April Ascii Fun
April 23, 2010 4:19 PM   Subscribe

Dwarf Fortress was recently updated. You probably tried to get addicted, but couldn't figure out what was going on. Me too. Here's an illustrated summary of the kind of things we're missing out on. Previously
posted by mccarty.tim (76 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
What's disturbing is that I have trouble understanding Dwarf Fortress without the incomprehensible ASCII interface.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 4:29 PM on April 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

I haven't tried this game but some people who are close to me adore it, so I hear about it a lot. I like new releases because the bug reports are hilarious and amazing. Some highlights from this release, quoted verbatim:
"Likot Nomalstesok, Dwarven Baby cancels Clean Self: Too insane."

Outpost liason dead on arrival. His corpse appeared on the edge of the map in my 2nd winter. There are no relevant combat reports. No blood either.

I found a forgotten beast in the legends. A great humanoid made of vomit and external ribs.

I just managed to find my way as an adventurer through the caves to the great magma sea.  Then I fell in by accident.  I'm now drowning, but noticed that I was getting no wounds.  It took a long time for me to get any wounds, and so far they are very moderate.  It seems it takes too long for magma to heat the adventurer's flesh to the point of burning.  Adventurers should be perfectly able to swim across fairly wide magma rivers before dying.  Maybe longer if they hug blizzardmen first.

I decided to swim across the ocean as a normal, unmodded dwarf, in a normal, unmodded game. Suddenly, I get spammed with "You are melting!" and die.
This is the most entertaining game ever and I don't even play it.
posted by bewilderbeast at 4:35 PM on April 23, 2010 [24 favorites]

I tinkered around with the new version a little, but I'm still waiting on more balancing and bugfixes before I get seriously into it. It's been a very long dev cycle this time, and he's not known for obsessive bug-hunting before release. Things are so different with how combat and materials work (all creatures have their skin, bones, organs, and internal temperatures modeled), that I figure it can't really be working right yet. I'll give it another few revisions before I start seriously digging at it again.
posted by Malor at 4:36 PM on April 23, 2010

Can someone give a brief description or explanation of how this game works? I'm intrigued, but baffled. I don't know what a Rogue-like is or how it is played.

Even a bare-boned sketchy description would be appreciated. Thanks.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 4:43 PM on April 23, 2010

Can someone give a brief description or explanation of how this game works?

You control some dwarfes. You can tell them go build things and do things. Then, it gets insanely involved and complicated.
posted by Jimbob at 4:49 PM on April 23, 2010 [6 favorites]

That 'illustrated summary' made me cackle ridiculously, to the point that a roomie came by and said "What the hell are you laughing at?" I tried to explain DF, and his eyes clouded over before he asked me to stop talking about it forever.

I, also, love this game far too much to ever try playing it. (Well, I did try twice, and both times my own eyes clouded over before I gave up on the UI)
posted by FatherDagon at 4:53 PM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Reading about Dwarf Fortress always makes me think of the Borges story, "On Exactitude in Science". On imagines it will only be completed when Dwarf Fortress is just as complicated as the real world.
posted by pombe at 4:53 PM on April 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

Man, I only learned about Dwarf Fortress about a month ago, and I think I've seen it mentioned four times since then. I fear this game. I hope I never find myself downloading it.
posted by painquale at 4:53 PM on April 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Here's my opinion from mefight club about the latest release. tl;dr the game is best experienced secondhand. It's gotten too stupid up close and personal.
Look, I know that there's a ton of people who admire toady's tenacity (I am one) and like his ideas, but the execution remains lacking. My chief complaint is that he spends way too much time building a Real Accurate Materials And Fluids Simulator that has marginal usefulness within the game aside from collateral yuks ("the goblin died inhaling superheated peach nectar vapor! LOOL") and punching the game's performance in the dick. He needs a real devil's advocate he can trust -- while I'm critical of his work, I can completely understand his desire to totally ignore internet critics. Consider this from the changelog above:
(*) fixed broken eyelid relationships

Broken eyelids (and the anatomy system in general) (1) make no sense (are they actually bruised? torn?) and (2) don't really impact the player's decisions or the gameplay as far as I can tell after reading the BigAss DF thread at SA. It's a completely superfluous statistic to track, bereft of merit and meaning. The time spent creating, troubleshooting and patching eyelids could have been better spent fixing dwarf weapon behavior or cleaning up the UI or anything else.

And by no means am I saying that people shouldn't take enjoyment from the game. There's a lot of things to do and explore, even if you're just building a dwarven trading outpost in a serene peaceful territory that are good fun and surprising. I like the complexity toady's programmed in when it's astonishing or funny, but more often than not they seem to be roadblocks to fun.

I still follow the DF dev logs regularly, and I'm heartened by the fact that he plans on merging in a bunch of patches soon. Maybe they'll take care of the things I take issue with.
posted by boo_radley at 4:55 PM on April 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Why is it that nobody has ever developed a frontend for the game? It's just begging for someone to make it more accessible.
posted by mccarty.tim at 4:55 PM on April 23, 2010

You control have some dwarfes. You can tell ask them go build things and do things. Usually they do. Then, it gets insanely involved and complicated.
posted by thecaddy at 4:58 PM on April 23, 2010 [6 favorites]

Since I've never gotten very deep into Dwarf Fortress, sometimes I wonder if there's really nothing going on under the hood and it's some metajoke like Steamshovel Harry.
posted by mccarty.tim at 4:58 PM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

You control some dwarfes. You can tell them go build things and do things. Then, it gets insanely involved and complicated.

