ASCII Game Revolution
January 24, 2008 11:12 AM   Subscribe

In these days of high-powered graphics, there is a ASCII gaming renaissance underway. Among the most interesting are: ASCII Sector, a remake of the classic Wing Commander Privateer; the fast-paced Doom RL; the Ultima V influenced Legerdemain; and the much-discussed strategy game/frustration simulator Dwarf Fortress (now with a new unofficial tileset and experimental 3-D visualizer that may prevent some eye-bleeding), And, of course, the classic, complex Rogue-like RPGs continue to go strong, those interested may want to check out this list of the best new rogue-like game releases from ASCII dreams or the list of releases from Temple of the Roguelike.
posted by blahblahblah (41 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
I tried to figure out what Dwarf Fortress was about, but was frustrated. Couldn't they have simulated that for me, saving me the trouble?
posted by DU at 11:28 AM on January 24, 2008

Oh hell yes.
posted by cortex at 11:30 AM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also: robotfindskitten
posted by oonh at 11:35 AM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh god, I want to understand Dwarf Fortress, I really do. However, it doesn't have a learning curve so much as a learning brick-wall-angled-slightly-towards-you-with-spikes-here-and-there. Every few months I sit down and say, "Okay, this time I'm going to learn how to play," and each time I walk away three hours later utterly confused.
posted by p3on at 11:36 AM on January 24, 2008

p3on, I can't even make it three hours. Maybe the new tileset will help us poor, unfortunate folks who want to understand but can't.
posted by never used baby shoes at 11:41 AM on January 24, 2008

Best. Post. Ever. I award you Balrog's gold star of excellence.

I usually flip between ADOM and Dwarf Fortress -
In terms of sheer frustration, I much prefer ADOM. I've probably played well over 1,500 games of ADOM and haven't even come close to beating it. Recently witnessed the ruthless and quite sudden death of my all-time favorite character at the hands of a Horrible Doorn Beast and it broke my heart.

Dwarf Fortress just takes patience. The only advice I have is that you choose a starting location in a lush, temperate region. Little to no snowfall and not bordering on "The Fluted Horrors of Dragonkirk" or the "Treacherous Boatfielders of Underhell" or anything. Have patience and you'll get the hang of it. Also, providing plenty of chairs and meeting spaces and smoothing and engraving the floors and walls keeps your dwarfs happy. It's a slog, but all the information you need is provided in the in-game help menus, once you figure them out.

I love these games - I used to be a "serious" gamer but quit a while back. Got sick of everything trying to convince me to play "multiplayer" ad nauseam. I don't want to play with other people! That's why I'm vegged out in front of a monitor! If I wanted to deal with other humans I'd go to the bar. Stay out of my sandbox, so to speak. Plus, you can store these games in an email attachment, ffs. It's great. Graphics just get in the way and force me to constantly update my computer. They're unnecessary. I also have a sneaking suspicion that if you added a graphical interface to Dwarf Fortress it would require several banks of government supercomputers to get it to load. I'm always looking for the most insanely complex, micro-managed, programmed-by-a-complete-recluse-living-in-a-hole-in-the-ground kind of games available, and ADOM and DF are the greatest I've found so far.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 12:15 PM on January 24, 2008

Dwarf Fortress gets simpler once you realize it's just about production. You gotta make stuff. Chairs, weapons, dressers, sandwiches, aquariums, trapdoors, catapults, toys, everything. If you build it, they will come. If your dwarfs want something, they'll let you know - just check their mood and look at the detailed unit list. Make sure they're always working. Make sure you don't have any idle dwarfs - if they have nothing to do, give them another job. If they hate it, they won't do it. Each dwarf must be coddled and carefully served like a little silkworm. Give them gifts. Whatever they want. Pretty soon you'll have so many dwarfs you'll have whole squads of miners, carving out massive chambers deep within the earth. But you need to make sure you get at least one dwarf building all the different "workshops" as well as preparing plenty of food (hunting, fishing, butchering, farming, working at the farming workshop, preparing meals in the kitchen, and most importantly - brewing buckets and buckets of ale.)

