Friday, September 29, 2006

Paraworld Impressions Monday

I just received Paraworld, so I'm going to play it this weekend (hopefully 5+ hours) and write up impressions on Monday.

Contest Winners

Congratulations to Todd Robinson and David Byron for winning the two copies of Paraworld. Here are the correct answers:
1. Saurischians were comprised of what two main groups?
Theropods and Sauropodomorphs

2. What is the first known bird?

3. What rare theropod is considered to be the most intelligent dinosaur?

Contest! [Now Closed]

Okay, here are the contest questions. I'm using one of Eli 5.1's dinosaur books for reference. The first two people who answer all three questions correctly win a copy of Parworld.

1. Saurischians were comprised of what two main groups?

2. What is the first known bird?

3. What rare theropod is considered to be the most intelligent dinosaur?

Good luck.

New 3D Tech

Looks like we're on our way (thanks Extreme Tech):
NTT DoCoMo announced Friday that it has co-developed a portable, seven-inch 3D display system that can project 3D images without special glasses, and from an offset viewing angle.

The research, performed in conjunction with Associate Professor Yasuhiro Takagi of Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, will be applied to applications like high-resolution games and shopping, DoCoMo said.

The system, which enables 3D images to be viewed within a 60-degree horizontal angle and 30-degree vertical angle, generates the images based on the viewer's position relative to the screen, NTT DoCoMo said. Using a camera embedded in the display's LCD screen, the system determines where the viewer is and immediately projects 3D images through a lenticular (single-convex) lens attached to the front of the screen. This results in the viewer seeing an object that appears to leap out from the screen.

The big difference here is the relatively wide viewing range compared to previous 3D technologies. It's a considerable advancement.

Like I've written about in the past, 3D is the next big step in viewing technology. And its killer application will be games. What's always held it back are the glasses that needed to be worn, but those aren't needed anymore.

International Gaming: the UK

Thanks to DQ reader Andy Sellick for this report on gaming in the UK.

I live in the UK. I'm in my late twenties (too late). I spend far too much time playing computer games. My PC isn't what you might call 'grunt-tastic' (or even some other term referring to significant processing power that makes more sense) but it's good enough to run some fairly recent games at a decent level of detail.

I've also got a Playstation 2, although I'm primarily a PC gamer. My first computer was an Oric (I feel the need to establish my gaming roots/heritage at this point). So there.

Most of my wider experience of gaming (if I can use such a grand term with a straight face) comes from interacting with the members of our various church youth groups, who mainly fall into the category of early to late teens. I drag my PS2 down to the church one evening every week for them to play with. How much it is used tends to vary--sometimes they're all happier just playing football (the real kind) than mashing buttons.

I'm often surprised by what they enjoy. On the one hand, there's generally quite a lot of enthusiasm (particularly from the boys) for games featuring guns, and cars, and... well, guns. Black was deemed particularly awesome, for example, and Burnout 3 and Burnout Revenge are firm crowd pleasers. They also talk a lot about games like Halo 2, and some Star Wars games. Themes like this seem very popular.

On the other hand, 'fun' games are also popular. Eyetoy Play and Eyetoy Play 2 are consistent favourites (particularly among the girls). I've also had a couple of demo discs of variable quality games, but even the really awful ones can provide much entertainment. Jet Li's 'Rise to Honour'? Hilarious. I've played some brilliant games over the years, but nothing beats playing a really bad game that takes itself far too seriously with a couple of friends to laugh at it with (laughing at a good game is fun too - Aragorn's 'physical attack' in Return of the King performed repeatedly results in him apparently goosestepping wildly around the place - which, given the right environment, can really bring the house down. Well, maybe you had to be there).

The common theme that I think makes a game work in all these situations is how easy it is to get into. If I can just pass a kid a controller and explain which buttons to press in a couple of seconds, you're onto a winner. James Bond (Everything or Nothing) was initially wildly popular (guns and multiplayer! Whoo!) but has laid unplayed ever since it turned out that all of the commands for successfully playing the game (hugging up against walls and targeting enemies round the corner, and more) were far too complicated. They just want to shoot things, not think about it too much.

As for me, I'll pretty much play anything once, but I like a good 3D RTS, or a 3D shooter with enough novel features to make it worth the time (Jedi Knight's force powers, for example). Actually, that little aside pretty much sums up what will cause a game to appeal to me - novelty. Most of the games that have really captured my attention - Gish, Armagetron, Half life 2, Gtetrinet, Tower Defence, Starcraft, Carmageddon (to name but a few) - have either been unique or stood as a fresh perspective on an existing genre.

Let 'Em In

I was with Eli 5.1 at Wendy's on Monday and the restaurant music loop played "Let 'Em In" by Paul McCartney.

If you don't recognize the title, I'm sure you'll recognize the lyrics:
Someone's knocking at the door, somebody's ringing the bell,
someone's knocking at the door, somebody's ringing the bell,
do me a favor, open the door and let 'em in.

That song has saved hundreds of lives over the years.

Beginning in 1976, whenever a failed songwriter despondently contemplated his plunging career arc, finally questioning whether life itself was worth living in the face of such utter ruin, he was saved by one thought: at least I didn't write Let 'Em In.

And with that, a new day dawned, full of hope for the future.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Gaming Notes

First off, here's the good news (thanks Blue's): Frogster Interactive has secured the PC rights to Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe.

That's right: Speedball 2. For my money, it's the best futuristic sports game ever made. And all I've wanted for the last fifteen years is version with updated graphics. Which is apparently what FI is going to do--it's a "re-release" with updated graphics, apparently, the Bitmap Brothers are going to be "involved" in the "development process," and it's coming out next year.

Frogster Interactive is also going to re-release The Chaos Engine, which is also a Bitmap Brothers title.

Like I said, that was the good news.

The bad news is that while the North American version of The Guild 2 went gold today, the official game forums are full of pissed-off Europeans who are making full-throated claims that the game was released in an unforgiveably buggy condition.

That would not surprise me, particularly, because the original was certainly released in that condition, but if they've done it with the sequel, it's nothing short of a disgrace. The original U.S. version of The Guild had serious bugs for over a year. Do you know that the patch was called? The expansion pack. That's when the patch finally came out.

And it should tell you something about how damn good the game was that I put up with all that. I don't think I'm willing to put up with it again, though, so I'm going to be closely monitoring the situation until the game is released over here next month.

The one glimmer of hope: there have been two or three patches (already) since the release, and it looks like they're headed in the right direction.

Jesse Leimkuehler let me know that Hollywood Mogul 3 will be coming out shortly. Here are the details:
The indie developer of the Hollywood Mogul series is putting out a new version (Hollywood Mogul 3) sometime in December. However, he is offering a pre-release version of the game on some of the text-sim message boards. He's offering the pre-release version for $20.00. It's a fully-functional version of the game. Basically, he's offering everyone the chance to be a beta tester on the game. The game is $30 when it's officially released, so you're getting a bit of a break on the price as well. It's a fun game if you're interested in business sims.
Hollywood Mogul website
You can download the trial version here:
Hollywood Mogul 3 trial version.
[Please note: what I'm apparently linking to is the demo version, not the pre-release version, and the demo link isn't even working. I'm trying to get all that sorted out and I'll post an updated link as soon as I have one.]

Lastly, DQ reader Fredrik Skarstedt sent me a link to an interview with the creators of the Wii. It's on the Nintendo site, so it's hardly unbiased, but it's still a very interesting read and you can find it here.

Contest Information (for Tomorrow)

At some point tomorrow we'll have a contest for two copies of Paraworld. I'm guessing that the contest questions will be about dinosaurs, which seems only natural.

NHL 07 (360): Some Additional Notes

In response to a forum discussion at Digital Sportspage about NHL 07, I tried a different set of sliders today to see if it would make a significant playability difference in what I saw (and wrote about) earlier this week.

Basically, the theory was to increase every defensive slider to the max setting, so Hook Effectiveness, Poke Check, and Shot Block were all set to max (the sliders are on a 0-6 scale, so they should be set to 6). Aggressiveness, which you think would improve defense, actually doesn't appear to, so that was reset from max to zero.

On the offensive end, Puck Control was set to zero.

Those aren't the only sliders I've adjusted, but they were the only ones adjusted for the retest.

So what happened? Well, I couldn't skate laps in the offensive end nearly as easily, because if another player even bumped me, I almost always lost the puck. That's more of a kluge for bad defensive A.I. than a solution, but it definitely was an improvement.

It was still far, far too easy to generate point-blank shots. In general, the defensive awareness is just very poor--there's no other way to put it.

The CPU offense was not affected by the slider changes--they still almost always use the "grip it and rip it" offense.

Now I will say this about the game: shooting is so much fun (because of the right analog stick controls), and the goalie animations are so excellent, that the game has moments where it feels great--primarily, when you're shooting. And if the A.I. doesn't bother you, then I think you'd really enjoy this game--it's very pretty and the commentary is fantastic. It certainly has its moments.

As for me, the A.I. is a gamekiller. I didn't lose a dollar, though, thanks to Gamefly.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Your Dwarf Fortress Stories (3)

Just two Dwarf Fortress stories this time, due to the length of the second.

Here's a story from Thom Moyles:
During one of the first years of my fortress, it was plagued by attacks from frogmen climbing out of the wells. One of these attacks left one of my first Swordsdwaves, who arrived only shortly before in the first wave of migrants, with a wound to his head that showed up as yellow on the status screen, a wound that typically spells the end for a dwarf.

He was immediately dragged to bed and would periodically cry out for food and water, which was brought to him whenever a dwarf had time to spare. I knew that this was really a waste of resources, since he probably wasn’t going to recover and the chances of insanity or a tantrum were high. Nonetheless, I couldn’t bear to lock his door and let him starve to death, so I allowed him to be tended to and largely forgot about it in the chaos of daily management.

Almost two years later, while scrolling through the dormitories, I noticed that he was no longer in his bed. The buckets that the other dwarves had used to bring him water were still there, just not him. Going to my job list, I noted that he was drinking and when I went to my dining hall, there he was, gulping down water, back on active duty, with only a minor wound to show for the blow that had rendered him invalid for seasons on end.

It was such a small thing and still so incredibly gratifying to see him recover, that the attention of his fellow dwarves and my mercy as Fortress Keeper had allowed him to survive when there seemed to be no hope.

