Can Games Be Art? Dwarf Fortress Says Yes

I wish I was a little bit taller, I wish I was a baller, I wish I had a girl who looked good, I would call her. I wish I had enough food to eat.

Well, in a literal sense. PCG posted this yesterday, which is a lovely adventure in Dwarf Fortress, illustrated in a highly accessible style by graphic designer Tim Denee. Lovely on just about every level, including being lovely.


  1. Roger Ebert says:

    Great Success!

  2. Sagan says:

    Ah you are just trolling the RPS community with that title.

    But the story is awesome, and the illustrations are lovely.

  3. Schmung says:

    Dwarf Fortress sounds great. A properly intriguing game. Sadly, it alienates 95% of people interested in it (myself included) because it’s a brick wall as far as accessibility goes. Is anything ever going to be done about that to make it playable by a normal person without a reference sheet and a stack of tutorials? Their website makes no mention of this, so I’m guessing maybe not – which seems like a pity.

    • Peter Radiator Full Pig says:

      I thought the same thing. And it is alieniating. But there are somewhere in the RPS archives to some brilliant step by step tutorial, that includes a download to the game with a premade save file and a graphics set. If you are interested, worth getting into. The tutorial can be as fun as the game, played right.

    • Sobric says:

      I’m going to point my finger at you and say “Wimp”.

      I am not a huge fan of ASCII graphics. Indeed, I can barely stand bad graphics in a vast majority of games. I am, at heart, an FPS gamer. I like explosions, fast action, shooting shit, spangly graphics and streamlined gameplay.

      I Love Dwarf Fortress. Love it. And it took me less than 2 hours to get to grips with it. And that was with me pedantically trawling the wiki to make sure that I didn’t make ANY mistakes on my first fortress. I absolutely did not need to do that. Use the wiki and tutorials to get used to the interface, and you’re away.

      Here’s the thing: the game is as complex as you want it to be. The interface isn’t that tricky. Really it isn’t. You see all those letters on the keyboard in front of you? Yeah, you press some them. Big deal, I’m doing that right now.

      So to all those (not just Schmung, sorry just (ab)using you) who say you just cannot get into Dwarf Fortress, I say: Horseshit. Grow a pair and play it.

      – Sobric (with tongue firmly placed in cheek).

    • TimA says:

      I feel the initial hurdle is exaggerated, maybe because the game doesn’t have pretty graphics. They key bindings can be a little strange, but they’re always there on screen to refer to. My recommendation is to install a tileset and watch the video tutorial series by captnduck. The fundamentals of designation, building, and stockpiles can be learnt within an hour or two. You don’t even have to touch the more complex stuff (like military) right away.

      Anyway, that was absolutely wonderful. This is why I play Dwarf Fortress, stories far greater than any modern triple-A titles.

    • terry says:

      DF is actually the first ASCII game I learned to play in depth (with the exception of venerable DOS murder-em-up “Sleuth!”), so it’s not impossible. The biggest obstacle is memorizing the UI so you can perform actions quickly, which comes with time.

    • Schmung says:

      All fair enough I suppose, but I can’t help feel that on some level it’s just being obtuse for the sake of it – there’s this peculiarly masochistic streak in people (though it seems more prevalent in gamers and those of the PC variety particularly) that wants to alienate people and keep things impenetrable. It’s like when people start screaming about things being ‘dumbed down’ at the first sight of accessibility or a concession to those who don’t have as much time to put in. IMO it’s a really unpleasant quality and it’s pervasive is incredibly unhelpful. The tiled graphics and menu setup etc are obviously explicable as a development convenience initially, but DF has been around for ages now and I can’t believe that it doesn’t have a large and active enough community that given the ability to do so would make the game pretty and accessible enough for Joe Average.

      I may well be completely missing something here as I’ve only skim read the forum there and a few other articles, but it seems like the game is constrained in a way that makes prettifying it to a good degree impossible. Could be wrong about that one.

      It just seem to me that if you’ve got that big screen in front of you and all that power in the box which people have worked for years to improve and then you use none of it al that you’re somehow doing people a disservice by completely neglecting the visual element. Of course, indie dev etc, but others have proven that you can still create something with a nice aesthetic without going the expensive route of normal-mapped shader overload graphic. I suppose, in a very lengthy and roundabout way I’m trying to say that having someone a bit art minded working on DF might do the game wonders, but then I’m a shallow person and this might just be a reflection of the fact that I don’t have the time I want to invest in games anymore -that the two hours spent learning something when I should be playing feels like a waste to me now, rather than an adventure as it was ten years ago.

    • PHeMoX says:

      The Phoebus conversion is pretty sweet actually. Makes it a lot easier to grasp.

    • Sobric says:

      @ Schmung

      In all seriousness you do have a good point, and I know that it’s somewhat of a taboo topic on the DF forums.

      DF, you see, is coded entirely by 1 person (his brother helps with the website etc). As far as I can make out, he’d prefer to concentrate on the mechanics of DF before any UI/GFX overhauls, and since DF is such a complex game those mechanics are almost never ending.

      The community, of course, could probably help with coding something as they already do wonder with a variety of mods. However, DF modders can already change a lot of the mechanics, the graphics etc so once you hand over UI control to the community, does it become your game anymore?

      To end I can only stress: give it a go. The UI does contain large doses of fuzzy logic, but I don’t think that it’s purposefully difficult – it’s just not streamlined.

    • Spacewalk says:

      I just wish I knew what is grass and what is trees.

    • Azazel says:

      To be sure this game looks a thing of wonderment.

      I have only entered the Land of ASCII games in order to play Zangband before. It is simple enough. Hit monster with stick and die repeatedly. Dwarf Fortress just seems like a level of complexity too far for my feeble brain.

    • Dominic White says:

      Oh, and before anyone gets smart, like in the last couple of Dwarf Fortress threads, and tells us that Toady should make the game open-source and ‘give to the community’, I’d just like to point this out:

      The dude quit his job to work on DF full-time. And the game is freeware. He’s giving everything he has to this game, and lets people donate if they wish. At the moment, people donate enough to keep him living quite comfortably, but can you imagine how much money he’d get it everyone and their dog was releasing their own variant or spinoff of the game?