It's all in there, just give it some time. Good lord I love that game.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 12:21 PM on January 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

Heh - I have no idea how much time I lost to Moria and Angband and their variants. I could easily blame Moria for my poor academic performance at school, and when I found Angband at university, I was lost.
I'm clean now, but it took a long time, and every now and then I look back at my notes for that really cool roguelike game I was going to write someday...
posted by YAMWAK at 12:24 PM on January 24, 2008

I loved Rogue and Roguelikes. Checking out Doom RL right now....great post.
posted by Diskeater at 12:44 PM on January 24, 2008

I'll wait for the ANSI renaissance.
posted by srboisvert at 12:49 PM on January 24, 2008

Cool post. I just ascended for my first time in nethack a few weeks ago. I think it was my irrational desire to see things to completion rather than enjoyment after a while, though.

Thinkin' I should stay the hell away from this Dwarf Fortress.
posted by GooseOnTheLoose at 12:52 PM on January 24, 2008

Yeah, I never could get into Dwarf Fortress, but I'm certainly an ADOM man. The only time I've ever come close to winning was because I savescummed. I was in the final room, and before I could get across it, I'd get corrupted to high hell and lose. It's what I get for cheating, I guess.
posted by absalom at 1:06 PM on January 24, 2008

I really liked the old version of Dwarf Fortress, but when it went to virtual-3D, it just sucked all the fun out of the game. It added massive complexity for very little benefit that I can see.
posted by Malor at 1:40 PM on January 24, 2008

You can still play the old version you know.
posted by Catfry at 1:44 PM on January 24, 2008

ASCII is so anglo-centric. The world needs a UTF-game revolution.
posted by signal at 1:45 PM on January 24, 2008

I have an interview with the DF guy that I'm working on editing at the moment. I'd like to go on record as saying that Tarn Adams is at least level one awesome.

Anyway, ordinarily I'd be all over this thread, but I gotta run to work! Dammit....
posted by JHarris at 1:47 PM on January 24, 2008

(Okay, just one: signal, it's worth noting that actually Dwarf Fortress uses lots of characters from weird codepages. It can do this because it's not actually ASCII, it's OpenGL that just doesn't try to display anything other than ASCII!)
posted by JHarris at 1:49 PM on January 24, 2008

You can still play the old version you know.

Not really, because the old version is festooned with unfixed bugs that cause late-game fortresses to more or less grind to a halt.
posted by Malor at 1:49 PM on January 24, 2008

Dwarf Fortress is probably my favorite game of all time at this point. It is not actually an ASCII game as it's graphics are OpenGL rendered tiles. There are some subtle things involving background colors in there that are not possible with a real ASCII terminal.

While it has a basic rougelike in it ("Adventure Mode") the game is much more about the Fortress style of play. In terms of gameplay this is like a fantasy-setting version of The Sims with much more options and gameplay depth.

The interface does take some getting used to but the game is well worth it. Something that is absolutely nescessary is the awesome Dwarf Fortress Wiki . This has everything you'll need to know about the game and then some.

Another useful resource is the Map Archive . It's a great tool for checking out forts others have made or showing off your own.

Just as a side note for those who are new to DF (or played it a while back and dropped it) in October the "new version" was released. This converted the game to 3d and opened up the entire world to settlement. No longer is every fort at a cliffface with a river, cave river, chasm etc... You can build in a desert or a mountaintop, volcanoes, islands or even right under a human city. There have been several patch releases since the "new version" (that was 33a, we are now up to 33g).
posted by Riemann at 1:51 PM on January 24, 2008

I also highly recommend the public NetHack server. It logs all games, you can watch other people play, interact on the #nethack IRC channel (which also announces deaths courtesy of the Rodney bot... fairly humorous to watch). Haven't beaten NetHack yet, and am taking a break after losing a much-beloved monk... but playing it (and dying... again... and again...) on a public server certainly makes it more fun.