Here's a long but amazing story from Kel Woodbury:
I'm going along on year 5 of my bustling settlement. 150 dwarves are here now and I've been spending a lot of time settling the nobles into grand bedrooms, dining rooms, offices, and tombs.

Then I see a message about someone being unable to deliver food to a sick person due to lack of... food?

I look around and find out I don't have any prepared meals and my kitchens have been idle. Ok, so I'll just turn them on and have them start cooking my ridiculous stockpile of seeds and other foods. I'll build a few more kitchens, crank them all up to repeat easy meals, butcher a few cows and horses, and then be fine. The problem is, the dwarves are getting hungry and don't want to really do anything other than eat so they end up going on a drinking spree and drink almost everything. Then they set up the kitchens and butcher animals and gather plants and generally create barely enough meals to meet the demand.

This struggle goes on for a bit, and then I see something horrible. "A dragon has made residence in your area." Um... crap. So I bring up my unit list and look for this dragon. The dragon's name is flashing which when used on a dwarf indicates legendary status. So either dragons in general are legendary or just this one, I'm not sure. I check out the dragon and find out it's a female. So she is just sitting there on the very edge of the map. Everything should be ok as long as no one disturbs her. I'll just not designate anything to do near her and stop hunting and it will all be ok. Then an elven caravan came a little south of where she was. She breathed fire and it was the coolest looking thing ever. A HUGE cone of destruction and the caravan was turned into ashes. The land was charred across the entire cone.

Well that's not good. So then I see some dwarves run out to pick up the bones of the caravan, also not good!

They see the dragon and run in terror, but she chases them all the way to my fortress. I turn my ballistas on but she fries them all the way from across the river. Her breath has a 20 square range and is 10 squares wide at the end of the cone! My guards at the entrance take note of this and run towards her to attack and they are fried before they even get to her.

So much for their bronze plate armor and shields.

Crossbow men pelt her with bolts and do absolutely nothing to her at all. Not even a scratch on her wounds page. She proceeds to burn them down with flames. Then one of my fairly proficient fighters runs out and manages to run through one of her breaths unharmed and started to hit her. She instantly ripped him in half. At this point I felt pretty doomed. She waltzed into my base and breathed fire into the main hallway and destroyed a lot of doors. Then she walked into the food storeroom and burned all the food. So much for the food issue. Then she walked into the dining room and fried everyone and everything inside.

She would breathe fire at ANYTHING that moved. A kitten at the end of a hallway? Toast.
At this point I was down to about 50 dwarves. My main squad engaged her and they all got toasted in about 5 seconds. Down to about 15 dwarves now. One soldier had managed to not get fried. He was my spearuser who had become a legendary shield user some point in the past somehow (I have no clue). He has legendary agility and is quite tough also. I sent him for the dragon while she was terrorizing the bedrooms and I saw him acting strange. He wouldn't approach her directly because apparently he didn't want to be fried. He would bolt up and down the hallway almost taunting her with his legendary speed. After running back and forth for a bit he suddenly ran straight for her and started to attack her with his spear. Then he was on top of her. In fear of being burned to death he apparently jumped on top of her and starting wrestling her. Somehow, he managed to cause some decent wounds to her liver, spine, and neck wrestling her. I drafted the remaining dwarves and made them all pick up weapons and rush to help try to slay the dragon. A hunter who was a decent shot with the crossbow got an iron bolt to stick in her rear left leg. Still only a dark brown wound similar to the ones caused by the legendary shield user.

Then it happened: the dragon fell unconscious! I felt the taste of victory but then I noticed my shield user walk a few squares and then collapse. What happened to him? I looked at him and he lost the left side of his body. Apparently the dragon had fallen on top of him when she fell unconscious! I felt confident that my militia could kill the dragon before she regained consciousness, but apparently it was only a sleeper hold on her that knocked her out, for she stood back up and scorched the remaining dwarves in the hallway.

I had to abandon the fortress because my last remaining dwarf was a horrified noble hiding in his bedroom, far from trouble.

Microsoft Press Announcement: HD-DVD

Microsoft announced the details today of the HD-DVD add-on for the 360 (thanks Gamespot):
Microsoft has announced that the HD-DVD add-on for the Xbox 360 will arrive in North America, UK, France, and Germany in mid-November, right around Sony's planned US launch of the Blu-ray-equipped PlayStation 3.

When it hits stores in North America, the Xbox 360 HD-DVD player should retail for $199.99. Gamers in the UK can expect the player to run them £129.99 ($245), while those in France and Germany can expect to pay 199.99 euros ($254) for the hardware. All these prices have been called "estimated retail prices" by Microsoft, which noted that the actual retail price may vary.

The pack-in movie will be Peter Jackson's King Kong.

There are two interesting angles here. The first is that there will be 8-10 million people who already have the 360. How many will pay an additional $200 to get HD-DVD?

And while that's a pretty persuasive add-on price, if you're starting from scratch, the HD-DVD drive and the premium 360 will cost $599, which isn't persuasive at all. It's particularly not competitive if Sony drops the price on the 20GB PS3 like they did in Japan (they're crazy if they don't).

Just two months ago, it looked like essentially zero competition between Microsoft and Sony this fall in terms of price, but that Japanese price drop, and what it might portend, is the wild card. Expect Microsoft to create a bundle with the 360 and the add-on HD-DVD drive for $549, at most, and don't be too surprised if they do it for $499--at the same time they drop the price of the 360 by $50.

Next year should be a very good time to be a gaming consumer when it comes to consoles. The fact that this is both a console war and a format war should create an environment where both Microsoft and Sony have to fiercely compete with each other.

WMP 11

John Selzer made an excellent point via e-mail about my post concerning Windows Media Player 11 last week and its DRM stranglehold--it's a beta. I don't expect them to change any of the DRM features, but it is still in beta and I should have noted that.

Paraworld: $29.99

I didn't even realize this, but Paraworld is only $29.99 at EB Games and Gamestop. That's a great price and thanks to Jason Hobbs for letting me know.

Dwarf Fortress--New Version and Notes

There's a new version of Dwarf Fortress out and you can grab it here. Please remember that you need to copy your save directory (to your desktop, for example), then copy it back over after you install the new version. Plus, since you only have one save in this game, anyway, keeping a backup of your save directory is a good idea in general.

One of the new changes, which I particularly appreciate since I have a high focus on farming, is that there is now a "ash to potash" option at the ashery. Previously, there was a gotcha if you wanted to make potash (which is used as fertilizer)--you had to make lye first, which was fine, but the lye then had to sit around for a while, and if it didn't, you couldn't make potash. It was hard to know how long the lye should sit around because there was no ready designation when it could be used. So this is much easier now.

What this game has done, for me, is restore a kind of awe I've felt in games that I haven't felt in a long, long time. The first game I played was Ultima IV, and I still remember the exact moments when I first boarded a pirate ship and found the balloon. They were moments that were just impossibly cool.

I've had great moments in games since then, lots of them, but very few that were awe-inspiring like that. I've had several of those moments in Dwarf Fortress, and I keep having them.

This afternoon I'll have more of your DF stories, and I'm also going to start writing about how the mid-game might be more manageable with some additional interface options (and a few interface consolidations as well). I'd also like to hear your ideas for the interface, which is relatively powerful but somewhat awkward in places.

It's a Beautiful World

There was a show at the Paramount Theater on Saturday that I thought Eli 5.1 might enjoy. It was a combination magic/song thing where the theater goes dark and all the performers wear dark clothing and have neon painted on their costumes or something. Eli's grandmother (Gloria's mom) was coming for the weekend, and Gloria always looks for something fun they can do together.

"So would you go to this with us?" Gloria asked when I told her.

"Hmm, let's see," I said. "I can go to a show in the dark performed by a ballet troupe and a children's singer with my mother-in-law or I can watch college football on the couch for three hours. Don't torture me with impossible choices like this!"

"Very funny," she said, meaning not funny at all.

"There are video clips on the web so Eli can see what the show's like," I said. We went to Gloria's study and pulled up the video clips, but they were almost impossible to see, given that they were filmed in the dark and the room was as bright as the surface of the sun.

"In the regular world, where the windows in a study are sensibly covered with black sound-proofing foam," I said, "this wouldn't be a problem."

"Do you mean your world of one?" she asked.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Pro Football Note

I saw this over at this afternoon:
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -- Kurt Warner will remain the starting quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals, coach Dennis Green said Tuesday.

Green's comment came in a statement released by the team following an ESPN report that Green decided that rookie Matt Leinart would replace Warner as starter for Sunday's game at Atlanta.

Over at, where they "broke" the story, they said that Green "changed his mind." Heh.

Here's the thing, though--I've watched quite a bit of Arizona so far this year because I thought they looked like an interesting team. In all the years I've watched pro football (39 as of this year), I've never seen a quarterback fumble more often or more easily than Kurt Warner. It's incredible. If he gets brushed with a fingernail the ball comes out. So he might go 18-24 with no interceptions, but you're going to get three fumbles along with that.

Here's comment (from ESPN) from the center for the Cardinals in reference to the snap problems they've been having (another source of fumbles for Warner):
"I did my assignment," Stepanovich said, "and the next thing I know the ball is on the ground."

Ouch. I think that's an indication that Warner has lost the team. Centers don't throw their quarterbacks under the bus.

I think if the Cardinals thought that Matt Leinart was anywhere near being ready to start, they'd start him. Kurt Warner had a few sensational years with the Rams, but at this point he's a huge liability.

Science, Gaming, Whatever Links

Jesse Liemkuehler sent in several links to some excellent space picture.
Saturn's moons cause ripples in the rings:
Dunes on Titan around the equator region:
A crater on Titan:

Not exactly a science link, but Brian Pilnick sent in a 2005 story from the New York Times about the most expensive rock, paper, scissors game ever, involving a twenty million dollar art collection. It's a fascinating article, and you can read it here.

From Sirius, a link to a computer just slightly larger than your thumb. It's called the Gumstix and you can read about it here.

The absolutely excellent game Darwinia is now on sale at Circuit City for $10. Thanks to Chris McNair for the heads-up and here's the link.

From Brian Witte comes an interesting link to a new type of engine that could have all kinds of applications in space:
Roger Shawyer has developed an engine with no moving parts that he believes can replace rockets and make trains, planes and automobiles obsolete. "The end of wings and wheels" is how he puts it. It's a bold claim. Read Shawyer’s theory paper here (pdf format).

