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The Making of Dwarf Fortress (2012) (gamasutra.com)
103 points by wtetzner 1394 days ago | hide | past | web | 22 comments | favorite

A (somewhat surprisingly) awesome article on Dwarf Fortress: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/24/magazine/the-brilliance-of...

At about 1:30 a.m., a family of hippos, represented by light gray H’s, swam into the tunnels from a nearby river. Their arrival was an unintended development born entirely of the game’s internal logic. Tarn was pleased. “The hippos like the sewers!” he said. He took a celebratory swig of Dr. Pepper and rocked back and forth.

Among my friends, the phrase “The hippos like the sewers!” is used to convey (usually unexpected) joy caused by programming, particularly when it would be difficult to explain to outsiders.

I've yet to get into Dwarf Fortress but it makes me happy to think about and to read about :)

You really should give it a shot.

What surprised me was this.

After using a quickstart toturial or two and diving right in, I was all happy that my dwarves had started doing, well, something, and I was getting used to it. I started collecting some materials, as the tutorial said, and I dug some stuff, as the tutorial said. Then I noticed the water in the map seemed ot have changed colour, and the ground, in all it's pixellated ascii glory, appeared whiter than it used to. "could it be winter, are there seasons?" I googled, letting the dwarves work. Yes, there was winter. Water froze. When I eventually got back to my game, there was a food shortage, and much worse, we ran out of liqour. We also had no water. The dwarves stopped working. Investigating their stats, they were rather angry about the situation. Eventually one, then two, went berzerk and killed their fellow dwarves in a rampage. I tried my best to guide them to gather some foliage so we could make some booze and get things back on track.. but I was too late. By spring, everyone was dead.

The next time.. I made it through winter, but not the next... overpopulation got me. With the immigrants that keep showing up, I had more and more dwarves, and I didn't know how to manage it. Hilarity ensued.. from a kobold thief stealing babies to animals mating in the bedroom to checking on the dining area to find a horse sitting at the table with a bunch of partying dwarves.

Eventually I made it a few seasons... only to be raided by goblins. I had no militia, I hadn't figured that part out yet. I hadn't needed it. Everyone died.

And so it goes...

The awesome part, and I think a critical thing most players who like the game clue in to, is that it's always like this. You won't get to a feeling of mastery where you can just hone your skills like most games. You'll always be analyzing what you see, looking stuff up, talking with others, and resolving yourself to try a new strategy next time - imagination really pays off here. There are always hippos in the sewers, or cats breeding out of control, or ant-people that want to eat you, or a berzerk dwarf baby killing his family, or some monster from down deep getting up your stairwell and terrorizing your fortress, or a magma accident, or a dwarf who decides to lock himself in a workshop, depriving you of that shop abilities while he spends his sweet time making stuff. There's dwarves that promte themselves to nobles and demand stuff, and they generally need to be dealt with. Usually by death. Dwarves must be sacrificed on on occasion for the good of the fortress.

My point, I guess, is that the funny/sad/epic stories you read about aren't really embellished much - the game actually provides you with that level of detail... even early-on. Your imagination fills in the blanks.. but there aren't many blanks.

"This time, it was called Slaves to Armok: God of Blood, named after Armok, the god from dragslay. Armok himself was named after "arm_ok", a variable that counts the number of arms you have left, for inventory purposes."

Um, sold.

[edit] (I can't get over how fun that is to think about. Now I really want someone to take this recursive idea to the absurdly extreme and build a game whose design is almost completely inspired by it's own source code.)

Dwarf Fortress is fantastic but really requires patience with learning its difficult and inconsistent UI.

Get started with this guide: http://dwarffortresswiki.org/index.php/v0.31:Quickstart_guid...

If you're on OSX, Dwarf Builder is the best way to get a copy of the game running well: http://www.bay12forums.com/smf/index.php?topic=106974.0

If neither of these are for you, perhaps you'd enjoy reading some insane stories about DF games. Here's a few of the best:

Boatmurdered: http://lparchive.org/Dwarf-Fortress-Boatmurdered

Oilfurnace: http://oilfurnace.timdenee.com/

Bronzemurder: http://bronzemurder.timdenee.com/

> really requires patience with learning its difficult and inconsistent UI.

Definitely an understatement. I tried, and I failed. I desperately wanted to play the game, and I don't care if it's all extended ASCII characters, but when building similar-purpose buildings have entirely different key bindings, and when the steps required to place items varies widely on their purpose...