      Nobody will argue that the interface is perfect right now, but, as others have mentioned, he’s largely focusing on actually getting base features finished – he’s still in the middle of overhauling the entire military command system. You can’t go redesigning the UI constantly when you’re changing major UI-dependent segments.

    • Rich says:

      That’s fair, but I would argue that unless he has some kind of plan, he’s never going to get to the point where he can stop and improve accessibility.

      I’m of the opinion that if there were a decent interface, even if the current mechanics are not totally perfect, it’d sell. He can always patch it after. I might even be tempted if he adopted the, now quite fashionable, “pre-order buys you access to the beta” business model.

    • Dominic White says:

      He has a plan – you can see it on the site. His development roadmap/checklist is open for anyone to see.

    • Jeremy says:

      I understand that mechanics are important, but I’m fairly certain that at this point, a more accessible game is more important than whether an axe shears through the appropriate amount of layers of skin, flesh and bone.

      An honest UI overhaul would change the game in a fantastic way.

    • Rich says:

      It is supposed to be a game after all, not some predictive model.

    • Azazel says:

      My theory is that he is perfecting his world so that he can eventually enter it TRON style.

    • Schmung says:

      Yeah, I can see why he doesn’t want to alter certain elements at this stage, but I honestly can’t see the harm in creating a codebranch with a well out out UI for doing basic stuff. Just one that actually presents the available options on a single screen or doesn’t look like a bad DOS program circa 1994 would be a bonus. Tabs, rollouts, popups all these you get for free in a windowed operating system and he ignores it all.

      His todo list is just..boggling. I appreciate what he’s achieved but he’s(from what I can tell) the absolute model of a programming type who thinks that if it works for him and his mates then it must be totally fine and anyone saying otherwise is just an idiot. DF is the sort of world buildy game that people would go absolutely wild for if he could pull himself away from tinkering with the mechanics and expend some time and effort making it so that more people can enjoy his creation. It just strikes me as a massive shame TBH.

    • Rich says:

      I just had a look at his ‘plan’. I guarantee you, he will be dead before it’s complete.

      Honestly, he is allowed to develop in cycles. It isn’t selling out to produce a current version, with a number and everything, and then go on to add more features. It’s such a shame, because it’d be a fantastic game if he’d only show some cohesion in his development strategy.

      If I adopted his method, I could write out a massive plan for my research that would go all the way from now, until I personally eliminate the need for animal testing and get the Nobel prize. It wouldn’t matter though, because I wouldn’t ever stop to publish any papers or present my work. To the rest of the scientific community I’d be the archetypal mad scientist.

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      Because of a recent post on RPS concerning Sid Meyer, following links on the article and the links on those links, I eventually came somewhere where Sid is commenting on the current state of the Sim City franchise and the fact he realizes the game has become an hard game for new players to enjoy. He comments that the game kept on adding features for the sake of gameplay, “accuracy” and general feature-rich requirements one expects from newer versions. However this has made the game increasingly harder for newcomers. He thinks there should be a need to bring forth a more streamlined version of SimCity that could appeal to the entry-level player.

      I agree, shmung. DF has become much like that. Despite being a long time fan, the game is no longer something that appeals to most newcomers. Layer after layer of features have increased the complexity and learning curve. I suspect that if I were being introduced to the game today, from this article in RPS, and decided to download it and try it, I would probably put it aside after a few minutes.

      But on the other hand, you need to look at it from another side of the prism. DF is probably not meant to cater for the needs of many. Some authors (I’m thinking for instance Vic Davies from Cryptic Comet) have said a few times already they don’t think in creating games for the masses. They want their games to be as they want them to be. And that means they are perfectly comfortable with a niche product. On the other hand, DF can indeed be play out in phases. This is not obvious on the game (short) documentation or the website content, but many tutorials stress this aspect of DF on a constant basis. Many aspects of the game can be entirely ignored and still the game is playable and enjoyable. As the player becomes confident with their current knowledge of the game, they can advance to other features. Now, not all games can say the same thing.

      Graphically, however, DF would not be DF the day it ceased to become a text-based (technically untrue, but visually very much true) game. The current screen layouts are also very much a part of the game culture and what fans have become accustomed to and appreciative of. To such an extent that you can read somewhere in the comments to this article someone saying the current battle report is much “prettier” than the work displayed on this article. There’s a sort of cult following to this game. Expect a lot of resistance to screen layout changes, such as you propose.

    • Dominic White says:

      The thing that should be repeated here is that Dwarf Fortress isn’t a game made for a wide audience. It’s not even a commercial product – it’s entirely free, and you can opt to give the developer money if you like what he produces. Likewise, if you do not enjoy it, that’s fine too.

      If he wanted to make an accessible and simple Dungeon Keeper clone with ASCII graphics, he could have done that five years ago, but he didn’t, because what he’s trying to do is create a procedural fantasy world simulator, into which the player has an interactive window into. That’s why there’s both Adventurer mode and Fortress mode, and as other civilizations develop into fleshed out entities, you’ll be able to play as other races, too.

      Threetoe actually has a fairly large part in the development process. He writes fantasy short stories, which Toady then studies, trying to figure out exactly what elements would have to be simulated in order for that story to occur as a randomly generated event. The guy has ambition beyond the ken of mortals.

    • cromulent says:

      You can listen to the dftalk podcast to get a feel for Toady One’s personality. He seems like he is a modest guy who is making his (and my) dream game. That other people love it and are willing to give him money to sustain it seems to be incidental.

      link to

    • Jeremy says:

      I don’t think any person would legitimately defend Dwarf Fortress as being a part of the “Obscenely Obstuse UI” niche. I can accept that a game is created for a niche (and quite honestly, I love the niche that DF finds itself in), but it isn’t unreasonable to ask for a more efficient UI that actually is a little more user friendly. I know it’s a terrible thing to say, and as much as I love DF, I would never try and defend the UI presentation. For me, it makes sense that people are turned off by DF, and that doesn’t make me feel awesome about myself because I love it, and so therefore am obviously superior, it just makes me sad because I remember having to push through the frustration myself and then finally being able to play a game that I enjoyed after getting through the asinine UI.