Of course, any crackpot can rough out plans for a warp drive. What they never show you is evidence that it works. Shawyer is different. He has built a working prototype to test his ideas, and as a respected spacecraft engineer he has persuaded the British government to fund his work. Now organisations from other parts of the world, including the US air force and the Chinese government, are beating a path to his tiny company.

The device that has sparked their interest is an engine that generates thrust purely from electromagnetic radiation - microwaves to be precise - by exploiting the strange properties of relativity. It has no moving parts, and releases no exhaust or noxious emissions.

The full story is here.

Also from Sirius, a link to a story about archaeopteryx and it's four wings. Here's an excerpt:
The earliest known bird had flight feathers on its legs that allowed it to use its hindlimbs as an extra pair of wings, a new study finds.

The finding, detailed in the current issue of the journal Paleobiology, supports the theory that early birds learned to glide and parachute from trees before achieving full-fledged flight.

The full story is here.

Paraworld Review

Frank Regan sent me a link to a Paraworld review over at

In a word: glowing. Here's the summary:
Superb implentation of humans and dinosaurs with great missions and a superb control system.

That's what it felt like when I played it at E3.

Here's the full review (with some excellent screenshots).

Note on NHL 07

David Palomares e-mailed me with an important distinction concerning NHL 07. The shooting stick and outstanding Thorne/Clement commentary are only in the 360 version of the game--not the PC version.

The shooting stick and the commentary, by far, were the strongest features in the game. So any version without them is even weaker than the 360 version.

NHL2K7 (360) and NHL 07 (360): The Polar Opposites Club

The short version is that I wouldn't recommend buying either of these games--I'd suggest renting them first.

What's strange is that I've never played two simulations of the same sport in the same year that are such mirror images of each other.

I need to do this in table form, which I have no idea how to do in blogger, so here come the ...

...................................NHL2K7....................NHL 07
A.I. ............................Excellent....................It doesn't have any
Skating animations ....Fantastic....................Weak
Goalie animations.......Weak.........................Excellent
Physics.......................Solid..........................Let's just say "not solid"
Control Scheme..........Circa 1950..................Outstanding

A few notes. First, when I said NHL 07 didn't have A.I., that's not a joke. On Superstar difficulty (the highest level), you can skate into the offensive zone with the puck and frequently make two or three complete circles of the offensive zone with with almost no opposition whatsoever. And on offense, if the CPU makes more than two passes before shooting, consider yourself as the witness to an improbable and miraculous event.

Am I kidding? No. As a test, I wrote down how many passes a team made when it skated into the offensive end before taking a shot (if passes were intercepted, etc., and a shot was never taken, there was no tally). Look at NHL 07:

Ah--the 3,3,3,2 days. How I long for them to return.

25 shots. 19 passes. This is the kind of A.I. I like to call "The Shitties." Just over .75 passes per shot after skating into the offensive end.

How much does this resemble real hockey? It doesn't, and to a laughingly bad degree.

That's on Superstar difficulty level, by the way--the toughest in the game. And if you're wondering, it's a combination of bad offensive A.I. and bad defensive A.I., because you wouldn't believe how stupid your defenders are. In a word--"very."

Here's NHL2K7 in comparison:

29 shots. 74 passes. That's just over 2.5 passes per shot. And when guys stopped and ripped a shot without passing, it was almost almost always due to a defensive lapse of my own, because defenders know how to play in NHL2K7. If you try that "skating around in a circle" crap in the offensive end, you'll either lose the puck before you even go behind the net or your teeth will wind up in the stands.

Oh, and that wasn't even on the highest level of difficulty--it was just All-Star (which is second highest).

Here's how EA's hockey producers would answer a question about their A.I. in an interview.
Q: We've noticed that offensive and defensive players have no A.I.
A: Well, we're redesigning the NHL series from the ground up for the 360. Stage one, which I'm proud to say we completed this year in spite of severe time constraints, was to get all players to acknowledge two things: one, that they were on ice, and two, the location of the goal. Next year, we plan to use this "goal-centric" approach to A.I. to further refine our marketing campaign.

Seriously, how do the people who review these games fail to point out mind-blowing flaws like this? It took all of five minutes to realize this was happening. They're playing the same game. Do they not have a checklist they work through? It's a sports game--it's supposed to simulate the sport.

All right, back to the comparison list. Let's move on to skating. The new skating animations for NHL2K7 look fantastic, and they look even more fantastic because the game runs at an unbelievably high framerate with no hiccups or slowdowns. NHL 07, in contrast, runs like molasses. Is EA ever going to put out a next-gen sports game that doesn't have framerate issues?

NHL 07 has very cool, very impressive goalie animations. 2K7's animations seem far more canned and far less responsive.

The puck physics in NHL 07 seem to have come from long and extensive observations of a superball. That's all I can figure. Absolute rocket slapshots traveling at mach two--and that's after you turn the shot speed slider down to zero. Plus the puck, in general, doesn't seem to move at the right speed.

It's not all good news for NHL2K7, though. NHL2K7's announcing is an embarrassment to the genre. I'd rather listen to Joe Montana Sports Talk Football on the Genesis any day. NHL 07's announcing, on the other hand, is fantastic--Gary Thorne and Bill Clement sound just about perfect. Announcers may not seem that important, but believe me, Thorne and Clement are so good that they really, really add to the immersion.

Here's the last thing. I guarantee you that there was a faction of people at Visual Concepts (and Kush) who have been asking for right analog stick shooting control. It's too obvious and they're too smart. But someone else, someone higher up, said "I don't think we need analog shooting--let's add an ORCHESTRAL SOUNDTRACK instead and call it Cinemtion!" That man should be fired and walked out to the parking lot by Security immediately.

Cinemotion: flat as a pancake. A disaster.

2K7 does do some nice things with additional controls (particularly on-ice team controls), but you know what? Nobody gives a damn if you can't shoot with the analog stick. And NHL 07 really nails the use of the analog stick, which makes the control scheme of 2K7 seem totally clunky and outdated in comparison.

Here's a general principle: every single action in a sports game that resembles a swing, should be mapped to the right analog stick. Kicking in football. Shooting in basketball. Passing and shooting in hockey. Batting in baseball. The golf swing. The tennis swing. What in hell's bells are you guys doing using buttons for any of these things anymore?

Like I said, both games do some things really, really well. What they do poorly, though, they do so poorly that neither game made me want to keep playing it beyond a few hours. And what really kills me about NHL 07 is that like almost all EA Sports games, the core of a really, really excellent game is there. There's a ton of potential.

Unfortunately, like almost all EA Sports games, it's potential that goes unrealized.

Monday, September 25, 2006

NBA2K7 (360)

I would normally never mention an upcoming sports game (because I need actual playtime to look for the all-too-frequent backbreaking bug), but the buzz for the 360 version of NBA2K7 is higher than for any sports game in a long, long time. And based on some of the videos I've seen, it looks to be completely off the hook.

Even though pro basketball isn't at the top of my favorite sports simulations, I'm looking forward to the game now and I'll let you know how it plays.

PS3, From Gamasutra and the WSJ

Here's the question Gamasutra put to developers for their Question of the Week feature:
Q: Given Sony's recent issues with PlayStation 3 supply/launch dates and overall negative publicity for the company, what does Sony need to do to convince developers and the public that the PS3 will be the dominant next-gen console? (Responses could include comments on developer support, pricing, network/online capabilities, PR, and any other pertinent factors.)

Great question, and you can read their answers here.

There was also an article today in the Wall Street Journal online (thanks Devon) that was an overview of the PS3 and what's happened in the last few months. Mostly old news, but there was one fascinating comment:
Square Enix Co. used to make showcase games like Kingdom Hearts and the latest installment in the Final Fantasy series only for the PlayStation 2. This time it is planning to be more evenhanded, and it has announced two games for each of the three new-generation consoles. It still plans to develop the most advanced Final Fantasy game for the PlayStation 3. But it hasn't yet decided which console will get Kingdom Hearts, a popular game involving Disney characters.

"We don't want the PlayStation 3 to be the overwhelming loser, so we want to support them," says Michihiro Sasaki, senior vice president of Square Enix. " But we don't want them to be the overwhelming winner either, so we can't support them too much."

The full article is here.

Warning About Age of Pirates: Caribbean Tales

I had hopes for this game, but apparently they've been dashed. For one, the game shipped with Starforce copy protection, which was a terrible mistake. Second, from the reviews I've read, the three years they've spent working on this game since Pirates of the Caribbean shipped was apparently not enough time to improve armed conflicts on land.

Average review score (7 reviews): 58%. So be warned.


Paraworld ships in the U.S. on September 27, and I'll have two extra copies for a contest, so keep your eyes peeled for that sometime this week.

I have high hopes for this game, based on the two missions I was able to play at E3. It's vibrant, it's wonderfully creative, and the control interface is fantastic.

Some games have all the boxes checked but they're just not fun to play. Paraworld has that fun quality that makes you want to keep playing.

DQRB Rated "M" for Mature

Gloria was reading the newspaper.

"Here's a phrase I never thought I'd hear," she said. "Laser vaginal rejuvenation."

"I think my brain just exploded," I said. "I need a trash bag and a bucket."

"Here, look at this ad," she said.

Considering Cosmetic Gynecology?
Our one-hour procedure can tighten the vagina after childbirth and enhance sexual gratification. We can also correct stress, urinary intoninence, reduce large/uneven labia minora and reconstruct the hymen.

"That's amazing," I said. "So it's like Ponce De Leon and his search for the Fountain of Youth, but with vaginas."

"Maybe I should have something done," Gloria said. "Maybe I'm uneven."

"I wouldn't worry about it," I said. "I don't use a level."


I give ESPN and ABC all the credit in the world for showing so many college football games in high-definition this year.

Too bad they aren't any fun to watch.

ESPN should rename itself the Entirely Self-Promoting Network, because it's completely out of control at this point. Their "score" ticker, which takes up a giant portion of the bottom of the screen, runs continuously during college football games. And the one thing you almost never see--are scores.

Here's an example. I was watching Michigan-Wisconsin Saturday morning, and the only other game going on at that time was Minnesota-Purdue. Frankenticker was still going full speed, though.