Yeah, insanely long and complicated and AWESOME. And I don't even do complex things like build dwarf computers. I made a wave pool to teach my dwarves to swim once and that is about as complicated as my machines get.

And then there are megafauna like dragons! You see a green flashing D on the screen prancing about and scream in anguish as it burninates all before it! And the cats everywhere! And the pebbles that keep your gate open so the hordes of killer elves come and wipe everyone out except for the last baby, who goes insane in short order and throws itself after a long, painful, dramatic crawl into a brook, where it is savaged by a carp.

My computer is too old and slow to play this release. :( Maybe when I get the next computer I can have the upgrade. Ah, it is painful the way my friends mock me for the fact my computer can't manage to run a game comprised solely of symbols. But the thing simulates so many crazy complexities it is no wonder it doesn't really run well on anything that's not a powerhouse.

And then there is a great secret within the game! I shall not spoil it, but if you play you get a SPECIAL TREAT after a while!
posted by winna at 5:01 PM on April 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

A treat called fun?
posted by TwelveTwo at 5:19 PM on April 23, 2010 [6 favorites]

I hate hearing about how great Dwarf Fortress is when I can't play it. Making a great game but making it impossible to learn is one of the meanest things a pair of brothers can do.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:20 PM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would've waited until it got merged with the last 40d# patch before posting it here, as it still is very buggy.

The 40d19 version is the latest one of the outsourced work in the graphics engine. It has great performance, native ports to OSX and Linux and a lot less bugs than the current official version.

AND, the OSX and Linux ports have a TEXT setting, which means you can play remotely from a terminal, no matter the platform (standard for other roguelikes but a giant breakthrough for DF as the normal graphical interface uses bitmaps instead of real ASCII characters).
posted by Memo at 5:32 PM on April 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

My main problem with Dwarf Fortress is that while it has a ridiculously steep difficulty curve, it plateaus. Once you've gotten familiar with the game, it gets really easy. I mean, it's never not complicated, but it isn't a challenge if you're careful. Now, you can choose to roleplay your dwarves in such a way that it's hard (e.g. insisting on always meeting enemies in battle, and not just locking them out and/or killing them with traps) but it's fairly easy to set up your dwarfhold so it is impregnable.
posted by Kattullus at 5:47 PM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm not saying it's prerequisite, but to really get to grips with Dwarf Fortress, it helps to have been recently dumped.
posted by Kattullus at 5:51 PM on April 23, 2010 [25 favorites]

Here's a slightly less brief summary -- although I haven't played the new version yet:

A few dwarves show up on a piece of terrain and dig themselves a fortress. They need food (which they can farm), booze (which they must distill), water, housing, clothes, trade goods and eventually weapons. If they trade successfully, new migrants to their fortress show up every year or so. But you can't control your dwarves directly: you have to give them commands, and sometimes they can't obey, and sometimes they won't. Sometimes they go into creative fugues, demand rare objects (like the bone of an animal) to make top-level crats with, and go mad if they don't get it; sometimes they get frustrated if their bedroom is too small. They have favorite kinds of rock, they get married and have kids. They're complicated.

The world around them is also hugely complicated. Seasons change, water flows downhill (a big deal when you're digging tunnels), other civilizations come and go. The terrain is generated for miles underground, with layers of sedimentary and metamorphic rocks, magma chambers, gems, air pockets; most of the game's exploring takes place underground.

There's no point to the game. A completely bug-tested Dwarf Fortress would be pointless, because the joy is in creating a little society robust enough to weather the freakiness produced by so many complex, abstract systems raining unpredictable effects down on the bodies of your grumpy-ass dwarves.
posted by Valet at 5:56 PM on April 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

Ergh. Crafts. Top-level crafts. I swear I previewed.
posted by Valet at 5:57 PM on April 23, 2010

jeff-o-matic: Can someone give a brief description or explanation of how this game works? I'm intrigued, but baffled. I don't know what a Rogue-like is or how it is played.

Um. Well, DF isn't really a roguelike. Roguelikes are like, well, Rogue. Rogue was an early computer game where you were an @ sign, exploring a dungeon full of critters; each critter had a unique letter. I don't remember what they were, but D, for instance, was probably a dragon. Small letters were usually small creatures, capital letters were large ones. There have been many later games in that vein; the best-known are probably Nethack, Angband, Omega, and the new Crawl. They're all fundamentally about you driving a single character in a hostile world, trying to kill things and take their stuff.

Dwarf Fortress LOOKS LIKE a roguelike, in that everything is represented with ANSI symbols, but the similarity ends there. You start with, natch, seven dwarves, with various skills that you buy in the Embark screen. You're dumped in hostile terrain with a cartload of supplies and nothing else, and you're supposed to try to build a home for your dwarves.

The thing is, you don't have direct control over anything. You express your wishes, as in, "dig this area out" or "put stairs here" or "build a carpentry shop there". But you don't know when the job will actually get done. You can tell your dwarves what jobs they should pay attention to, and they'll default to doing jobs that match their native skills, but you can't typically say "hey, you, go over here and do this thing." Your mining dwarves, for instance, might be thirsty or tired, and they'll go eat, drink, or sleep when they want to. Maybe they'll throw a party and hang out in the dining room for awhile. Eventually they'll get around to doing their jobs, and they'll pick an available task of the type they're supposed to do. Your control is limited to categorization; from there, the dwarves decide what to do.

