Dwarf Fortress Getting Procedural Poetry Analysis

It’s rare that we post about an update to a game that isn’t already available for download, but no game other than Dwarf Fortress [official site] so often tempts me to break with tradition and post every future changelog item. I’m only so strong, you know? That’s why I’m posting about the coming addition of dwarven poetry now that developer Tarn Adams has shown a little of how the system works.

Importantly, it doesn’t generate verses of the poetry itself, but instead produces paragraphs describing the poetry – its structure, its style, and what its meant to convey. Through that, you get a sense of the events (actual events that have happened in-game) that the dwarves are trying to depict, but the styles of different poems are also formed in response to the culture that created them. We are all standing on the shoulders of culture giants, I guess, even dwarves.

This is perhaps best illustrated with some examples, which I’ve excerpted a selection of below:

A solemn poetic form concerning alcoholic beverages, originating in The Lyric of Coal. The poem is divided into two distinct septets. Use of simile is characteristic of the form. Each line has five feet with a tone pattern of uneven-even.

The first part is intended to make an assertion.

The second part is intended to invert the previous assertion.

———-

A poetic riddle concerning the hunt, originating in The Icy Nightmares. The poem is divided into three distinct parts: a quintain, a tercet and a line. It is always written from the perspective of the author. Use of consonance and vivid imagery is characteristic of the form. Forms of parallelism are common throughout the poem, in that certain lines often contrast underlying meaning and they have similar grammatical structures.

The first part is intended to make an assertion. Certain lines sometimes have reversed word orders. It has lines with four feet with an accent pattern of unstressed-stressed (qualitative iambic tetrameter). The ending of each line of this part rhymes with each other.

The second part is intended to make a counter-assertion. Certain lines sometimes have reversed word orders. It has lines with four feet with an accent pattern of unstressed-stressed (qualitative iambic tetrameter). The ending of each line of this part rhymes with each other.

The third part is intended to synthesize previous ideas. It has four feet with an accent pattern of stressed-unstressed (qualitative trochaic tetrameter).

———-

A poetic riddle intended to complain about someone recently deceased, originating in The Amber Relic. The poem is two to three couplets. Forms of parallelism are common throughout the poem, in that certain lines often share an underlying meaning and they sometimes have reversed word orders. The ending of every line of the poem rhymes with every other. The second line of each couplet presents a different view of the subject of the first line. The first line has six syllables. The second line has ten syllables.

I like this. It’s the equivalent to the way in which Dwarf Fortress generates much of the rest of the world – you don’t see the carvings your dwarves make either, only text descriptions of them – but the literary nature of the works described mean that the generated descriptions begin to sound like the kind of analysis you’d perform at school. Could Dwarf Fortress one day soon be used to teach people about poetic structure, form and history? Oh, I hope so.

The same update is due to bring new musical instruments and similarly expressive styles of dance, but in the meantime, there’s nothing you can do with this information other than submit yourself as I have to the daily wonders of the Dwarf Fortress changelog.

[The header image is from here, which seemed fitting in multiple ways.]

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45 Comments

Top comments

  1. iucounu says:

    OK I stretched my lunch hour by 5 minutes to complete the hunting-riddle of the Icy Nightmares (second one, above):

    Frontier forlorn;
    Austere, forsworn;
    With bands of horn
    And spikes adorn
    This icy bourne.

    No ox to spear;
    No stag, nor deer;
    No hoof beats near:

    Quarry-riddle.
  2. mike2R says:

    If I was feeling cynical, I'd say that at least this addition is unlikely to increase the load on my poor CPU by much...

    But actually, I do really like the idea. I tend to spend quite a bit of time looking at wall carvings and statues, so I imagine I'll do the same with poetry. It takes a specific sort of person to enjoy procedurally generated culture I guess... You have to be willing to act as the game's editor, and ignore the many meaningless examples in exchange for the few that really shine.

    My favourite ever was a dwarf I drafted into my militia along with a load of others. I didn't pick her out on her skills especially, I was expanding my squads so I grabbed anyone who was handy and who knew one end of a weapon from the other.

    But she shone when fighting. Some dwarves will spend forever beating a badly wounded goblin to death while the fight goes on around them. Not her. One axe-stroke, one severed head was her rule. A fighting dwarf in a thousand. I gave her command of her own squad, equipped her with top level gear and artifacts, and finally made her the fortress Champion.