(Vertical scroll) Iowa St.-Texas at 2:30 on ABC
(Vertical scroll) Notre Dame-Michigan St. at 7:30 on ABC
Most of the country will see Notre-Dame Michigan on ABC. For the west coast and adjoining states, the game will be on ESPN2. Check your local listings. We'll scroll this message every 90 seconds for the next eight hours to be sure you understand, bitches.
(Horizontal scroll) Last year, Notre Dame QB Brady Quinn threw for 547 yards against Michigan St. If Michigan St. wins, see the post-game riot LIVE! on ESPN College Fan 24.
(Vertical scroll) West Virgina-East Carolina 2:30 on ESPN 360
(Horizontal scroll) West Virginia Linebacker Studs McCrappen only has one testicle. See its fallen comrade bronzed on ESPN U at 8:30.
(Vertical scroll-"NFL" tab selected) Monday Night Football on ABC at 8:30. We know Ron Jaworski's IQ is 100 points higher than Joe Theisman, but Theisman looks better in a suit.

You get golf scores. And tennis scores. And baseball scores. Oh, and you'll see the start time for every upcoming game on every ESPN sub-channel for the day.

It goes on and on and freaking on. It never stops. Miraculously, 80% of the information on Frankenticker seems to have some connection with current or future ESPN programming.

If you try to watch the ABC regional game at 2:30, you get to see Frankenticker, but it's even worse, because you get to see TEXT PROMOS for upcoming ABC shows:
Desperate Housewives premiers on ABC at 8:00 Sunday, September 24. We promise it will be funny again, like it was in the first year.

*$#damn promos for shows on the score ticker!

ESPN's problem, for us, is that they don't actually want us to watch the football game. They want us to watch the ticker so that they can spam us continually with self-promotional information.

Watch the CBS SEC game at 2:30 and it's totally different. The scoreboard ticker is less than half the size of ESPN's. There's no self-promotion, no show promos. The scoreboard ticker just shows football scores. Imagine that.

So even though my "home" conference is the Big-12, and even though I'd much rather watch the Big 12 game, I watch the SEC, because the coverage is so much less annoying that I enjoy the game ten times as much.

Nicely done, Frankenticker.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Your Dwarf Fortress Stories (2)

Here are some more terrific stories about Dwarf Fortress from you guys. Thanks.

I think one measure of a game's impact (and greatness) should be the stories that people tell about the game. Great games generate great stories, and Dwarf Fortress is certainly in the forefront of that category as well.

First off, a fantastic story from Nick Youngblood (who is a terrific writer as well):
This story takes place in my second fortress. My first fortress starved to death in the very first winter, because I misunderstood the summary screen. I thought that the food I had in the "Other" category was actually edible, and so while it seemed like I had enough, in reality I began to starve days after winter began. I still remember the sinking feeling I got when it rained at the beginning of spring, destroying the road I had built for the human traders. That caravan was our only hope, and when the road became impassable, I knew that all was lost. But I digress.

On the fate of the second fortress: I had perhaps 24 dwarves in my fortress going into autumn, and I was confident that we had more than enough food. It would be a lean winter, but I was confident that we would make it through without going hungry. However, days before winter began, I was visited by a group of migrants. Now, apparently my fortress had become known as some sort of greatly sought-after dwarven vacation spot, because in one group of migrants I went from around 25 dwarves to just over twice that amount. Twice as many mouths to feed and not enough food to fill them. Horses and dogs were slaughtered wholesale to make up the lack, but partway through winter we began to starve.

Things were very desperate at this point, but I had learned from my previous mistakes and made sure my road was in good repair. Then, I began to plant crops as fast as I could. Every dwarf I had was assigned to this task. I was sure that if we could just reap a single harvest, we could survive until the humans came to help us. For a time it seemed as though my plan might work. The two plots were almost sown, and soon we would have food enough to survive. I knew that some would die, but we would make it.

I then see this on my screen: "Olav Eitherok has gone stark raving mad! Olav Eitherok has destroyed Plot! Olav Eitherok has destroyed Plot!" I gaped at the screen. One of my farmers had gone mad with hunger, and in his senseless rage destroyed the city's only chance at life.

I knew now that we were doomed, but I had one last task that I would finish before the end. On the spot of those farms I constructed a stone sepulcher decorated with the finest stonework I could create, four statues at the cardinal points. When Olav finally succumbed to starvation, I had him interred within those walls. I imagined that in their final moments my dwarves carved the story of the fall of Glas Galak upon those stones, so that for all time those who visited this place would know of the infamy of Olav Eitherok, and how his reckless madness had doomed an entire people.

Only the dead inhabit Glas Galak now, but I find some small comfort in knowing that the name of the traitor Olav Eitherok will be cursed for all time, and that though he is dead, he will never be at peace.

Good grief, Nick is a freaking amazing writer. And what a story.

Next, from Russ Harvey, both a story and a recommendation:
Not sure how far along your fortress is now, so I won’t spoil anything here, but eventually you’re going to come under siege, and it’s going to be painful.

Painful, that is, unless you have patiently hollowed out an auxiliary tunnel from the edge of the mountain all the way to the lava river, bridged the river and chasm with aqueducts, constructed a channel to link it all together, situated a floodgate at the end of the channel, and linked said floodgate to a doomsday lever hidden within your main fortress. Then when the trouble arrives, you merely lock the front doors, cackle madly, and order the lever pulled. Describing the flood of lava which sweeps out to engulf the world as “gratifying” doesn’t really do it justice. You’ll be giggling for hours at the sight of the besiegers (and those slower-of-foot dwarves that didn’t make it inside) vainly attempting to flee from the spreading pool of death.

I lost around 30 dwarves in its construction. The results were worth every smoking corpse.

Russ Harvey: evil overlord for hire. Reasonable rates.

Next, from Kel Woodbury:
So I'm going along and things are going well. People are busily preparing food and drinks for the first winter when all of a sudden lizardmen attack! Since at this point I didn't really know what I'm doing, I just observe to see what happens. My 2 war dogs attack them and take down a couple and then die. So much for this settlement having dogs. The lizardmen also get into a fight with some dwarves and the miner and carpenter handily cut them down.

I check things out after the battle and see bits of lizardmen and dwarf on the ground and someone's... lower left leg?

Then I see the poor guy and he's in a lot of pain, so he hobbles off to a bed where he remains mostly unconscious for a year.

Then it happens: he's taken by a fell mood.

Not sure what this is about, I curiously watch him hobble down the hallway to the workshop area and take over the butchery. He then proceeds to hobble around the base looking for what I don't know. Then, suddenly, he kills someone. I am laughing so hard because here's this guy possessed by who knows what hobbling down my corridor and then he kills someone as they run by. He proceeds to take their corpse to the butchery and begins working on something. What the heck is he making out of another dwarf? Unfortunately, the crippled guy is in so much pain he falls unconscious a lot and works during his short conscious periods. It takes him about 2 YEARS to finish the, erm, dwarf bone chain armor. And now he is a legendary bonecrafter. He walks back to the bed and collapses, where he remains there for another year till he dies.

At the Highest Level

Gloria called home yesterday afternoon. I was in my study at the time. Imagine that.

"We're on the Central Market playground," she said. "Do you want anything from the store?"

Central Market is a "store" like Jackson Pollack is a house painter. I can ask for butter made from yak's milk and have at least a 50/50 change of her bringing a tub home.

"Have you already shopped?" I asked.

"Yes," she said, "but we can just go back in."

"Nothing for me, then," I said.

"Why? It will just take us a minute to go back in."

"I'm too lazy for that,"I said.

"But you're not having to do anything," she said.

"That doesn't matter. I'm a practitioner of lazy at the highest level. I don't hoard lazy. I'm a philanthropist."

"Good grief," she said.

"I'm Lazy HD," I said. "Don't even look for me on the regular lazy channels. I'm not there."


Microsoft clearly demonstrated the benefits of competition to the consumer last week.

Yesterday, they announced this (thanks Gamespot):
Microsoft has now apparently admitted that the initial shipments of Xbox 360s were failing at a greater than normal rate. "As part of our standard and ongoing process of analyzing repair data, we recently noticed a higher than usual number of [360] units coming in for repair," Microsoft said in a statement sent to GameSpot. "Upon further investigation, it was further discovered that the bulk of the units were isolated to a group that was part of the initial manufacturing run of the console. Returns for repair are coming in for a variety reasons and it's a higher rate than we are satisfied with."

As a result of their findings, Microsoft has "made the decision to comp repairs for consoles manufactured before January 1, [2006] and provide refunds to the small group of customers who have already paid for repairs." As was the case last year, those wishing to get their consoles repaired or replaced should contact Xbox customer support.

Given that Microsoft could have dissembled forever that the actual failure rate was "in line" with other electronic devices, this is a relatively stunning admission.

Consumer-friendly, as it were.

Now let's look at what the same company did earlier this week with the release of Windows Media Player 11. Look at this Orwellian bit of linguistics in the read me:
Windows Media Player 11 does not permit you to back up your media usage rights (previously known as licenses). However, depending upon where your protected files came from, you might be able to restore your rights over the Internet.

Isn't that clever? All we own now is the right to use the media. And if we want to move the music we bought from our PC to our laptop--sorry. Not unless we go back through the original point of purchase and get their authorization. And if they don't exist anymore, or they're assholes, well, tough luck.

That's how Microsoft handles features in their operating system, because they can. For all intents and purposes, it's a monopoly.

You may not realize this if you're an international reader, but consumer rights in the United States are absolute shit. I can't imagine any country having weaker consumer protection laws than we do. And our elected representatives seem to be too busy jamming their pockets with lucre or wrapping themselves in the flag to care.

And Right Back to Paper Cuts Again

Surely they wouldn't be this stupid. From Kotaku:
Kutaragi also pretty much confirmed that we won't be seeing a comparative price drop in other territories. According to Ken, the Japanese pricing changes were merely an adjustment to keep the price inline with the market. He argued that the misconception that 1 dollar equals 1 euro equals 100 yen is not a fair comparison.

Uh-oh, the stupid wagon just pulled out of the depot--and Sony was driving.

Okay, it's the last time I'm going to say this, although I'm not promising. At $499 and $599, the PS3 is a doorstop. It's not in competition with the 360--at $200 more, it's a separate product category. It's a boutique product. This is totally in conflict with Sony's primary goal, which is to win the high-definition DVD war with Blu-Ray. And analysts can talk until their heads explode about what a "relative" value it is because it has a Blu-Ray drive, and Sony can claim it will replace supercomputers, and it will still get kicked in the teeth by the 360. The 360 is $200 cheaper and it has an outstanding lineup of games this fall. The PS3 has supply problems (although they're trying to "fix" that by killing demand with their pricing), and their launch line-up is average at best.

