Dwarf Fortress

happy dwarf

‘Slaves to Armok: God of Blood, Chapter II: Dwarf Fortress,’ most commonly known simply as Dwarf Fortress, is a freeware video game by Bay 12 Games for Microsoft Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X set in a high fantasy universe that combines aspects of roguelike (a sub-genre of role-playing video games, characterized by randomization for replayability, permanent death, and turn-based movement) and city-building games.

It is primarily known for its unique level of complexity and difficulty. The title of the game is inspired by its primary focus on the construction, management, and exploration of dwarven fortresses within the game world. Development started in 2002; the game’s first public release was in 2006.

Dwarf Fortress is the successor to ‘Slaves to Armok: God of Blood,’ a hack and slash role-playing video game by Bay 12 Games. Dwarf Fortress discarded God of Blood’s 3D graphics in favor of a text user interface and incorporated economic and strategy elements. On-screen displays use slightly modified code page 437 characters in 16 different colors implemented as bitmaps, rendered with OpenGL. The developer states that graphic representation is not a significant focus.

Dwarf Fortress initially supported 2D landscapes only, with X and Y axes corresponding to the four cardinal directions. Later versions added a Z axis – multilayered maps – while retaining two-dimensional graphical representation. This allows for geographic features like hills, mountains, and chasms and player-created features like multilevel fortresses, waterfalls, above-ground towers, elaborate deathtraps, and pits.

Prior to play, a world must be generated using the software or downloaded from the Internet. Each constructed world is unique; events that take place during play will affect subsequent games in the same world. World creation in Dwarf Fortress is elaborate: terrain is generated using fractals, erosion is simulated, then wildlife, towns, and other sites are placed. A specific history is attached to each site; references to these events can be found during gameplay (in artwork and conversations with non player characters, NPCs), and development’s current focus is to make world generation wars determine in-game territory distribution and NPC background stories. The entire process can take anywhere from a few seconds to several hours, depending on settings and computer speed. It has become possible to generate non-square worlds, as well as the ability to ‘paint’ the shape of the world (specifying height, temperature, savagery, rainfall, drainage, and volcanism) which has given rise to real-world-inspired world generation parameters.

The game offers two play modes: ‘Dwarf Fortress’ mode, in which the player builds a dwarven settlement, and ‘Adventurer’ mode, in which the player controls a single character in a generally roguelike manner. Only one mode at a time can be actively played in a given game world, although adventurers can visit abandoned or demolished fortresses built in prior games. The game difficulty is variable, but its slant towards difficulty is reflected in the game’s unofficial motto, ‘Losing is Fun.’ The first few attempts for newer players almost invariably (and very quickly at that) end in disaster. However, as time progresses, and the user’s fortress grows, the game presents more late-game challenges. Since there is no victory condition for the game, all fortresses can and will eventually end in disaster.

As the player begins ‘Dwarf Fortress’ mode, they have the ability to select a starting location, which determines the resources and challenges one may encounter on a given map. For example, a player may start on a map that contains a magma pool, which allows the dwarves to smelt and craft metals without requiring fuel resources but occasionally spawns dangerous enemies. The initial settlement party consists of seven dwarves. The player receives a number of points to spend on settler skills and resources (food, weapons, armor, equipment, etc.). Once these decisions have been made, the settlers arrive and await the player’s instructions. The player can also choose to use a pre-generated party of dwarfs.

A variety of tasks can be performed in the game. Some are basic, such as mining, woodcutting, metalsmithing, masonry, farming, and cooking. Others are more esoteric, such as soapmaking, fish-cleaning, engraving, and gem cutting. A given dwarf’s ‘career’ will generally center on the skill practiced most. Many of the skills require special buildings, known as workshops, to be constructed. The player influences newly-arrived dwarves through the designation of work areas and subsequent job creation, but the player cannot directly control a dwarf. For example, designating an area for wood-cutting creates one ‘chop down tree’ job for each tree encompassed, which a dwarf with the proper job activated will carry out. If a wood stockpile is created, a ‘haul lumber to stockpile’ job forms whenever there is a spare log and available room in the stockpile. Any dwarf may be designated to perform a job; however, higher skill in a given job may improve rate (such as with mining) or quality (in the case of crafting) of performance.

As they excavate their mountain, dwarves will have to fashion living space, produce food (typically involving farming and irrigation), obtain water and alcohol, and build workshops to generate valuable trade goods. They will also encounter hostile creatures against whom they must defend, which generally leads to military organization and deathtraps. As the fortress grows, more dwarves will arrive, providing additional labor and opportunities for job specialization.

As the game proceeds, players can encounter foreign traders, dwarven nobles who place demands on the populace, goblin sieges, maniacal dwarven artisans, and a variety of other special events.
The game models the dwarves and the world in extreme detail; for example, during combat, a dwarf can sustain varying degrees of injuries (broken, mangled, etc.) to many body parts down to individual fingers, internal organs and even nerves and arteries. Item base material, quality of workmanship, dye and decorations are all registered and taken into account. According to their experiences (having a friend die, being served low quality food, being disturbed by noise while sleeping, etc.) dwarves can become happy or sad, even angry and finally driven insane; they build social relationships, marry a sufficiently compatible dwarf and have children, or organize parties. Each dwarf also has its own unique personality, likes, and dislikes that will affect how the dwarf reacts to specific situations. An example of this is that a dwarf who likes the material gold will get a happy thought from seeing or owning a golden item, or a dwarf who is quick to anger will be more likely to tantrum and get into fist fights. In addition, dwarves can obtain personality traits through experiences such as seeing a great deal of death, which will decrease the unhappiness received from the death of friends. Gravity is simulated; and an elaborate fluid mechanics system is responsible for river and magma flows, and allows phenomena such as pressure geysers and flooding to happen in-game.

In ‘Adventurer mode,’ the player controls an individual dwarf, human, or elf. There is no goal apart from survival, making this mode more casual than the previous. Players may either receive quests to kill monsters, which provide no specific reward, or wander freely and slaughter local fauna. ‘Adventurer mode’ allows the player to explore areas and history of the current game world otherwise not accessible in ‘Dwarf Fortress mode.’ Adventurers are assigned several combat-related skills: shield use, armor use, ambushing, wrestling, swimming, and any of several weapon skills. Initial skill selection wholly determines starting gear, but equipment is available for purchase from stores in human towns. The player can also assemble a party of adventurers by asking townsfolk to join the lead character. Additionally, if the player has previously created a fortress (through ‘Fortress mode’) in the same world, he or she can explore that fortress and witness what had become of it over time and view the engravings and items made during ‘Fortress mode.’

Legends mode is less of a traditional gameplay mode than it is a way of reading through a world’s vast history. Options can be set, when creating a world, to either discover its history manually during adventurer mode, or have all of the history automatically revealed upon world creation.
Legends mode features various historical maps, such as historical civilization expansion maps, entity listings (starting with powerful creatures like dragons, then deities that various in-game characters worship), cities that civilizations have created, religions, and then each age’s events. If an age has any particularly interesting features, such as the sudden rise of a powerful civilization, or a powerful demon or monster, the age will be named accordingly, e.g. ‘The age of the Hydra and Demon,’ or ‘The age of Elves.’


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