Flash Game Friday: Dwarf Fortress

Posted on July 22, 2011

It’s about goddam time. Yes, I’m doing this because there is an article about the ‘game’ in Sunday’s New York Times which apparently you can get on Fridays online.

Let’s get one thing clear. Dwarf Fortress isn’t a game. There’s no final screen. There’s no princess to save. There’s only survival. You start off with 7 dwarves, each with varying degrees of skill. More will come, don’t worry, but your job is for them to not die. In fact, the slogan for this game is ‘Losing is Fun’. It is. Your fortress will never end the same way twice.

There’s no real good way to describe Dwarf Fortress. Let me just discuss my personal life with DF. I have probably logged more hours on this game than any other in my life. At a certain point it becomes pretty easy to just put it on in the background while your guys build a wall or something. I discovered it about 3 years ago and it’s been part of my life since. Yeah, I took a break before the last major update. But that’s fine.

Here’s kind of how things work. All of your dwarves need to sleep in a bed. If they don’t have a bed, they get unhappy and will go crazy. If enough dwarvers are unhappy, they will all leave. So, to make a bed, you have to get your dwarf to chop down a tree. Then that tree has to be taken to a carpenter’s shop where  a dwarf makes a bed. Then your miner has to dig out an area to place the bed. So complicated.

The thing that turns most people off to this game is the graphics. There are none to speak of. It’s all ASCII. Here’s a screenshot from my current fortress, Virginpaddle:

So what exactly are we looking at here? First thing’s first. The smiley faces are dwarves. Empty ones are civilians. Filled in ones are warriors. If it’s filled in and blue, it’s an axedwarf. Purple is a hammardwarf.

The green stuff is grass. That brown circlish thing that has black in the middle? That’s elevated ground. When you start a game, an entire world is created that is about the size of North America. On top of that, there are races, people and even giant monsters that roam the world, all before you even start playing it. What you are looking at is probably 1/1000% of what is going on in the entire universe. The scale here is astounding. See that blue blotch there? That’s a lake. It gets filled by rain. The rain isn’t determined by random. There are global climate patterns in this world. It rains when a high pressure front moves along.

So what just happened here? Well, there were two goblin ambushes. See all the red? That’s blood. See the ‘g’s? Those are dead goblins. See the empty purple dwarfes? They are doctors coming to collect my injured warriors. They will be taken to a hospital, put into triage and will be properly cared for. Some will have casts and will walk around on crutches for a year or so. Others will go into surgery.

Here’s an excerpt from the mighty battle:

Yeah you’re reading that correct. My Axedwarf chopped the pikeman’s arms off. Awesome. Here’s just a brief glimpse into the psychology of a dwarf that has just gone into battle:

All that stuff isn’t random. It’s genetically determined or based on her experiences in the fortress. Her parents had a lot of these traits. Seriously: “She is getting used to tragedy”.

If you are interested in playing Dwarf Fortress here are some links that you might find interesting:

Here’s where you go to download it

Here’s your manual

Here’s the tale of Boatmurdered. So one thing people (nerds) do is play a year, save it, and pass it on to someone else. Boatmurdered is pretty case example of how crazy this game can get. Note, this is an older version.



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