    • Schmung says:

      I hate this argument that DF is somehow better because it has a crap UI and no graphics, as if it is somehow improved because it alienates people. WTF.
      ‘Oh, other people shouldn’t be able to enjoy this game because it’s too complicated for them and having pretty graphics makes it shallow and besides the terrible UI is part of the experience’.

      To be frank – fuck off. I hate, hate, hate that sort of thing. The game clearly has wonderful mechanics and a deeply complex and rewarding structure and to deny other people that experience because you like that it’s hard to appreciate is just mean and small minded. I appreciate that the developer(s) might not have the time and resources to implement this, but when people go around claiming that this is somehow a good thing I get kinda riled up.

      I saw a nice isometric viewer on a forum somewhere earlier, but then in the summary I read that they could implement much functionality because a lot of the functionality was tied to the menu (as opposed to the menu just being a way of activating function x or y) and I just died a little bit inside.

    • Dominic White says:

      “I hate this argument that DF is somehow better because it has a crap UI and no graphics, as if it is somehow improved because it alienates people.”

      Is anyone actually arguing that seriously? Pretty much everyone agrees that it’s a hurdle that you have to get past, but it’s also not nearly as bad as you’re making it out to be.

    • Adam Bloom says:

      Schmung, I think you’re missing the point. It’s not that the UI isn’t getting updated because the obtuse UI is somehow a feature of DF, it’s because Toady already does a ridiculous amount of work on the project and the UI just isn’t what he cares about.

    • Schmung says:

      But that’s what I’m trying to say – people seem to think it’s a-ok that he doesn’t give a fuck about the UI. It isn’t! It is not at all ok. His prerogative and all that yadda yadda, but seriously, even if he were to make the DF main thing a server of sorts and allow people to plug clients into to interact with the game then that would be tremendous. Obviously not possible, because the game is not built that way, but I’m just struggling with this whole concept of him (possibly) and the DF hardcore (certainly) not giving a toss that people can’t play the game.

    • Dominic White says:

      It’s a free game that he is making because he WANTS to make it, not because he wants to create a successful business. The entire studio is one man, who can only do a certain amount at the moment. Right now, fixing major bugs and actually making the new military command system work is his #1 priority. On his development shortlist is UI improvements, so that’ll probably happen after the worst of the current kinks are worked out.

      Nobody is arguing that a poor UI is a good thing. Merely that this is Toadys project, and I have no right to tell him what to work on, because the guy quit his job to work full-time on a game that he is giving to us FOR FREE. Read that a few times more if you ever feel entitiled to anything related to this game, because you aren’t.

      In short, stop whining.

    • Schmung says:

      Piss poor UI design and accessibly are things that irritate greatly and I’ll comment on them as much as I like. You’re welcome to ignore me. What bothers me beyond that is the people claiming that lack of decent graphical representation (and not the graphics per-se) and interface is somehow a good thing precisely because it is a barrier for entry – of which there are plenty. I’m pointing these things out in a thread on a PC gaming blog and not loudly demanding them over at the official forums or bombarding the guy with emails, so I think your accusations of me suffering some grand case of entitlement are somewhat exaggerated. The UI thing is something I’m interested in and DF happens to be a nigh perfect of case of it.

    • MadMatty says:

      It was a lot easier than the general word had implied it would be… think i got the hang of the UI after 45 mins and for a game that takes in-game days to complete, i think it people should give it a chance, even tho theyre not ultra-nerdy like me.

      Thing is though- seeing the programmer spend a lot of time on features, you start wondering if it wasnt about time he gave the UI an overhaul. He could add some extra people to work on the UI and graphics (for free prolly!) so he can keep going on programming the features.

      Does it have to be lone-wolf all the way?

      If i were the man behind Dwarf Fortress, i think i´d risk it, get some investors involved, form a team with artists, musicians and designers and make it a triple-A full price title.

    • Jeremy says:

      Awesome, I was hoping that what I said wouldn’t be thought of as too harsh, and then Schmung went ballistic, I’m in the clear! The graphical style in all honesty is mostly a non issue I think, simply because there are so many different graphics sets and tile sets out there to kind of overlay the original “art”. See what I did there? Anyway, I would probably have never gotten into DF except for those graphics, because I am a neanderthal without any creativity. However, the UI is kind of a special case to be honest. I still stand by my guns when I say that it is needlessly complex and obtuse, again, not necessarily an untrue thing nor has anyone else claimed otherwise. It is true though that after an hour of playing, my fingers are tapping strange patterns on my keyboard without my mind even realizing that I’m accomplishing all the necessary tasks. I honestly think a simple UI update now would go a long way.. and I understand that there is more functionality to be added and why create a new UI now if you just have to go back, etc. etc. I just think efficiency is what it lacks mostly, even though I know all the keys, there are certain commands that require a fair amount of drudgery just to perform. This is something that he probably should outsource to be honest, and I know what it’s like to be in his position… he loves DF, he’s poured days and days and days of his life into it, he is emotionally invested. If he allowed someone to take a step back, look at all the functionality in the game (while remaining emotionally detached) and sort of just create a skeleton of commands, that UI could be sharp as a whip in no time.

  4. RogB says:

    gorgeous. I’ve never pictured DF in that illustrative style, but it works so well!

  5. Bantros says:

    What a disappointment, I thought the battle report was the look of the game. Imagine the disappointment I just felt after seeing the game’s website and “screenshots”

  6. Baboonanza says:

    Lovely issulstrations, nice story. I particularly like the end line :)

    I think I’ll start playing the new version the weekend. I’ve been playing a lot of ‘Just Cause 2’ and this Dwarf Fortress is just about as different as you can get.

    Personally I didn’t fin DF that difficult to learn, but I’m a programmer so I guess I don’t count as a ‘normal person’!

    • MadMatty says:

      yeah there is always that to consider– once you´ve messed around with programming you have a much easier time getting to grips with games.

  7. PHeMoX says:

    Of course games can be art. It’s stupid to think games can not be art, as art is defined pretty arbitrary.

    Games provide an experience. It’s interactiveness doesn’t change the similarities it has with movies, paintings and so on.

    In certain cases it’s a combination of wonderful art, clever gameplay and a very rewarding interactive experience. Why would that not be art?