Oh, and if you've never heard of NetHack... Just google it, it's a fun roguelike ;)
posted by Lectrick at 1:52 PM on January 24, 2008 [3 favorites]

Just as an addendum, the new 3d version can seem a bit daunting at first but actually made several core processes (such as farming) much easier. Choosing a starting area becomes much more important but with a good selection the game is much improved.
posted by Riemann at 1:53 PM on January 24, 2008

The problem that I see with the new DF version is that it has become much to easy to select a boring or unworkable starting spot. It's cool that the ability to designate exactly where you want to start makes you able to tailor to your hearts content, but on the other hand this means that you need to already know the game very well to know what to look for. And even then, if you want certain geographical features, you are forced to use hacks and cheatprograms or otherwise suffer through an endless process of checking out and discarding places.
In the old version you where guaranteed every type of ore, rivers, magma, and 'hidden fun stuff'. Now half the players are spending half the time trying to find places where those same things exist.

Malor, I have been playing the old version the last couple of months before switching to the new version, and I see no bugs that makes the game unworkable. Theres a bunch of things that has been made more workable now, but my fort in the old version had a decade of prosperity, with close to the limit population, before I finally became bored and ended it.
The problems with clothing and the economy, if those are what you refer to, still exist in the new version afaik.
posted by Catfry at 2:05 PM on January 24, 2008

Clothes, economy, and coin stacking come to mind. All my lava forges essentially shut down because of partial coin stacks that wouldn't be collected.

I wanted the old DF with the bugs fixed, not all these useless new features, with an assload more bugs, and the old ones unfixed.

Original-design DF could have been a phenomenal game with some more QA time. New DF adds far too much complexity with little real payoff; as you're saying, it makes it far too easy to choose a bad spot.
posted by Malor at 2:35 PM on January 24, 2008

And the developer's focus on adding new features instead of making the old ones work properly really bugs me.

I paid for the original version, but I don't think he'll be getting any more money from me.
posted by Malor at 2:36 PM on January 24, 2008

I think we are in agreement. Though only Toady One knows how the final game is supposed to look. Either you trust him or you don't.
posted by Catfry at 2:50 PM on January 24, 2008

I completely disagree with Malor.

There are loads of new possibilities for fort design thanks to the shift to 3d. I love the new features and going back to the old version would be stifling and frustrating.

I would certainly not characterize the new features as in any way "useless". They have been great in and of themselves and pave the way for some really fascinating new stuff. Check the recent dev logs about religion and temples for example.

And again, the new version is not really more complex. Especially since farming and food gathering is so much easier and trade much more robust.

If you only played the inital 3d release then I could maybe understand your ire as it had some severe slowdown or crash bugs but by 33d it had become quite playable again.
posted by Riemann at 2:56 PM on January 24, 2008

Ah,yes what I would have liked to see first, and the reason I agreed with Malor was a solution to the already mentioned things, clothing and economy. But that is just my particular fixation with the game, and I know that most people simply ignore those, just let the clothes rot until the dwarves are naked and happy, and turn economy of in the INIT.
posted by Catfry at 3:08 PM on January 24, 2008

I shamelessly self-link to Rogue, the most rogue-like roguelike of them all, now celebrating more than ten years at this url. (Note-requires Java).

It comes in two flavors: Original (with the Aquator) and Older (with the Rust Monster)--they're the same except for the monster names.

There is also my own hexagonal roguelike, which is, well, poorly tuned. It has a few fans, though.

And I really prefer nethack.
posted by hexatron at 3:26 PM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

New DF is kind of challenge-less unless you build in a glacier or some such. Food might as well rain down from heaven. The invaders are five different kinds of uselessly dumb. The only bad things that happen are when you break from micro-managing or some bug breaks something. This makes it much more frustrating than enjoyable to me. Woo, more magnetite.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 3:54 PM on January 24, 2008

Note that after 33f the world gen was changed to have a better mix of available minerals. Less maps that are 50% magnetite. Also it was in f (or maybe g) that siegers AI got greatly improved to be at least as good as in the old 2d version.

