What is a Dwarf Fortress and why is everyone talking about it now?
What's a Dwarf Fortress?
Dwarf Fortress is a colony management simulator by Bay 12 Games that randomly generates an entire fantasy world for you. Now some of you might think randomly generated world and imagine Minecraft, which would be correct because Minecraft got its inspiration from Dwarf Fortress. You could even go as far as claim that Minecraft is the more user-friendly version of Dwarf Fortress, but that would not even come close to explaining what it is and why Dwarf Fortress had such an influence on gaming as we know it today.
It is the kind of game you only get when you strip everything down to its essentials. Who needs raytracing, motion-captured animations, and voice acting? Who even needs actual graphics? You can display all the information the player will ever need with colors, letters, and symbols. What Dwarf Fortress doesn't have in graphical fidelity, it has in the complexity of its systems.
While modern games have highly detailed, lifelike characters to play as, how many of them can accidentally break one of their fingers? And how will that play into a fight that character will get into? That's Dwarf Fortress. Keep that level of detail in mind while once again reading the sentence ‘Dwarf Fortress is a colony management simulator by Bay 12 Games that randomly generates an entire fantasy world for you.' and you'll get an idea of the complexity of Dwarf Fortress.
Not only will it make up an entire fantasy world for you, but it'll also generate history with characters, events, and places and even the landmass changing as the years go on. And yes, the game will keep track of the number of fingers and teeth all these characters have. That should give you a rough idea of what you'll eventually deal with.
Dwarf Fortress is less of a game and more of a complete machine that you can partake in. The goal is never to win because Dwarf Fortress technically doesn't have any goals outside of keeping your dwarfs alive. Instead, you'll come out of a session of Dwarf Fortress with some of the most bizarre and amazing stories that organically tell themselves thanks to all its systems interacting with each other.
The Appeal of Losing is Fun
“Losing is Fun” has always been the motto of the Dwarf Fortress community, which led to the wildly spread misconception that Dwarf Fortress is hard and borderline unplayable. Even with the recent Steam release, the game still appears somewhat clunky to control and overly complex. But that is part of its charm. Playing Dwarf Fortress is not knowing how to play Dwarf Fortress; you'll run into a dead-end eventually and try again.
Because as mentioned before, playing Dwarf Fortress is not exactly about winning. It's a sandbox and once you've established your fortress and secured food and drink, the only thing limiting you are your ambitions. Do you want to create a trade hub or a sprawling metropolis? Or do you want to create an impossible clockwork city that is fully automated? Maybe you want to go on adventures, build relationships with other towns, or even wage wars. All of that is possible.
What Dwarf Fortress is really good at, however, is the number of things it'll throw your way in order to keep you on your toes. Ever been attacked by an undead elephant? Or have you ever dealt with a demonic hamster before? That is the kind of thing that'll occur regularly in a Dwarf Fortress playthrough.
And your lack of control over your dwarfs makes it even better. Since all your dwarfs are randomly generated with their own skill sets and personalities, they can develop relationships and can even memorize past events. So it's not even unusual for some of them to try to defend or avenge one of their friends against whatever monstrosity or wildlife you come across.
In Dwarf Fortress, you're less of a god controlling these dwarfs and their destinies, you are more of an observer that suggests a cause of action. And eventually, one of the random events that actually are the result of a long, overly complex simulation will come along, and make sure you remember that you're at the mercy of the game's code. It's brilliant and half the fun of Dwarf Fortress is reading up and telling stories from your playthroughs. Because you can't really be mad that your 20-hour savefile just got ruined because the death of someone's cat started a civil war.
Wow, it's actually playable Now
The biggest downside of Dwarf Fortress was always its cryptic controls. While those added to the game's charm, they also made the game wildly inaccessible to a wider audience. The new Steam version and the upcoming update to the free version of the game finally added mouse support and a much more readable interface. There is even a tutorial now that explains the very basics of the game to get you started.
It is however suggested to jump in blind, part of what makes Dwarf Fortress so fun is not knowing how to actually play it. Being overwhelmed by its wealth of mechanics and depth of systems is part of the experience. You should only ever look up something if you're stuck or you really don't know what you're supposed to do with something. But generally, things follow a certain logic. A fisher dwarf is more effective with a bucket in which he can carry fish, wheelbarrows make the transport of items a lot faster and everyone tends to be really into drinking out of a mug and not straight from the barrel.
Everything else is usually quite self-explaining. Of course, you'd need a bookkeeper to keep track of your stock, and building a relatively self-sustainable fortress before winter is generally a good idea. And sooner or later, you'll be swept up in the maelstrom of systems and mechanics until all your busy work is ground to a halt by elements outside of your control.
If you're still not convinced, keep an eye out for the release of the free version of Dwarf Fortress. That one will soon also include all the quality-of-life improvements from the Steam version outside of the graphics and soundtrack but texture packs will soon be available for that as well.
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