Losing is fun.
Publisher: Bay 12 Games
Genres: Simulation, Strategy
Developer: Tarn Adams
The game is also famous for the detail it goes into when it comes to pretty much everything. I previously mentioned the quality scale of items. You can go beyond they base characteristics of an item, and use the bones, shells and even teeth of butchered animals and enemies to decorate your items (among other things, can be pretty much any material really). These can be little rings of the stuff hanging from the item, or bands of it, circling the edges, or even menacing spikes. All in text form of course, you will have to picture the final product in your mind’s eye.
You can even commemorate the important moments of the fortress’ or even the world’s randomly generated history. You can order your most accomplished engravers to start carving pictures into the floor and walls of certain rooms, and they might decide to immortalize Urist McManiac’s glorious victory over the captured goblin prisoner in that very “fair” fight they had in the arena. Same goes for statues as well, and although they only appear as a modest Ω in the game world, if you examine it, you will be able to read the description of the statue and the event it refers to. Again, use your imagination.
Items are not the only thing the game pays this much attention to. It is also notorious for the detail it models the body of creatures. What other game can say, that it can simulate the damage on every finger of a character’s body? But wait. It’s not just individual fingers. Those fingers have bones, flesh, skin and nerves in them. Maybe the damage is just a bruise. Or maybe the bone is broken. Or it’s a deep cut that severed the nerve, leaving the limb crippled. There are internal organs, entire skeletal structures, etc. The ribs can break, puncturing the lung, suffocating the victim, of a skull fragment can damage the brain, debilitating or outright killing the wounded party, or a well placed axe swing can remove entire limbs.
Since I mentioned hospitals before, you can see where this is going. If you have dwarves who are capable in the medical field, they can be appointed as doctors and tasked to look after the wounded in specially designated hospital zones. They will diagnose ailments, preform surgeries, wash wounds with soap to prevent infections, use splints to set broken bones, etc. If combat occurs, you can read the report of the conflict, which will detail every blow made in gruesome detail, explaining how those teeth you found on the ground in the aftermath came loose from the mouth of that goblin, thanks to a well placed hammerblow.
Now that you know at least the fraction of the possible events that can occur, you have an idea why people who stick with it during the early growing pains will likely fall in love with this game. There are numerous lets plays available on YouTube, not to mention the vast number of after action reports and illustrated stories floating around the internet (one of the most famous is called “Boatmurdered”, a succession game full of blood, pain and bloodthirsty elephants). The game is very good at telling stories that emerge from the gameplay itself, without the meddling of a writer. There are tales of heroic last-stands against an invading goblin horde, or suicidal bouts between dragons and last surviving champions. I’m sure at least some of you have read the well known comic about the survival of the fortress called Bronzemurder (names are randomly generated, no bias towards murder, actually).
Of course, given that the development team is a duo of two brothers, with only one of them dealing with the programming side of things, there will be hiccups occasionally, but given the complexity this game manages to pull off, it is surprisingly stable and bug free and the problems usually only involve newly introduced features. The program itself is freely downloadable from the official site.
If you decide to give it a try, there are many good resources available on the net that can help you familiarize yourself with the core gameplay, there are even a few video tutorials on YouTube. The community surrounding this game is generally very helpful towards newcomers and will gladly help anyone who wanders into the official forums. Also, there are numerous graphical tilesets available if you decide to give it a go but still cannot stomach the ASCII look. Most of these are downloadable from the mod-repository, usually either in a patch form, which need to be applied to the core game, or as a pack that is ready to be played as soon as you extract them. Just make sure you check the version numbers before downloading. The newest releases are usually better since they contain fixes and new features.
I hope I could show a glimpse about Dwarf Fortress being a unique game, with unparalleled level of detail and complexity. There is always something happening, and I barely even scratched the surface of the many events that can happen to your stout minions as they try to survive in a hostile world. Just remember, appreciate the failures, as they are the biggest source of the more interesting stories that came out of this game. While it is possible to play everything completely safe, keep in mind: safe is boring, “losing is fun.”
This review was written by Blistered Thumbs user Hmuda. Check out other posts from this user in the BT community blogs right here.
