King Under The Mountain kickstarts with a demo

The last time we looked at the dwarf settlements of King Under The Mountain [official site] Pip was admiring its Autumn leaves, like some kind of weird nature lover. This month the Dwarf Fortress-inspired management game has popped onto Kickstarter where developers Rocket Jump Technology are asking for 45 large. But, more importantly, it now has a playable build for potential leaf-lovers to try out. Or, if you’re lazy, here’s a video.

It’s not to be confused with Queen Under The Mountain, which is also a Dwarf Fortress style game about managing subterranean heavy-drinkers. Rocket Jump have gone the popular Prison Architect route, and you can see that immediately in the art. But here’s the low-down on what you’ll be doing.

Gameplay is based around high-level management of your settlers to harvest resources, build rooms and furniture, craft items and manage your economy. Your settlers are deeply simulated characters with their own wants, needs, thoughts and emotions who will go about their daily lives carrying out your instructions as well as looking after themselves.

Once you have a working base of operations, you can take a small party of your best and brightest characters on “adventures” – tactical combat-driven dungeon crawls to randomly generated locations or even the settlements of other players!

That’s grand but the most interesting part for me is the branching out of races. Three are promised: dwarves, humans and orcs. Orcs! These boyos are described as “a bit more challenging” as they “need to be kept from fighting amongst themselves.” The lovable snaggle-toothed rascals. Evidently, the devs seem to like orc dating sim Shadow of Mordor, because one of the stretch goals is also to include a “Nemesis system” whereby players will be attacked by recurring enemies “procedurally generated with their own appearance and personality to make every player’s story unique.”

Anyway, there’s lots more to learn on the Kickstarter about what their plans are. Keeping in mind the usual Kickstarter caution, the team plan to have a playable alpha build in about 7 months.


  1. caff says:

    Looks intriguing. Anything that has a DF influence appeals to me.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    Hm, there’s been a bunch of DF-likes popping up here and there.

    Most of them have a UI I find terrible, and I play DF fairly often.

    But what the heck, free demo! Worth giving it a shot at least.

    • Rich says:

      At least they have a UI :P

      • Aetylus says:

        This looks to be the most DF-like of the DF-likes. Life would be grand if Tarn Adams would just hand over the UI programming for DF to these blokes.

        (P.S. for those who haven’t, try Gnomoria, best of the DF-likes imo).

        • TehTR says:

          The DF UI is perfectly servicable, especially with DFHack plugins.
          While it is FAR from intuitive, it IS learnable, and once you have a firm grasp on the various keyboard shortcuts and menues, keyboard navigation is quicker than mouse.
          Personally, I would rather have new features than having Tarn spend two years smoothing out the UI, when it’ll just break again when he adds another feature down the line.

          • Aetylus says:

            The DF is UI is probably the worst in gaming. It is most certainly one of the worst. I honestly don’t know why people like to defend it. DF doesn’t need defense, DF is probably the greatest simulation in gaming history… which is why it gets away with having the worst UI.

            You shouldn’t need to “learn” UI. And you certainly shouldn’t have to argue that it is “learnABLE”! That is literally an argument that it is possible for human beings to interface with the game after concerted effort. Them’s bad UI.

            But I agree… don’t get Tarn wasting his time on UI. Let him concentrate on the amazing simulation. Get someone else to create a basic UI… say the King Under the Mountain blokes. Just imagine if DF looked like this game but was laid over the DF simulation.

          • Premium User Badge

            Drib says:

            I like the DF UI over, say, Gnomoria’s, just because of the hotkeys.

            Yeah it’s a hassle to learn and it’s bad design. But having all those keys as the primary/only way of doing it means I learn them and I can do things quickly.

            Gnomoria/most DF-likes use mouse as primary, which is necessarily slower, and it annoys me digging through submenus with it.

          • Dave Mongoose says:

            To me, the Dwarf Fortress UI argument is a bit like command-line vs. GUI or Vi vs. Notepad. Yes, it’s not very newbie friendly, but it’s much quicker than the graphical equivalent once you learn it.

  3. elpuma says:

    Is the choice of the Prison Architect style just a matter of going for the easiest route?

    • caff says:

      Possibly, but I imagine when there’s a lot going on on screen, having unique and easily recognisable characters at different zoom levels really helps with cognition.

