It suggests whole new genres of games that have yet to be created; imagine a typical fantasy RPG (or perhaps one that plays more like Mount&Blade) where the entire world is simulated as you play, so every choice you make has logical consequences. The possibilities are endless, and while Dwarf Fortress is a great game on its own, it's really just scratching the surface of what can be done with world simulation.
This one, of course, being the most infamous -
As it was inspired by this 'artifact' -
There's also a very vibrant modding community, including a lot of memory hacking through the dfhack project  – even fixing a lot of longstanding bugs in the game, like dwarves taking a pair of gloves and putting both gloves on one hand. There's a full engine to write tweaks in Ruby or Lua, too.
 http://www.dwarfcorp.com/site/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/df.... native versus http://i.imgur.com/FQaND.png (Phoebus tiles)
It's been a while since I've played, but if I remember, you couldn't use the mouse -- I bet adding that functionality would make it so much easier to get into the game.
Of note, falconne has released a suite of helpful UI tools for dfhack  like mousequery, various search/sort tools, etc.
You seem to imply that it's possible to win ;)
You will never win.
But back then people considered "winning" if you triggered the end-game demon... that despite that making you lose too, it was really hard to do... (and defeating said demon with a adventurer later even harder).
If you are into fortress mode (like me, I just dont like adventurer mode) just download the old release, there isnt enough changes for you to care and it is a bit more stable.
There are actually many cool tools but as far as I know a lot of the time of these developers is drained by having to find out about the API themselves (which might change) and most of them are naturally only working on Windows as well.
Think of Minecraft style community + DF on all available operating systems. How cool would that be.
Whilst I agree that cross-platform is a nice goal, I'd much rather developers wrote what they want to, and are more comfortable with first and foremost without having to think about multiple platforms or 'trendy' languages, etc.
I want developers to write the things they want, and I'll be happy if they share them, rather than writing things they think everyone else wants and not having the same passion.
Some people will want to write multi-platform something and have the passion for that, which is great, but I wouldn't ever want to enforce that on any one.
If you ever want to see a developer cave, just look at Linux (and the oft-used 'Windows people can build it themselves if they can work it out')
Disclaimer: I use all OSes and like them all in different ways. However, when I write software for myself, there's little chance I'm caring about who else will run it. It's coding for pleasure, not money.
Edit: I should also mention how utterly AWESOME Dwarf Fortress is.
Or to give another example how many people can enjoy Game of Thrones because it's written in English? (I'm German and I love it!) If it would have been written in a minority language that is only spoken in one village somewhere in central Asia it might have been more comfortable for the developer, but only few people can ever take joy in it.
They don't need to make the program work on all systems or use a fancy new language. They just need to enable the community and make use of development patterns that are flexible. Java certainly is not a fancy new language, and despite it's claim it only really works on Windows well enough out of the box. Yet Minecraft has an open community where even the developers profit from what others add to the game. When the coders of DF die in an airplane crash tomorrow DF is pretty much dead as well and that's the big problem I think. If I invest my whole life to create an awesome piece of work, then it should surpass me in number of years.
What reason do you have for your belief that the community's development of DF (after the plane crash) will be according to the founder's great vision? I openly say that it's perhaps better if in this case the further development of DF is ceased than developed into a direction that is opposed to the original developer's goals.
If DF would look like that during gameplay, I'd immediately start playing.
 Obvious nitpick: some players do indeed challenge themselves to build everything above ground.
A sane interface with even the most primitive 2D tile-based GUI would make Dwarf Fortress better by orders of magnitude.
The UI may be bad and need improvement (personally I find it no more complicated than any other CLI, even if it is a little inconsistent), but you can't complain about the default tile-set being ugly and unreadable and how "even the most primitive 2D tile-based GUI would make Dwarf Fortress better by orders of magnitude" when there is a rich and dedicated group of fans who pour a lot of time into making the game look, in a lot of cases, very nice.
And as your sibling poster said, if you really cannot stand the 2d, there is Stonesense for rudimentary 3d graphics.
And it won't make your eyes bleed.
Is it really a big concern how well DF will scale? It's a game, it is made to be played. It isn't really meaningful to criticize games for whether they are multithreaded or not.
It actually is a concern as DF in game (dwarf mode anyway) does a huge amount of pathfinding for the little buggers and other creatures. Not to mention item tracking and other bits.
This means that once your fortress gets somewhere around 200 dwarfs you start getting into FPS death because it doesn't scale. So it actually as is a problem, and development of the game is going against the grain of modern computing.
I'm not downing on it at all, DF is Tarns forever project, and a damn good one. He, by design, doesn't owe anyone anything. But the reality of it is that it only gets less and less playable over time and will not be able to reach the mass civilization simulation that many of its players want as more features are added and core speeds remain relatively unchanged.
A commercial game would have a tutorial mode and other bells and whistles to make it more approachable.
Thing is, I have one hour a day before sleep to screw around, so is it Bob's Burgers or Dwarf Fortress?
Does Jackson Pollock have a tutorial? Duchamp? The beauty in Dwarf Fortress is that it doesn't cater to the lowest common denominator. It's the vision of Tarn and Zach Adams manifested without the filter of commercial interests.
Nobody's opposed to a tutorial (and there are plenty of community created ones: http://dwarffortresswiki.org/index.php/DF2014:Tutorials ).
Commercial games are like corporate art. A company would never create a game like Dwarf Fortress.
Alternately, you can spend your hour before bed watching reality television.
