About Dwarf Fortress


Dwarf Fortress is an amazing game. I'm not one to usually throw that term around (not seriously, anyway), but I think it applies here. It's not going to appeal to all people, it doesn't have graphics (it's all ascii characters unless you get a tileset), the interface takes a long time to get used to, there's more micromanagement than anything else in the game, and there's literally no way to win. A victory condition does not exist: All fortresses will fall eventually, it's just a matter of time.

But where Dwarf Fortress excels is its depth. There are only a few other games that even compare (old standbys like Nethack, for instance), but even these pale in certain respects. This can be a drawback - for instance, if you're drafting a militia and you don't want it to suck, you may have to browse through personalities of all eligible candidates to ensure they aren't weak-willed - but as long as you aren't afraid to take it slow, no other game can even begin to compete with the depth presented in certain areas.

I'm fairly late to the DF bandwagon, given that the game has been under active development for about a decade now, and I'll admit that most of this was due to the interface. I can deal with text-based keyboard-driven interfaces just fine, don't get me wrong: My editor of choice is Vim, I spend a lot of time in a *nix console, and I'm perfectly comfortable with classic-style roguelikes (Nethack, Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, etc.). But Dwarf Fortress scared me at first.

But now... I can't stop fucking playing this thing.

For the uninitiated, think of Minecraft (which was, by Notch's own admission, influenced quite heavily by DF in some respects). You control a dude, walk around, gather resources, build things, etc.. It happens in a procedurally generated world, all blocks are destructible, various nasties lurk around every corner. Okay, now I want you to imagine that instead of controlling one guy from a 3d, first-person perspective, you control an entire fortress of these guys from a 2d, top-down perspective.

World generation is kind of insane in DF. There are two ways to generate a world: The normal way, and the way with 'advanced parameters'. Given how 'normal' is already above my head for most things in this game, I don't even want to look at what the game considers 'advanced'. You choose a length of history, how many civilizations (roughly) have come to exist, etc.. While the world is generating, the game creates basically everyone in the world, each person having their own personality, and histories are generated on the fly procedurally just by letting the AI act using the NPCs' personalities and various other bits of happenstance.

As you might imagine, Dwarf Fortress does have some complexity baked in because of stuff like this. In fact, people tend not to think of DF as having a learning curve so much as having a learning cliff face. I had to force myself to set aside a block of time, thankfully right before spring break, just to learn how to play Dwarf Fortress. After watching about three hours of video tutorials and finding a pretty good web-based tutorial that holds your hand and walks you through an initial fort, I was done. The rest of my week was eaten alive by Dwarf Fortress until about Thursday, where I had to tear myself away for homework, during which I could not stop thinking about how to improve my fort(s).

The next thing I write will be a small catalogue of the various resources I used to learn how to play, as well as various other interesting Dwarf Fortress links. I'll update that entry from time to time as other resources become known to me.

Dwarf Fortress resources entry

Download Dwarf Fortress