Ever wondered what it would be like to become the leader of a dwarven mountain hall in a fantasy world populated by hippie elves with weird eating habits, sadistic goblins who kidnap your children, alcoholic dwarves with severe mental disorders and monsters that would make the hair stand up on your back, then promptly jump off and run for the exit in terror? If the answer is yes, than Dwarf Fortress is the game for you.
|PROS||Complex, almost ridiculously detailed gameplay. Will make you use your imagination.|
|CONS||The lack of traditional graphics and extreme complexity will scare people off.|
|WTF?!||Did that elf just eat the corpse of my captain?!|
Now before we plunge into the thick of things, it is necessary to clarify a few things regarding this game. The first thing one will notice after starting it up (or looking at the pictures) is that there is nothing here that today’s gamer would think of as “graphics.” Everything is represented by ASCII symbols. The ground is a bunch of comas, dots and semicolons, trees are represented by ♠, ♣, ¶, and other similar characters, a dog is a lower case „d”, a goblin a „g”, while a giant toad or a troll will be a capital „T”. Everything that would be animations or dialogue in other games are handled by actual text here. Instead of watching an exciting fight scene, you will read about it after watching two letters stand next to each other while flashing as they trade hits (and turning the other symbols around them red as they bloody up the place). In this game, you will have to use your imagination. If playing regular games are like watching movies, playing Dwarf Fortress is like reading a book.
The second thing to keep in mind is that this game is both hard and complex. There is a catchphrase often associated with this title: “losing is fun.” And you will lose. A lot. Horribly. There are tons of ways one can get defeated. Maybe a goblin ambush gets through your military and start butchering the civilian population, or maybe your legendary battleaxe wielding champion loses his favorite pet dog, goes berserk in his grief and pulls that one lever that held back the river from flooding your fortress (or just kills everybody himself). I leave the discovery of more juicy ways to die up to you. There are a lot.
Last but not least, anyone considering to pick this one up has to know: this game is operated exclusively via keyboard. Sure, you can use the mouse to make fine adjustments to your designations here and there, but the only way to get ahead is by getting comfortable with the immense amounts of shortcuts necessary to control your fortress. But don’t worry. It doesn’t take long before you are playing like a virtuoso and create fortresses that make Moria pale in comparison.
Now that we got these out of the way, and if you are still reading, let’s clear up what DF is exactly? Imagine a mix between Dungeon Keeper and The Sims, turned up to 11… make it 20… let me explain.
You know how in Dungeon Keeper, you could dig areas out and place rooms? Imagine that on a vastly bigger playing field, all the way from the surface down to around 150 levels on the Z axis. Needless to say, that’s a lot of digging. Couple that with a very detailed geology system with dozens of different types of stones in distinct layers, veins of ores, cave systems to explore (beware, can contain nasty amounts of “fun”) and… let’s just say, there is a reason why people should take the tale of Moria to heart and not to dig too deep, too greedily. You’ve been warned.
As for the connection with The Sims, you know how those little guys are so well modeled psychologically? You can leave them alone for a while and they will act according to their pre-set needs and desires? Imagine that with dozens of personality traits with 200 individuals all interacting, making friends, holding grudges, marrying, raising families, etc. Dwarves are best known for their fickle personalities (and for their love of a good ale, but that’s not the point here). At one point they may be the happiest member of your community, but if they lose something they hold very dear (a pet, a family member or a legendary artifact they created), they can become so depressed, that they eventually become inconsolably melancholic, stark raving mad or just snap and go berserk, attacking everyone and everything. If they just tantrum a little, breaking furniture, you can count yourself lucky. Unless they start a tantrum spiral (break the stuff of other dwarfs who also become sad, and start tantruming as well, breaking the stuff of others, who…you get the idea). Just another way to die.
Over the course of a game, you will dig out vast halls, comfy bedrooms, busy workshops, grand dining halls and the finely decorated tombs to house your many, many dead. You will trade with elves, humans and other dwarf settlements in your randomly generated world, with its own unique geography, civilizations, deities and history. You will have to tend to the needs of your ever growing community, starting with their food and booze supply (dwarves only drink water as a last resort), all the way down to supplying the clothes they wear. You will also have to dig out veins of iron ore, smelt them down to bars and craft each individual piece of armor and weapon for your military (or keep going in the chain and smelt them into steel and then make even more superior equipment).
There is an incredible variety of items you can craft, coupled with an extensive quality system. Some are everyday comforts, like tables to eat at or beds to sleep on, others are little baubles, like puzzle boxes and toy boats, which are great to trade with if traders come for a visit, while yet others are necessary for the smooth operation of certain fortress functions, like soap for the hospital to clean wounds, containers for your guys to store stuff in, or mechanisms to create traps to defend your halls from the very scary world out there.
Apart from the unpredictable dwarves themselves, there are many dangers outside your gates that would just love to kill your workers. Maybe an herbalist will be impaled by a unicorn while gathering plants outside, or a kobold thief steals an incredibly valuable artifact, pretty much guaranteeing that the creator will have a mental breakdown, or a goblin snatcher abducts children, or a goblin raiding party starts to wreak havoc among your populace, or a mythical beast, like a minotaur pays you a visit, or maybe it will be a dragon, or one of the randomly generated “forgotten beasts” which can be ridiculously hard to kill and will most likely signal the beginning of the end (think of the Balrog, that didn’t turn out well for Moria), unless you were well prepared.