Gradually, you'll encourage them to carve out a home, and build farms and workshops. They can make weapons, which is important for arming your soldiers. You need soldiers because, even in the most peaceful of areas, evil creatures will show up to try to kill your dwarves and take their treasure. The more treasure you have, the stronger they get and the more often they show up. And you, the unnamed guiding spirit, have to try to fight off the hordes and protect your growing fortress.

DF, by the way, is in the WoW school of thought in one regard: the earth is a thin skin over teeming evil. Anytime you dig in WoW, you're pretty much guaranteed to die. DF is similar... most (all?) fortresses in this version have very, very nasty things below ground, so you're trying to balance your tunneling and exploration for necessary minerals against the threat of Digging Too Deep and finding something terrible.

Adding to the overall difficulty level, which is already very high, is the Byzantine interface. There are user-friendly interfaces, user-hostile interfaces, and Dwarf Fortress. I can't think of any program since DOS WordPerfect that was more indecipherable. As I've said before, the interface isn't just bad, it's an active enemy, trying to keep you out of the game. Keys mysteriously change meaning as you move around between different functions, and just because two functions look similar on screen does not mean you necessarily use the same keys to control them. Sometimes, for instance, you use the primary up/down buttons, sometimes you use the secondary up/down buttons, sometimes you use both, and sometimes you use unique keys for that specific task. It makes no sense whatsoever; you have to simply memorize things.

The whole game is like that. Everything is hidden, very little is accessible. Simply understanding what's going on takes serious effort. But eventually, if you stick with it, a little "aha!" switch gets thrown in your head somewhere, and you're suddenly not looking at a bunch of crude ANSI graphics, but rather dwarves, sometimes in a desperate race for survival. Once you get to that point, the game is marvelous, but getting there is a major effort.

I agree, by the way, with the comments upthread that the skin modeling seems pretty stupid and pointless. My favorite of all the versions of Dwarf Fortress was the last of the 2D releases. I loved, loved, loved that game. The later 3D ones are still good, when taken on their own, but all the additional complexity hasn't really added any fun. If I could have any version of DF I wanted, it would be the old 2D version with the late-game bugs fixed.
posted by Malor at 6:01 PM on April 23, 2010 [9 favorites]

Kattallus:... it plateaus. Once you've gotten familiar with the game, it gets really easy.

No kidding. I had a blast and wasted probably a solid week of my life learning how to play. And for what? My last fortress had pumps and waterfalls and horribly cruel defensive systems, all built to fend off an invasion that never came. No dwarves were starving, everybody was surviving just fine and it got really boring.

I wanted the conflict that Boatmurdered promised --- epic battles against worthy foes --- and it just never materialized. The best I got was the occasional siege, and they never made it past the first line defenses.

It's probably been covered a million times on the DF forums, but I so wish DF would get open sourced. It could be so great.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 6:10 PM on April 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

I tried to explain how to play this before but my effort was sabotaged by an unclosed <ul> tag that turned several paragraphs into an impenetrable wall of text. I can't fix it myself, and it doesn't seem to be important enough for a mod to fix. Still, it took me like an hour to compile and write it all, so I'm not going to do all that again.

Can someone give a brief description or explanation of how this game works? I'm intrigued, but baffled. I don't know what a Rogue-like is or how it is played.

But I will do this.

"Thank you for purchasing DWARF FORTRESS for your PC Entertainment SystemTM! It is sure to offer you many hours/days/weeks/years of enjoyment. Be sure to read the precautions for how to treat your Dwarf Fortress Game PhileTM. Do not expose it to high temperatures, drag it to your Recycle Bin, or attack it with an axe. Refer to your PCES manual for further precautions."

DWARF FORTRESS is a fantasy colony management simulation. You follow the lives and deaths, labors and joys, victories and defeats of a group of dwarves as they go about digging tunnels, building workshops, making trade goods, and do many, many other things besides, all in an attempt to build a Moria of their very own. You must keep them fed and happy and defend the fortress from invaders. You should probably build them quarters, offices and meeting halls. You can trade with other settlements. How you do all these things is largely up to you, and there are many ways to play the game. You don't have to learn them all now; in fact, many players report that the game is actually more fun when you make mistakes and your dwarfs end up suffering for it. This gives rise to the game's motto, "Losing is fun!" It may actually be more fun than winning, but it also cannot be denied that building and maintaining a successful fortress can be a source of immense satisfaction.

Sometimes your fortress will be attacked by enemies, both monsters and humanoids, and sometimes by armies, so you need to draft some of your dwarfs into a militia, arm them and set them to defend your fortress. You can chop trees, grow crops, you can brew liquor, you can build traps and fortifications, and you can set up siege weapons. You can dig for strange and exotic minerals, happen upon mysterious underground caverns, and eventually maybe wake up demons sleeping far beneath the surface. Or, you can focus on trading, which will eventually attract more dwarfs to your fortress. You can focus on making a large quantity of goods, and treat the "Created Wealth" item on the Colony Summary screen as a "score." Or, you may choose to concentrate on the day-to-day lives of your dwarfs, each of whom have their talents and faults, likes and dislikes. There are as many ways to play as there are players.

The game tracks all of your dwarfs' actions, but you don't actually cause them to do anything directly. You play the role of a kind of overmind for the colony. You determine what the tasks to be performed are; the dwarfs then do them when they get around to it. They have some autonomy: they'll find the stuff needed to carry out a task for themselves, and you'll get a warning message if they can't for some reason. They also feed themselves and have drinks, sleep when they need to, take breaks and even do other things occasionally.

