Dwarf Fortress’s Dwarves Write Dreams Of Antelope Men

Dwarf Fortress [official site] has been generating fascinating anecdotes for years, but those stories have been told by its players. Soon the dwarves themselves will join in: recent posts to the game’s development log have dealt with adding the ability for your fortress inhabitants to write their own stories, poems and alternate histories.

What makes this different from the existing ability for dwarves to depict events from their lives in, for example, wall carvings, is that books can travel and communicate ideas. “Philosophical study opens up different avenues of discussion that allow people to pass their values to both individual readers and to a lesser extent through the underlying civilization when there’s a library with a copy.” This includes the very style of prose the book is written in, as certain poetic forms might be created and passed between regions, but can also or will also eventually extend to the ethics of your community.

I’m unsure what affect they’ll have upon the world, but the alternate histories sound especially fun. The examples given in the most recent update include “dwarves wondering what life would be like if an antelope man hadn’t attacked their town,” and one historian who “wrote a book considering how things would have been if the author had remained an architect instead of becoming a historian a decade before.” I wonder every day where I’d be if I hadn’t spent all those childhood years playing on the Amiga.

Although all of this is now in the game, it’s not yet in the publicly available build. Developer Tarn Adams tends to write about new features regularly but release those as updates far more occasionally. Still, the update is below in full and makes good reading as always:

The work on adventurer composition led into finalizing the new written content generally and making sure I had handled all of the promises I’d made to various people over the last few months. Philosophical study opens up different avenues of discussion that allow people to pass their values to both individual readers and to a lesser extent through the underlying civilization when there’s a library with a copy. This doesn’t impact specific ethics yet, so you won’t have to worry that an elf-written book will make all your dwarves start eating dead bodies, but such a thing is now threatened for a later date by these changes. Poetry written in certain poetic forms can currently spread values before philosophers come up with specific language that can be used in prose, though not all civilizations will have such traditions.

Generally, there’s more information in all of the written content now, and there are more sorts. For instance, after the difficult concept of an alternate history is tackled by historians, they can write books pivoting around the negation of particular events. Mostly it hasn’t been earth-shaking… dwarves wondering what life would be like if an antelope man hadn’t attacked their town or if a competition had turned out a different way. One historian wrote a book considering how things would have been if the author had remained an architect instead of becoming a historian a decade before. It would be possible to weight the event selected with an importance check, but there are complications as usual. There are also cultural histories, genealogies, atlases, chronicles, the various biographies I mentioned before, etc., which have their proper topics and sometimes some historical events selected, and they occasionally push a value agenda when the author and form is capable of it.

You can read more, as always, at the Dwarf Fortress devlog. You can also read Adam and I discussing the merits of dwarven poetry over here.


  1. laotze says:

    Still waiting for the dwarves to build a PC. And then Dwarf Fortress.

  2. Erithtotl says:

    I realize its up to the Dwarf Fortress guys to release however and whenever they want. But I really wish they’d adopt a more agile approach, where they focus on a single feature, and do frequent releases, rather than adding a million random things then releasing a buggy mess every 6 months to a year or even two years. I seem to remember in earlier days the releases were quite frequent.

    • Nasarius says:

      I think people have to realize that Dwarf Fortress is not the long-term future of deep simulation games. It’s an amazing pioneer, a superb game, but it’s permanently hamstrung by major technical issues which will only become more acute as the game grows. Even if it went open source tomorrow, that’s an enormous pile of legacy code to fix.

      I’d love to see a handful of experienced programmers building something even more ambitious, with a modern multithreaded architecture. So far, all the DF-inspired games are very limited in scope.

      • Harlander says:

        I think Ultima Ratio Regum is pretty close to Dwarf Fortress-esque scope – though I can’t speak to the elegance of its code.

    • Sin Vega says:

      There are still major, very well known bugs still present since 2010, so I wouldn’t hold my breath. I gave up trying to tolerate its flaws again just this months after it randomly crashed four times in a row.

      • Wisq says:

        Dwarf Fortress is the game I always want to play, and then stop myself because I know it will only end in bugs, lag, and frustration.

    • Ethaor says:

      Yea they mostly are doing that. The problem though is that the game is so complicated that every single feature they add in ripples throughout the simulation often in ways they didn’t think it would. As they say, DF isn’t a game, it’s an experiment. Besides, it’s also a combination of the fact that they’re only two guys and that the features they add in rarely are lacking ambition.

      But yeah, it’d be nice to have an unstable unsupported “dev” version every now and then between milestones.

    • Juan Carlo says:

      At this point I think “Dwarf Fortress” is more of an insane ongoing outsider art project. The game isn’t so much about gameplay anymore (although, I do think it has that, so I’m not discounting it) as much as getting lost in trying to simulate granular minutia and the unpredictable insanity that results when you try to put all that minutia in the same ecosystem. I’m not sure if the team cares about anything like UI anymore.

      I mean all of this as a compliment, though.

      It’s one of the very few video games that I think is art in the fullest sense. And by that I mean that it’s not trying to be a movie, or music, or a novel like most games try to be. It’s just using the medium of programming/games to create something wholly new that could only be created in that medium.

      Of course, it’s been ripped off so many times now that its “newness” has lost its sheen, but still absolutely no other game does massive-simulated-minutia-insanity better than Dwarf Fortress. It is unlike anything else, in that sense.

