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Dwarf Fortress: Now what in the hell is going on here?

Enosh is a big fan of Reddit, which as far as I know he uses solely to troll the /r Minecraft populace with his thoughts and feelings about the ever-popular game by Mojang.  Have you heard of Minecraft before?  That was a smart ass question.  Of course you have.  Don’t worry- this isn’t going to be another Minecraft post (though, tangent:  Jungles?  Cats?  AI that makes villagers spin in place like ferrets with ADD?  Whaaaaaat!) I’m sure you’ve had QUITE ENOUGH of that.

Anyway, in /r Minecraft, there are several games that are typically name dropped every so often.  One of them is a small, free, alpha game by the name of Dwarf Fortress.  Enosh sent me the link in an email about two weeks ago, and then promptly told me that he wasn’t going to play it because he has shit to do. I was immediately put off by the fact that the game is done completely in ASCII characters and agreed with him that maybe some games should be left unplayed.

But…  then… I got curious.  I’ve been helping dwarves to eke out an existence for over a week now, but unfortunately more of them have died, offered up as sacrifices to the most titanic learning curve I’ve ever seen in any game.

Here's a lie for you: If you stare at these menus long enough they will make sense.

Created by Bay 12 games, Dwarf Fortress is one of those games that is constantly in development.  After futilely searching the Bay 12 Games site for any information about what I could expect from Dwarf Fortress, I shrugged my shoulders and hit download.  After about two hours, I figured out how to create a world, which takes a significant chunk of time.  Creating the actual physical space to play doesn’t take a lot of time, mind you, but running though the world’s history can take a good chunk of time.  Once that was finished, I hit “embark,” and immediately fucked up my chances by not establishing jobs for any of my initial 7 settlers.

I was also overwhelmed with the hodge-podge graphics and was having a hard time distinguishing what was happening at any given point.  The game ended when winter struck, and I had not yet figured out how to get my dwarves underground, so everyone died of extreme cold and thirst after all the water sources froze over.

Here's where I built a good number of rooms before figuring out how to dig deeper. Oh man don't even get me started on making stairs. Don't even get me started. Check out those working farms, though! +1 success for me.

Clearly, I needed help.  I plugged “How do I play Dwarf Fortress” into Google and was treated to a handy blog, which outlines what I should be attempting to do at any given point.  “Ahhh,” I muttered to myself.  “I can chop down trees.  Oh, gathering food!  What?  Brewing booze?  Digging into mountains?”  I was completely blown away.  I skimmed the rest of the blog, which has numerous posts on how to play Dwarf Fortress.  Protip:  this game is apparently the most complicated town building sim that has ever existed.

There was also another download for DF I picked up, which essentially gave it better graphics.  They’re still not amazing, but at least I can tell what’s going on now.  Check that out here.

Heartened with this new information, I started again.  I was still doomed to failure, mind you, but I made it much farther, this time even establishing a few rooms complete with stockpiles and a few farms.  My major problems, however, stemmed from the fact that my handy tutorial blog was written in 2009, leaving two years of Dwarf Fortress upgrades and changes unaccounted for.  Navigating menus was tricky, though I eventually figured out that “Shift +” would scroll the cursor one way and just plain – (minus, I guess) would send it the other.  The blog does say if you don’t like this setup, you can rebind the keys yourself, but…  do you have any idea how many key bindings there are!?  I searched for a long time.  A LONG TIME.

Anyway, to make a long story short, my second and third fortresses weren’t long for this world.  One time, I had a dwarf go crazy and brutally murder everyone.  Another, everyone died of extreme thirst.  The screenshots you see here are from my fourth fortress, which…  well, you’ll see later on.

The game has just informed me that one of my dwaves has given birth. After a bit of searching, I found the baby unattended in the DAMN MUSHROOM FARM. Dwarves=bad parents.

Turns out, Dwarf Fortress is pretty addicting once you figure out what the hell is going on.  It invokes a lot of the same “okay just one more” feelings you get from city building games, and has the added benefit of knowing that you’re only scratching the surface of what the game has to offer.  My only real beef with this game is that there is absolutely NO in-game help about what you should be doing, and the alert system doesn’t really help much either since I have absolutely no idea how to deal with problems.

At one point, it told me one of my dwarves had been possessed.  I examined him, and the game told me he has been doing pretty well lately, all things considered.  I figured if he was okay with being possessed by a malevolent spirit, who am I to tell him to cut that out?  Plus… I have no idea what to do for possession.  Anyone have a priest I can borrow?

Also, your Dwarf Fortress will look cluttered, as mining will leave rocks just laying all over the place willy-nilly, which severely hurts my OCD.  But eh, what can you do?  No one said your underground cave was going to be spectacularly clean, right?

The depth in this game is wonderful.  Assigning rooms, declaring buildings for certain use, building trade depots (don’t trade wood items to the elves, FYI.  They’re not fans), animal production, hell, BEEKEEPING, and much more.  You can make one of your dwarves a professional biter, for what that’s worth.

I played my game a bit more to get the screenshots for this article, and I was heartened that things were moving like clockwork.  But then…  I noticed a few updates that my dwarves were dropping commands due to some kind of horse skeleton somewhere.  Now, not that long ago a horse of mine DID die (it was an accident.  I forgot horses need to eat food) so I assumed that a worker had stumbled on that in the refuse pile.  I went to investigate and…


I know its a little hard to tell, the walls of my storage area are absolutely covered in blood.  the four dwarves on the left are staring forlornly at at least 12 corpses.  The question mark here turned out to be a horrifying, utterly terrifying zombie horse that saw my dwarves sitting around enjoying life, which sent it into a murderous rampage of carnage.

Panicking at this point, I paused the game and maneuvered the cursor over to the scary undead horse to examine it, hoping for a clue about what I should do.  This is what I was treated to:  a description that suggests the writer has long since succumbed to insanity.

I am going to have nightmares forever.

Aaaaand then everyone died.  My entire dwarf fortress was wiped out by a hellish skeleton beast who, the game assures me, is a herbivore.

I’ll probably give it another shot here in a few minutes, as I suggest you do as well.  Dwarf Fortress is exceptionally difficult to get in to, but nothing compares to the feeling you’ll get once you successfully set up some booze production, or some rooms for your dwarves and watch them run about, content in their underground burrows.

Failure, after all is a part of life.  Don’t feel so bad getting 25 dwarves murdered.  The odds are stacked against them, after all.  The fact that you are an overseer and completely clueless isn’t going to help them much either.

One Response

  1. This is one of the funniest Tophat articles I’ve read in a while. I literally laughed out loud. Thank you sir.

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