There is no way to "win" at Dwarf Fortress. Your dwarfs' efforts come all for their own satisfaction. Instead you "win" when you successfully build that moat you're working on, or find secret caverns beneath the earth, or mine adamantium, or defeat a goblin siege, or attract the Dwarf King to your fortress to live, or construct a doomsday machine, or take down a dragon, or do anything else you find entertaining. All of these things, if you enjoy them, are "winning." If you don't enjoy these things, find something that you do enjoy. There are an absurdly large number of options.

There are, however, many ways to lose. When you do lose a fortress, you can then play Adventurer mode and try to find and explore the very halls your dwarfs dug as a dungeon crawling adventure! Or you can play a Reclaim Fortress game, sending in a squad of new dwarfs to try to unseat whatever forces stole it from your first group. Eventually you can go into Legends mode and find out more about your fortress that has been discovered by adventurers, or even find out more about the strange and wonderful world in which your dwarfs live.

That is Dwarf Fortress in a nutshell: an amazingly complex colony simulator, but also an amazingly satisfying one. Its fans are some of the most devoted players on the internet, and now you have the opportunity what they are so excited about. So let's get started! Strike the earth!
posted by JHarris at 6:14 PM on April 23, 2010 [7 favorites]

I actually never got into the 2d version. Part of this is that, at least when I was checking it out, the graphics packs were really crude. By now the graphics packs are quite nice. I know it's less hardcore to play with graphics packs, but I just enjoy it better that way. Having a little icon that tells you what something is, instead of memorizing a long list of letters. My brain just doesn't work like that.
posted by Kattullus at 6:15 PM on April 23, 2010

I wanted the conflict that Boatmurdered promised --- epic battles against worthy foes --- and it just never materialized. The best I got was the occasional siege, and they never made it past the first line defenses.

You probably built in a peaceful area; you'll get goblins there, but not usually much else. If you embark in an evil Untamed Wilds somewhere, you'll likely be struggling to survive.

My last fortress was in a fairly tame area, and I was getting sieges of about 100 goblins, as well as the occasional dragon or bronze colossus. By the time that happened, I had so many traps and drawbridges that I had no problem fighting them off. I'd lose some dwarves that were outside, but the bad guys never got past the second layer of traps.

But then, you see, I found adamantine in the depths. Subsequent events proved just how poorly I had, in fact, prepared myself. :)
posted by Malor at 6:19 PM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah... the most important lessons to learn in Dwarf Fortress are redundancy and hyper-vigilance. One thing to do is to think of all mines that are still producing as mining camps. Set up domiciles for your miners on the other side of a wall of traps, provide them with everything they might need while fully mining out an area. Because trouble can come from any direction. Also, a standing army is essential, sometimes an enemy will make it through your defenses somehow, but usually it's so bedraggled and hurt by then that a highly trained militia can take care of it.

And always have a plan B in place. Always have an overcapacity of farms, carved out sleeping quarters, smithies and so on, because no matter how well you prepare, shit can come down like angry god, in which case an orderly retreat is the best you can manage.
posted by Kattullus at 6:30 PM on April 23, 2010

yay! does this mean we'll have another eve thread soon? I love reading about these two games that I will never play...
posted by flaterik at 6:39 PM on April 23, 2010 [7 favorites]

DF 40d is my current obsession, distraction, and stress-buster. I'm working with a 60-dwarf population cap and an aim of 1 billion created wealth.

I'm halfway there, but the dwarf liason died, I've got war dogs, goblin corpses and xX=<narrow cave spider silk sock>=Xxs coming out of my ears and my framerate is bogged at 40FPS, so I may just go back to the autosave from my embark and try to make it better.

I think a previous MeFi thread on DF dubbed it ThesisBane. Very accurate.
posted by subbes at 7:54 PM on April 23, 2010

I posted this in the last DF thread, but for any of you who really want to learn to play, I recommend captnduck's youtube tutorials. He made them for the old release, but almost all of it is still applicable. It will probably take you 8 hours to go through all of them, but that was just one devoted sleepless night for me.
posted by p3on at 7:57 PM on April 23, 2010 [5 favorites]

Uh oh. Nerd alert.
posted by Monkeymoo at 9:25 PM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've been thinking this game might be one of those few things for which paying someone to have the cool experience for you, so you can live it vicariously and way easier might well be a good cost-benefit proposition. Then I read a thread like this, and realize the damn game probably requires as much time and energy to train the operator as would a space shuttle crewmember, and figure out I'd truly need to have the kind of cash that gets a skillful astronaut trained if I ever want to see this DF thing closer without going mad. My geekish inadequacies, let me show them to you.
posted by Iosephus at 10:21 PM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've been thinking this game might be one of those few things for which paying someone to have the cool experience for you

I think you'll find my rates both reasonable and affordable.
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:31 PM on April 23, 2010 [9 favorites]

yay! does this mean we'll have another eve thread soon? I love reading about these two games that I will never play...

Goonswarm disbanded, eve is boring now.
posted by empath at 10:34 PM on April 23, 2010

Malor: "I can't think of any program since DOS WordPerfect that was more indecipherable."