    ..but perhaps I’ve got it all backwards.

  8. SpinalJack says:

    That’s the best story I’ve read all week.

  9. Will says:

    Welcome to ART WEEK on RPS!

  10. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Hmm. I thought it started here: link to

    But I guess he posted about it twice.

  11. Out Reach says:

    I’ve tried to play dwarf fortress before but my eyes just bleed. I hear all these awesome stories, this just another great example, and I know if i only stuck with it long enough I’d probably have some strange revelation where it all suddenly clicks (also i can read the matrix) but i just don’t have the force of will.

    I’d love a version of Dwarf Fortress in a normal graphics engine which my feeble mind could understand, but i doubt the fans would go for it. Some thing deserve to be hidden away in the ASCII…

    After all in what other game would cat overpopulation have the potential be a bigger threat then a dragon?

    • PHeMoX says:

      I’d look into the Phoebus graphics version.

      I doubt there will be some kind of revelation when you, like me, can’t quite deal with the ASCII graphics.

    • Jeremy says:

      There are a variety of different tilesets and graphics sets available to use in DF.

      I use the Mayday tileset which has been great for me and adds a lot of character and depth.

      There’s a link to the Phoebus tileset in the story above.

      There’s a tileset repository and graphics set repository on the DF wiki that you can use to sort of mix and match from as to make your ideal setup.

  12. faelnor says:

    The people with enough willpower to face the interface are the only ones who will be able to make something deeply interesting out of DF. Consider it as an entry test, the only way of knowing if you’re going to withstand playing the game.

    A “normal” person is not prepared enough to have those kinds of adventures, and will just not go far enough to report something interesting.
    That’s a very elitist point of view, but god how we need elitism these days.

    • Sobric says:

      Society should be split into those who can play DF and those who can’t.

      Those who can should become mighty overlords and leaders, while those that can’t will be relegated only to be Haulers, with Refuse Collection tagged.

    • Wulf says:


      So, if someone is able to write stories which are inspiring, imaginative, and creative enough to be considered art, and yet they find DF impenetrable, they should be belittled as lesser people by the DF Master Race?

      No. Elitism is never necessary. What elitism constantly is is inexcusable.

    • Wulf says:

      And to be honest, it’s elitism that tends to keep me away from DF rather than it being impenetrable, being an elitist snob does nothing to draw new people in, in fact I tend to stay away from other people regarding Minecraft’s Survival mode as I find them unbearably elitist, instead I chat away with the far more merry, happy, creative, and imaginative people who’re playing Creative mode (both in multiplayer and on the forums).

    • Wisq says:

      Honestly, DF will be widely-accessible when someone makes it widely-accessible. That requires some combination of effort from Toady, the new graphics library people, the tileset / graphics set designers, and feedback from the users.

      While the current push is towards giving the latter “downstream” people more flexibility to reduce the workload on the “upstream” people, I think ultimately a lot of work would be required “at the top” (Toady) on a very different UI (e.g. pointy-clicky) before a lot of people would fully accept it.

      Until then, there’s no reason why those of us who can grok the current interface shouldn’t go ahead and play it. Unless you really do have problems with the current interface (in which I offer sympathy rather than mockery or haughtiness), I fail to see why elitism in the DF community should keep you away from the game itself. It is, after all, a single-player game, even if a lot of people like to record and share their stories.

  13. Honestly says:

    I think the bare interface causes people to make up stories in their head than what actually happens in the game. I read all these cool stories but never seen anything happen remotely close to them whenever I actually play.

    I could just be unlucky.

    • Dominic White says:

      You are unlucky. Almost all these epic stories are just related verbatim, with little to no embellishment. There’s probably the single most complex and varied world-generator at work here, with AI complex enough to produce some amazing emergent behaviour.

      As others have said, the game isn’t nearly as complicated as it looks at first. If you’re willing to sit down for a couple of hours and just bodge through the basics (you’re not trying to win – expect your first couple of forts to be unmitigated, hilarious disasters), it’s really not that bad.

      And I’m saying this as someone who finds football management games to be mind-crushingly complex. Attempts to play any game by Paradox have ended in embarrassment and utter failure. But Dwarf Fortress is different – it’s open and freeform enough for me to intuitively improvise.

  14. Internet Friend says:

    I do enjoy a good Dwarf Fortress horror story.
    Really, all Dwarf Fortress stories are horrifying. Every game involves a set of dwarves being obliterated in some novel way.

    • Jeremy says:

      I can’t ever seem to get my dwarves killed… I see all these epic stories of goblins and monsters and super beasts, or stories of madness and murder. All my dwarves do is efficiently produce a working economy and just stay alive, I still love it though :) Any tips on how to create these Dwarven Pogroms?

    • Dominic White says:

      Dig deep and cultivate unchecked greed. The deeper you dig, the more likely you are to find gems and rare ores like adamantine, but also more likely to encounter things like lava rivers, underground civilizations, and eldritch horrors from beyond the veil.

  15. Latterman says:

    I got into DF while i had too much free time on my hand one and a half year ago.

    Now it’s eating way too much of time i don’t have any more.

  16. Tei says:


  17. James G says:

    The DF interface scared me off for ages, but once I actually took the plunge (with a graphics set) I picked it up pretty quickly. Have only had a brief look at the latest version, but intend to get a good game in once its gone through a few revisions, the OpenGL merge at least.

    Been using the Mayday graphics set until recently, although might switch to Phoebus after seeing those pictures, looks nicer in my opinion. Initially began with Gybursh/Dystopian Rhetoric but the pre-packaged versions were just easier.

    I’ve seen Toady asking a few questions re. interface changes recently. I don’t know if he’s planning a major overhaul, or just creating a bit more consistency. There’s certainly a few minor changes which could make a significant improvement.

  18. alway says:

    Learning to play Dwarf Fortress is like carving out a cave to live in. At first, it is a massive, daunting cliff face just daring you to take it on. But after a while of carving out a place to live, it turns out to be a nice and cozy place where you never want to come out of. :)

    As Latterman said though, it will eat through your free time. Seriously. It ate all of last summer for me. And my only regret is that the FPS wasn’t higher so I could play more.

