3-4 years and about every 6 months I pick it up for a few weeks. I love that it is really about the simple idea of you have 7 shorties what do you want to do. I would recommend the “Lazy newb pack” for those wanting to try it out for the first time. It includes Dwarf TheRapist as well as dfhack. Both tools make fortress mode slightly less frustrating. I have only played adventure mode all of 2 times. I cannot say that I like it in the least. I wish that Mr. Adams would concentrate on what is his accidental magnum opus.
      Despite all the praise I have for how much fun can be distilled from the game it really needs to be replaced by a community OSS project that is determined to make the game what it can be. The Glaring bugs (military, whips, hospitals, etc) make it so you have to play around the problems the creator refuses to fix. I find this problem heart breaking…….

  15. C0llic says:

    While I’ve only ever played the fortress mode, it’s good to see an article encouraging people to try out adventure mode. A lot has gone into it recently and it’s certianly worth a look.

    • Premium User Badge

      Rizlar says:

      Worth noting that the next update will make some pretty massive changes to the way NPC factions and sites interact, which will hugely impact adventure mode.

      Who knows when it’s coming out though… hopefully soon!

      • frightlever says:

        “hopefully soon”…

        As people have been saying for almost two years now.

        • Kaeoschassis says:

          What do you want from the guy? One coder can only work so fast, and, I hasten to add, this is his project. Donations are being given and all, yes, but they’re just that – donations. He’s under no obligation to make releases at any particular speed. Hell, he’s under no obligation to release successive builds at all. He could keep it all to himself ’till it’s done if he wanted.

  16. ScubaMonster says:

    I can’t tell if all this “easy to play” talk in the article is sarcasm or not. That flies in the face of everything I’ve read about Dwarf Fortress, unless they’ve come a very long way in improving its intuitiveness. I admit I’ve never tried it, but primarily because it seemed too daunting of a task to get into it.

    • derbefrier says:

      same here but I think this article is meant exactly for people like us. from what i gather in the comments theres also some sort of build mode which is probably the complicated part we are thinking of. I have no idea though. Got a 3 day weekend coming up so I’ll give it a few hours sometime and see if i like it. To be honest the eye bleeding graphics have always put me off of it more than anything but if there are graphic packs maybe i can find one that works for me.

      • Reapy says:

        I found the tile packs really helped me. It does cut down learning time as you can generally figure out what a thing is from its picture rather than having to learn all the letters. Some packs even go far enough to change the dwarf’s picture based on its role, which also helps detect things at a glance. My friends were able to learn the ASCII, but I was always stuck needing a tile set.

      • Premium User Badge

        SquidgyB says:

        Yes, you’re precisely right – there’s two modes, Adventure mode and Fortress mode.

        This article describes adventure mode, which to be honest I haven’t tried properly myself. Always preferred fortress mode, which plays a bit more like a management/sim/construction/combat/tower defence sandbox. Sort of.

        I’ll admit though, it is difficult to get into – though some of the stumbling blocks people hear about are more hyperbole than fact. I’ll happily play nothing but DF for weeks on end, scouting the site and building the “perfect” fortress, only to get sidelined half or more of the way through. I’ll probably pick it up again 6 months later and start over again.

    • Premium User Badge

      RedViv says:

      No no, the adventure mode can be honestly described like this. Perfectly fine.

    • hbarsquared says:

      “Easy to play” is perfectly accurate, as long as you don’t confuse it with “Easy to survive”. Many, many games in adventure mode will last fewer than 20 minutes. You are not a superhero in this game, you are exactly as tragically mortal as everything else made of flesh, and there are many other creatures made of firmer stuff. A single Bronze Colossus can topple civilizations, while a lucky toddler can bite through your jugular in a heartbeat.

    • Damien Stark says:

      It’s about half sarcasm. Call it tongue in cheek.

      It’s humorous to tease about it being “easy to play” or simple or “just like Skyrim” or whatever, as it is infamously complex and difficult enough that it felt the need to remind everyone that they should define the word “Fun” to mean “losing”.

      That said, as the article illustrates well, a lot of the things that people gripe about as being intimidating and difficult (installing it! and all the ASCII graphics!) are really straightforward and simple these days (just install the pack he recommended). That, and the Adventure mode is a much more approachable start than the proper Dwarfy Fortressy mode.