Well, shit, I figured out how to get that thing to output plate-ready multi-layer postscript (with layer transparency!) back in the day, so, like: BRING IT.
posted by mwhybark at 10:37 PM on April 23, 2010 [6 favorites]

I've been thinking this game might be one of those few things for which paying someone to have the cool experience for you

A Something Awful forums account is only 10 bucks, so it's cheaper than you imagine. They're the ones who produced the sagas of Boatmurdered and Syrupleaf, so the cost-benefit ratio is great.
posted by daniel_charms at 10:45 PM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I mean, why pay for someone for playing it if a bunch of strangers are willing to do it for free for "Internet glory"?
posted by daniel_charms at 10:47 PM on April 23, 2010

fixed broken eyelid relationships [...] Broken eyelids (and the anatomy system in general) (1) make no sense

No no no. What that update in the changelog means is that the relationships between eyelids and eyes were broken, and then Toady fixed them.

Previously, the left eyelid had been modeled as covering both the left and right eyes, while the right eyelid did nothing. It has nothing to do with eyelids themselves being injured.

This does nothing to undermine your point here, of course, which is pretty spot-on.
posted by magnificent frigatebird at 11:01 PM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

mccarty.tim, you really should have worked a bit more on the framing on this post, because right now, it looks like nobody is actually reading the Bronzemurder story - which everyone should read RIGHT NOW, as it's AWESOME - because the link's not visible enough.
posted by daniel_charms at 11:37 PM on April 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

don't really impact the player's decisions or the gameplay as far as I can tell after reading the BigAss DF thread at SA.

I think that DF is best not seen as a game at all, but as a story generator/pet ant colony. If you'll note, every SA thread includes hundreds of people asking to be dwarfed. The specificity of bodily injuries, madness, artifact creation, etc, gives the whole thing a reality that connects people to what is going on that generic 'dwarf guard dies' messages wouldn't.

Honestly, I think he should give up trying to fix the UI and give the dwarfs enough AI to build the dungeon and defend it themselves. I'd watch that.
posted by empath at 11:43 PM on April 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think that DF is best not seen as a game at all, but as a story generator/pet ant colony.

This. I was just about to post the same thing. DF is not a computer game in the traditional sense, but more like a computer generated play-world where stories can take place in. I think this actually used to be stated in the development goals - there were a bunch of situations that the game would ideally be capable of generating (these have been removed from the dev page, though). Details like the overly complex body structures are what make up these stories.
posted by daniel_charms at 12:38 AM on April 24, 2010

I think he should give up trying to fix the UI

Fix the UI? Toady One?

Hah, tell me another. :)
posted by Malor at 12:38 AM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think that DF is best not seen as a game at all, but as a story generator/pet ant colony.

Indeed. It's fun to sometimes just watch the little dwarves go about their business. And then watch the fort get inundated by several sieges, which is the DF equivalent of shaking the ant farm to really piss them off.

If you're starting with the most recent version of the game, I suggest you poke around the init file and turn Temperature and Weather off. You won't be missing much except for a really groovy bug which randomly causes everyone's blood to boil and explode. Also, don't even bother with the military just yet. It will only cause headaches.

Still, for all its bugs the game sometimes provides amazing random stories from the most mundane of instances. In my most recent game, one dwarf got possessed by the muse of leatherworking and ended up creating a stunning legendary thong made out of hoary marmot leather and decorated (presumably in uncomfortable locations) by bone and jewels. This attracted the attention of some goblin raiders, who only got as far as my fortress front door before the dwarf on lever duty retracted the Welcome Mat and dropped them into a pool of water. With spikes on the bottom.

I then had my engraver dwarves carve happy decorations all around the front walls. Dwarves will often engrave images or carve statues and figurines based on events that have happened in the fortress' history. I was hoping they'd put up a happy picture of drowning goblins or something.

Instead, they carved a picture that depicted what had happened when I had to reassign the position of Broker because the dwarf who was supposed to be the Broker didn't want to leave a fun drinking party to go trade with the seasonal caravan.
Engraved on the wall is a well-designed image of "Boss" Ringforded the dwarf and dwarves by Rimtar Idengim. The dwarves are refusing "Boss" Ringforded. "Boss" Ringforded is weeping. The artwork relates to the removal of the dwarf "Boss" Ringforded from the position of broker to The Obscure Theater in the late summer of 1052.
Now there's a warning for the outside world, all right: Party too hard and you're gonna get sacked.
posted by Spatch at 12:44 AM on April 24, 2010 [12 favorites]

As I've said before, DF is essentially the pre-alpha of the Matrix.

To add some more content to this post - allow your inner neckbeard to luxuriate in this, from another DF thread.

Having started as your standard DF, the Hamlet of Tyranny was uneventful by normal standards. Sure there would be caravans and immigrants and occasional (though unusually rare) seiges, but there was a dark and DEADLY secret buried beneath the hills. And his name was Ashmalice.

Ashmalice was a fire demon of legendary status. Not only had he existed in the prehistory of the fort, but he had over 550 kills – which included 2 entire tribes of goblins, a handful of elves, and a terrifying ammound of dwarves… one of whom was the king of the mountain-homes.

Fast forwarding to the present time major construction was underway of the fort. Many many immigrants had arrived over the years and times were good for the dwarves. Having many legendary carvers and warriors my friend grew lax in his defenses. And his dwarves paid the price when a miner unearthed a glowing pit deep below the dungeons carved into the mountain.

Within an hour my friend’s fortress was besieged by a nearly unending horde of demonic horrors. Ill equipped to deal with the threat immediately, the population of the Hamlet began dropping exponentially. Not even a panicked redirection of the river into the lower levels was enough to staunch the influx of demons, only enough to slow them long enough for the major walkways to be collapsed to buy some precious time.