I ended up having more fun hacking on DF than playing it, but it is an interesting game.
If video games shouldn't be developed to high levels of efficiency, what should be?
From a developer's perspective, though, there is a lot of "fun" left in their codebase. They handle massive pathfinding, temperature and fluid mechanics, and other resource intensive algorithms. From what I remember (I last played DF2010), there is a lot of room for improvement, and the community has discovered several "workarounds" that reduce the workload for common structure types (such as a lava pump)
The 4 iteration, resulted in Ivis Voidwinds (or something), the new elf princess who promptly went to explore the wilds and tamed giant dingos, lions, polar bears, bears and a host of other animals.
In 162 she led an army and attacked the goblin civ, pillaging 3 cities in an unstoppable attack till they signed a peace treaty in 163.
In 163 the goblins broke the treaty, at which point she waged war till 250, when world gen stopped. She was victorious in battle and converted 5 conquered sites to Elfdom.
She did this all with only 1 kill to her name, she was a high master strategist.
I will continue to have no interest in Dwarf Fortress until it has an actual UI instead of whatever insane random combinations of controls the developer felt like adding on any particular day.
You might also be interested in https://www.factorio.com/ which is a game about building factories (free world, 2d isometric). Aside from being addictive, it is also performant, looks good, has a decent soundtrack and comes with all of it's ingame-stats conveniently embedded in Lua-sourcefiles (which you don't even have to parse-- just run them through the interpreter if you want to start modding/theorycrafting).
Disclaimer: I'm not affiliated with those games in any way, just promoting them because they're awesome (best entertainment/price ratio of anything I ever paid for).
The extra effort in the UI tends to leave far worse games than Dwarf Fortress though.
If I wait a couple of years to play, I end up losing a weekend or two to a few forts. I have to get my fix by spending a day or two every few months. No other game does that to me.
b>c to build a chair
b>d to build a door
b>w>l to build a still (type of workshop, many other things under b>w)
Several different sets of keys to use depending on what you're manipulating, even though they all have to do with direction. I can never remember and always have to use the in-game help.
Whereas, when I play nethack or DCSS or brogue, 99% of the things my fingers do, they do without needing to consult their external memory (my brain).
The interface is so simple (okay, nethack's is not, but I started playing it at an early age, so it's baked in to my fingers now) that it's a joy to operate the game.
Once your brain doesn't have to drive your fingers, the interface becomes an extension of you and you achieve a kind of flow where you're interacting with the (game) world without thinking about it. Anybody who has learned to drive stick shift (especially if you already knew how to drive an automatic) knows this feeling.
Back in 2009-2010 on DCSS we were very fortunate to have one of our developers organized a usability study. The usability study ran over several months and produced a ton of feedback. Since the core team is around 30, we actually had the throughput to act on these recommendations.
I wrote an IRC bot last year for myself and a small community on IRC (5 of us at the time), that specifically monitored only us by paying attention to lines said in ##crawl. It also passed along commands to the appropriate bots (Henzell, Gretell, etc), and responded with their responses. The bot was pretty crappy through, as it was just an irssi script with a buncha hacked perl.
A friend in the community rewrote it as a proper bot, and has extended it much more. This little community of ours (now up to 20 or so people) has had a ton of fun thanks to this, because we get the usefulness of ##crawl without the spam.
I haven't played DCSS in a few years, but when I did, it was literally feast or famine: I would either be walking around with dozens of rations or else dying of hunger all the time. Herbivorous races like Spriggans didn't have very high food consumption but also didn't have many options in case they didn't find vegetarian food.
I read the summary page for the usability study, it seemed to give tons of (in particular) very _actionable_ feedback.
 Nethack, as much as I love it, causes brain damage in the same way that BASIC does: it shapes the way your brain works in a disadvantageous way. Consider that all of the nethack variants _add_ features (and are unabashed about it, SLASH stands for Super Lots of Added Stuff Hack).
Two features that come to mind are summoning mechanics and axes. Previously summoned monsters would stick around after a summoner died. This encouraged players to just run away if too many summons dropped. Instead, brogue pops all the summoned creatures as soon as you kill the summoner. This raises interesting tactical possibilities: Do I expend items to kill a summoner? Do I try to separate a summoner from other monsters?
Granted, this isn't easy for everyone.
Learn about tiles, z levels, and investigating what an object/unit is (navigation and inspection).
Learn about designations (how to mine, gather plants, chop down trees)
Learn about rooms and workshops (mason, carpenter, bedrooms, dining rooms, offices, walls, doors, grates, stairs, ramps)
Learn about farming (underground preferred)
Learn about trading (crafts, trading depot)
Learn about nobles (bookkeeper and manager to start, followed by broker)
Learn about mechanisms (mechanisms and levers, let power come later)
Learn about military (squads, commanders, fighting, training, equipment)
Explore the rest of the game!
If you want any help, comment or email me in my profile, I would be glad to help!
Why? It's like learning Ruby on Rails with Michael Hartl. You follow his instructions to learn more than just mechanics, but the Rails Way of doing things.
Same with Dwarf Fortress. You need to learn the DF way of doing things, the DF way of solving problems. Easiest way to learn it is to follow deep instruction for a while.
I cannot find the exact tutorial I followed a while ago (and I'm not sure it's even valid for the latest versions) but this wiki ought to help start: http://dwarffortresswiki.org/index.php/DF2014:Quickstart_gui...
Maybe a current DF player can link you to the best multi-year walkthrough :)