Dwarf Fortress is not as hard to play as you think it is, but there’s no denying that its ASCII graphics lack modern clarity. Chances are that if you’ve played the game any time in the last two years, you did so not using a vanilla install, but by partnering the complicated fantasy simulation with third-party tools like DwarfTherapist or Stonesense.
As of earlier this week, Stonesense just became a lot more powerful. It previously let you visualise your world with isometric sprite graphics in a separate piece of software, but now that angled art can be integrated directly in the game itself. Best of all, it can be used not just as a visualiser but as an interface to control part of the game.
This is possible in part thanks to the Dwarf Fortress Starter Pack, the latest in a long history of community-made bundles which packages Dwarf Fortress together with tools that make it more comfortable to play.
As of the latest release earlier this week, a brief .ini hack (explained at the link above) will let you turn on both mouse control and the replacement isometric graphics. Normally Dwarf Fortress needs to be controlled entirely via the keyboard (unless you’re giving Dwarven orders via something like Therapist), and the graphics were nothing but top-down ASCII. Eventually you can get used to both – I no longer see the matrix anymore, all I see is dwarf, sad dwarf, crazy dwarf – but anything that lowers the barrier to entry for newcomers, and makes life more convenient for the experience at the same time, is good news.
The first Dwarf Fortress update in two years is due in the next couple of weeks, so now is the perfect time to refresh your memory of what makes the game so compelling to play, and so worth learning.