Friday, October 1, 2010

Community and Dwarf Fortress

I haven't posted much lately, besides working on the book I've been playing studying the game Dwarf Fortress (available for Windows, OSX, and Linux) and the culture of its fans. It is a difficult game for at least two reasons: One, it is a difficult game (you have to micromanage a ton of stuff, more as you grow your fortress), and two, the interface is brutal. And there is no winning the game. There is no win condition. There is only eventual death for your Dwarves.

The game, without an added tileset, is all in ASCII. No, not text, ASCII. So yes it looks like text, but it's not words. The 2D world is presented in ASCII (but it's a 3D world, you scroll up and down through levels). That E over there? An elephant. T? That's a troll. O? A giant Olm. Lowercase c? A small cat, aka a kitten. But not everything is letters. I use a tileset, since I found the original flavor of DF absolutely impossible, especially when combined with the difficulty of the game for newbies. (So actually those letters are the ones I get in the tileset, they may or may not be the ones in the un-tilesetted game interface.) Here are some screenshots at Bay 12.

Try reading this review, which says, "nothing about it is simple. Dwarf Fortress is immense, hugely complicated, insanely detailed, and uses only ASCII characters for graphics." And more!

But this does not stop the fanbase. In fact, given that people often emotionally buy into something stronger if they had to put more effort into it, we can see why this might be so (and is for some, if you can get over the learning curve, which is really more like a learning cliff it is so steep). Here is a simplified flowchart of the game. Keep in mind some DF fan made that flowchart.

But we see a lot of things that people do with other stuff are the things people are doing with Dwarf Fortress.

Fans made a wiki, and have updated it across major version changes. (You will want it open whenever you play.)

Fans made tutorials, since the game is impossible without them. (Here's one, and here is the wiki page with several.)

Fans have modded the game with tilesets (again, impossible without, except for the real die-hards). Here's one that is pretty amazing. Here's a page with links to mods and tilesets.

Fans have made DF art and stories based on gameplay. (Well worth a look, great art style, and funny, note the grim humor.)

Fans start up a new game, and then hand it off to someone else, to let them run the fortress, and they write it up. (This is for an older version of DF, which I think had just one level. Note the grim humor.) (To use and paraphrase Sony's and MM's LittleBigPlanet tagline, which I use all the time, they played, they created, they shared.)

There are of course forums, where players help out by answering other players' questions (so I learned that flux needs to be on the same level as your smelter and forge or it won't be available, it's bugged and was driving me crazy).

It's fun. (I didn't link that for no good reason, by the way. Note the grim humor.)

But the fun (as defined above in that link) is pretty amazing, and relates to the absolutely grim sense of humor that most DF players exhibit when writing about DF online.

Here's a line from a current (may change!) wiki entry: "It is unknown whether this is a bug or a feature."

From the Bronzemurder saga that you should have read (really):"I play Dwarf Fortress. Sometimes I wish I was a meth addict instead."

There seem to be a lot of stories of accidental floods. Elephants. Elves. Forgotten beasts. Dwarves falling down wells (apparently they do that). Dying of thirst during winter if you have no water source (oops!). On occasion they kill each other. "Things of that nature" where "things of that nature" include pretty much anything.

There are many other examples that I've seen, and that you can find online. I won't say "I will try to post them" since if I never do then it will be one of those never-corrected online sentences, posted and forgotten.

Edit: A Master's thesis on Dwarf Fortress? Why yes, the MIT Comparative Media people have been there and done that.