Goblin siegers can be quite deadly once again.
posted by Riemann at 4:13 PM on January 24, 2008

I'm pretty sure that I was playing g. I know that they don't just mill around the edge anymore. I guess that they can be deadly if you don't "cheat" by using bridges. My goblins seem perfectly happy to be funneled into a death trap and slaughtered by the bucketload.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 4:53 PM on January 24, 2008

Though I'm just devolving the thread further into another Dwarf Fortress thread (not that those are bad, but that I guess we're supposed to be talking about ASCII games in general!), I'll note that you can just turn the economy off if you don't want it by editing the init files (under data/init/init.txt). Actually, there are plenty of reasons to believe/pretend the economy model isn't complete yet; for example, dwarven children inherit the wealth of both their parents, and so end up becoming the richest dwarves. Meanwhile appointed nobles like the Mayor technically have no jobs, and so don't make any money, and can't afford the lavish residences and offices you've built for them.

Also, ASCII Privateer? This sounds bizarre and possibly wonderful!
posted by chrominance at 4:53 PM on January 24, 2008

(erm, except I tried to load a forum thread on the ASCII Sector site and avast! gave me a MALWARE warning? hmmm...)
posted by chrominance at 4:55 PM on January 24, 2008

Dwarf Fortress is not only a great game, it is probably the most interesting computer science project right now.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 6:26 PM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I spent alot of time on Dwarf Fortress until I downloaded a new release and they changed the entire game and added a Z-coordinate.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:26 PM on January 24, 2008

hexatron: Ah, so you -are- the Hex Rogue guy, cool!

On prefering Nethack: I find that both games are good at different things. Rogue can be a hard, hard game (on some versions chasing a victory can be a lifelong quest). Nethack is about as hard if the player doesn't know anything about the game world, but as he learns stuff the game gets steadily easier. Which is good for many players, but really experienced guys find that the game loses a lot of its challenge. There's players at who win nearly every game they play.

What experts find is that a lot of Nethack's challenge is at the start. If the player can get poison resistance, magic resistance and decent AC early on, the game can become a nearly guaranteed win. A single early wish (sometimes available from minetown) can satisfy two of those requirements in one swoop.

As for Malor: Again, Dwarf Fortress is undergoing nearly constant development. ToadyOne works on it nearly every night. It's very possible he'll fix your issues eventually. Personally, although it had to grow on me, I like the Z-level system better than the old. It makes each game a lot different now, and the player can design many more different kinds of fortresses. Some areas are definitely harder than others, but many deficiencies in location can be made up for with trade, alternate materials, or by doing without.
posted by JHarris at 6:26 PM on January 24, 2008

Don't forget Shoot 'em. Really fun game, sort of 3d turret asteroids game, but with ASCII graphics. Awesome.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 7:35 PM on January 24, 2008

I'd check this out, except in my last nethack game I got through Sokoban and up to my quest level for my first time. I felt like I accomplished something.

And then, no joke, I found my first cockatrice when I went back to Minetown. I freaked out and scampered down the next stairs, only to gather up the nerve on my way back up and attack it.

After forgetting that I had forgotten my pickaxe and switching weapons left me with bare hands.


posted by flatluigi at 8:13 PM on January 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

I can't get into the new z-axis DF, but I support this renaissance. It makes me want to get (back) into game programming.
posted by blacklite at 11:45 PM on January 24, 2008

Still trying to ascend in Nethack. Friggin' cat got polymorphed into a fire salamander at the bottom of the mines... keeps killing cops and shopkeepers and priests and every thing else that moves.
posted by zengargoyle at 2:43 AM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

For those of you waiting for the ANSI Revolution, I present Wildcatting. (self-link)

Screenshots are here.
posted by (parenthetic me) at 5:55 AM on January 25, 2008

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