      My recommendation would be to find a good getting started guide (there’s tons of them) and keep the wiki open off to the side. Don’t tell yourself “good games should be easy to learn from their tutorial, not require a wiki and walkthrough guides!” This game isn’t finished, there’s no tutorial, but that doesn’t mean it’s that hard to get into and learn. Just accept the mountains of help that are already out there.

    • frightlever says:

      What’s intuitive? Hand Conan O’Brien an Xbox controller and show him an FPS and you may as well be asking him to fly a submarine.

      What may appear intuitive in other games is at least partially down to familiarity with established game playing tropes. Dwarf Fortress where it shares tropes does so with obscure rogue-likes, but generally is doing entirely its own thing. It’ s in alpha, so there’s no point having a built-in tutorial because such a thing would change radically as each new version is released. That’s why a support system of tutorials has sprung up from the community.

      If you play a game where all you do is run, jump and shoot, then it’s easy to be intuitive. When you’re dealing with a functioning world and thousands of individuals it would be a miracle for it to be both deep, rewarding and intuitive.

  17. Stardog says:

    Does the article writer not know there’s a Fortress mode??

    • iucounu says:

      Clearly he does, but the conceit of this article is to take a completely fresh look at DF stressing the Adventure Mode and not the Fortress Mode.

  18. Premium User Badge

    mpk says:

    I believe this is the first time I have ever seen the phrase “It’s also blissfully easy to play” written in reference to Dwarf Fortress, one of the most evilly time consuming and impenetrable games I have ever shouted at my monitor because of.

    Qualifier: I have only ever played Fortress mode.

    • Talvieno says:

      Adventure mode is definitely blissfully easy. Most of the controls are intuitive, and for those that aren’t (shift+A to choose which bodypart to attack with what method, for instance), you can work around them. By comparison, Nethack is incredibly obfuscated.

      As to Fortress mode, it has a steep learning curve and a lot to take in, but once you manage, there’s a flat plateau at the top of Fun. Experienced players don’t even need to look at the keyboard – it begins to come naturally.

  19. Sc0r says:

    Still my most fav game ever. adv mode is a little.. yea. you usually spend more time in char creation than playing.

  20. teije says:

    I have never tried Adventure mode and have failed miserably at Fortress mode (which is the point I guess) – looks quite entertaining. I’ll try it out when the weather gets sucky.

  21. MrFinnishDude says:

    My favourite thing in the adventure mode is the wrestling system. You can grab, punch, kick and bite everything.
    There is nothing more manly than biting a bear to the death, then picking it up and maul its friends with its corpse.
    Or when your axe gets stuck into a goblins skull, so you grab it by the neck, strangle and punch it in the nose until it gets unconscious, then smash his head with your fists until it turns into jam.

    • Talvieno says:

      My brother enjoys breaking all the limbs of unlucky opponents with wrestling moves, and then, when they pass out from the pain, biting off their fingers and toes until they bleed to death. I’ve never personally managed it – I’m more of a Fortress mode guy.

  22. altum videtur says:

    Well, I for one welcome our armored overlords.

  23. Eldiran says:

    Numpad + and Numpad – to navigate menus.

    Why? WHY????

    Seriously though, I have the utmost respect for Dwarf Fortress’ intentions. But as someone who cares about UI design… it’s too painful to play.

    • iamthelol says:

      Lol, +and- are used for menus because you have to use the arrow keys to place things.

    • Josh W says:

      That’s fair, my love of procedural programming tends to fight my love of elegant interfaces, on the plus side, playing dwarf fortress may have helped me get a job, when I showed surprising speed at picking up a totally unintuitive early 90s text based company system.

    • Talvieno says:

      Depths of Boatmurdered was fun, but really, if you could somehow manage to get into Fortress mode, I can promise that after your first few forts, it’ll come naturally – especially if you keep the wiki handy. (I learned to play without the wiki, which was brutal, bloody, and glorious, but it’s not something I would recommend to people.)

  24. iucounu says:

    What I liked to do a while back was this: I’d gen a world, go in to Legends mode, and find the biggest evil bastard I could. I’d find some genocidal sod who had killed whole villages of, say, elves, and done horrendous things. I would then spawn as near them as I could in Adventure Mode and dedicate myself to taking him out. Very entertaining – the first few spawns would often end up shot full of holes, but I’d work out a build and a strategy after a while.