I'm not sure why people don't understand this, but a product that costs 50% more than its primary competitor and has a far poorer selection of software for its primary use is not going to be successful. It's math. And the software gap is not going to close, because developers can do math, too.

Two months before launch. Two months. Buzz? ZERO. That pricing announcement was the first spasm of interest in weeks. When you spend 90% of your interaction with the press defending your pricing strategy, it is highly likely that your pricing strategy is wrong.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Sound the Alarm, or Sony Proves They Have Ears

Thanks to DQ reader Douglas for e-mailing me this announcement from the Tokyo Game Show:
Both the Associated Press and Reuters are now reporting that the Playstation 3 20 GB will be getting a 20 percent price drop in Japan. That means the lower end PS3 will sell for 49.980 yen or $429 there. No mention of the price for the higher-end PS3 was made likely because in Japan that price is being left to retailers to set.

Here's the full story over at Kotaku.

That is a GIANT price dop, particularly when the console hasn't even been launched yet. That's unprecedented. And they're also apparently including an HDMI 1.3 output. So they dropped the price 20% and improved the specs at the same time.

Now remember, this was the company who claimed that they could sell anything and people would buy it because of the strength of the Playstation brand name and customer loyalty.

Well, apparently not.

Remember that I've mentioned several times in the last few months that Sony must be panicking behind closed doors? In spite of what they were saying publicly, they must have finally understood that the future of Blu-Ray was endangered at the initial launch prices they announced. And their internal tracking must have shown far less demand at the initial prices than they expected.

Panic isn't such a bad thing in this case, at least for us. And that is the first thing Sony's done right in months. At $499 and $599, the PS3 was going to be a boat anchor. Sony's clearly admitted that with this dramatic price cut. At least they've finally acknowledged reality.

However, there's a big IF here. For one, they haven't dropped the price anywhere but Japan at this point (although I expect them to shortly). Even if they do, they said just a few weeks ago that there would be very few 20GB units available at launch--the vast majority would be the $599 units with the 60GB hard drive. So unless they change allocations, this might be a discount that's perfectly available in theory and impossible to find in practice.

Someone asked me if this was in response to Microsoft's announcement that the 360 would support 1080p output via a software update, but I don't think so. Upscaled 1080p output from the 360 was the least of Sony's problems--they were dying the death of a thousand paper cuts, and all of them were self-inflicted.

Hopefully, this stops the bleeding. Or at least starts the clotting.


Glora painted our guest room purple.

I don't mean the shade of purple historically associated with royalty. It's girl purple. I'm not sure which shade of girl purple--I'm not qualified to make those distinctions.

We began with one purple wall.

"What do you think?" Gloria asked as I walked into the room, newly painted for the first time.

"Agggghhh! My eyes!"

"You don't like it," she said.

"Whatever gave you that idea?" I asked.

Eli 5.1 walked into the room. "Aggghhh!" he said. "It's PURPLE!"

"You paid him to do that," Gloria said.

"I did not," I said. "All men are wired that way. Our only use for purple is to color the velevety robes that are placed over our shoulders when we're crowned king."

Gloria decided that because one purple wall didn't quite look right, her best option was to paint the other three walls purple. "It's the Paintocalypse," I said.

"That didn't work out like I expected it too," she said. "This color is about two shades darker than the swatch."

The ceiling--or, as I refer to it now, "the escape hatch"--is still white, though.

Gloria's bummed out because she painted a room purple and it looks, well, so damned purple. So she was sitting around yesterday, bummed out, and Eli 5.1 walked up and put his arms around her. "Mommy, I LIKE the guest room," he said.

"You do?" she asked, brightening.

"Well, I really don't," he said, "but I'm trying to make you feel better."


Far afield, but I saw this in the Sports section of the Dallas Morning News today and thought it was interesting.

Tiger Woods won 46 PGA Tour events before he turned 30 last December. Do you know how many other players under thirty have at least THREE wins on the PGA Tour?


Incredible, but true. The four are Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, Geoff Ogilvy, and Ben Curtis.



From Scientific American:
The arid badlands of Ethiopia's Afar region have long been a favorite hunting ground for paleoanthropologists. The area is perhaps best known for having yielded "Lucy," the 3.2 million-year-old skeleton of a human ancestor known as Australopithecus afarensis. Now researchers have unveiled another incredible find, from a site called Dikika, just four kilometers from where Lucy turned up. It is the skeleton of an A. afarensis child who lived 3.3 million years ago. No other hominin of such antiquity--including Lucy--is as complete as this one. Moreover, as the earliest juvenile hominin ever found, the Dikika fossil provides a rare opportunity to study growth processes in our long ago relatives.

As a frame of reference, the earliest complete skeleton of a human-related child that had previously been found was less than 300,000 years old.

Here's another interesting excerpt:
The skull, too, is an amalgam of old and new traits, as two aspects of the Dikika baby underscore. The first is the hyoid--a delicate, rarely preserved bone that helps anchor throat muscles. It's anatomy suggests that A. afarensis had a voice box similar to a chimp's. The second is the fossil's natural endocast, an impression of the braincase. The child had attained only 63 to 88 percent of the adult brain size by the age of three. A chimp of comparable age, in contrast, has reached more than 90 percent of its adult brain size. This raises the possibility that A. afarensis experienced a more humanlike pattern of brain growth.

It's all amazing, and you can read the Scientific American story here as well as an MSNBC story (with an excellent picture of the skull) here.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Once More On Intel, Now With No Registration Required

Gwon Chang sent me a no-registration required version of the New York Times story I posted yesterday about Intel's new inter-chip communication process. You can read the full story here.

Proximity Communications

Yesterday I mentioned Intel's new technology for communication between chips using laser beams. Sun also has a technology for this purpose--it's called "proximity ommunications."Here's an excerpt from a CNet article:
Proximity communication, which is working in Sun labs, uses a technology called capacitive coupling. In it the electrical state of a tiny patch of one chip is registered by a corresponding patch on another chip that's separated by a thin air gap.

The technology not only is much faster than regular wires, but its performance doesn't lag as the chips speed up, Tremblay said. Essentially, that means chip communications can participate in the same steady Moore's Law pace of processor improvements.

This tech was announced last year, but if you missed it, here's a link to the full article.

Everybody Have Fun Tonight

"Everybody WUNG CHANG tonight," Eli 5.1 sang.

"Wang Chung," I said. "Everybody Wang Chung tonight."

"Got it," he said. "Everybody WANG CHONG tonight," he sang. Every single note was off-key by a wide margin.

"Wang Chung," I said. "Plus the first line is sung in a higher key. So the first line is high and the second line is low."

"Got it," he said.

We were walking down the light bulb aisle at Home Depot.

That your son would be singing "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" in the middle of Home Depot might strike you as odd--unless you have a five-yeard old. If you do, though, it's just business as usual.

In this case, there was a good reason. After dinner we went to the Hallmark store to look at Halloween decorations because he saw a display of about fifty ghosts inside the store. While he was there, he started looking at greeting cards, and there was one line of Halloween cards with sound chips inside. Quite good sound chips, actually, compared to the usual fare.

One of these cards, for no apparent reason, contained a long excerpt from Wang Chung's "Everybody Have Fun Tonight." [please note: one member of our family frequently danced to this song while in college. Hint: it was not me.] Eli thought that "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" was the funniest song he's ever heard.

Obviously, he's never heard the lyric "I like big butts and I cannot lie."

Dwarf Fortress: More of Your Stories

Here are a few more Dwarf Fortress stories sent in by you guys.

Oh, and before we get started, let me just mention that this is clearly all Devon Prescott's fault. I'd gotten an e-mail or two about DF in the last week, but Devon kept sending them, and that (and the PA forum thread) are what finally compelled me to download the game.

First off is J.R. Cabe, and his story is another example of how DF developer Tarn Adams is just playing in a different league altogether. Oh, and it's good to know as you read this story that dwarves can create "legendary" items which, while extremely valuable, have incredible emotional importance to the dwarf who crafted them.

Did I just type the phrase "incredible emotional importance to the dwarf who crafted them"?

My DF story is somewhat similar to Chris Lorenzen's about wounded dwarves and their at times conscientious brothers who bring them water and food when they are bed ridden. My story differs in how my miner and grower actually found themselves getting injured.

I was trying out a different build then my usual that involved cutting a straight shaft to the river, dropping down a bridge and then setting up farms on the far side of the river. With no time to dig out areas for my workshop until later, I had built starter workshops outside of the fortress.

The build worked pretty well and the only workshop I had left outside was my Craftdwarve’s Workshop in which I had my crafting-dwarf working on stone mugs to sell to the first caravan. Everything was running smoothly until two raccoons ran in and stole a pair of legendary mugs that my crafting-dwarf had created. This set my crafting-dwarf off on a ballistic path of murder and mayhem.

First up was my miner who was just trying to get a drink at the well--several injuries, but none life-threatening, thankfully. The crafting-dwarf shifted his sights to a war-dog, then a horse--who were both killed--and then mortally wounding a mule. That calmed his rage for a bit and he decided that a nap was in order, I figured the worst was over, but had I known what was to come next I would've locked him in his room permanently. After waking he destroyed several pieces of furniture that he was trying to take to their designated spots, he then chased my grower across the bridge to the farming area where he wounded him.

On his way back to the rest of the fortress he took his frustration out on the bridge crossing the river, plunging himself and my newly acquired blacksmith into the river. I literally screamed at my scream, "Drown you bastard" but alas the crafting-dwarf pulled himself out of harms way while my blacksmith was washed away downstream.

This game does all kinds of things in terms of interaction and behavior that I didn't think I would ever see in a game. And it's not even the focus of the game. Incredible.

Now, a story from Rob Kaye. A Broker, by the way, is the fellow who helps you get fair value when you trade with a caravan and also negotiates trade agreements.
Today, I got a Broker. A human caravan arrived. About ten minutes later, I saw the U's (humans) wandering the fortress. I started watching them, and they slowly zoned in on the Broker's OFFICE. Not his bedroom or dining room. His OFFICE.

The Broker SAT IN HIS CHAIR as they entered and I could just imagine them all talking. How cool is that?!?

And here's a second story from Rob Kaye.
So I finally got the magma forge going. Almost immediately, a metalsmith went into a mood and claimed the forge. Then he proceeded to gather materials from stockpiles in the main complex.