    In this fort, I'd noticed something of an oddity. Most forts get artwork about some monster or other that has been terrorising the dwarven civilization. It tends to be a fairly depressing reel of dwarves that have fought and died to whatever creature of the night the game has thrown at them, since a procedurally generated monster that is capable of killing enough dwarves to get noticed, is probably powerful enough to keep the streak going. But in this fort it was different. This monster's kills and travels were recorded as normal, but also its death at the hands of a dwarf. I remember thinking that must have been one hell of a dwarf.

    I was a long way into the game before the name clicked, but finally it did. This hero of her nation, slayer of the great terror, had later decided to move on, and had emigrated into my fort, and purely by her own awesome skill at arms, had earned her way up to Champion.

    Damn sure I'd have liked some poetry about her as well.
  1. jnqvist says:

    Well,at least it seems better than vogon poetry. Plus,riddles.

  2. Telkir says:

    I can’t help but feel that this is a tad silly even for DF, a game which is admittedly famous for its microscopic level of in-game historic detail. Does this really enrich the experience that the game offers? Is it really worth spending multiple weeks of development time on this? Seems odd to me, but then again, Toady is a unique developer with a unique approach to his work. :)

    • iucounu says:

      Looking at those snippets makes me want to try writing the poem they’re referring to. I think it’s neat (and as with most of this class of things in DF, it’ll just happily putter away in the background if you’re not interested in it.)

      • iucounu says:

        OK I stretched my lunch hour by 5 minutes to complete the hunting-riddle of the Icy Nightmares (second one, above):

        Frontier forlorn;
        Austere, forsworn;
        With bands of horn
        And spikes adorn
        This icy bourne.

        No ox to spear;
        No stag, nor deer;
        No hoof beats near:

        Quarry-riddle.

      • 0positivo says:

        Ha! I was just about to say “if someone doesn’t come up with actual words for those descriptions, I’m going to be very disappointed in the internet”

        Bravo! And faith restored

    • mike2R says:

      If I was feeling cynical, I’d say that at least this addition is unlikely to increase the load on my poor CPU by much…

      But actually, I do really like the idea. I tend to spend quite a bit of time looking at wall carvings and statues, so I imagine I’ll do the same with poetry. It takes a specific sort of person to enjoy procedurally generated culture I guess… You have to be willing to act as the game’s editor, and ignore the many meaningless examples in exchange for the few that really shine.

      My favourite ever was a dwarf I drafted into my militia along with a load of others. I didn’t pick her out on her skills especially, I was expanding my squads so I grabbed anyone who was handy and who knew one end of a weapon from the other.

      But she shone when fighting. Some dwarves will spend forever beating a badly wounded goblin to death while the fight goes on around them. Not her. One axe-stroke, one severed head was her rule. A fighting dwarf in a thousand. I gave her command of her own squad, equipped her with top level gear and artifacts, and finally made her the fortress Champion.

      In this fort, I’d noticed something of an oddity. Most forts get artwork about some monster or other that has been terrorising the dwarven civilization. It tends to be a fairly depressing reel of dwarves that have fought and died to whatever creature of the night the game has thrown at them, since a procedurally generated monster that is capable of killing enough dwarves to get noticed, is probably powerful enough to keep the streak going. But in this fort it was different. This monster’s kills and travels were recorded as normal, but also its death at the hands of a dwarf. I remember thinking that must have been one hell of a dwarf.

      I was a long way into the game before the name clicked, but finally it did. This hero of her nation, slayer of the great terror, had later decided to move on, and had emigrated into my fort, and purely by her own awesome skill at arms, had earned her way up to Champion.

      Damn sure I’d have liked some poetry about her as well.

      • P.Funk says:

        Remarkable. Dwarf Fortress writes a better script than George Lucas.

        • Hedgeclipper says:

          A modest rock could write a better script than George.

      • wu wei says:

        ignore the many meaningless examples in exchange for the few that really shine

        That sounds like a pretty good simulation of actual culture then.

    • Napalm Sushi says:

      I think that, at this point, Dwarf Fortress has more value as a study in emergent simulation than as a “game” in any traditional sense, and I’m in favour of it continuing to develop as such (I spend far more time buried in Legends than any of the truly interactive game modes).

  3. ThatFuzzyTiger says:

    Considering this is the developer who won’t be happy until he’s accurately simulated everything down to the quantum level, what terrifies me is that he’s only just getting started.

    • Raoul Duke says:

      Everything… apart from anything visual.

      It’s not like actually being able to comprehensively interact with a game is important, after all.

      • Raoul Duke says:

        ComprehensiBly

        • thebigJ_A says:

          I take it you have trouble with books, then?