      • ColonelFlanders says:

        Not to mention deep agent simulation is CPU heavy, so simplistic graphics probably helps to ease the load

    • Czrly says:

      If it means the difference between making the game or not making it, I suppose I support the devs and it’s alright in a way. I can’t say I’m a fan, though. Actually, I find it rather awful.

    • Orillion says:

      It’s amazing how much less time and money animation and animation-related programming costs when you don’t have to factor in visible limbs. It’s the obvious (in hindsight) step to take when depicting characters who won’t necessarily keep all of their extremities intact as play progresses.

    • Bull0 says:

      It’s starting to annoy me that every new management sim has this style. I liked it in PA because it was a nice contrast to the theme. Rimworld gets away with it for the same reason but honestly is stretching it. This I see no reason for other than laziness.

    • ButteringSundays says:

      The early naughties Flash-animation aesthetic was unforgivable in PA; the fact that people are mimicking it is abominable.

      • darkath says:

        It’s not just a matter of laziness, it’s also why DF has ASCII graphics. When you simulate individual needs and behavior and each pawn is their own AI agent and you have 200 such pawns displayed in game, you don’t have much computer resources left for giving these pawns interesting graphics and animations, not to speak of developper resources in these very small indie teams.

        Clockwork empires is basically the same game as all those sim out there, except with 3D gfx, but miserably failed because the team spent so much time solving issues with their 3D engine they didn’t have nearly enough time and resources to make their game actually interesting.

  4. Bruwin says:

    As I couldn’t find any volume controls, bit of warning for anyone trying this. It has background music. Background music is extremely loud. There are no marked controls for interacting with said music.

  5. Pastell says:

    So they managed to rip-off Rimworld and Prison Architect at the same time?

    • Aetylus says:

      The “problem” is that Prison Architect did an absolutely amazing job of “solving” the graphics problem for indy management games. They developed a scheme that
      1 – conveys a LOT of detailed information a a glance through its simplicity and clarity.
      2 – Looks lovely.
      3 – Can be done on a low art budget.

      PA has changed the game in this regard. You can expect that a lot more games will look like PA for the next decade, as their system is so good it has effectively set the new convention.

      Saying they ripped of PA is like saying Call of Duty is ripping off Doom as COD as still essentially using the conventions popularised by Doom.

      • Premium User Badge

        Drib says:

        I miss the days when all FPS games were ‘doom clones’.

      • TillEulenspiegel says:

        COD as still essentially using the conventions popularised by Doom.

        I enjoy thinking about this sort of thing, but I’m kinda coming up blank on how you’d make a first-person shooter (taking just the literal meaning of those words, not the ‘genre’) from scratch and have it look substantially different than the intersection of DOOM and COD.

        DOOM didn’t have mouselook, real 3D environments, etc. There’s the whole arbitrary idea of having “levels”, but that’s a very old game trope. So is shooting things. You could argue that first-person itself is the main convention they share, but of course there are plenty of third-person shooters as well.

        All this to say, this game (and a few others!) have dozens of non-obvious details in common with Prison Architect, which probably isn’t the case with the FPS genre in general.

        • Hedgeclipper says:

          Not having got to PA yet I’m curious – what are these non-obvious details?

      • ButteringSundays says:

        “The “problem” is that Prison Architect did an absolutely amazing job of “solving” the graphics problem”

        By looking at Flash games made in 2004?

        Get out.

        • Snowskeeper says:

          Getting tired of the “flash games did it; it must be shite!” mindset. Especially when attached to the words “get out.”

    • grandstander says:

      it’s an easy criticism to make, but I gotta say the whole thing makes sense to me. Yes it’s a popular aesthetic, but since when haven’t game devs take inspiration from trends??

      plus it’s nicely full circle. Rimworld was a more approachable Dwarf Fortress using the Prison Architect style, and now King Under the Mountain comes along to bring us Dwarf Fortress Lite, using everything that’s come before. What’s so wrong with that? Must devs create a wholly original style for every game they make?

    • Scripten says:

      If you’re interested, the Bay 12 forums have a long topic on this game, which neatly details the dev’s motivations, inspirations, and goals, all of which make it stand out from the crowd. (Although, tbh, considering how small that “crowd” is, even having just one more game in the genre is a good thing in my opinion!)