  19. Dominic White says:

    For the lazy, I have just downloaded/updated Phoebus’ latest version of Dwarf Fortress with tiled graphics, and then squashed it down into a 5.2meg self-extracting file.

    link to

    There, Dwarf Fortress without the ASCII, no effort required. Just unpack and run.

    • Dominic White says:

      The reason he’s not working on the UI is that he’s actively changing large UI-dependent segments at the moment. It’d be making pointless busywork for him if he had to constantly keep up with his own changes right now.

    • Schmung says:

      cheers for that. I shall give this a go.

    • Mungrul says:

      Regarding the millionaire thing, I think that’s got a lot to do with it. On a forum I frequent, I was waxing lyrical on the awesome that is DF, when someone implied that Toady was a stuck-up wanker for not releasing the source code.
      I don’t think he realised that DF is so good precisely because it is such a personal game thanks to Toady not releasing source code. It’s very much one man’s vision (well, two if you include threetoe), and I suspect if it became a more commercially oriented title, it would lose a lot of its character, as more people would inevitably become involved in development.

      Initially, the interface and graphics scared me off, but now I’m a complete convert and am more concerned with Toady being left alone to squash bugs. The game itself is fine as it is.

    • dadioflex says:

      The megaupload link says the file is temporarily unavailable, but I think you can get much the same from here:

      link to

  20. Buckermann says:

    A DF story with a happy end? Very unreal…

    • Mr Bismarck says:

      That “everyone is dead apart from these two drunk, smelly fellows with their distant stares and room full of body parts” counts as a happy ending says a lot about DF.

    • Mr Bismarck says:

      That “everyone is dead apart from these two drunk, smelly fellows with their distant stares and room full of body parts” counts as a happy ending says a lot about DF.

  21. Cunzy1 1 says:


    Only Walker is allowed to use words like lovely and pretty, now I just read the article in a Walker voice instead of a Gillen voice. :(

    • Wulf says:

      Bah, I’ve seen Gillen use lovely plenty of times! Usually in relation to an indie game with incredibly pretty aesthetics.

  22. Robsoie says:

    Dwarf Fortress is certainly very hard in a first contact, the interface with its many sub-menus and poor mouse usage does not help.

    But fortunately, along with some tilesets that are giving a better view of what’s going on, there are some very good tutorials that will teach you what you need to have plenty of fun.
    I learned the basics thanks to a tutorial for an old version that was included in the wiki few years ago and the basics are in fact not as complicated as it seems, it is just the interface that makes it look complicated.

    RPS mentionned some of thosel for more recent version of DF :
    link to
    and there :
    link to

    I pointed some friends to this one too, that seem to have helped them a lot :
    link to

    The latest version of DF, while having more bugs than the previous one, introduced many very good new features to keep the player interested in the long time (always was a problem previously as once your fort was running on itself, you had nearly nothing to fear.

    Now, without mentionning too much more spoilers, just dig down if you think all is going too well inside your too highly secured fortress :)

  23. Squashua says:

    The Penny Arcade Forums are constantly re-establishing an excellent DF thread to read; it includes links to informative step-by-steps and tutorials to read. this is the latest forum thread on PA as of this comment, but I like the first post in this thread better.

    You can tell’em I sent ya. :-)

  24. Phried says:

    For those of you who would like to play the game but are put off by the learning curve resembling of a brick wall, here you go:

    link to

    It starts you off in preset area and walks you through in a very detailed guide. (It also includes a graphical mod to make it even more accessible) I’d give it a try if I were you.

    • Collic says:

      THIS a thousand times this. I played through all of these and I’m now completely hooked by this wonderful game. I’d suggest just using the 40d version and the tileset if you’re starting out (the stuff provided by the tutorial basically). The new version is full of bugs and you’ll have a lot more fun with the old, more stable one for now (if you’re a new player at any rate).

      These tutorials along with maydays tileset turned something completely incomprehensible into something brilliant for me. Try it out.

    • Malawi Frontier Guard says:

      Yes, this tutorial is excellent. Also, I second starting with 40d. Not only is it faster(which is very relevant for large fortresses), its military and healthcare systems are a lot easier to understand for a beginner.

      Once you have a grasp of the needs and priorities of a fortress and learned to “read” the information on the screen, getting into newer versions is a lot easier.

  25. Wulf says:

    The art was absolutely lovely, I really enjoyed that. But there was just too much death for me to really get into the whole thing and truly love it, that’s just not my sort of thing, poor dwarves. Mortality and I don’t get along, which is entirely my problem and I accept that. Still, I did appreciate the art and it was a wonderfully weaved story.

    • Koozer says:

      To enjoy Dwarf Fortress, you have to be the kind of person who’s first thought upon discovering mermaids near the fortress isn’t “ooh pretty!” but to immediately start planning how to capture them for breeding and harvesting their valuable bones.

    • Wulf says:

      I understand that. I’m actually a little disappointed that it’s a game I can’t enjoy, because I am one of the “Ooh, pretty!” crowd when it comes to unreal discoveries, I’m comfortable with that, but it’s still a shame. I am happy that it’s there though for those that like it, and a game with emergent AI like that is very important.

      I hope it has a very long life ahead of it, and that it will continue to redefine what AI can be, and what it can do within the scope of a game. Even if I don’t play Dwarf Fortress, perhaps the games I do play will benefit from that eventually, and I will be exceedingly thankful for the existence of DF. Toady’s clearly a genius, and the gaming crowd can never have enough geniuses!

      It’s still not for me for the aforementioned personal reasons, but I’m glad it’s there.

  26. i am paul newman says:

    link to
    new captn duck tutorials

  27. Bassism says:

    Thanks so much for posting this. DF is about my favourite thing ever that I just don’t play often enough.
    What makes it so incredible is that everything that happens in that story would have happened quite literally over the course of the game.
    Some of it is by player choice, like sending a vastly underprepared military out to their death. Some of it is player mistake, like botching your waterworks, thus requiring you to send some poor dwarf into the mouth of hell to get water for the fortress. But the best parts are always the small emergent touches. Things like the brewer slowly crying himself to death in the corner because of what he has seen, or the random arrival of a heroic human caravan who finally slaughters what has murdered so many dwarves.