    • Mr Bismarck says:

      I used to leave my laptop on overnight, generating worlds many thousand years old and then just enjoy my day as I read through the world’s events in Legends Viewer as if it was a history book.

      Which is how I met the Elf, Quithe Sealguard, who took on a mixed army of 1,492 Humans, Dwarves, Elves, Goblins and various lions, dogs and emus and beat them. On his own.

      A year after that he and 18 other allies won another battle, (only against 800 this time) and then shortly after that, Quithe was finally felled, in his adopted home of Waxbrush, the last Elf standing in a battle in which he continued to fight even after seeing his own wife struck down and being hit with two crossbow bolts.

      If you can get past the barriers, DF will give you the best stories.

  25. Cvnk says:

    The DF development blog is an entertaining read:

    Today’s success was to have a crying mother spit on me and call me a murderer, so that’s where we’re at. Of course, people familiar with modding or magma crabs might guess that the first time she spit at me, the glob came out frozen and my murderous character, being handy with a sword, batted the saliva ice cube out of the park. After I fixed that, and some other stuff, it splattered on my toga. There are tears and sweat now as well, coming out of the right tissues at the right times. As with blood, it remembers who provided them up to a point, which should be fun for brewing witches’ potions and so on in some distant future. Fixed some other crashes and mess as well. Hopefully we can move on to cheerier territory.

    The features he’s (apparently) been adding to Adventure Mode make me wonder about his sanity.

  26. Premium User Badge

    Mungrul says:

    I truly love Dwarf Fortress, and it’s gifted me with my most twisted game-related story.
    It’s one that goes down like a lead balloon when I tell it to people. I can immediately see them looking for safe exits.

    My greatest fortress was one called CrestedWhips.
    The outer courtyard was surrounded by a moat of magma and 30′ high walls of glass and obsidian.
    The entrance was flanked by two 100′ towers that doubled as execution platforms. Caged goblins would often meet their untimely ends being pushed off of these towers.
    Inside the courtyard was a pit filled with feral animals that other goblins would be dumped in.

    And to the south of the courtyard was a small, airtight building made from obsidian blocks.
    But we’ll come back to that.

    The population of CrestedWhips really didn’t like dwarven nobility. To that end they devised numerous ways of accommodating them.
    There was the magma shower room operated by a magma proof lever in the same room. It worked on the same principle as the dwarven waterfall happiness generator, where a pool of water is rapidly transported between four pumps placed in a circle. Except obviously it used magma.

    Then there were the plushly decorated noble’s quarters, with added water features.
    Less complicated than the magma shower, these were simply drowning chambers. Nobles would arrive, be assigned a room that made them happy, and then they’d be drowned, although not necessarily immediately.
    One baroness was forgotten about and went crazy before expiring of dehydration. It turns out she had a thing for cheese. For the next 20 years the engravers told her story by carving the walls of the fortress with pictures of her surrounded by it.

    But all of this is pretty standard fare in the worlds of Dwarf Fortress.

    To understand what made CrestedWhips such a conversation killer, we have to head back to that little building in the courtyard.
    Any veteran Dwarf Fortress player will tell you that one of the biggest problems with old fortresses is maintaining a high framerate. There are numerous ways to try and stave off the inevitable framerate death of your fortress, but sadly, if they don’t die to other more interesting enemies, they all eventually fall foul of unplayably low framerates.

    Numerous things cause the framerate to drop unplayably low; the amount of individual items being tracked by the game is probably the biggest one, but a more manageable one is population growth.
    Cats are rightly feared by many fortress overseers, as left unchecked, catsplosion is sure to occur. Their numbers increase exponentially, and the death of one well-loved cat can kill a whole fortress due to the owner going batshit insane at the loss of his fluffy master.

    But to me, cats weren’t the problem. After all, as long as you are vigilant, you can stop the feline menace dead by implementing a good butcher’s regime. As a bonus, you get delicious kitten tallow biscuits and cat leather socks.

    No, the real problem with any fortress is much more pernicious.

    Babies.