          It’s perfectly comprehensible, and requires no graphics to be so (though many people use a tileset rather than the ASCII. Have you tried that?)

  4. matty_gibbon says:

    I can’t wait to see the actual poems that fans come up with to fit with these criteria. Someone will have a great experience of an event in game, realise a poem has been generated out of it, and try to create the poem as it’s described. Considering some of the stories that come out of DF, we’re going to get some mighty weird, epic and entertaining poetry

  5. NMorgan says:

    What if the entire mankind is some sadistic sociopathic superior being’s game of Dwarf Fortress? And it is wildly amazed at our ability to invent weaponry, be it deadly diseases or toxic gases. It is entertained to hilarity as we kill each other in the most sadistic and creative ways. It sometimes wonders if we actually feel the things that we inflict upon each other. Because surely we wouldn’t if we possess the ability to feel. But then again, if it wonders that, it wouldn’t be sadistic, nor would it necessarily be indifferent to suffering, just simply unable to comprehend how the humans experience things. Or maybe it is out there tending to other “games” while we are a process left to run unattended, a surprise that is left to brew and evolve. Oh, would you tell me how it would react if it ever were to return?

    Or maybe, just maybe, it is equally heartbroken about the things that take place on this world that it created, just as we, the DF players, gaze upon the drama that takes place in our games. Do you… Do you think the dwarves can feel? Is DF just an exercise in empathy, sociopathy, sadism or kindness? Is it an experiment of terrible emotional freedom?

    Worlds within worlds, motherf***er.
    What do I care for your suffering, dwarf?
    Must you CONSTANTLY dissent?

    • Anthile says:

      Thus, Gnosticism was born.

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      Mungrul says:

      This can’t be right. If it were, the Royal Family would have been drowned in magma at least once by now.

    • melancholicthug says:

      Woah.

    • jonahcutter says:

      Nick Bostrom’s Simulation Argument:

      link to simulation-argument.com

      TLDR:

      VII. CONCLUSION

      A technologically mature “posthuman” civilization would have enormous computing power. Based on this empirical fact, the simulation argument shows that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) The fraction of human-level civilizations that reach a posthuman stage is very close to zero; (2) The fraction of posthuman civilizations that are interested in running ancestor-simulations is very close to zero; (3) The fraction of all people with our kind of experiences that are living in a simulation is very close to one.

      If (1) is true, then we will almost certainly go extinct before reaching posthumanity. If (2) is true, then there must be a strong convergence among the courses of advanced civilizations so that virtually none contains any relatively wealthy individuals who desire to run ancestor-simulations and are free to do so. If (3) is true, then we almost certainly live in a simulation. In the dark forest of our current ignorance, it seems sensible to apportion one’s credence roughly evenly between (1), (2), and (3).

      Unless we are now living in a simulation, our descendants will almost certainly never run an ancestor-simulation.

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        teije says:

        Read one of Iain Banks Culture novels (sorry forget which one) for an interesting “universe as a simulation” exposition – presented with his usual verve.

        • Geebs says:

          It wasn’t a Culture novel, actually – that’s from The Algebraist

          • ChaseGunman says:

            It’s probably been in several of his books, to be fair.
            There’s a morality-based argument for why we *can’t* be in a simulation in Matter.
            And most of Surface Detail is about digitally-simulated hells.

          • Geebs says:

            I honestly can’t remember anything about Matter, because it was incredibly dull. Surface Detail was OK, though.

  6. unitled says:

    What happens when Dwarfs are able to write computer software? What happens when one of your Dwarves finally recreates Dwarf Fortress within Dwarf Fortress?

    …my God, what if that has ALREADY HAPPENED?

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      Harlander says:

      I know where you’re going with this – the old saw about this universe possibly being just a subordinate layer of the simulation. No need to worry, though. Just do a PEEK 9836760 and you’ll get the value of the simulation depth index, which can clearly be observed to be zero.

    • April March says:

      This is a computer game about dwarves. It is of legendary quality. The dwarves are building a fortress. The dwarves are being slain by a bronze colossus. The dwarves are drowning in cats. It is festooned with bands of deep simulation. It menaces with spikes of confusing UI.

  7. Napalm Sushi says:

    I see the bugs being faced by Toady remain one of the most entertaining parts of the changelog, specifically the one causing some of the poetic forms to “demand some specific hundreds of thousands of stanzas.”

    • cederic says:

      These are dwarves. That’s no bug, that’s a familial geas. FINISH THE POEM.

  8. MrFinnishDude says:

    I really hope that people will write poems about your adventure mode characters.