Now, understand that the lava river was over 200 spaces just to the main complex, with another 50 or so to the outside (remember that I made all my storage areas outside). All in all, he made EIGHT trips back and forth.

What did he pull as materials? 3 platinum ore, a schist block, silk thread, obsidian and jet stone and groundhog leather. Huh?

He made a toy boat!

Here is the description:
This is a toy boat. All craftdwaftship is of the highest quality. It is decorated with cave spider silk and encircled with the bands of Jet. This object menaces with spikes of platinum and Obsidian. On the item are images of Mangrove trees in platinum. On the item are images of dwarves in platinum. On the item are images of muck roots in groundhog leather.

And here's one more, from DQ reader Eric Poulton:
After an especially hard season (my only axe was being held by a guy who was bedridden after being attacked by gorillas and losing his right eye, my fisherman wasn't catching any fish, a lack of alcohol was leading to a bunch of very unhappy dwarves with a bad habit of going on tantrums and tearing down the trade depot, and when the first trade caravan showed up there was nothing for the colony to trade but some empty barrels), my miners finally hit the underground river. After a thrilling chase down a twisting tunnel with a wall of water close behind, things started looking up for my dwarf colony. They started a nice little farm that provided them with food, they scrounged up the resources for a new axe, the fisherman started catching fish (in the underground river, no less!), and they began setting up a floodgate system to keep the farm sustainable.

One day the fisherman was sitting next to the river fishing, his cat keeping him company, when all of a sudden an F jumps out at him. A message informed me that F stands for Frogman. The fisherman hightailed it as two more frogmen jumped out of the river. The dwarves raced to close the floodgates to protect the rest of the colony, even if it meant trapping the poor fisherman and his cat in the tunnel with the beasts. The fisherman was taking hits as he ran down the hall toward the floodgates. Blood was splattered all over the floor and walls. The cat may or may not have been killed by now. A dwarf reached the floodgate lever right as the fisherman reached the end of the tunnel, frogmen on his tail. The lever was pulled. Then something happened that has never happened in any game I've played before. It crashed and I lost the last six hours of progress. That's not the surprising part, it is an alpha after all. The surprising part is I immediately booted the game back up and started right where I left off, just looking forward to how I would do things better this time.

That's a great story with an unfortunate ending, but it also is a good reminder to save the game occasionally and back up your save folder.

I've been told that certain enemy creatures are smart enough to pull levers. Freaking incredible.

A Note

Someone e-mailed me and let me know that Zach Adams is also listed on the design credits for Dwarf Fortress. So if I understand this correctly, both Tarn and his brother Zach are designers, while Tarn is the programmer.

I think.

Icing, Perfected

I've eaten thousands of Pop-Tarts in my life.

Yesterday, though, as I began to eat a cinammon roll flavor Pop-Tart, I saw something I'd never seen before: on the back was a thumb-sized oval of white icing. It was perfectly smooth and perfectly oval and looked like an icing Cameo.

In short, it was a Pop-Tart miracle.

"Take a look at this," I said to Gloria, holding up the Pop-Tart as I entered her study. "Examine it closely," I said. "Do you see anything that in any way resembles the Virgin Mary?"

Gloria studied the Pop-Tart for several seconds. "Not a thing," she said.

This was a serious problem. A Pop-Tart with an unusual or remarkable feature is worth nothing. A blessed Pop-Tart, on the other hand, could be worth thousands of dollars on Ebay.

"You have artistic talent," I said. "Could you possibly create a faded yet plausible image of the Virgin Mary? While you do that, I'll work on setting up a viewing area. Then we'd put it up for auction on Ebay. I could buy my new computer and there would be plenty left over to get something nice for yourself."

"I can't draw the Virgin Mary on a Pop-Tart," she said. "Sorry."

"Not a team player," I said.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The End of Disenfranchisement Through Aggregation: the Brilliance of Dwarf Fortress

I wrote that title just to freak you guys out. I wanted you to think for a moment that I’d gone over to the Dark Side.

Tre Chipman sent me an interesting e-mail last week. Here’s an excerpt:
Still, Dwarf Fortresss getting Game of the Year worries me. Not because Dwarf Fortress isn't a great game (it is) but the fact that if it IS the GOTY, then it says pretty terrible things about the current state of the gaming industry, doesn't it? I mean, an ASCII based game made in someone's garage (or garage equivalent) comes out of nowhere and kicks the stuffing out of everything else, despite the fact that well into the 90% percentile of everything you see on the shelves these days has millions of dollars of design behind it?

Well, it does kick the stuffing out of everything else. I know that sounds incredible to say, but it’s true. To call Dwarf Fortress an indictment of the gaming industry, though, puts the focus on the gaming industry when it should be on Tarn Adams. We should celebrate his game for what it is—a stunning achievement—than use it as an implement to indict other games for what they’re not.

That’s not to say that Dwarf Fortress doesn’t embarrass the gaming industry—it does. Tremendously. Dwarf Fortress is scoreboard, pure scoreboard, and the gaming industry, the business of gaming, really has no response.

Instead of talking about what other games lack, though, let’s talk about why Dwarf Fortress is so shockingly good. It’s so good, in fact, that it’s the gaming equivalent of a disruptive technology—it transforms our notion of what is possible. This is exactly the kind of complexity, the kind of detail, that we’ve wanted in a game world for years.

Better yet, it’s coherent detail. Even at its most intricate, it’s cohesive.

Best of all, it actually works. There’s no blah-blah-bullshit about why it doesn’t quite work the way it should or why it can’t be finished. It’s far more finished (as an alpha!) than 90% of commercial software projects.

It’s not just the level of detail, though—it’s the level of logic surrounding those details. When you face a problem in the game, in almost all cases the best solution is the most intelligent one, and when you make a mistake, it’s not some fluky aspect of the game world. You aren’t punished by tricks.

The logic is everywhere. Want to build something? You need the right materials, and those materials must be hauled to the appropriate workshop. And once it’s built, you can’t just magically put it somewhere—a dwarf must take it to the location.

If that kind of logic just existed in a few activities, like it does in so many games, it would be nothing more than a cheap parlor trick, but that degree of thought is present everywhere in Dwarf Fortress—it’s a defining characteristic, not a cheap illusion.

That deep, consistent level of thought is why the game world is so coherent, and so entrancing. I think it’s the most intellectually engaged I’ve ever been in twenty years of playing games, because it requires not only thought but interesting thought. It rewards creativity, not memorization.

There’s one other aspect of Dwarf Fortress that I deeply appreciate, and I didn’t realize how or why until today. But Adams made a critical design decision, an entirely unique decision, and it has affected the power of the game in a paramount way. And to understand why it’s so important, we need to look at how other games approach the same dilemma.

The dilemma, simply put, is units. Strategy games can require the direction of hundreds of units, and the detail generated by those units is overwhelming. So a key design decisions in all these games is how to best aggregate information to present it efficiently to the player. In most cases, it will be via graphs or 1-100 scales.

Something happens in the course of that aggregation, though: individual units are disenfranchised. A single unit is just a number in a spreadsheet, part of an equation. It has no meaning beyond its number.

A few games try to work around this disenfranchisement with the “hero” concept, where a few units are much more powerful and become leaders. Still, though, they’re just numbers—bigger numbers, but numbers just the same.

In this game, this unlikely, wonderful game, a dwarf isn’t a unit: a dwarf is a dwarf. He (or she) has feelings. He feels love. He feels fear. He has needs and desires and dreams. Every dwarf has his own little dwarven version of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

If these dwarves are upset, you don’t see their unrest in a bar graph. They stop working. They break furniture. They throw tantrums. They rage.

And sometimes, they mourn.

Pompous, self-aggrandizing gaming industry, do you hear me? I’m playing a game with ASCII graphics written by one person about dwarves and they mourn.

It’s not really about dwarves, though. It’s about humanity and survival. It’s about us, about all the elegant and awkward things we feel and want, about what we’ll do when we’re afraid. It’s an adventure, but that adventure is as much inside us as outside. It makes us think about who we are.

I mentioned early that I thought Dwarf Fortress was the gaming equivalent of a disruptive technology. That’s true in the sense of its surpassing brilliance, but another element of disruptive technology is that it drives change, often radical change, and I don’t see that happening.

I don’t see it happening because Dwarf Fortress, in terms of project size, is a throwback. In the old days, one or two people just designed and programmed the coolest damn game they could. That was their objective: to make a cool game.

Today, there are long, long odds against that philosophy. That doesn’t mean cool games don’t get made by big companies—they do—but their primary objective isn’t to make cool games anymore. Those days are long gone. Their primary objective is to sell games, and that is a different matter entirely.

Big project teams also work against depth of gameplay. They’re great for breadth but not for depth. They’re also almost guaranteed to work against coherence. If six designers share 90% of the vision of the game, that last 10% is going to wreak absolute havoc—all six will get some of their 10% into the game, which they desperately want (it’s their unique contribution, after all), and at the edges, the vision of the game crumbles. Some games successfully avoid that trap—I think Oblivion, in particular, takes place in a remarkably cohesive world—but there are ten games that fail in that way, at least, for every one that succeeds.

The other reason I don’t think that Dwarf Fortress will be truly disruptive technology is Tarn Adams, and that’s another reason I think we should celebrate this game. Who else could possibly do something like this? Who else could single-handedly make a game with this kind of astonishing depth, with this kind of emotional impact, with this kind of unerring instinct?

Who has ever made a game like this?

Dwarf Fortress isn’t a call to arms—it’s a bolt of lightning from a clear blue sky. And so I say: let’s celebrate the lightning.

Madden: Quality is Our New Focus

I mentioned the spectacular bug in the PS2 and Xbox versions of Madden 2007 in Europe where a quarterback in Superstar mode will turn and pass the ball in the wrong direction. DQ reader Shawn Mallen let me know today that Bill Simmons, ESPN columnist and generally very funny guy, actually wrote about the bug in a recent column:
I'll leave you with this: Apparently the European version of "Madden" has a glitch where, if you're playing in superstar mode and not controlling the QB, he'll throw the football backward on every play. I mention this not because it's a funny YouTube clip, but because the person who posted that YouTube clip called it, "the Aaron Brooks glitch." In other words, they decided to name the glitch after the real-life QB who's most likely to throw the ball 35 yards backward during a game.