    After a while, certain dwarves seem to double down on popping out as many offspring as possible, and these things are dead weight for at least seven years, distracting the workforce and rarely contributing to dwarven society. You can end up quite easily with a situation where more than half of the population of a fortress consists of babies.

    So in my experiments with the dwarven waterfall generator, I’d noticed an interesting side effect.
    Dwarven mothers usually grasp on to their offspring with a vice-like grip. They will not put that baby down for anything. Not even a good sock. It’s why a veteran overseer attempts to ensure any military force they have is entirely male, as dwarven mothers will happily charge into battle while still carrying junior. This causes problems when an irate goblin pokes the mewling meat-shield with a pointy stick.
    But when subjected to flowing water?
    Mothers immediately lose their grip on Urist Junior.
    And another interesting thing?
    Dwarven babies are small enough to fall between the bars of a grate.

    And so I devised the CrestedWhips Baby Drowning Device.

    The new mother in question would be assigned the task of pulling a lever in the device. This lever would lock the door, whereupon a torrent of water would be unleashed from above. The offending article would be swept out of its mother’s arms and down into the water pipes underneath CrestedWhips. The mother, being too large to fit through the grate would find herself released shortly afterwards as the door automatically unlocked so she could get back to being a good, productive member of dwarf society.

    Dwarf Fortress makes monsters, and not all of them are virtual.

  27. Spacewalk says:

    Getting into Dwarf Fortress is like giving up smoking; it’ll take you a few tries but once you do manage it you’ll feel a lot better.

    • Spakkenkhrist says:

      Is trying both at the same time advisable or just impossible?

  28. jonahcutter says:

    Let’s also go back to mechanical brakes and steering on our cars. And no AC for during those hot, summer traffic jams. And non-retractable seatbelts that you get to adjust every time you get in and don’t let you lean forward. And not even simple modern graphics… I mean no smartphone hookups or FM/satellite radio. Static-filled AM and worn-out 8-track cassettes only.

    After all, those improvements in design and technology aren’t necessary. The car still works fine. If the interface with the car is deliberately archaic and an unnecessary pain in the ass, the experience is -more- rewarding. Right?

    • Jack Mack says:

      Sure. Modern cars exist, therefore no-one should buy or enjoy vintage cars. Also we should rock into vintage car forums and complain about what they like.

      • Kaeoschassis says:

        Beat me to it. This, exactly this.

      • jonahcutter says:

        Ah, I see. You enjoy Dwarf Fortress because of the “vintage” interface.

        As far as “complaining”… uhm… Providing a counter view to the main thrust of an article does happen on internet forums. From time to time.

      • JFS says:

        Vintage videogaming. Good grief. The hobby has set a straight course for the shark ramp, it seems.

    • Jabberwocky says:

      The best PvP game I ever played was a text MUD from the early 1990s. Nothing I have played has surpassed it in modern gaming.

      New is not always better – at least not in every way. I’m currently in southeast Asia, and I was thinking about this while touring some ancient temples of a 1000 year old civilization. I wonder how many of our modern construction marvels will last a 1000 year test of time.

      But back to vintage games – here’s the thing. You can do stuff with text that just can’t be done with graphics. The developers have an unbridled ability to create gameplay, without being hampered by artwork costs or graphics constraints. You also have the written word which, if crafted with care, can be equally or more evocative than video. I love movies. But I still read a lot of books. With text, the brain is left to interpret more of the details, and the imagination is a powerful thing.

      A last, but interesting advantage – graphical video games have a very short shelf life. They are dated quickly, much like early CG movies. Their appeal is very much dependent on graphical technology, which is rapidly eclipsed by newer technology. Perhaps text-based games, much like text-based books, will more easily last the test of time. Kind of like those ancient temples.

    • Premium User Badge

      Hypocee says:

      Bicycle. Thenkyew.

  29. MellowKrogoth says:

    I really like DF and played it a lot (started with one of the versions where the map was still in 2D i.e. only one floor). I was even a regular donator for a while.

    What made me quit is, curiously, that I find the game too easy! Putting your fortress out of range of starvation is dead-easy, you can’t really accidentally flood your fortress with water or magma once you know what you’re doing, and making the fortress impenetrable to enemies is a joke. It’s a game where you basically have to create your own challenges such as digging too deep on purpose or renouncing the most powerful kind of traps, or embarking in a hostile (for me, boring) area like a glacier.