    I know it can’t seem so to somebody who hasn’t invested any time into the game, but the UI isn’t -too- bad. I’d put it on par with that of Eve Online, only with keys instead of a mouse. Personally I wrote up a little key reference sheet like the ones that used to come with games when we bought them in stores, after surpringly little time I didn’t need it any more. The interface generally tends to follow its own system of logic (except when it doesn’t, which also seems to fit it’s own logic).

    As far as the game itself goes, I used the brilliant Capn Duck video tutorials. I would watch at least a few episodes of that to get off the ground, at which point some of the other tutorials might work better for you. Definitely use a tutorial your first time through. Otherwise you’ll just be confused, frustrated, and have no idea what’s going on.

    Wulf, I wouldn’t worry too much about the death. Death is ever-present in DF, and every fortress is likely to end in death at some point. But not every fort needs to be about wonton death. If you set up your fort in a nice, hospitable, non-evil bit of the map far away from goblin settlements you should have all the time in the world to have your dwarves live at your leisure. Until one of them goes crazy or drowns in a lake or something.
    …. I guess that doesn’t sound much better, but DF doesn’t need to be the disturbing gore fest you always read about. Most DF players tend to search out inhospitable places and adversity for their dwarves.
    I can understand if it’s something you can’t get over, but there’s just so much wonderful game here that I think it’d be a disservice to yourself if you didn’t try. From reading your posts here I think you’d find a lot to enjoy.

  28. Bassism says:

    Also, new Captnduck, to address the changes that led to me suggesting a new player watch some of his videos then graduate to a more modern tutorial?

  29. GetOutOfHereStalker says:

    why are people still aching over what roger ebert said?

    do they care that much on what a movie critic has to say on something that isn’t a movie?

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      I think that by repeating it numerous times, while showing examples of what *they* call art, some gamers can convince themselves games can be art and rejoice. Meanwhile, disbelievers like myself can be more easily convinced people who think games are an art form, are in search for validation while constantly clutching at straws.

      So it actually serves both sides. I suggest Kieron and others can keep showing us examples of “games can be art”. Like so many others who in the past have had their egos slightly scratched, their constant demand for attention will someday magically turn games into art. I’m sure.

    • Wulf says:


      It’s funny, I think our roles have reversed, I’m lightening up and you’ve got a massive chip on your shoulder, now. But I know how that can be, still, it’s worth being understanding of what other people think and believe. By belittling and trying to coerce people away from what they believe, what are you doing? What words and descriptions would fit those actions? That’s something you may want to give a little thought to. I think the answers to those questions should be important to you, since they define who you are as a person.

      “I think that by repeating it numerous times, while showing examples of what *they* call art, some gamers can convince themselves games can be art and rejoice.”

      I’m sure that’s one way you could look at things, and yet, you could say that everyone is doing that, anyone who wants to celebrate something, be it a form of art, a faith, a belief, their confidence in people, an institution, and so on. You could make the claim that people are fooling themselves about anything, and yet, even if they are… what harm is it doing to you or anyone else?

      What I see is people celebrating things they love, they put it up on a pedestal, they say it’s special, and they show it off for the benefit of those who might think similarly, so those people can enjoy it too. I don’t think there’s any harm in that, to the contrary, I think it’s beneficial to the growth of culture in general.

      “Meanwhile, disbelievers like myself can be more easily convinced people who think games are an art form, are in search for validation while constantly clutching at straws.”

      Again, you could apply this to anything. You’re presenting a double-standard. What do you think art is? You could clutch your own straws and then present them to me in a bundle, desperate to prove your art to me, and you’ve done this before in previous replies to posts I’ve made (I can point them out, if you like). Now, in reply, as I hope you’ll remember, I’ve told you that your own sense of art is valid.

      Yet you won’t afford the same level of respect to other people. Again, remember those questions in the first paragraph. What does it say about you if you present something as art, and yet strike down what other people claim to be art? I can understand being even overzealous about the things you love, but there’s a fine line to walk between being overzealous and being a zealot. I know because I’ve crossed that line before, and I’m trying to teach myself not to, because I think that other people deserve my respect. Having this pointed out can be enlightening, I know from experience.

      “So it actually serves both sides. I suggest Kieron and others can keep showing us examples of “games can be art”.”

      Actually, that’s not true. They show us things they like and that are meaningful to them, and things they think can be art, and in some cases they tell us what they meant to them. The most recent example was the Last Thoughts of the Aurochs article, wherein John told us what he got from it, and I actually quite enjoyed reading that. Are you implying that RPS has presented something and told its readers that they must accept it as art? I don’t think I’ve ever seen them do that.

      “Like so many others who in the past have had their egos slightly scratched, their constant demand for attention will someday magically turn games into art. I’m sure.”

      This strikes me as needlessly bitter, defensive, and even a bit paranoid. What have games ever done to you? Do you think that the possibility of games being art somehow lessens and degrades your own interests in art? Why the vitriol?

  30. Bahumat says:

    Dominic White is correct, sounds like you’ve just been unlucky, or haven’t been immersed enough to track events.

    Where the narrative emerges is through the gameplay, history, and events that occur.

    For example: I had a friendless Dwarf with no social skills get inspired to create an artifact Chain. She did so, and was elected Mayor barely 30 seconds after. Why? Because who wears a fancy chain? The mayor. So she had the fanciest chain, and she became the mayor.

    (But remained, ultimately, without friends and unpopular. The political life can be so alienating.)

  31. The Pope says:

    I tried to play DF and gave up after about 20 minutes because I had no reason to start. I later came across Boatmurdered and that story caused me to spend 2 intensive weeks of play to figure out how to play it on an intermediate level. Stories like the one linked to in this post and in the Hall of Legends link to
    Are the reason that most people start to play the game despite the learning curve. Your eyes eventually read it as easily as a book (hehe).

    However, there is one more important thing to consider and that is that you NEVER HAVE to play DF to be able to enjoy the fruits of its existence. You could simply listen to the amazing stories that come out of people using it as a platform to make epic and interesting stories. Heck, you could just create a world and then pore over the legends mode for amazing stories like Tholtig, the dwarf queen who died of old age while fighting elves her entire life and being the sole survivor of a dwarven civilization.

