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The Brilliance of Dwarf Fortress 104

Posted by Soulskill
from the in-all-its-ascii-glory dept.
The NY Times is running a story about Dwarf Fortress, an independently produced, ASCII-rendered fantasy game that thrives on its own uniqueness and has influenced countless other game developers (and runs on Linux). Quoting: "Though it may seem ungainly at first, the game’s interface — rendered in what are known as extended ASCII characters — has a sparse elegance. As seasons change, trees, represented by various symbols, shift from green to yellow. Goblins’ eyes appear as red quotation marks; if you shoot out an eye with an arrow, the symbol becomes an apostrophe. On a message board, one fan likened the ASCII experience in Dwarf Fortress to the immersive pleasures of reading a book: 'You can let your imagination fill in the gaps.' The community that has arisen around Dwarf Fortress is remarkable. Fans maintain an extensive wiki, which remains the game’s best (and, effectively, only) instruction manual, and which even Tarn and Zach admit to consulting. ... Perhaps most fascinating are the stories that fans share online, recounting their dwarven travails in detailed and sometimes illustrated narratives. In a 2006 saga, called Boatmurdered, fans passed around a single fortress — one player would save a game, send the file to another player and so on, relay-race style — while documenting its colorful descent into oblivion."
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The Brilliance of Dwarf Fortress

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  • Dwarf Fortress (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zget (2395308) on Friday July 22, 2011 @05:57PM (#36852372)
    It may be brilliant, and I enjoyed playing it too.. But it seriously need a good gui. I stopped playing because I got tired of going thru menus and trying to memorize the key combos. It's a great game, just make a good GUI into it!
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Maybe something like nethack?

      The generic windowed Nethack tileset took away no functionality from the game and all the keyboard command still worked. Rarely would I use a mouse in Nethack except to maybe zip from point A to point B.

      You need to keep in mind that Tarn is not an artist. he's a programmer first. And the game eats a lot of CPU as it is--I had overclocked my core 2 duo to 4ghz just to keep one fortress going with its 200 inhabitants and all the things going on. I am sure if he gave up control

      • MULTI-THREADING. The game overtaxes even modern single cores. If we could get some multiple cores going, our games' complexity wouldn't have to be limited by the game's binaries.
        • by AnonGCB (1398517)

          Supposedly it's too hard to program for multiple threads for AI, as it already supports offloading some features to alternate cores.

        • by PJ6 (1151747) on Friday July 22, 2011 @06:40PM (#36852888)

          MULTI-THREADING. The game overtaxes even modern single cores. If we could get some multiple cores going, our games' complexity wouldn't have to be limited by the game's binaries.

          When you have many items in a world all interacting with each other at once, especially done in the terrible C++ way, it's not trivial at all to parallelize. It's something you can only properly achieve if you had parallelization in mind from the beginning of the design.

          He'd have to rewrite the whole thing from the ground up, preferably in a language more suited to the task. Bad news for this, because in my experience C/C++ programmers never move on.

          • I'm waiting for a GTA-style, gritty, urban adventure like this.

            ASCIItution and mayhem!

            • by Langdon (44221)

              I'm waiting for a GTA-style, gritty, urban adventure like this.

              ASCIItution and mayhem!

              Might wanna check out Liberal Crime Squad, also by Bay12. Not as rogue-like as DF but still fun.

          • by wurp (51446)

            It seems to me your experience must be somewhat limited. I programmed c/c++ for 7 years (with some perl on the side) and switched to java. I've now done java (and some perl, and some python, etc) for about 12 years. I know several other developers who've done the same thing.

            Maybe it's just that you're young, and people who are still doing c/c++ as of 5 years ago are stuck on it.

    • I haven't played Dwarf fortress, but I've found Nethack and other Rogue-like games to be all but unplayable in GUI mode. I'd love it if someone would port an ASCII Rogue-like to Java Mobile so I could play it on my crappy old phones.