Luckilly (and cleverly) my friend had built his fortress in such a way that if any large section had collapsed, then all escape routes would lead out into the wilderness and on a path far from the fortress and defendable by collapsing the ceiling via lever to flood seawater into the tunnel. Though no dwarf was alive on that side of the map, or able to reach it to pull the lever, my friend had bought the dwarves much needed time, though when Ashmalice made himself known all seemed futile. Even moreso when Stuvok lost his mind with rage.

Stuvok was one of the founding 7. He was an ex-miner turned blacksmith of legendary status. He was a monster of a dwarf that all dwarves aspired to be. And he had just lost his wife Doken (another of the starting 7) to the demon Ashmalice. His sorrow was felt by the surviving clan as he tore through them one by one unopposed. Only when he ran into his workshop and was locked in did his rage abate.

Morale was rock bottom. Several dwarves commit suicide in this dark hour. And of the handfull who remained of this once great fortress, few were willing to do anything at all, except the only other remaining dwarf of the founders: the engraver Sil. In the months that followed, the floors were carved with graven images of his follow brethren. All hope seemed lost. But this was not the end for the Hamlet. Not just yet…

In his grief and mourning, Stuvok opened his heart to the spirits of the dead. And one day they came to him in spirit. In his posessed mood he plotted and planned and (ironically) with the materials available to him, crafted an artifact clearly in homage to his wife: Endless Death of Tears – a sword with an image of a dwarf holding a piece of glass – glass that his wife used daily in her trade.

My friend had been content to just flood the map with lava and end the game after such losses. But upon seeing this artifact his neckbeard overtook him and he knew that Doken, the dwarves, the king, must all be avenged! And thankfully for me, he decided to continue. Fast forwarding again to the present (the time at which I had come in to see him play) my friend had safely excavated what he could of the fortress and moved all activity to a small corner of the interior. When all levers were erected, dwarves armed, and preparations complete, he unpaused the game for me.

A few dwarves made suicide runs to the bottom of the dungeons and collapsed them – which in turn lowered the debris above into a sinkhole that breached a large hole for the demons to pour from back into the fort. A few more dwarves valiantly fired into the oncomming tide of hate, but they were nothing but fodder that bought precious moments for the true plan to kick in. A masterfully placed lever that had yet been unpulled brought down the entire mountain through the legendary dining hall ceiling; crushing almost half of the intruding horde.

As planned, the demons made a bee-line through the side hallways through rows of blade traps. Demons were chewed up by the blades, but still they came. And so did “He”. Ashmalice not only avoided the fatal cave-in, passed the slicing blades, and bypassed the numerous flooding-trap chambers, but he and a squad of equally lucky frog demons carved and scorched their way into the final defensive line. Among their victims was Stuvok; unable to avenge his beloved. And the last handfull of dwarves were quickly reduced to 2 – Sil the engraver and the legendary captain of the guard, Daneken.

As respected and powerful as Stuvok had been, Daneken was that and more. He was a god among his clan, and had once in his long career single-handedly repelled a goblin siege led by a cyclops, and had helped wrestle a dragon to death. And now armed with his dead friend’s artifact sword, he was seeing red. Daneken had been stationed at the edge of a chasm (my friend’s map had a pit AND chasm that had been unearthed, but it was amazingly only filled with tiny spiders that were easilly dispatched in the early years of the fort). A single bridge had been built to span the chasm, and would have been later expanded as housing. But that plan was no longer. And this was it. This was the end of the dwarves of the Hamlet of Tyranny. But they would not go quietly.

As the demons approached Daneken threw himself at them in a rage. Ashmalice blasted him with demonic flames, but Daneken was imbued with the collective rage of his people and carved through the frog retainers with little signs of stopping. Ashmalice, however, had seen the deaths of a king and was not impressed with the antics of a lowly dwarf and sent him hurtling back onto the bridge – coincidentally knocking Sil over the edge. With his flesh scorching and his blood boiling, Denekan crawled to his feet just in time to see Ashmalice hover over him. With but a single push the fortress would be claimed by demons. But to my friend’s and my own utter jaw-dropping amazement, it was the dwarves who claimed him.

Daneken, in a testament to his dwarfdom slashed off one of Ashmalice’s arm/wing and plunged Endless Death of Tears into his evil heart. Such was the force of the blow that the demon was hurled backwards off of the bridge and sent spiraling down into the unending darkness; spouting curses the entire way. With his clan and his king avenged, Daneken himself tumbled from the bridge. But… one dwarf remained?

Awestruck by what had just happend, I urged my friend to quickly find the survivor! The menus opened, the tabs clicked, and we see that name. Sil. Sil? But he fell into the chasm! What was going on? With the battle essentially over and the remaining demons blocked from furthur intrusion by an unchecked flood of river water, we peer into the chasm. Several Z-levels down, on a tiny 2-square ledge, lay Sil – broken and bleeding, but alive.

With no way to save him, and with his entire clan residing in the afterlife, we debated how this should end. Should we just abandon the fort outright? Should we try and kill him somehow? What? In the end, however, we decided to let him create one more carving – one last testament to dwarfkind. This decision did not come lightly, as after such an epic climax, anything less would seem an insult. But still we left him to his work. Afterall, maybe he would draw a picture of a plump helmet or something equally random.

What did he draw? Moments before he bled to death? Alone on a cliff? The last gesture of the dwarves of the Hamlet of Tyranny?

