Minority Opinions

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Dwarves Gone Crazy

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After highlighting a fault of Dwarf Fortress, it’s time to explain exactly why I play it anyway.  To put it simply, it engages me on a level that few other entertainments have.

I first encountered Dwarf Fortress through the Roguelike community, while I was actively playing Nethack.  I didn’t try it at that time, though, partly because I already had one too many obsessions, and partly because I was working on a Linux From Scratch machine.  Only software compiled by hand was allowed on that machine, but DF is closed-source.  That makes it even more amazing that I tried it in the first place.  Perhaps it was the comparison to Minecraft, for which I may forever regret skipping the alpha stage.

From this starting point, what I hadn’t expected was the simulation aspect.  The core of fortress mode is that you’re guiding a team of dwarves, who do the real work.  That leaves you, the player, in charge of the major design work, along with several flavors of work assignments.  It also leaves you feeling helpless and distraught when they go and do something stupid, usually getting themselves killed.

A subtle but important piece of the simulation is that they’re not human; they have entirely different priorities than we would.  That gives it license to be less than perfectly realistic without breaking the feel.  The real trick is to treat it like a story, as you watch events unfold.  Perhaps the story doesn’t always have the nice resolution you would expect in other media, but that also means it doesn’t have to end early.

I keep meaning to write a few pieces of that story myself, as payback for the entertainment offered by the likes of Boatmurdered and Nist Akath.  We’ll see.

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Written by eswald

20 Sep 2011 at 9:58 pm

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