      • by zget (2395308)
        I'm not talking about some isometric view or stuff like that. There are already tilesets available for Dwarf Fortress that make it nice to play with, while still having the same look. I'm just talking about making the game options available in simpler ways than going thru endless menus. For example, if you have a person selected a GUI can dynamically show you the options you can perform with him instead of looking endless amount of sub-menus just to do a single thing. It's an awesome game, and this shouldn'
      • by N_Piper (940061)
        With the number of objects being kept track of, +40 Dwarfs & +20 Goblins with Full clothing body parts and organ lists, Dwarf Fortress would Sodomize ANY single core computer sideways forget a phone all together.
    • by AnonGCB (1398517)

      The GUI is great. It's not accessible and not easy to read. It's perfect for what it represents, and I wouldn't play if it had a different interface. Just because it's hard to learn for new players doesn't mean it should be dumbed down.

      • Making an interface more accessible does not mean it's being "dumbed down". I'd hate to see you create a website with the Dwarf Fortress design ideas.

    • The biggest issue with refining the GUI is that it's still in alpha, and features change quickly enough that a good gui would soon become obsolete.

      Fanmade programs like dwarf therapist and stonesense help significantly, of course.

      • by bidule (173941)

        The biggest issue with refining the GUI is that it's still in alpha, and features change quickly enough that a good gui would soon become obsolete.

        Fanmade programs like dwarf therapist and stonesense help significantly, of course.

        That's no excuse for 2468, /*-+ and uhjm. There's no rhyme nor reason for which to use when. And some times when exploring the interface you hit a dead end and have to repeat the last 6 keys to get the next McUrist or whatever.

        The inability to iterate through the interface is one of the main reason I stopped playing last year, that and the long-assed trips to get the "closest" stone on the same square 20 floors below rather than the one on the same floor 2 squares to the right. Which is a shame because it w

      • by MaDeR (826021)
        "It is still in alpha!" is crap excuse. Hell, even in mainstream we have perpetual betas already. No more of this. GUI of DF is utter and complete shit. Deal with it. DF GUI should be seriously teached as "how to NOT do it" in user interface courses.
        Shame, because DF in itself is really great game..
    • The UI problems (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Sloppy (14984) on Friday July 22, 2011 @06:44PM (#36852920) Homepage Journal

      The UI desperately needs improvement, but whether it's graphic or not, I don't give a fuck. When you have 200 dwarves it is a total bitch to find the ones you're looking for. Quick: where is my dwarf who knows how to suture? Which is that immigrant dwarf I got a little while back, who already has just a little bit of skill in using a sword (I want to recruit him into the military). Beats the hell out of me. Seriously, I can sometimes spend 10 minutes on the Units screen (alas, leaving and then trying to go back to the 'next' unit) just trying to find a particular dwarf.

      I love the game early on, but at some point it switches from game to chore. And (IMHO) it's all about the size of the population. If you have less than one screenful on the Units screen, things are very nice.

    • by Ihmhi (1206036)

      I honestly find that part of the charm.

      If anything needs improving it's the AI in my opinion. I wish you could prioritize orders a little better - like when I say get in the fortress I mean NOW GODDAMMIT.

    • Heh, DF's UI is like marmite: love it or hate it.
    • If someone were to remake DF with just rudimentary graphics and GUI (along the lines of dungeons of dredmore) it would be a smash hit. Add multiplayer capability (trading & invading other players' fortresses) and they would have a multimillion dollar MMO opportunity.

  • the ASCII experience in Dwarf Fortress to the immersive pleasures of reading a book: 'You can let your imagination fill in the gaps.'

    Just like Nethack, Dungeon crawl, etc. Great fun!

    • Not really. Dwarf Fortress is a fun game, but graphics DO matter. If it weren't for the tilesets that some intrepid gamers have made, I would never touch it.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Wow dude!

      Are you a 'real gamer' who doesn't need 'fancy graphics'!

      Someone mod this fucker up! We have a REAL GAMER posting in this story!

  • by 18_Rabbit (663482) on Friday July 22, 2011 @06:08PM (#36852502)
    DF is an ALMOST great game. The problem is not the graphics so much...it's the utterly confusing command/menu system. The strange progress of its development, for example, implementing bees and armadillos in the face of game-ending crashes or utterly useless military commands, is also frustrating.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      In my experience, the majority of the crashes are due to the game exhausting its usable address space. It may be a text based game, but it's freaking huge. I'm not-so secretly hoping for him to release a 64 bit version of the game.

