Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Cancels Action, Interrupted By Elephant

I'm probably a little late to jump on this bandwagon, but whatever. I found a new freeware game that I'm sure will keep me busy for a while, some of you may have heard of it.

It's called Slaves to Armok: God of Blood Chapter II Dwarf Fortress. And...well, it's a doozy. Let me try to explain:

The goal is to build a fortress for your dwarves to live in. These are typical fantasy dwarves, with huge beards, axes and love of alcohol, think Lord of the Rings and you get the idea. The player start with seven of them. Each can be trained to become better miners, farmers and other jobs vital to the success of the growing dwarven community. Occasionally trade caravans will come by and the player can buy food and equipment from them. This all seems simple enough yes? It's just another real time strategy game? I'm afraid not.

The level of detail in Dwarf Fortress is downright shocking. The game keeps track of countless little details the player may never even notice. The best example is probably the combat system: most games track a character's health as a simple value from 1 to 100. Not Dwarf Fortress; here, everything is accounted for down to individual tissue layers. If one checks the combat log, they will find that it obsessively describe damage done to bones, skin, nerves, layers of fat and vital organs. Dwarves vomit if hit in the stomach, they pass out from head injuries, I've even seen a few suffocate after one of their ribs punctured one of their own lungs.

There's hundreds of unique creatures the player is likely to find in addition to dozens of randomly generated cultures they can trade or go to war with. A fortress can indulge in virtually any economy imaginable from metalworking to fishing (or in the case of the fort I've made, beekeeping). But as can be expected, the sheer variety available to the player means the learning curve is probably the steepest in any video game, ever. No joke, it's impossible to pick up Dwarf Fortress and just start playing. At the very least a new player is going to have to take a long hard look at the wiki before they can even make sense of the sprawling options menu, let alone actually start building a fort.

It is so complicated that an entire two hundred and forty page manual has been written just to explain all the features in the game, most of which is already outdated!

Oh right, I forgot to mention: the entire game is done in ASCII style graphics, in case it wasn't difficult enough already.

What you're seeing is a view of the fortress I've been working on for the past two days Although, I guess you could say it's taken longer then that, since it took me about a month to figure out the controls and how to start playing.

The little smiley faces are the dwarves. This picture was taken after a huge influx of migrants so that's why it lists so many of them as idle. In the upper right-hand section of the screen are their bedrooms, below is the dining hall and kitchen, below that is the brewery and slaughterhouse and even further down is the carpenter's workshop and craftsdwarf's workshop. As you can see, every single one of those is represented by incomprehensible letters and symbols.

When playing Dwarf Fortress, it's good to remember that there is no winning condition. At all. Either your fortress prospers and goes on potentially forever or you lose. When you lose, your fortress and all it's dwarves roast to death in an unstoppable inferno, descending down an inescapable pit of terror and despair. More often than not a fortress is doomed from the very start, destined to die a horrible, ridiculous death because of poor planning or surprise raids from goblins. The flagrant destruction is so common that the game's official motto is "Losing is Fun". It even appears on the embark screen when creating a new world!

"Fun" is so ingrained in the community that's it's become a euphemism for the myriad of awful deadly things dwarves are likely to encounter. Now that I think about it, I get the distinct feeling that my own fortress is in for some Fun soon, since it's Winter and I still haven't figured out how to get a stable supply of food and alcohol, both vitally important to the happiness of one's dwarves. Combine this with the constant stream of hungry migrants and it starts to look like Fun times are in store for us all.

And there you have it, the most complicated video game ever made. Obtuse, unfathomably complex, too impenetrable to start playing and infinite in it's variety. It's like we were made for each other!

No comments:

Post a Comment