A picture of a demon and some dwarves. The demon was in a fetal position. The dwarves were laughing
posted by Sebmojo at 1:31 AM on April 24, 2010 [137 favorites]

Only because it's somewhat relevant to the conversation at hand, you know I interviewed ToadyOne for Gamasutra some time back....
posted by JHarris at 1:39 AM on April 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

SebMojo, that is awesome!
posted by JHarris at 1:45 AM on April 24, 2010

The menu navigation keys are actually one of the few sensible parts of DF. Not saying it couldn't be better, but the uses of the arrow/updown/ukhm keys make sense. They're not an affront to nature like (for example) the Stockpile Settings screen.
posted by fleacircus at 2:55 AM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

One of my favorite Dwarf Fortress anecdotes involved a dwarf set to work engraving the walls of the dining-hall. Early on, he produced a masterwork engraving depicting an epic battle with a fire-imp that was a major event early in the life of the fortress.

A little while later, he produced a second masterwork engraving. It depicted the dwarf himself, carving a masterwork engraving depicting an epic battle with a fire-imp...
posted by rifflesby at 4:15 AM on April 24, 2010 [6 favorites]

I'm finding this very useful: the aptly-named Complete and Utter Newby Tutorial for Dwarf Fortress.
posted by Drexen at 6:30 AM on April 24, 2010 [6 favorites]

"Complete and Utter Newby Tutorial"

I can't believe I never noticed that

posted by Kattullus at 9:07 AM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Man. The thing I loved most about DF - because I can't really ever play it again, until I'm officially and permanently retired - was the wealth management, knowledge acquisition and trading systems.
I was never particularly interested in building terrifying fortresses and level upon level of deadly traps to slay great beasties. I wanted a Rivendell for my dwarfs, proof that they could attain a level of cultural sophistication unrivaled by the humans or even the elves in the game. I would pick "easier" and larger maps. My fortresses would be palatial - I'd move immigrants into massive quarters stocked with glorious furniture, stockpiled with delicious food. Every inch of the place would be covered with masterwork, gilded, all of my soldiers armed with every different sort of masterwork weapon. I would train up my dwarfs in all the many various forms of craftsmanship; they would all take turns serving in the various political positions. This is a great way to attract immigrants, though, so I would play until my computer could take no more, take a snapshot of the place and leave it behind. There are a thousand ways to play this games.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 10:56 AM on April 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

From the DF Forum - The Most Awesome Caveswallowman ever! There's a summary on the Wiki, but the forum thread has more fun details and some fan art.
posted by gamera at 11:16 AM on April 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

Sebmojo: "his neckbeard overtook him"

OMG crying with laughter
posted by mwhybark at 11:16 AM on April 24, 2010

Up here in Ottawa, the dwarves manning (dwarving?) the locks for the canal lower the water level to make it better for ice skating during the winter.

But now they're refilling it. I live near a pond, which is connected to the canal by a tunnel. The pond is refilling. And now carp are spawning in it.

I'm worried.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:32 PM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Syrup of Cults has embarked to found Dimpledbolts.

posted by Kattullus at 2:25 PM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

The pond is refilling. And now carp are spawning in it.

Miner cancels Drink: Interrupted by carp.
posted by chrominance at 4:38 PM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Anyone have recommendations for the best graphic/tileset to use? Or must one experience the nerdery in full ASCII glory to truly be one with the neckbeard?
posted by Justinian at 5:15 PM on April 24, 2010

I like the May Green set, myself. Instructions for using it on Mac or Linux are in the sidebar under "DIY DFG".
posted by rifflesby at 6:52 PM on April 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

The Mayday Tileset rifflesby links to is a big hit with lots of people. Probably not least because he packaged it along with the binary instead of asking people to: download a PNG, save it as a 24-bit BMP, drop it into their data/art folder, then edit their init file appropriately. Which is what you'd have to do to use the modified Guybrush ASCII set that I use, for example.
posted by fleacircus at 7:07 PM on April 24, 2010

I like the Mayday tileset.

posted by Mr Bismarck at 7:15 PM on April 24, 2010

That'll teach me to take way too long to press "Post."

So, what Riffles said.
posted by Mr Bismarck at 7:16 PM on April 24, 2010

But aren't tiles somewhat broken in DF2010? It's why I haven't tried them out yet.
posted by JHarris at 7:54 PM on April 24, 2010

I'm playing 2010 right now with the Mayday set without issue.

Though I'd stab my own Dwarf-Mother in the eye for some soil.
posted by Mr Bismarck at 9:43 PM on April 24, 2010

PS3, Xbox360, and Wii be damned; DF is my all time favorite game of all time, ever. I've wistfully shelved it until I can take my dwarves out onto the world map and conquer stuff.
posted by Terheyden at 10:53 PM on April 24, 2010

I'd actually like to see a few thing in DF.

Magic: I get that dwarves are fairly unmagical in this world, but since you have dragons and undead, etc, it makes since that there should be some kind of sorcery or at least enchantment. Even if it's random or they have to buy them from caravans.

Non-dwarven cities:

Why not human settlements and elf forest cities? They're already in adventure mode, I think, why not let us build those, too?

A Big Bad/epic ending:

I think at some point, I'd like to see a caravan show up with a band of adventurer's asking their dwarven allies to contribute an army to fight the great evil which is blighting the lands and so forth. Or even a final stand against a massive orc army with human and elven allies.

In fact, it would actually be a pretty good ending that would lead naturally into adventure mode. The end of the first age -- A god goes evil, and corrupts half the land, he's defeated, but all lay in ruins, and civilization doesn't recover until centuries later.
posted by empath at 1:38 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

A Big Bad/epic ending

I really hope not.
posted by JHarris at 8:40 PM on April 25, 2010

Why not human settlements and elf forest cities? They're already in adventure mode, I think, why not let us build those, too?