    • Exactly. Although, I've gotten used to the command scheme, bizarre as it is. The military kills me, though. I try a fortress periodically just to see what's changed, but until I can get my archers to, you know, arch, it just keeps turning into a trap fest. Which, admittedly, is fun enough until the fortress bogs down from the discarded clothing everywhere. *sigh*

      Not that I'm complaining, mind. It's a free game, and Toady doesn't owe me anything. I just selfishly hope that someday he finishes the fund

      • by hey! (33014) on Friday July 22, 2011 @08:54PM (#36853764) Homepage Journal

        It almost sounds more like performance art than game development. I mean, the bloody game's motto is "Losing is Fun!", so clearly this guy's agenda is to mess with your habitual, unexamined assumptions, like "losing sucks" or "archers shoot arrows."

      • It IS possible to just set all dropped stuff to forbidden by default so you don't get every dwarf in the fortress going "HOLY FUCK UNCLAIMED SOCKS!" and bumrushing out to the killing fields.

        • so you don't get every dwarf in the fortress going "HOLY FUCK UNCLAIMED SOCKS!"

          I have no idea why you would ever want this to not happen.

      • by Risen888 (306092)

        Do yourself a huge favor: Read [magmawiki.com] this page and everything it links to. Yes, the military interface is a clusterfuck, but you can really do a lot of things with it if you can figure it out. (I still haven't entirely figured it out either; you are most definitely in the majority.) As for discarded items...well, I hope to get back to you on that one day.

    • by Ihmhi (1206036)

      The old military system worked pretty alright... the new one is a fair bit atrocious. I'm finding it hard to properly train soldiers and have them easily split into squads as before.

  • http://www.bravemule.com/ [bravemule.com]

    An illustrated tale of what happens in those fortresses.

  • "Goblins’ eyes appear as red quotation marks; if you shoot out an eye with an arrow, the symbol becomes an apostrophe."

    Where do you see anyone's eyes in DF? I have played it a moderate amount (10s of hours). and all characters are portrayed as a single ascii characters, not multiple.

    And no it really does not have a sparse elegance, even with tilesets (the only reason it is moderately playable).

    • by Anonymous Coward

      If you have ever played adventure mode and seen a goblin on edge of your vision or during night time, their eyes glow in the dark. Removing one of their eyes will turn the red " into a '

    • by Sloppy (14984)

      Might be talking about all the parts that go sailing off in arcs, whenever your dwarves' axes or traps' serrated saw blades meet goblinflesh.

  • For those of you who require graphics with your roguelikes, you cannot go wrong with DCSS, available here: http://crawl.develz.org/wordpress/ [develz.org] Be brave enough to try the 0.9 "Trunk" branch rather than the latest 0.8 release; there are a lot of nifty changes to it.
    • or THIS [magmawiki.com]. I use a version of the "gold plated" tileset that I modified myself to perfect a few nuances. Not that I am disagreeing with your recommendation of stone soup, it is awesome. It is just that for a DF thread there seem to be a lot of people here that don't seem to realise DF supports custom Tilesets.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 22, 2011 @06:26PM (#36852718)

    ... by the awful menu-structure.
    Seriously, it is so broken. It makes the game more of a chore to play.
    That is the reason there are about 50 different DF management programs because the menu system is so obtuse.
    If the menu system gets cleaned up, it might actually open the game up to more people.

    It's not like it will be hard. Just standardize all the menus. They are so horribly inconsistent right now. They are context-sensitive as well, which just confuses things further when you are in a different menu category.
    Hotkey on every item in menu, a-Z (if needed), no assignments based on relation, alphabetical, 1 reserved for up and down.
    Already that menu system sounds decent and easy to use.
    Nobody... nobody normal likes memorizing millions of hotkeys. And this is coming from a person who extensively uses AutoHotkey on Windows. But even I put most of those hotkeys behind menus now. (with a similar structure to the above)

    People regularly make it out like this game is stupidly complex which is why nobody plays it.
    The only complex thing about this game is the menu system. It is a pain in every ass ever.
    It pushes away so many people. The concepts and functionality of the game is easy enough, but it is being held back so much because the menus.