  3. Mungrul says:

    Maybe we’ll finally get a dwarven treatise positing exactly what Urist McDwarf would have become if she hadn’t ran outside during the last siege to grab that *Giant Cave Spider Silk Sock*

  4. BluePencil says:

    Cool. Is he going to work on the UI next? This is a game I’d love to play but I know I’d bounce off it. I have to be satisfied with hearing the stories people tell about it. It’s like not being able to afford a trip abroad and devouring travel books.

    • BannerThief says:

      Wanted to toss in my 2 cents, but you know how it goes with RPS’ comment system. My comment’s right below; fuck if I’m typing that shit out again. (I agree with you %100)

    • Phasma Felis says:

      He’s never going to work on the UI. Toady is one of those programmers who thinks that if it’s easy for him to use, it’s as easy as it ever needs to be, and is completely unable to grasp the fact that it’s only easy for him because he fucking wrote it.

      I’m a professional programmer, and one of the reasons I can’t play Dwarf Fortress is that people like Toady make my job harder on a weekly basis. Look, I’m just going to say it: Toady is a completely incompetent programmer. For modern programmers, good interface design and understanding the needs of your users are every bit as important as algorithms and data structures. The best thing I can say is, thank God he’s found a revenue stream where people only use his code voluntarily, so he’s not working in the industry and making a bunch of people’s lives miserable when they have to use his shit to do their jobs.

  5. BannerThief says:

    I totally agree. And I know this is heresy to a certain group of hardcore players, but I really can’t go for the game when the UI is SO FUCKING CONVOLUTED. I don’t want to have to memorize 100s of button combos to do things when context-sensitive mouse menus have been around sine the mid-90s. And the Newb Packs seem to only paper over the issues with the design rather than offer any realistic fixes.

    I adore games like CK2 and Distant Worlds, so it’s not that I’m opposed to games with steep learning curves, but I am opposed to completely outmoded design philosophies like mouseless controls. And it’s a shame too, because Dwarf Fortress seems (kind of like EVE Online) to be the kind of game that could be the be-all-end-all of its genre if it had any interest in NOT being clunky, obscure nonsense. And here I’ve sunk dozens of hours into Rimworld, a game that lacks the depth and simulation of DF, but which is actually designed with functionality and respect for the player’s time in mind. I don’t have to try to fumble with the UI in that game, so it leaves me free to focus on actually enjoying myself. Call me when DF decides to update its controls, and I’ll be more than wiling to try it out.

    • BannerThief says:

      I was TRYING to reply to BluePencil, RPS. My god, this fucking comments system. Still lots of love for y’all over there.

    • ButteringSundays says:

      It’s really not that convoluted, and the irony is that even if there were a mouse menu you’d still move around it faster with keyboard shortcuts, like in every other app ever.

      I mean seriously, what’s so hard to work out about [B]uild > [T]able. It’s pretty intuitive.

      The only part of the UI that’s mad is the military bits, but by the time you understand how to use them that’s a low hurdle anyway.

      The UI is a straw man. If that’s why you find it intimidating or complicated then you wouldn’t last 5 minutes in he game with any UI – it’s the easiest part of the game to work out.

      • Harlander says:

        I don’t have much trouble with the GUI (much-derided military interface aside, though I’ve got a handle on it now) but I cut my teeth on roguelikes and other command-line-era strangeness which I think gave me a lasting insight into this kind of slightly janky low-fi control paradigm. I could see those lacking such a background having more trouble..

        Incidentally, DF does have mouse controls, though having got used to the keyboard-only method I can’t tell you if they’re any use…

      • Distec says:

        “It’s really not that convoluted, and the irony is that even if there were a mouse menu you’d still move around it faster with keyboard shortcuts, like in every other app ever.”

        This statement is a little bewildering. Yes, if you’re practiced with keyboard shortcuts then it’s probably faster. Every other human on the planet has gotten used to using a mouse for decades.

        I’m getting flashbacks of Microsoft reps fruitlessly attempting to convince users that everything will be so much faster once you remember every Ctr+Alt+Fn+X shortcut for Windows 8!

    • rossy says:

      That the game can be played without a mouse is one of it’s best aspects.

  6. mike2R says:

    I do agree that the keyboard interface makes it very quick to use once you’ve hit the point where you’re familiar with it. But intuitive?

    Sure [B]uild > [T]able is intuitive, but thats only because the Build menu and the Table item got in there early enough to get the correct letters. There’s enough stuff in there now that plenty of things have almost random letters.

    Worse, there’s inconstancies due to the way functions have been layered on top of each other over the years. Things that are one letter when you designate them (carve them out of solid rock) and another if you are building them (creating them out of raw materials in empty space). Really the only advantage of the keyboard interface is that its a keyboard interface, and therefore mechanically quicker to use than a GUI once you are very familiar with it. Even Toady doesn’t make any claims that it is a *good* keyboard interface.

    But this is actually probably an argument for leaving the interface as it is for now – he’s still adding stuff with no intention of stopping. If he took the time out to do a total interface redesign, it would just end up getting crufty again as more stuff is added, and end up being a wasted effort. Not to mention confusing all of us who have become familiar with how it works at present.