Friday, January 21, 2011

Losing is Fun!

That is the motto of the game Dwarf Fortress, and you will lose. Your goal is to build a thriving community of dwarves. You start with an expedition of 7 dwarves and some supplies. You can decide what professions they have and also decide what supplies they bring with. From that point on it is you against the world. You have to come up with food and other things, build a fortress, and try to survive. The game is the product of Tarn Adams, with some input from his brother Zach. It is one of the most detailed games ever, with some very interesting design ideas. Unfortunately it suffers from a rather steep learning curve, and the interface, in particular the map display, is not for the faint of heart. Below is a picture of the default ascii interface (click for original pic). Some people say after a while you will be like Cypher in the Matrix and be able to decypher the ascii characters subconsiously, but I think it is more work than it is worth.

DF_ascii

Fortunately people have come out with tile sets that make the display much easier to digest and comprehend. An example (pretty much same view as above) is below which is clickable as well.

DF_tileset

That lets you spend more time figuring out the interface and what you need to do so your dwarves can thrive. That will take some trial and error, but it is a fun experience watching your dwarves. It almost takes a dark sense of humor to watch the tragedies that can unfold, such as accidental flooding of your fortress; goblin forces invading and slaughtering your people who havent been adequately protected by you; dwarves going insane and killing fellow citizens.

Basically fortress mode is a combination of a SimCity style builder game with an Anno 1404 ecomony game. So you are building a fortress and managing resources and production chains. There also is combat and trade involved.

One very neat aspect of the game is that the world you generate is persistent. It develops a history, and you can play multiple games in that same world. You can even play another mode called adventure mode and go find old fortresses that have been abandoned and find out their history (developed through game events) via journals, artifacts, and engravings you find.

I think that even though it has a primitive graphics interface which can be a hindrance as described above, it is also a strength of the game. Like games from back in the times of the C-64 it causes the player to use their imagination to paint a picture in their mind of what they are seeing represented in the game. That tends to provide more powerful imagery than even modern day AAA titles can produce, and allows the developer to focus on the game design itself. That is one of the main strengths that pen and paper RPGs have always had.

So far in my 1st attempt at providing a happy home to my dwarves, I have had a dwarf go insane and go on a murdering rampage until I figured out the military interface, created a squad, and had them attack him (even though I think he died from dehydration after running all over killing thins). I also had the majority of my population slaughtered by a goblin raiding force. They cut down my basically unarmed squad with ranged weapons and proceeded to rampage through my fortress. That is something that will need to be focused on more in the next game.

If you can get past the initial stage of dealing with the interface it is a fun game to play and I recommend that people try it just to see what some people are capable of developing instead of the same rehashed games that major publishers put out these days.

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