Dwarf Fortress, the game that makes games like Starcraft, Crusader kings and Eve Online look like easily accessible child’s play. However, underneath the near impentetrable skin of the ASCII (Which I personally don’t use), unintuitive user interface and sheer amount of content is the game that personally I believe has the potential to shape the way we talk about video games and video game stories.
One of the favourite past times of the Dwarf Fortress community is the telling of stories, with names such as Boatmurdered and Oilfurnace being comparable to a holy book in reverence. This is what I like to call ‘Emergent storytelling’ which I just did a Google search of and it turns out someone wrote a similar blogpost using this exact same terminology. What this means is that, with video games in general, with the hundreds and thousands of variables, strange bugs and sheer craziness of an interactive art form there will undoubtedly be events which you just can’t forget and feel that you have to tell someone. And this is why I find myself being sucked in, over and over again to the clunky and imperfect greatness of Dwarf Fortress.
The developers (Tarn Adams and his brother Zach Adams) put in a lot of detail to the game, with realistic body modeling (Partly, see here) which creates a combat experience like no other and the random creation of items inscribed with sometimes pages of lore as well as randomly generated ‘Mega-beasts’ who come in many disgusting, embarrassing and sometimes horribly ineffective forms. However, the game comes in two different flavours (Three if you count the lore reading mode) those being adventure mode and Dwarf Fortress mode, obviously the mode named after the game is the main attraction and focus of the development.
In Dwarf Fortress mode you manage a group of seven bumbling and often horribly violent drunks with whom you have to craft a thriving metropolis where all of dwarf kind is safe from the many horrors of the over-world (But don’t get too confident underground!) as well as managing their many industries, military squads and simple issues such as housing and agriculture. Traps, violence and brutality is where the community is most active when it comes to discussion, with topics such as “Spartan Training for young children” where dropping puppies upon the infants of your fort is considered a good idea being amongst the more ethical areas of thought.
The other game mode, Adventure mode, is an open world Rogue-like RPG where the player takes the role of an individual Dwarf, Elf or Human from a town of their choice and venture out into the world in search of a gloriously violent death and to make a meaty entry into the ever writing lore books. As this mode is currently quite new and underdeveloped (However, the next patch is looking to rectify this) in comparison to it’s much older and handsomer brother there is not much to do here other than walk around the randomly generated world and slay beasts until you eventually die. The combat system is what really carries this game mode, as I mentioned earlier Dwarf Fortress has a rather detailed body modeling system which can create some rather interesting battle situations such as an experience I had where I defeated a Raptor without a functioning arm (I imagine the battle ended similar to this) and turns the otherwise quite dull rogue-like text based combat into a gritty and terrifying wrestling match. And eventually after beheading/de-arming/de-torso-ing enough monsters you will gain access to bigger and badder creatures to kill for quests.
And this has been a relatively short description (More of a love letter really) of why I personally find Dwarf Fortress to be one of the most brutally addictive and exciting game I have ever played and well worth the month long basic learning curve of the games that I experienced and why I wrote this blog and will probably post multi-part story in the near future about my adventures in a brand new fort. To begin to learn the game I’d recommend this wiki post as well as barrels full of Dwarf blood to begin your journey into the chaos of Dwarf Fortress.
Just remember, Losing is fun.