    The original one-floor game tended to throw more curved balls at you such as crocodiles coming out of your well right in the middle of your dining room, or accidentally flooding the fortress when breaching the river, since you didn’t have the “wet stone” warning like you do now. It was occasionally infuriating, but without those elements of danger the game has become just a big sandbox, and my mind doesn’t work too well in those.

    Secondary reason for quitting is the interface for managing your fortress, beyond a certain number of dwarves making dozens of rooms is just boring. Community-provided tools are a bandaid that doesn’t really work. Also (though it’s supposed to have improved in a recent version) you can’t dig a multi-floor hole or a multi-story building and have your dwarves go at it: they’ll inevitably get stuck or fall to their death, halting the work and forcing you to babysit. I didn’t mind it at first but after several years of play it just gets on my nerves too much.

    EDIT: I must add that there are a number of modpacks that tend to add more challenge to the game, such as more trap-resistant monsters and ones with elemental attacks, as well as more semi-random hazards. Masterwork Dwarf Fortress comes to mind, it has a bit of a kitchen sink approach but some of its features are amazing and you can turn a lot of it on/off. Those mods were not enough to make me keep playing but they did prolong my play time a big.

    • Josh W says:

      I’m sort of hoping I can get to this point; I want to get good enough at the game that I can start building general patterns for surviving in any given environment, and then just keep creating and abandoning fortresses in the same world, slowly moving to more challenging environments.

      Although, really what I want to do is retire them somehow, creating rules via nobles that automate the running of the fortress, and then having the game work off a simplified version of those and leave them running in the background with the traditions I gave them, trading and doing their own things, while I move on to the frontiers.

      On the other hand, that’s just saying “early settlement is the game”. There’s probably a lot you could do to make the further development of fortresses more satisfying, and I think it probably would relate to giving players ways to categorise and track interactions between their dwarfs, as this would then allow you to reach further levels of complexity, once you can actually start recognising what is going on. Guilds etc may help with that, as would explicit friendship groups forming, taking particularly places as their preferred meeting spots etc.

  30. pleaseletmecomment says:

    Who has hours and hours and hours just to learn how to play a video game? Surely there’s something better you can be doing with that time.

    • Volcanu says:

      Some would say that about video games full stop though. Who’s to say what’s really a good use of anyone else’s time? Ultimately it all depends on how you enjoy spending your time, and if someone derives enjoyment from the time spent learning how to play DF then its not time wasted at all.

      I think I know your point though. I dont have anywhere near as much time for playing games as I’d like and therefore I am a little wary about picking up things with a higher barrier for entry when I have a few hours free to play games.

    • Josh W says:

      Well, one of the strengths of a game with a good learning curve is that you can be playing the game while your learning it, and even in dwarf fortresses case, it gives you enough feedback when you make horrible mistakes that you can still have a nice time going “gah, my whole fortress broke apart because one person hogged a workshop to build some kind of jewel incrusted cog, while my carefully constructed trap corridor was missing a mechanism finish the second drawbridge to stop my dwarves walking into it, and then I had to activate it before it was finished, leading to half of my dwarves (including the ones responsible for farming) being trapped in a stream and dying”.

      It’s never just “you did something wrong, you loose”, but a cascading chain of failure that takes you further and further outside the game you understand. Or sometimes it leads to strange quirks that you can work around, like my hunter running around for weeks bodyslamming groundhogs because I couldn’t get him to use a bow, and he randomly seemed to decide that this was the best option. He would eventually catch them though, so I let him carry on.

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      Who has hours and hours and hours just to learn how to play a video game? Surely there’s something better you can be doing with that time.”

      There is, indeed. As an example, I don’t have time to play video games being too busy having sex.

      On a more serious note. There was a time when quite a few video games (and software in general) demanded a considerable investment in learning time. I always found this to be a interesting option in a game of any kind. The rules and basic strategy of chess can probably take as much time or more than DF to be learned, but they speak loads about the depth of the gameplay. DF complexity is both the result of limitations in our input and output devices technologies, and the author desire to create an accurate simulation of a complex world that remembers events and records a History. This type of simulation is hard to develop and even harder to abstract into a user interface in modern computers architecture. If you read a bit about dynamic worlds and interactive narratives, you’ll get an idea of how complex it is to have a deterministic computer simulate a living world. To that you add the challenge of creating a useful UI governed by 50 year old keyboard and mouse technology.