For what it's worth, you can build in them. Or under them. Just pick a human settlement as your embark site, dig a giant cavern under the whole thing in order to cause a cave-in, watch as the entire town is swallowed by the earth, and then turn the bones of the residents into fine crafts.

Or you could choose to coexist peacefully with your neighbors, I suppose.
posted by magnificent frigatebird at 11:45 PM on April 25, 2010 [4 favorites]

I haven't seen it mentioned much, but DF has extensive modifiable data files, and there is a fairly active DF mod community on the DF message board, though of course with the big new version things are in flux. For 40d, I liked Relentless Assault.
posted by fleacircus at 1:11 AM on April 26, 2010

Maybe I should elaborate, while the thread is still open, on the "I really hope not" comment I made to empath's otherwise insightful ideas.

First, there already is something like that in the game. The "end game" of Dwarf Fortress, playfully referred to in the wiki (and sometimes by ToadyOne) as "Hidden Fun Stuff" or HFS, is similar to that. From here on I'm talking SPOILERS so...






A long-standing feature of the game, inspired nearly directly by Tolkien I think, is the idea that there is a horrible demon deep underground that will destroy the fortress if awakened. Back in the 2D days demons were presented as things that lived in weird little pockets deep into the mountain, and if you mined adamantium there would be a small, cumulative chance (based on amount mined) that the game would just *end* due to demon attack, after which you could bring in an adventurer and try to defeat the demon.

In the early Z-axis age there was (and may still be) chambers deep in the rock in some places containing demons and tortured, caged humanoids. Now, perusal of the wiki reveals, there are demon fortresses deep in the earth that can be uncovered, each with a horde of demons that emerge once it is found. This is the closest DF has to something like what empath suggests, but it's important to note that it is occurs due to player action. If you don't want to deal with a horde of demons, just don't dig down there.

The problem with putting in a literal "big bad" (a term I hate, sorry Whedon) into the game is that it imposes an external narrative upon the game. Dwarf Fortress was conceived as a kind of algorithmic narrative generator, the things the player's dwarves do and undergo arising from a combination of chance, character decisions and the player's decisions about the fortress. That freeform structure is not a weakness, it is a strength.

If players had to worry about defeating some overlord or "final boss" it would lessen the simulation aspect of the game. The video game tendency to ramp up opponents until a boss is a narrative technique, but narration is nothing like real life. Instead, narration is something that we invented to explain some things about real life. It seeks to place random events into a pattern. To go about it the other way around, to confirm random events so they fit a preconceived narrative, is the route that 99% of games take. Not Dwarf Fortress, and I think that is part of what is so refreshing about it.
posted by JHarris at 12:50 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'll post another comment, because people are still linking to this discussion.

JHarris, you summed up what intrigues me the most about this game:

I do wish he'd bring in someone else to work on the interface, like he's done with the Mac & Linux Ports. But you're right, the point of the game is that there's this incredibly detailed simulated world, and on top of that, someone has grafted a crude game. The game is fascinating and deep because of the incredible clockwork of the simulation.

Toady One can keep following his weird urges as much as he wants, as far as I'm concerned. I don't question Great Art. How he's managed to do this almost by himself (his brother doesn't code the game) in about 5 years is beyond me. Everyone should be donating to him, whether they play the game or not.
posted by keratacon at 5:29 PM on April 28, 2010

I've found the user interface isn't that bad; it just has exceptions. If you're creating a stockpile or designating a mine, you just press enter on the corners of the rectangle you want. If you're making a farm plot, or building a floor, you instead have to increase the height or width of the rectangle step by step. Which is pointless and weird, but after you've done it twice you remember that it just works differently. I think the lack of graphics is the main thing that should be addressed. Alternative tile sets are useful, but they still don't make it visually appealing.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to the game. I've got a weaver who's gone mad and just keeps chasing a mule around the dining room, and I've got an ecological crisis going on in my main fishing lake.
posted by Jimbob at 5:16 PM on April 29, 2010

Oh no I just started a new fortress and my food piles are overrun with rats because the alternative is a goddamn catsplosion
posted by subbes at 6:52 AM on April 30, 2010

subbes: Could you maybe just bring one cat? Or, since animals have genders now, you could just take along all one sex. Of course, eventually migrants will probably bring along cats of their own, but that happens regardless.
posted by JHarris at 1:10 PM on April 30, 2010

subbes: Could you maybe just bring one cat? Or, since animals have genders now, you could just take along all one sex. Of course, eventually migrants will probably bring along cats of their own, but that happens regardless.

The Toady One would counter with a new feature: 10% uncertainty guessing the gender of a cat. Just to make it realistic.
posted by sebastienbailard at 4:49 PM on April 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

The solution is usually chains and cages, but my outpost leader loves cats so (as I learned with a legendary champion with similar proclivities) she'll go around adopting cats as soon as they're uncaged or born.

These days I usually embark with one or zero cats and pick more up from a caravan the second year as long as no-one loves cats, and rely on traps in the meantime - also provides food for those strange dorfs that like to eat vermin out of traps.

The champion thing ended badly when her three pet cats were killed by an angry unicorn and the champion threw a tantrum that took out a brand new marble block road, two war dogs and a visiting Elven caravan (the elves had it coming).

eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee dorf fortress is awesome
posted by subbes at 1:55 PM on May 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

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