  6. wisnoskij says:

    The problem with DF ripoffs. Is that The original DF gets loads of donations ($90K last year), and from what I understand has a full time developer that has pretty much dedicated his life to the project at this point. What someone needs to do is licence his product to sell a gui for it.

    • Opposable_BenC says:

      I doubt it would even be that hard for them to do it, they could hire 5, 10, as many devs as it takes to build a UI for DF that matches rimworld or prison architect in terms of clarity and ease of use, and then they can expect to take tens of millions in revenue in a steam release, if not more, as the devs of those games have. It’s a pretty safe bet that they would become overnight multi-millionaires if they released a version with a UI on Steam.

      The Dwarf Fortress devs know this, of course they know it. They can use Steamspy just like I did to find out who’s playing similar games, and they know about Rimworld and Prison Architect and how well they’ve done financially.

      But, for whatever reason, they just don’t want to. I guess maybe they like the filter for certain types of player that the lack of GUI creates. Personally, I don’t think I could ever forsake literally tens of millions of dollars in sales for the sake of whatever that filter does for them, but hey it’s their game!

    • Czrly says:

      Not going to happen. Toady1’s motivations are a huge hit with the DF community but no sane developer could ever build a product off a DF backbone simply because Toady1 is a complete anarchist – he does whatever the hell he’s inspired to do in the instant. THIS is totally grand, for DF, and his creativity is precisely why I love DF – although I’m too damn lazy to play it any more. But making yourself dependent on the result would be a terrible business plan.

      • ColonelFlanders says:

        Thank you for using anarchist correctly. It’s nice to see. Also I agree – DF is 100% the inspiration and vision of one man; throwing any more devs at it would not be good for the game.

      • soul4sale says:

        Yes, and having a codebase that has lived so long in isolation is probably a business nightmare as well. Does DF crush CPUs because it’s so simulation-heavy, or does it crush CPUs because it’s a lump of uncommented hack pasta?

    • ButteringSundays says:

      Because what’s holding DF back from the mainstream is mouse controlled nested menus.

  7. Jeremy says:

    I love these types of games, but the reuse of the exact same art makes this harder for me to get excited about. As much as graphics don’t make a game great, it doesn’t mean they aren’t important, and reusing the same aesthetic means the game needs to be significantly different in order to distinguish itself from the pack. From what I can see this just seems like a slightly repackaged RimWorld.

  8. Cvnk says:

    “Orc dating sim” made me guffaw.

    I haven’t checked the KS yet but I hope they are planning z-levels. I feel like that’s an essential feature of any “mine a city” game.

    • Cvnk says:

      Ok, no multiple underground levels mentioned in the roadmap.

      Speaking of the roadmap I can’t help feeling they are overpromising a bit. Lots of grand ideas that don’t seem very realistic.

      • AngoraFish says:

        Yeah, tacking onto a DF/Rimworld builder “tactical combat-driven dungeon crawls to randomly generated locations or even the settlements of other players!” is just asking for trouble.

        So many attempts at DF clones have come unstuck just getting the DF builder vibe going with a complex enough simulation to make genuinely interesting emergent events.

        Add to that a procedurally generated dungeon crawling system and even a multiplayer component… umm, not one chance in hell are they pulling that off.

        I can see the shouts of “the devs are all liars!” two years from now echoing back in time already.

      • Hedgeclipper says:

        They did say there’d be no Z levels – I think its a mistake as well but I imagine its something they’ve looked at closely as it came up last time they were on RPS too.

  9. Rince says:

    I don’t know. The art, I can’t say that I’m fan of the style.

    And the lack of Z axis… I mean, a game about dwarf where you can’t dig too deep?

    Madness, madness I say!

    • Harlander says:

      Well, early Dwarf Fortress didn’t have a Z-axis either. You could just say that it represents a diagonal slice through the terrain, with the depth increasing as you move rightwards.

      I mean, if you wanted.

  10. urbanraccoon says:

    Just go play Rimworld with Medieval mods and save yourself 2+ years of unmet expectations. Without Z-Levels this offers nothing new other than built in fantasy races.

    Also play Rimworld regardless, its brilliant.

  11. Seafoam says:

    Just play DF you filthy casual.