    Please Toady, PLEASE, make a new menu system.
    Have it as an option if people really, REALLY want to use the current one. (whoever does is insane and must love suffering)
    It really is hurting the game, a LOT. This game would be significantly more popular than it is now if it got a more streamlined menu system to it.
    As a person who doesn't have much time in the day to play, it saddens me that I can't play this game without using a bunch of tools because managing those dorfs is just too slow and chunky with the current mess.

  • Wow. The New York Times just described a Something Awful Let's Play [lparchive.org] forum series as a fascinating saga.

    I'm not denying it (and I quite enjoyed Boatmurdered, and the upgraded followups Headshoots [lparchive.org] and Syrupleaf [lparchive.org] (Syrupleaf being arguably the best of the three)), but it's saying something when a collection of forum posts from SA can get that kind of praise in a dead tree newspaper with global circulation like the New York Times. Wow.
  • by Lordfly (590616) on Friday July 22, 2011 @06:56PM (#36852996) Homepage Journal

    ...perhaps I'm getting to the point in my life where I don't want to fight with hundreds of abstract, obscure symbols in order to enjoy a game.

    Oh, a question mark is an eye? That's funny, I thought it was a question mark.

    I've tried Dwarf Fortress probably half a dozen times, and got insanely frustrated with the interface before deleting the directory in a rage. A shame, too, because I'm a sucker for open-ended sandboxes. i'm willing to put up with batshit-insane interfaces (See: Jeskola Buzz, Second Life, QuakeBSP), but if what I'm staring at, for entertainment, looks like a dot matrix printer exploded, im' outta here.

    • by RKThoadan (89437) on Friday July 22, 2011 @07:49PM (#36853392)

      If you want to give it another try there are plenty of well done tilesets for it now. I generally recommend getting the lazy newb pack which has all the enhancements you need.

      Link: http://www.bay12forums.com/smf/index.php?topic=59026.0 [bay12forums.com]

    • I played text only games when text was the only option. Done the "remember every character" thing and then Doom came along and for the first time you didn't need to study the manual or even read it to make your way through the game. And I never looked back.

      Now I have tried Dwarf Fortress and the retro ain't just the graphics. The fans will find excuses but the game is just to unwieldly and even crashes to be fun anymore. Yeah yeah, one guy doing all the work, yeah yeah old school charm... sorry no. That is

    • by MaDeR (826021)
      Hey, there are tilesets and Lazy Newb Pack. It will not help with this atrocity against humanity (user interface is truly horrible), but at least you will see pixel-art goblins raping your dorf (or, at least, changing backgrounds) instead of few g next to smiley character.
    • by Risen888 (306092)

      That's a bummer. You're missing out on one of the best, most original games I've played in a long time.

    • by Optic7 (688717)

      Since you like open-ended sandboxes, look up the game called Just Cause 2. I had not heard much about it before I ran into it but it's a fantastic sandbox game - an entire 400 square mile island where you can do pretty much anything you can imagine (within reason/ratings). The console versions (especially PS3) are better reviewed than the PC version but don't have the mods (search youtube for some interesting ones). I would really call this game a hidden gem.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    A friend who knew I loved minecraft brought up dwarf fortress while we were on a 2 day drive. The first thing I did (when we pulled into a truck stop) was download DF and then several graphic backs. The packs turn DF into a totally new game. Trees are trees, dwarfs are dwarfs etc.

    This game is far too complicated and has too much detail for me to play without the graphic backs.

    There is also a mod called Lazy newb pack which allows you to customize hundreds of settings (dwarf pop max, underwater rivers, etc

  • by Anonymous Coward

    http://pubvo.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/dwarfy1.png
    this sums up dwarf fortress' fun development.

  • "On a message board, one fan likened the ASCII experience in Dwarf Fortress to the immersive pleasures of reading a book: 'You can let your imagination fill in the gaps.'"

    In other words, what Marshall Mcluhan called a cool medium.

"Indecision is the basis of flexibility" -- button at a Science Fiction convention.

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