  32. karthik says:

    Saw this on Marc Laidlaw’s blog. It sounds like a typical DF tale, albeit with an unusual ending.

    I’ve spent nights trying to get into DF; I finally just gave up.

  33. RedFred says:

    All I can say is: New Zealand represent.

    However I do not understand Dwarf fortress.

  34. Damien Stark says:

    That was fantastic, and has finally convinced me to give DF a try, despite shrugging off all the previous enticing RPS coverage of it.

  35. sebmojo says:

    This is from another DF thread and is of equivalent gloriosity.

    Having started as your standard DF, the Hamlet of Tyranny was uneventful by normal standards. Sure there would be caravans and immigrants and occasional (though unusually rare) seiges, but there was a dark and DEADLY secret buried beneath the hills. And his name was Ashmalice.

    Ashmalice was a fire demon of legendary status. Not only had he existed in the prehistory of the fort, but he had over 550 kills – which included 2 entire tribes of goblins, a handful of elves, and a terrifying ammound of dwarves… one of whom was the king of the mountain-homes.

    Fast forwarding to the present time major construction was underway of the fort. Many many immigrants had arrived over the years and times were good for the dwarves. Having many legendary carvers and warriors my friend grew lax in his defenses. And his dwarves paid the price when a miner unearthed a glowing pit deep below the dungeons carved into the mountain.

    Within an hour my friend’s fortress was besieged by a nearly unending horde of demonic horrors. Ill equipped to deal with the threat immediately, the population of the Hamlet began dropping exponentially. Not even a panicked redirection of the river into the lower levels was enough to staunch the influx of demons, only enough to slow them long enough for the major walkways to be collapsed to buy some precious time.

    Luckilly (and cleverly) my friend had built his fortress in such a way that if any large section had collapsed, then all escape routes would lead out into the wilderness and on a path far from the fortress and defendable by collapsing the ceiling via lever to flood seawater into the tunnel. Though no dwarf was alive on that side of the map, or able to reach it to pull the lever, my friend had bought the dwarves much needed time, though when Ashmalice made himself known all seemed futile. Even moreso when Stuvok lost his mind with rage.

    Stuvok was one of the founding 7. He was an ex-miner turned blacksmith of legendary status. He was a monster of a dwarf that all dwarves aspired to be. And he had just lost his wife Doken (another of the starting 7) to the demon Ashmalice. His sorrow was felt by the surviving clan as he tore through them one by one unopposed. Only when he ran into his workshop and was locked in did his rage abate.

    Morale was rock bottom. Several dwarves commit suicide in this dark hour. And of the handfull who remained of this once great fortress, few were willing to do anything at all, except the only other remaining dwarf of the founders: the engraver Sil. In the months that followed, the floors were carved with graven images of his follow brethren. All hope seemed lost. But this was not the end for the Hamlet. Not just yet…

    In his grief and mourning, Stuvok opened his heart to the spirits of the dead. And one day they came to him in spirit. In his posessed mood he plotted and planned and (ironically) with the materials available to him, crafted an artifact clearly in homage to his wife: Endless Death of Tears – a sword with an image of a dwarf holding a piece of glass – glass that his wife used daily in her trade.

    My friend had been content to just flood the map with lava and end the game after such losses. But upon seeing this artifact his neckbeard overtook him and he knew that Doken, the dwarves, the king, must all be avenged! And thankfully for me, he decided to continue. Fast forwarding again to the present (the time at which I had come in to see him play) my friend had safely excavated what he could of the fortress and moved all activity to a small corner of the interior. When all levers were erected, dwarves armed, and preparations complete, he unpaused the game for me.

    A few dwarves made suicide runs to the bottom of the dungeons and collapsed them – which in turn lowered the debris above into a sinkhole that breached a large hole for the demons to pour from back into the fort. A few more dwarves valiantly fired into the oncomming tide of hate, but they were nothing but fodder that bought precious moments for the true plan to kick in. A masterfully placed lever that had yet been unpulled brought down the entire mountain through the legendary dining hall ceiling; crushing almost half of the intruding horde.

    As planned, the demons made a bee-line through the side hallways through rows of blade traps. Demons were chewed up by the blades, but still they came. And so did “He”. Ashmalice not only avoided the fatal cave-in, passed the slicing blades, and bypassed the numerous flooding-trap chambers, but he and a squad of equally lucky frog demons carved and scorched their way into the final defensive line. Among their victims was Stuvok; unable to avenge his beloved. And the last handfull of dwarves were quickly reduced to 2 – Sil the engraver and the legendary captain of the guard, Daneken.

    As respected and powerful as Stuvok had been, Daneken was that and more. He was a god among his clan, and had once in his long career single-handedly repelled a goblin siege led by a cyclops, and had helped wrestle a dragon to death. And now armed with his dead friend’s artifact sword, he was seeing red. Daneken had been stationed at the edge of a chasm (my friend’s map had a pit AND chasm that had been unearthed, but it was amazingly only filled with tiny spiders that were easilly dispatched in the early years of the fort). A single bridge had been built to span the chasm, and would have been later expanded as housing. But that plan was no longer. And this was it. This was the end of the dwarves of the Hamlet of Tyranny. But they would not go quietly.

    As the demons approached Daneken threw himself at them in a rage. Ashmalice blasted him with demonic flames, but Daneken was imbued with the collective rage of his people and carved through the frog retainers with little signs of stopping. Ashmalice, however, had seen the deaths of a king and was not impressed with the antics of a lowly dwarf and sent him hurtling back onto the bridge – coincidentally knocking Sil over the edge. With his flesh scorching and his blood boiling, Denekan crawled to his feet just in time to see Ashmalice hover over him. With but a single push the fortress would be claimed by demons. But to my friend’s and my own utter jaw-dropping amazement, it was the dwarves who claimed him.

    Daneken, in a testament to his dwarfdom slashed off one of Ashmalice’s arm/wing and plunged Endless Death of Tears into his evil heart. Such was the force of the blow that the demon was hurled backwards off of the bridge and sent spiraling down into the unending darkness; spouting curses the entire way. With his clan and his king avenged, Daneken himself tumbled from the bridge. But… one dwarf remained?