      During that time we still enjoyed our games as much as we enjoy our “simpler” games today. It was only the demands of a mass market for the video game industry, that requires a product to appeal to the widest audience, and considerable progresses in development thanks to more powerful computers that made “simple games” a near necessity. It was never because gamers complained games were too complex, as your quote seems to imply.

  31. Talvieno says:

    I’m going to throw out a little story in a wall of text, about one of my most recent forts… just because.

    I embarked on a glacier and tried to make furniture out of ice… it didn’t work, because my dwarves’ hands were melting it while they were working with it: I didn’t embark far enough north, more or less. Instead, I just dug down and started with stone furniture, but built my aboveground walls out of ice. I decided to go with a new fortress design, and had a bunch of circular, walled-in areas aboveground connected by bridges roughly 20-30 feet above the ground. It seemed like a good idea at the time… but of course, that left people crossing them open to crossbow fire. :\ Not the best idea, but oh well. I dug further down, opened up the caverns, set up a good farming industry, then managed to catch a giant cave spider in a trap (it was difficult and I lost a lot of dwarves doing it). I tried setting it up to farm silk from it, but one of my hunters got mad and shot it with a few crossbow bolts. Though I put a stop to it quickly, the poor creature eventually bled to death. Unhappy with how that had gone, I decided to start on a different project. I’d made pump stacks in previous forts, and while magma sounded entertaining for a fortress built on ice, I opted for a minecart shotgun instead… which took far more work. In the meantime, I met with a few different sieges and came up with an interesting way of destroying them: I’d pump water out of the caverns and spray it out into a long open-air corridor as the sieges walked through. The siegers would freeze solid outside. This greatly amused me, especially as I could mine out their corpses to reset the trap. Eventually, though, a kobold ambush snuck into my fortress (kobolds don’t trigger pressure plates), and that caused extreme Fun for a while: They killed my baron’s only daughter. Was it intentional? No idea, but it made my baron snap, and he pitched a tantrum. If you’ve never seen a Dwarf Fortress “tantrum spiral”, you don’t know what you’re missing. The baron went around pulling down doors, toppling furniture, and eventually killed somebody’s cat. The owner of said cat went berserk and killed a couple other dwarves (with a steel warhammer, no less) before I could get my military in there to stop them, and by that point, the damage was done: the fort population slowly declined as more people were effected, and tantrumed, and effected others, etc. I was fortunate enough to get enough migrants to save the fortress, at least, and continued work on my shotgun. I eventually managed it, and, lacking metals on my particular map, decided it would be amusing to send large pieces of furniture flying at invaders, rather than sharp cutting implements. This proved satisfactory. Have you ever seen what happens when a goblin gets hit in the gut with a flying gneiss coffin? It’s beautiful.
    Unfortunately, the fortress fell when I got attacked by a siege of crossbowmen: the aboveground walkways proved to be my downfall. I’d put fortifications up to try to keep my dwarves from getting shot, but these goblins were elites, and the fortifications might as well not have been there at all. It started a tantrum spiral bad enough that while my fortress didn’t die, it might as well have.
    This is Dwarf Fortress. I didn’t mention the booze industry, nor my army of trained eagles, nor the forgotten beasts I ran into in the caverns, or the fire imps that set my forge works on fire, or how I accidentally flooded parts of the lower levels with water, and I didn’t mention my automated dwarf-cleansing system. In fact, I probably only mentioned a very small part of everything that happened, but that’s Dwarf Fortress for you. The depth is pretty much unrivaled, as far as I’ve seen.

  32. Atrak says:

    I would suggest to anyone having trouble figuring out the Fortress mode in DF to take a look at this wonderful tutorial.

    The Complete and Utter Newby Tutorial for DF

    It has with it a download of an older version client and a saved world which makes following the tutorial stupidly easy. You follow the tutorial while running the saved game and learn the basics that way. The saved game allowed the person writing the tutorial to know exactly what you would find where. While being able to follow it in the client itself is much easier to retain the knowledge than watching a youtube tutorial. Of course your experience may vary this is merely one way of achieving it.