And believe it or not, here's the video clip where the real Aaron Brooks does just that (he really only throws it backwards 20 yards, but that's good enough for me--thanks to Shawn for that link as well).

Seriously, EA talked about their new commitment to quality and making better games about six months ago. That really seems to be paying off.

Very Likely

I was watching football on Sunday afternoon when I heard Eli 5.1 at the top of the stairs.

"So since this is VERY LIKELY for me to DROP this on my FOOT, can I get SOMEONE to HELP me?" He was carrying this little wicker basket of toys down the stairs. It was the size of a loaf of bread, somewhat less dangerous than the apocalyptic scenario he was presenting.

Gloria started laughing when she heard him, because he wasn't stopping to wait for help. No, he was headed down the stairs to certain doom, according to him, unless someone intervened right away.

Once they reached the bottom of the stairs, Gloria said "You know, you could have waited for someone to get to the top of the stairs to help you."

"Well," he said, "I'm afraid this causing for disaster."

I think that was an explanation. There's no telling.

Later he had all his toy heroes set up and they were battling the bad guys, and he was right in the middle of a climactic battle when he jumped up off the carpet and said "The fighter needs to go potty. Excuse me."

Science Links

First off, more proof that Albert Einstein was an absolute bad-ass:
An international research team led by Prof. Michael Kramer of the University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Observatory, UK, has used three years of observations of the "double pulsar", a unique pair of natural stellar clocks which they discovered in 2003, to prove that Einstein's theory of general relativity - the theory of gravity that displaced Newton's - is correct to within a staggering 0.05%. Their results are published on the14th September in the journal Science and are based on measurements of an effect called the Shapiro Delay.

Here's a link to the full article.

From Matt Bradford, a link to an absolutely stunning video about an autistic genius who has photographic memory. He's known as "The Living Camera," and after he's taken on a helicopter ride over Rome, he reproduces the city in exacting and almost perfect detail in a drawing that was over five yards wide. The video is five minutes long, it's amazing, and you can see it here.

Finally, a link to an article in the NY Times (reg required) about using lasers instead of wires to transmit data between silicon chips. Here's an excerpt:
SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 17 — Researchers plan to announce on Monday that they have created a silicon-based chip that can produce laser beams. The advance will make it possible to use laser light rather than wires to send data between chips, removing the most significant bottleneck in computer design.

As a result, chip makers may be able to put the high-speed data communications industry on the same curve of increased processing speed and diminishing costs — the phenomenon known as Moore’s law — that has driven the computer industry for the last four decades.

The development is a result of research at Intel, the world’s largest chip maker, and the University of California, Santa Barbara. Commercializing the new technology may not happen before the end of the decade, but the prospect of being able to place hundreds or thousands of data-carrying light beams on standard industry chips is certain to shake up both the communications and computer industries.

Amazing, and you can read the full article here.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Dwarf Fortress (6): Intermediate Farming Strategy (by Thom Moyles)

Thom said this was a "basic guide" when he sent it to me, but it's well beyond the basics (which I covered in the previous post). So I'm calling it the "intermediate" guide, and thanks to Thom for making it available to us.

Farming, the Basics
It should be noted that almost all of this information is available in the Dwarven Fortress wiki, which is a tremendous resource. I’d suggest just having it open while you play and it’s entirely worth it just to sit and cycle through pages using the Random Page link and even if you don’t entirely understand, reading each page as it comes. Eventually it will all fall together.

The intention here is to provide a good basic strategy for developing farms in your first year. Ideally, you should already know how the interface of the game works, since I’m not too helpful in that regard. If you’re thinking “How do I make a Still?”, you need something even more basic than this, which is still really basic, which is what it’s like dealing with DF because the game is scary amounts of complex. Conversely, if you already know how to make a farm and make it through the first winter without scraping by, this isn’t going to be very helpful either. I’m hoping that there’s enough people who are in-between that this will wind up being useful to somebody.

Lots of people like to take sweet pod seeds over the other crop types, mainly because once you start processing them, they produce a 1 sweet pod to 5 food items payout, which is great. However, doing this requires you to build a Farmer’s Workshop in order to produce Dwarven Syrup and I believe a Kitchen to then cook the syrup into food. While this is an excellent plan, I prefer to leave it for the second year, since for most people, the object of the first year is to provide enough food to make it through the winter without losing any dwarves.

With this in mind, I think Plump Helmets are the easy choice. Their main advantage is that they don’t have to be cooked to eat, so you don’t have to build anything to process them and they can also be brewed into dwarven wine, a process that I’ll talk more about later. The initial allotment of Plump Helmet Spawn is probably going to be enough for the size of farm that you’ll be able to build in the first year. You may consider bumping it up to 20 or 25 if you feel confident about your ability to get a good-sized farm up and running quickly.

It’s also a good idea to bring along 5 or so seeds of the other crop types, including sweet pods. You likely won’t plant them in your first year (or in very small amounts if you do); however, they will become more important later, so it’s a good idea to have a small stockpile of these seeds that you can start growing once you’ve got the safety of your settlement assured.

The First Year
Surviving the first year is made much easier if you have your farm up and running. In fact, I would say that it’s the most important part of your beginning settlement. It may seem daunting at first; however, it’s more than possible to set up a floodgate-controlled farm and collect a decent harvest in the first year. The key to doing so is keeping all of your dwarves busy and highly specialized. When mining, don’t bother with digging anything other than an one-by-many corridor driving for the underground river and a room large enough to have a mason’s workshop and a mechanic’s workshop, if you’re going to be doing floodgate mining.

Don’t have your key dwarves do anything other than their job-specific tasks. Hit [v]->[p]->[l] and have your miner only mine, your mason only mason, etc. This means that they won’t get distracted by things like hauling duties early on, where speed is of the essence.

Once you hit the river, dig out your farm, which is where you’re going to have to make a decision of Nile-style natural flooding or using floodgates. I prefer floodgates, even though they take longer, because of the level of control that you have. With Nile-style farms, you’re at the whim of the river in terms of when it floods and you don’t have any control over whether it floods again, wiping out crops and possibly dwarves. Monsters can also come into your fortress through these farms, whereas the floodgates will lock them out.

There’s an excellent write-up of both the floodgate technique and Nile-flooding here:

I would suggest having a large-to-medium sized room (6-10x8-10, with supports of course) and then just plotting most of it for plump helmets. Although you’re only going to be able to get as many seeds as you brought into the ground, if you’ve worked quickly and gotten your Still set up, it’s possible that you may be able to plant more before winter comes (more on the Still and why it’s important later). Place it so that you can easily expand it later and also so that it doesn’t block off future development (digging deeper into the mountain, etc.).

When the farming plot is set up, make sure that your farmer(s) only have Farming (Field) highlighted on their labor lists. Also add Farming (field) to all your other dwarves as well as their regular tasks and if you only have one farmer, I would suggest making him only work on Farming as well, at least while you’re getting that first crop in the ground. Remember that by pressing [a][b] and [c] while selecting the farm from [q] allows you to select which crops you will grow for each season. Use [+] and [-] to select Plump Helmets and press Enter to make sure that you have them selected for all the available seasons.

It’s also a good idea to place a food storage area very close to your farm. This is because food storage areas hold not only the completed crops; they also hold the seeds, so you’ll have a constant stream of dwarves going from your food storage to your farming plots. Having them run back and forth all the way across the cavern means a lot of lost time.

The major workshop that you should build if you’ve followed the basic principles of what I’ve written so far is the Still. The Still is really helpful in that dwarves love alcohol and when they have enough to drink, you’re going to get a lot more production out of your workforce. All of the basic crops can be made into alcohol and should be at some point, since each dwarf usually has a personal preference for a certain kind of alcohol over another and will be happier if what they like is available.

Place the Still close to the food storage area and the farm itself, since the Still requires finished crops and will produce barrels of alcohol and seeds (which is important and I swear I’ll get to it). Because of this, it is also advisable to have a large number of spare barrels, which can usually be had by buying as many different kinds of foodstuffs during the initial goods allocation. Buying one each of all of the 2-point meats is a good way to do this and should provide with enough barrels for the first year at least.

The First Winter
When winter hits, your farm will dry up and you won’t really have to do anything to do until next year in terms of actual farming. You will have plenty of time to build and you should be able to build 1 or 2 additional medium-to-large-size floodgate farms given an experienced miner. In fact, the greatest obstacle to this is actually getting dwarves to haul the floodgates from the masonry to the farms. I swear that the weight of the things actually causes them to avoid the job, even if they’re set to do it.

One tip for dealing with the first winter in terms of not starving is strangely enough, to have not much to trade. This doesn’t mean not having anything to trade at all, though. If you’ve hit obsidian, you can make 2 short swords and this should be enough to buy all the meat the dwarven caravan can carry. Not only will this get you more food, the number of migrants that you receive is based on the caravan’s report on your fort. If you have most of your workshops set up outside (note: not verified at all to have any impact, I suspect that it does though) and don’t have many crafts to trade, it is possible to not get any migrants at all in the first winter, beyond the metalsmith, who always seems to show up. This may actually make things a little more difficult during the next year when you are short of dwarfpower; it will make survival easier if you’re worried about starvation.

If you do have enough food, which should mean good (double-digit) stores of meat, fish and plant, you should use your still to turn your plump helmets into dwarven wine (hey, we finally got here). Put the task on repeat and carefully monitor your levels of plump helmets. If the number gets too low, stop production, since you don’t want to run out of food. If you are producing wine, it will be really helpful because not only do dwarves work faster/harder when they have available alcohol, the process of creating dwarven wine also produces plump helmet spawn, in greater numbers than it took to plant the initial plot. Which means, the more wine you make, the more seeds you have, so the more plump helmets you’ll grow next year, which you can turn into wine, etc. Once this feedback loop gets rolling and you have a couple of Proficient Farmers, your fortress shouldn’t have to worry about food or alcohol shortages so long as you keep building new farms.

Good luck and as it says in the documentation, remember that it’s fun to lose.

Dwarf Fortress (5): Farming Basics

Farming. It can be critical to self-sufficiency in Dwarf Fortress, and managing all the different components can be fairly tricky (for me, at least). This is going to discuss the basics of farming, and there will be a follow-up post with an intermediate guide by Thom Moyles.

As part of your skill loadout when you make your party, I’d give someone points in both farming (fields) and farming (workshop). It helps them plant more quickly, and that’s a big help. Oh, and don't exchange your seeds for additional allocation points when you do your starting loadout--no seeds means no farming.

