Why Dwarf Fortress does it for me

So as Pike alluded to in her post yesterday, I’m something of a fan of Dwarf Fortress. So I thought I would take the time to proselytize this game for those who haven’t heard of it. But first go and read Boatmurdered. It’s a community story done by Something Awful, showing just how demented and hilarious a game of Dwarf Fortress can be.

Done that? Excellent! Let’s continue.

I’ll get the bad out of the way first.

1) It looks like this:

Bonus if you even know what this is. Hint: It isn't ASCII.

2) The interface is, to put it mildly, a bit of a mess. I won’t go into the whys and wherefores but suffice it to say, the biggest part of Dwarf Fortress’ infamous learning curve is getting the hang of the interface.

3) Busier fortresses will slow right down on anything shy of a NASA supercomputer.

This does not sound like the best way to try and sell a game, right? Well, let’s move on to what it gets right, and why the bad is worth putting up with.

1) Imagination. This game has so much depth and complexity that it really blows anything else (okay, anything else that isn’t Aurora) out of the water. What does this mean? Once you get the hang of it, there are extremely few limits on what you want to do. Want to build a medieval-style above-ground castle? Go ahead. Want to recreate Rapture? Well once you learn how to drain oceans, you’ll be set. Maybe you just want to build a mile-high tower – built entirely out of soap made from kitten tallow! Minecraft, massive as it is, really pales in comparison to DF’s potential.

2) The Community. You probably think I mean “Oh hey these guys are really nice and welcoming and stuff.” No. They are, but nice people are a dime a dozen. This is a community where people have tried to figure out the logistics of making a perpetual motion machine powered entirely by pressurized blood. This is a community where people have sat down and worked out, over a period of time, with calculations, experiments, and discussion, the most efficient way to breed and murder merpeople. To harvest their bones. Civilization may turn us into sociopaths, in that we simply don’t care, but Dwarf Fortress turns us into sadists so deranged that Idi Amin would balk. It is glorious.

Should have stayed under the sea.

3) Detail. The man in charge, one Toady One, is infamous for the ridiculous amount of detail he wants to put into DF, and the great progress in this direction he has already made. I doubt any program, of any kind, outside of those used to train med students, has the amount of detail that DF’s health and injuries system does. You can knock out individual teeth. A wound dealt with an axe will be different from one dealt with a warhammer. The detailed and complex materials system means that different materials really are useful for different things, in terms of equipment and weapons. But this is reflected in the game in more detailed ways: Every time you create a world to play, a world is generated for you. The geography, the deities, the history, the inhabitants, everything. It makes each world unique.

4) It’s free. Completely free, not a penny to be paid at any time! If you want to support Toady in his endeavors (And I would strongly urge you to if you’re a DF fan) then you can donate, which is how he makes his daily bread, but it’s not compulsory.

I’m really only scratching the surface here. Dwarf Fortress is an insanely deep game, growing all the time (Toady is in the middle of introducing a bunch of new features like apiculture and new ways of NPC settlements forming), with a wonderful (If deranged) community. Oh, and don’t let the graphics scare you – there are quite a few excellent tilesets out there, and they really help if you find the not-ASCII intimidating or ugly! If anybody is interested, here are a few links to get you started:

The game itself. This is where the downloads are, and where you can access the other official stuff like the Dev Log and the forums.
OR just get the Lazy Newb Pack. It comes with a bunch of extra stuff, much easier than tracking it down yourself, and is being constantly updated as new versions of DF and various mods come out.
The DF Wiki. Plenty of information on most topics in here.
The Complete and Utter Newby Tutorial for Dwarf Fortress. Now outdated, but can still teach you around 95% of what you need to know to play the game.
The forums. Standard fare, this is where you’ll find discussion, mods, help threads, stories, all that jazz.

Anyone out there who has played DF before? Tell us your fondest memories and grisliest experiences!

12 thoughts on “Why Dwarf Fortress does it for me”

  1. *sniff*

    I love me some Dwarf Fortress. Nothing better than watching an ill equipped dwarf pull a three eyed mammoth down with his teeth. Then beat it to death with a shield.

    Headshoots / Syrupleaf may be the more enjoyable story though!

  2. You must be the only blogger i know where i need to have a dictionary open when reading your posts, which makes it quite interesting to be honest.
    I had tried DF for 10 minutes and given up, but since you described it so wonderfully I’ll try to master that insane learning curve.

  3. @Jardal – I agree that the other stories may well be better, but Boatmurdered is rather quintessential, and a bit easier to wrap your head around if you’re not familiar with it, in my opinion.

    @orange – I’m glad I’ve inspired a second try! Just remember the game’s motto – Losing is Fun!

  4. I love Minecraft because that was how I heard about DF and DF is the most amazing game I’ve ever played. The sheer complexity and depth still astounds me. Your right that the interface needs a lot of work, but the utilities make up for most of it. If you can make it past DF’s quirks, it really is a great game.

  5. @Repaxan – I’ll endeavor to make a post about Aurora at some point in the near future!

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