Thursday, September 07, 2006

Dwarf Fortress

There have been what I would consider to be two great PC games this year: Oblivion and Galactic Civilizations II.

Now there is a third, one of the most complex and demanding games I've ever played. It has infinite variation, the learning curve is tremendously difficult, and the level of world detail is absolutely unparalleled.

The game is Dwarf Fortress, and it is the most unlikely great game I've ever played.

Think Space Rangers 2 came out nowhere? The graphics in this game are ASCII. In 2006, that qualifies as out of nowhere. It's in alpha (although it's already far more stable and complete than most commercial releases I've played this year). And it's free.

It's also one of the most imaginative, multi-layered, detailed gaming worlds I've ever seen.

Here's the description from from the game's website:
Dwarf Fortress is a single-player fantasy game. You can control a dwarven outpost or an adventurer in a randomly generated, persistent world.

Although Dwarf Fortress is still in a work in progress, many features have already been implemented.

The world is randomly generated with distinct civilizations, dozens of towns, hundreds of caves and regions with various wildlife.

The world persists as long as you like, over many games, recording history and tracking changes.

Command your dwarves as they search for wealth in the mountain:
-Craft treasures and furniture from many materials and improve these objects with precious metals, jewels and more.
-Defend yourself against attacks from hostile civilizations, the wilderness and the depths.
-Support the nobility as they make demands of your populace.
-Keep your dwarves happy and read their thoughts as they work and relax.
-Build floodgates to divert water for farming or to drown your adversaries.
Much much more...

Play an adventurer and explore, quest for glory or seek vengeance:
-Meet adversaries from previous games.
-Recruit people in towns to come with you on your journey.
-Explore the world without cumbersome plot restrictions.
-Accept quests from the town and civilization leaders.
-Retire and meet your old characters, then reactivate them again.
-Z coordinate allows you to move seamlessly between dungeon levels and scale pyramids fighting adversaries above and below.

The combat model uses skills, body parts, wrestling, charging and dodging between squares, bleeding, pain, nausea, and much more.

A dynamic weather model tracks wind, humidity and air masses to create fronts, clouds, rain storms and blizzards.

Extended ASCII character set rendered in 16 colors (including black) as well as 8 background colors (including black).

I haven't even touched adventure mode yet, because fortress mode is so incredible that I can't stop playing. As far as fortress mode goes, take every detail that was mentioned in the description and multiply it by ten. It's off the charts.

Let me just warn you now: this game will take you 5-10 hours to learn. The ASCII graphics are disorienting at first, there are a huge number of options available (and associated menus to learn to access the commands), and it seems totally overwhelming.

Trust me, it's not. It just takes time. After a few hours, you'll start translating the ASCII you see into a "real" world very easily, and along with that, the menus will become more familiar. You'll also stop trying to play it like a "game" and start thinking, because this game rewards thinking as much as almost any game I've ever played.

The game is just too big to describe easily, so what I've going to do over the next five days is start a new game and play two hours a day, describing my strategy and what happens in the world as I go. By the end of that five-day period, I'll be ten hours into a game and you'll have a decent idea of how the world works and how incredibly detailed and fascinating it is to play.

In simple terms, when the game begins, you have a group of seven dwarves at the base of a mountain, and your goal is to survive. And to survive successfully, you'll have establish stable sources of food and create shelter. Each of your dwarves has abilities, and they can learn new ones, and you must use their skillsets to create a sustaining environment.

If you don't do that successfully, then when winter comes and the dwarves run out of food, bad things happen. Very bad things.

What I'll do each day is play one hour, do a write-up, then play a second hour and do the write-up later in the day. I may only get the first hour in today, since I've written this introduction, but I'll work away and have something up later.

In the meantime, here are some excellent sources of information:
--first, a Wiki that's available here.
--second, an epic thread over at the Penny Arcade forums that is filled with both interesting game stories and useful information
--third, the main website for the game.

If you get a few minutes, take a look at the Wiki and the Penny Arcade threads. They'll both give you an idea of how detailed and rewarding the game world can be.

It's phenomenal. Oh, and if you want get a sense of just how thoughtful and thorough this developer (Tarn Adams) is, take a look at the Development link on the game's website.

More later.

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