DF isn't a single-player game. It's a two-player game, and the game itself is an antagonist.

That comic assumes that you know how to enter the restaurant, understand how to open a menu, and can read the dishes offered.

In Dwarf Fortress, you have to walk down an alley, turn around thrice widdershins, wait for a figure to appear as if from nowhere, and translate their strange and inconsistent language.

Then you can get around to being disemboweled horribly.

To be accurate, the comic should represent the game overs you'd get from starving dwarves, etc... Losing to a bad-ass monster is an accomplishment in this game (:

Try Lazy Newb Pack, and also less drama and theatrics.


It helps modify the graphics and makes for better keybindings.

This article is actually from 2008 if anyone wants to correct the title.

Original: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/131954/interview_the_m...

I was tipped off by the mention of the z-index being new, that was introduced ages ago.

Still one of my favourite games, even if the development seems to have lost its way a bit the last couple of years.

Spending a gaming week or two deep diving into this is a worthwhile pursuit (I agree about the O'Reilly book as well). In the end, I came to the conclusion that the ASCII graphics were, in fact, incredibly good and info-dense, but the UI wrapped around the whole game was just infuriatingly bad. I'll look again in 2-3 years.

Agreed. The fact that (depending on what action you're undertaking) there are three different independent ways, each with it's own set of keyboard commands, to specify a selection area should say something.

Or that 99% of the community relies on external applications which to manage dwarf assigned jobs, since doing it manually rapidly approaches impossible as you acquire more than a dozen dwarves.

I almost feel that Toady should hire somebody to design an ASCII-based UI for the game that actually works.

Sadly, I doubt it will happen based upon his reluctance to address the UI shortcomings in this recent thread:


Most enlightening quote from Tarn:

> I feel like I'm still working on basic features

I recommend this O'Reilly book http://shop.oreilly.com/product/0636920022565.do

Awesome reading even if you don't like video games or Dwarf Fortress at all.

Also cute is the author's bio, in the characteristic style of a Dwarf Fortress dwarf's textual description: http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/au/5119

> "Peter Tyson is a human born in 1975 in New Zealand. He is the oldest son of Ron Tyson and Ann Tyson. In the Summer of 1996 Peter became a student at Auckland University. In the Summer of 1999 Peter became a student at Victoria University. In the Spring of 2000 Peter became an Analyst at Datamonitor. In the Spring of 2002 Peter became a Community Manager at Codemasters. In the Autumn of 2005 Peter became an Administrator in the New Zealand Government. In the Summer of 2008 Peter married Laura. In the Winter of 2009 Peter wrote popular tutorials for Dwarf Fortress on his blog, afteractionreporter.com. In the Winter of 2011 Peter was struck by a Strange Mood.

> In the Summer of 2012 Peter wrote "Pasubabo Thrathdad Teme", "Getting Started with Dwarf Fortress", a legendary wood-pulp paper bound book. The written portion consists of 180 page guide to the game Dwarf Fortress entitled "Getting Started with Dwarf Fortress". The writing is lighthearted with moments of humor.

> In Summer 2012 "Getting Started with Dwarf Fortress" was stored in O'Reilly by the human administrator, Peter Tyson."

Wow! I thought that might be an April fools -- but that is a legit O'Reilly Dwarf Fortress book...

Wow, I thought I was going to have a tepid Friday night...no more!

I haven't played DF for a long time but would happily give money to the creators, just as an act of acknowledging such great passion and creativity (I paid for Minecraft too yet haven't played it fore more than an hour). From what I remember in the NYT profile, they don't want to "sell out", but I wonder if they'd be amenable to a kickstarter that was focused on creating either a revamped interface or building an API that would make such improved interfaces possible?

"I've thought about it. It seems like it would take a lot of work to maintain. I ditched the crappy 3D graphics of Armok 1, and adding features is so much faster now. This seems similar. There are lots and lots and lots of data structures, and the API would not be a simple thing, and it wouldn't be something I could just do once and then forget about."

From http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1avszc/im_tarn_adams_o...

Tarn gladly accepts donations and will send you a crayon drawing inspired by the game. I don't think he will let you (collectively) dictate development priorities because of it though. Dwarf Fortress is his baby and most of the players respect that and support him in wanting to keep it that way.

Ars Technica wrote an interesting article about Dwarf Fortress a few months ago: Ten hours with the most inscrutable video game of all time


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