First off, and here’s one of the few “must knows” in the game that isn’t self-evident: there’s an underground river in the mountain. You must dig a mining shaft to the east (I make it one square high, usually, to progress as quickly as possible) until you find the river.

When you find the river, by the way, the reaction of your miners is quite funny—and entirely logical.

The reason you need to find the river is that periodically, it overflows, and when it does, it turns the area around the river into farmable land (in the game, it’s mud). Regular land in the world is not arable, because it lacks the moisture content necessary to support crops (I believe that’s the correct explanation).

Now it’s possible to just farm the muddy land provided by the river when it overflows (this is known as “Nile” farming), but that puts you at the mercy of the river. It also means you might lose a crop (or a farmer) if the river overflows unexpectedly while you’re planting or harvesting. So it’s far more effective, and far safer, to use floodgates.

Let’s go through this procedure step-by-step. There’s quite a bit involved here, and I’m sure there are others ways to do it, but here’s what worked for me.

You’re actually on parallel paths to support farming as quickly and efficiently as possible. One path is to find the river. The second path is to build infrastructure.

First off, start the mining shaft to the east from the entrance to the mountain. I just designate a long, narrow area and the miners dig until they hit the river. I also make it parallel to the settlement shaft. Because of certain flooding hazards if you make a mistake, I try to keep the settlement shaft and the river shaft separate for safety reasons.

While the miners are digging, you need to start building the farming infrastructure. As an example of the thoughtful complexity in this game, you can actually use fertilizer in your fields to increase their yield. But it works in a logical progression—you need to make ash, which can be soaked in water to make lye, which can then be used to make potash, and then the fields can be fertilized.

Which is great.

It’s a logical sequence. Build a furnace to burn wood to make ash. Build an ashery (which is a type of workshop, so use ‘w” to access the workshops list from the building menu or you won’t see it) to soak the ashes in water to make lye, then use the lye to make potash (it’s another ashery task) for fertilizer.

The devil, of course, is in the details. You need wood to burn in the furnace, so you’ll need to cut wood. You need blocks and a barrel to build an ashery, so you need to obtain those from a mason’s workshop and carpenter’s workshop, respectively. You’re also going to need barrels and buckets for the ashery (to store lie, etc.), so those need to be built at the carpenter’s workshop as well. And you need lye to make potash, so you must perform the “make lye” task first at the ashery. I just alternate the tasks (lye, potash, lye, potash, etc.) and load up the task screen. Just keep making it—you’ll need all the fertilizer you can make.

You’ll also need dwarves with the skills to operate the furnace and the ashery. I turned on both skills for the same dwarf.

Why do you want to fertilize the fields? Well, your production can be 4X (maybe more) what it is without fertilization. That’s a huge difference in productivity and well worth the time, but it can certainly be daunting to be coordinating all these activities at the same time, particularly in the first year of a fortress.

Let’s go back to mining now. As I said before, you’re mining a tunnel that’s only one square high. Once you reach the river, the water is going to blow back all the way to the mountain entrance. When it recedes, you can get to work.

First, move back six squares or from where the shaft breached the river. That gives you a section of corridor to work with. Now you’ll be doing two things to get the area ready for farming: creating a farming area by mining, and creating a system of floodgates and levers to control the water from the river.

Why do you care? Because once you get the floodgate system set up and working, you can flood the farming area whenever you want. That means you’re not at the mercy of the cave river overflowing for Nile farming. That means much greater productivity from the same amount of land.

Before you designate the mining area to create the farming rooms, start queuing up your materials tasks. You’ll need two floodgates (made at the mason’s workshop), and you’ll need a mechanic’s workshop to make “rock mechanisms” which will then be used to make levers to control the floodgates. I believe you’ll need four to connect two floodgates, so add those as building tasks at the Mechanic’s Workshop menu.

I dug out two large rooms off the main corridor, one of each side, that are each 10 squares wide by 5 squares deep (see the screenshot). I also excluded two squares in each room to act as pillars so that the room wouldn’t cave in. And in addition to those two rooms, I added a small 3x3 room, not connected to the farming room, to serve as a control room.

While the mining is ongoing, you can place the floodgates. Select the square in the corridor that is adjacent to the river to place the first floodgate (use the building menu—from that menu, “X” is the floodgate command). Note that your mason must have built the floodgate for it to be available now. Move the yellow “X” into place and press Enter.

That’s not a floodgate yet—it’s an instruction for a dwarf to haul a floodgate into that position.

Once the control room has been mined out, go back into the building menu and select “Traps/Levers,” then choose “Lever” from that sub-menu. If your mechanic’s workshop hasn’t built the mechanisms yet, you’ll get a “needs mechanisms” message. If the lever is available, place it in a corner of the 3x3 control room.

The mechanic will need to come install that lever. When it’s installed, press “q” for the building tasks menu, move the cursor over the control room, choose “a” to add a new task, then choose the “Link Up to a Floodgate” task. If a dwarf has placed the first floodgate, it will be highlighted as a yellow X. Select that—you’re asking the mechanic to connect the lever to that floodgate.

That way, when you pull the lever, it will open the floodgate.

Now is a good time to install a door in the corridor beyond the farming area but before the control room (it doesn’t show up in the screenshot because a dwarf with seeds to plant is passing through it, but the tiny red dot in the corridor at the edge of the farming room is where it’s located). In essence, you can seal off the farming area and floodgates from the rest of the shaft. The mason can build the door, and you can place it using the building menu (again, it will have to be hauled into place).

When you see the mechanic create the lever, use “q” again, select the lever, use “a” to add a new task, and you should see a new option—“P” (capital P, which is one of the very few times you need to actually use a shift-letter command) for “Pull the Lever.”

Now this is critical: add the “Pull the Lever” task and test the floodgate. Once you install a channel and a second floodgate, the mechanic will no longer have access to that first floodgate. If it’s not working properly, you are well and purely screwed. So be sure that the floodgate opens, and just as importantly, add another task and have the lever pulled AGAIN to close the floodgate.

With the first floodgate working properly, it’s time to add a channel. From the building menu, select “channel.” You can adjust the height and width, but I used a very simple 3 (wide) by 1 (high) floodgate. It must be touching the floodgate—in other words, the end of the channel must be in the square adjacent to the floodgate—it can’t be separated by a blank square. Which makes sense, obviously, because if there’s a gap, the channel can’t be expected to work.

A worker must install the channel, and when it’s completed, you can add the second floodgate. Again, there can’t be any gaps between the end of the channel and the second floodgate. You can see what it looks like in the screenshot.

Once the second floodgate has been hauled in, add a task to your lever in the control room to “Link Up to Floodgate.” You’re going to connect that lever to the second floodgate as well. That’s why you have to be sure the first floodgate is closed—otherwise, one will be open when the other is closed.

The mechanic will come and hook up the second floodgate to the lever. At this point, you should have both floodgates connected to one lever.

At this point, it’s a good idea to clear that farming chamber, and when it’s clear, use “q” and select the door, then choose the “forbid passage” option. You’ve just sealed off the farming chamber if anything goes wrong.

Now just add a “Pull the Lever” task to the lever in the control room. The mechanic comes, flips the lever, and you should see both floodgates raise, then see water coming from the river, through the channel, and flood your farming room. Add another “pull lever” task to raise the floodgates back into place and the water will drain away, leaving you with muddy, prime farmland.

And remember to change that door back to passable, or no one is going to plant anything (because they can’t get in).

Now let’s make some farm plots. In the building menu, select “p” for Farm Plot. You can adjust the height and width in the usual manner—the maximum size is 10x10, but you might be better off with smaller individual plots if you want to plant different crops, because one plot gets assigned a single crop (although you can change the designated crop next planting season). I used (roughly) 5x5 plots and separated them by one column so that I could visually tell them apart.

Dwarves will come and prepare the farm plot, and when it stops flashing, it’s ready to plant (it’s “wavy” in the screenshot—the planted sections look like equal signs). Press “q” for building tasks from the command menu, move the cursor to one of the farm plots, and you’ll see the Farm Plot menu. Here are the options:
Z: Fallow... F: Fertilize or Cancel Fertilize
Ft 0/14...S: Seas Fert (Y)
A: Spring...B: Summer...C: Autumn
Plant Before Mud Dries in Winter

Here’s how the menu works. First, there’s no reason to leave a field fallow, because you get “fresh” mud every time you flood the farming room, so ignore the Z option. To fertilize the field (if you have fertilizer), press “f”. The degree to which the field is fertilized is in the “Ft 0/14” designation—in this case, the field hadn’t been fertilized at all (hence the 0 value), because I wanted to compare crop yields with a fertilized field. If you’d like to make the fertilize task seasonal, select it with “s”.

Your current season will automatically be highlighted from the A/B/C options.

Once you’ve set your instructions, just choose a crop from the list at the top by pressing Enter (it should highlight in white). Now you have a full set of farming instructions, and a farmer will come by and get to work.

Yes, you need someone with the farming skill.

So what can go wrong here? Lots of things. If your farming room has even one tile not completely closed off from the river, the water will never drain after the room is flooded, even when the floodgates are raised. That’s why I had you back off quite a few squares from the river, to hopefully prevent that from happening.

It can take time to go through the furnace/ashery sequence, because there are many steps and it’s quite a bit of work for the dwarves.

If you forget to install a door to seal off the farming room (or forget to make it impassable before you flood the farming room), you’re going to have a flood all the way back to the cave entrance. Oops. And if you didn’t separate your farming shaft from your settlement shaft, well, now you have a water park.

Once the crops are planted, all you need to do is wait. They’ll mature into harvestable crops and your farmers will harvest them.

Like I said, there’s a simpler method to farm known as “Nile farming.” Essentially, you wait until the cave river overflows and farm the resulting muddy squares. But you won’t have as much usable farmland, and your growing season will be entirely dependent on the cave river and when it happens to overflow.

There’s a second Nile scenario involving the outdoor river and a channel, but I’ve never done that before. You can consult the wiki for help with Nile farming, in addition to details that I’ve probably missed concerning cave farming using the floodgate system.

I'm sure I missed something there. I'll post a correction if necessary, and Thom's farming strategy guide will be up shortly. Oh, and before you use this as a guide, please back up your save directory someplace safely, just in case I made a mistake (and it leads to you making a mistake).

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