As a fan of indie video games, I always enjoy seeing obscure titles getting mainstream attention. Earlier this week, The New York Times ran a lengthy story about Tarn and Zach Adams, developers of Dwarf Fortress – a non-graphical (if you don’t count text as graphics) dwarven civilisation simulator – not exactly the most saturated of gaming sub-genres, to be sure.
In development since 2002 and available for free since 2006, Dwarf Fortress tasks the player with managing a group of dwarves as they set up and maintain a settlement, digging out caves, building fortifications, developing farming and industry. This is just the early-game, mind you. Later you’ll be building an army, developing an economy and dealing with the demands of nobles and possible a king – if you last that long.
One of the core themes of the game is the inevitability of your death. One of the developers’ core mantras is “Losing is fun!” As your fortress progresses, it will increase in value which gets the attentions of the myriad evil creatures and civilisations that are waiting out there somewhere to murder you. And murder you they will.
The article is definitely worth a read, even if it does seem to try and portray Tarn as a bit of a pitiable character rather than a guy that’s found a way to live and make the game he always wished existed.
I’ve been playing the game for a bit over a week and have found it frustrating, inconsistent, confusing and amazing. The game doesn’t photograph well, for sure, but the depth of the gameplay is something I’ve not seen anywhere else. By eschewing graphics and a slick (or consistent) interface, Tarn Adams has been able to focus on what matters to him most – the core gameplay.
If you do start down this path of ASCII art and broken dreams, do yourself a favour and watch some tutorial videos on YouTube. In particular, this guy.
Also, if you just want to get an idea of the crazy stuff that can happen, check out ‘Boatmurdered‘. A account of a Fortress that was passed around among a number of fans and documented brilliantly.