Who would have thought losing a game would be fun? it seems a lot of people. Ask anyone who’s ever played The Sims, at least a handful will admit to one of the old ways to bump a Sim off, like deleting the ladder from a swimming pool, deleting a door and watching the ensuing nervous breakdown, starring fires on purpose and whatever else. Purposefully going after the conditions for failing.
Dwarf Fortress is one of those games that removes the necessity to have a hand in the simulated killings of your dwarven settlers. Chances are, they are just going to end themselves one way or the other if you leave them to their own devices for long enough. It sounds rather harsh, but going for a “win” in Dwarf Fortress is ridiculously difficult. So much so, you’d almost want to be mental to wade into the game without the reference Wiki library opened in another window beside you. So while I’m no wiki, I’ll try my best to be a decent-standard tour guide.
The game starts off with an expedition of 7 dwarves (I see what they did there) taking a supply caravan out on an adventure to set up a new establishment and fortress. Everything that follows is mostly up to both your commands, and the dwarves’ free will. You can command them to mine, cut trees, excavate stone, farm and whatever else, but there’s a significant amount of free will and sub-choices at play that determines who gets what task. Most are automatically designated but you can set up each dwarf manually if so desired. They can’t be directly controlled however, eating, sleeping, and socialising are all up to the dwarves themselves.
It’s not all about the building though, it’s about the defending. Your fortress and the dwarves inside it are almost always in or near danger, from other invading races, wild animals, and structural collapses among other things. Defences can be installed, like catapults and ballistae, as well as drawbridges, one-way doors, spike traps and many others.
The most fun in the game tends to come from when a dwarf becomes unhappy. This can be down to his surroundings, a relationship breakdown with another dwarf, amongst other factors, and the reactions from that can sometimes be rather comical, ranging from mad scientist (where he gets the schematics of a contraption in his head and won’t stop until it’s made), all the way to “I’m So Crazy I Could Just Kill Everyone!”.
Trying to keep up with what actually happens all of the time can get pretty ridiculous, as everything happens so fast. The ASCII-look and feel to the game certainly doesn’t exactly help, but considering how much depth is in this game in regards to the meticulous little details in everything, like individual damages to certain limbs, the growth in the natural environment, every dwarf’s individual feelings, the economy, and the world at large around them, then having high-res modern graphics would cause serious slowdown and would totally take away from the experience.
Lastly, the sound. There isn’t any. Except this hypnotic melody on loop:
It’s almost trance-like. It’s absolutely beautiful. And it’s composed by one of the programmers. Who also happens to be the ONLY – yes, you read me right – ONLY programmer this game has. And he also went and lost the tabs on us. Blast.
Remember that image back at the start? The one that said PLAY DWARF FORTRESS. Listen to it. Go and play it. Now. Because it’s free, engrossing, addictive, and an absolute beast to crack open, and once you finally understand the game, you’ll really enjoy it, and get that warm and fuzzy feeling of satisfaction inside of you. And with that, I’ll leave you with jay012345678912’s Let’s Play Part 8, where he plays the game and explains what’s happening.