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Dwarf Fortress and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Interface

Best game, worst interface

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Dwarf Fortress [official site] is probably the best game of all time. In Dwarf Fortress, there are sloth bears. In Dwarf Fortress, there are sloth bear men. In Dwarf Fortress, your dwarf can strangle a sloth bear man with its own intestines. In Dwarf Fortress, your dwarf can carve an image of herself strangling a sloth bear man with its own intestines into a bed. In Dwarf Fortress, your dwarf can declare that her bed is named Gorrotheodos, which means “The Disemboweled Amazement.”

Dwarf Fortress also has the worst user interface of all time. How bad could the UI really be, you ask? Well grab a chair, because you’ve come to the right place, my friend. Let’s take an extremely detailed look at how to change the settings of a stockpile.

Stockpiles are where your dwarves sort things so that they’re not scattered throughout the fortress. Once you’ve made a stockpile, you’ll want to specify what you’d like for that stockpile to contain. Changing the settings of a stockpile is something that you will do all the time in Dwarf Fortress. Let’s walk through the keyboard commands for this fun process!

Here I am with this stockpile right here. I would like to change its settings so that it only accepts wooden finished goods. This will be convenient because I’ll be making beds and doors and what have you at the Carpentry Workshop across the hall. First I select the stockpile and press ‘s’ to change settings. So far so good!

Now I want to turn off everything except for finished goods, which I see in the middle of that left column. My cursor is right there at the top on ‘Animals’. Let’s turn everything off and then turn Finished Goods back on. That sounds to me like ‘b’ for block all.

Nope! That didn’t block the stuff on the left. It turned off the animals on the right. No Bluejay men allowed. ‘Block All’ refers to blocking the things IN the highlighted category, not blocking the categories themselves. Got it. There’s no way to turn off all the categories. I’ll do it one-by-one. Let’s try toggling them off. It says ‘Toggle’ right there at the bottom of the screen, right? That’s how lots of the other menus work. NOPE. Pressing ‘Enter’ does nothing.

All right, it looks like what I really want to do is disable them with the ‘d’ key. Bingo. Animals disabled. Now I need to scroll down the list.

Of course, the time-tested scrolling numbers, 829346! Do you have a keyboard without a numpad? Have fun with that. Fortunately, I have a numpad. Here’s a picture of a numpad for reference:

The 8462 keys work as arrows. The 9 and 3 keys go to the top or bottom of the list. My numpad says ‘PgUp’ and ‘PgDn’ on those, so I guess that makes sense. What order are these keys listed in again?

Oooookay. Sure. Back to the task at hand. I’ve now turned off everything except for ‘Finished Goods’, so I need merely refine this to ‘Wooden Finished Goods’.

I don’t see ‘Wood’ in that second list, so I guess it’s under ‘Other Materials’? Or ‘Type’? What the hell is the difference between ‘Core Quality’ and ‘Total Quality’? But I won’t worry about that right now. I check the ‘Type’ submenu and that isn’t right, so I’m dealing with ‘Other Materials’. Time to turn off everything that isn’t an ‘Other Material’. But wait, I know this one. I’ve already learned that this is when I can press ‘b’ for ‘Block All’.

It worked! Now I notice my two new hotkeys: ‘p’ for Permit, and ‘f’ for Forbid. I’ll press ‘p’.

I’m on a roll. I’m so close I can taste it. My cursor is right there. Now how do I pick Wood? I don’t Enable it. I don’t Allow it. I don’t Permit it. And I don’t see a fourth row of hotkeys.

This is where I was literally stuck for three minutes. This is where I decided to write this stupid article. The answer is Toggle it. That’s right! We’re back to ‘Enter: Toggle,’ which has been right there for this whole time, waiting for us to get to the third list, which is the only list that you can toggle.

Why, Dwarf Fortress? Why can’t I just toggle everything using Enter? WHY DO YOU NEED FOUR DIFFERENT BUTTONS FOR FOUR DIFFERENT CONTEXTS IN WHICH TO TOGGLE?

And there you have it, my friends; I’ve done it. I now have a stockpile that will only accept Wooden Finished Goods.

But there’s something else that drives me crazy about this stupid menu. There are 3 word colors in 3 different columns. Let’s map out what they mean in each context.

Wait a second. What’s that white ‘Additional Options’ tag over on the left?

What? Why is this here? Is this not covered by the many, many other options? And why does it say ‘Allow’ in front of the options, which isn’t the case for any of the other choices in this very menu? Are wooden finished goods plants?

You know what? I don’t care. Put Animal Wooden Finished Goods in the stockpile. Sure.

The User Interface in Dwarf Fortress is flaming pile of garbage.

But when my dwarf wakes up after a long nap in Gorrotheodos, “The Disemboweled Amazement,” which depicts the time that she strangled a sloth bear man with its own intestines, I’ll remember that Dwarf Fortress is probably still the best game of all time.

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Kent Sutherland


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