    Awestruck by what had just happend, I urged my friend to quickly find the survivor! The menus opened, the tabs clicked, and we see that name. Sil. Sil? But he fell into the chasm! What was going on? With the battle essentially over and the remaining demons blocked from furthur intrusion by an unchecked flood of river water, we peer into the chasm. Several Z-levels down, on a tiny 2-square ledge, lay Sil – broken and bleeding, but alive.

    With no way to save him, and with his entire clan residing in the afterlife, we debated how this should end. Should we just abandon the fort outright? Should we try and kill him somehow? What? In the end, however, we decided to let him create one more carving – one last testament to dwarfkind. This decision did not come lightly, as after such an epic climax, anything less would seem an insult. But still we left him to his work. Afterall, maybe he would draw a picture of a plump helmet or something equally random.

    What did he draw? Moments before he bled to death? Alone on a cliff? The last gesture of the dwarves of the Hamlet of Tyranny?

    A picture of a demon and some dwarves. The demon was in a fetal position. The dwarves were laughing.

  36. sebmojo says:


  37. Indraco says:

    I think finding the stories in simulator type games depends on how you approach them. I’ve seen some great writing done with the Sims 3. If you stop and search for it, I’m sure you could make a good tale out of a lot of playthroughs of nonlinear games. I think DF is especially conducive to these types of stories though, not only because there are so many richly detailed dynamic systems, but also because the game has no set win condition (or even set goals). Since you’re never trying to reach some set goal, the entire focus is on the day to day survival of your fortress (while you slowly build whatever evil genius layout your mad engineering mind can devise).

  38. MrMorley says:

    To people saying the graphics need improvement…thing about it. This game, even streamlined, inevitably chews through CPUs as it calculates giant paths and water flaw and mechanism flow and individual body parts and gravity and you get the idea. You may have 200FPS with 7 dwarves, but as your fortress grows FPS drops hard. Think about the FPS-hit it’d receive if it had to process Animations and all sorts of graphical ‘niceties’? The only reason it can even function is because of the ridiculously simple ASCII graphics. 3D graphics are completely out of the question…

    People forget this game is still considered by the author a *very early alpha*. It still needs a lot of streamlining and bug-fixing and feature-adding. The UI isn’t important at this stage. If you disagree, look at the few official alphas that have leaked or otherwise made their way into the world. Seriously, they are *hideous*. Yes, UI is important in the grand scheme of things, and yes it needs serious work done on it. At the moment is is all it needs to be, a bare-bones hacked-in job that achieves the basic tasks it needs to achieve. I started playing with the already-complex 40d releases, took me a few epic failures to begin with, and I’m still learning new things, but I’ve had fun the whole way through and that’s all I ask for ^^

  39. Magic H8 Ball says:

    @Schmung: Actually I don’t think “proper” UI would help DF all that much. There are just so many menus and submenus and options and toggles… trying to control it all with a mouse would be no less cumbersome, and much slower – as of now you’re forced to learn keyboard shortcuts which, once mastered, are much faster than cursor.

    • MrMorley says:

      Real nerds don’t need mice ^^ I mean, I can’t be the only person who cringes whenever someone uses Right click + paste instead of CTRL+V >.<

  40. MrMorley says:

    And programmers usually try put as many graphical tasks as they can onto the GPU, but the CPU still has to get involved at a few levels, does it not?

  41. Moth Bones says:

    Thanks for this thread, it finally convinced me to give DF a try and I’m hooked. An afternoon with the TinyPirate tutorial and I got the basics. I used to think it looked unplayable, but now I’m used to it I love the way it looks.

  42. Micro102 says:

    For those of you complaining about the graphics
    link to

    For those complaining about the interface, it really isn’t that hard. everything is listed and the only thing you need to remember is “” shift the map up and down a z-level.

    While the interface could be a lot better, it helps keep the immature people out of the forums and for a freeware rouge-like with bad interface and graphics, it has quite a few people playing it.

  43. Damere says:

    Okay, for those of you who are arguing the whole: “Ah, this game has no UI and/or graphics.” ..and various related topics, let me tell you this: I play DF a lot, and when there are around 130 or so dwarves running around, pathing, thinking, generally doing stuff, my FPS is usually around 40, down for 100. Now, you are suggesting adding *graphics* to this. Right now, even the best computers out there for commercial use *will* lag at a certain dwarf population. I only run a Dual at 2.4GHz, but DF can only use half my processor speed right now, and I don’t know if that is being worked on.

    Anyways, you get what I am saying, right? Even if you only added ye ole GameBoy graphics to it, you computer will have a fit whenever your population gets slightly high. If I was Toady, I’d rather be working on cleaning up the code and making it all run easier than adding graphics, only to find that your computer explodes shortly after.

    • steeroy says:

      DF players love to talk about how it’s so complex that taxes the latest processors, even without graphics, but it’s just bull. DF runs slowly because the developer doesn’t care about making it multithreaded. It runs at 40 FPS on my computer too, because it only uses 1 of the 4 cores. It would run like a dream if he just put the physics into a separate thread.

      Giving it proper graphics wouldn’t make it slower either, because they’d be handled by the GPU. It would probably be faster with the load off the CPU.

  44. Hempuli says:

    I agree with Schmung to certain extent. I don’t think Toady One should make a great UI before the main aspects are in, but I certainly agree that a better UI would be a great thing for the game. I find it a bit strange that people are so directly against the idea; Of course, Toady is working mainly alone and the game takes already a lot of memory and all that, but that doesn’t really mean that a better UI wouldn’t be a good thing. And I don’t think that ‘better UI’ necessarily means ‘better graphics’, because those have been done to some extent already. Creating a better UI, like adding full mouse support etc etc, wouldn’t need to be all that memory-heavy.

    And certain people seem to be missing Schmung’s point a bit, be it right or wrong: Sure, if you want, you can learn the UI in a couple hours and it’s not all that bad. But the thing is that many, many players wouldn’t want to do that, and doing that would require the idea that “I’m now playing DF, and I’m really going to learn this now!” instead of “I downloaded this game and they say it’s cool, let’s see how this plays”. So yeah.

    Ok, I’m probably hugely late to this whole thing. Sorry about that.