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Posted by jesterroyal

I’ve been wanting to write a blog for some time about video games but it’s only recently that I pinned what really makes a game good or interesting to me. I would argue that a game is defined by the mechanics it employs. Dwarf Fortress is the entire embodiment of this argument as it is nothing but mechanics. In my humble opinion, the game is ugly, obtuse, and really just a pain to get into. I’ve bounced off it for that reason three or four times. It took Dave Fortress to get me willing to dive again and I have to say it’s one of the greatest games I’ve ever played.

If you have friends who talk about dwarf fortress you will hear cautionary tales about carp saying they kill dwarves, and warning you of your dwarves going insane and making a necklace out of the bones of the dwarf they once called their best friend. Its beyond me why people try to bill this game as the most confusing thing they have ever come across and that playing the game is sheer madness. It’s one of the most logical and straightforward game I’ve ever encountered.

He wants you dead, but not for the reason you might think

First, Why do carp kill dwarves? You have to understand some of the mechanics first. Dwarf Fortress has a fantastic sense of emergent gameplay that comes from the logical underpinnings of the game. For example, why would a wolf eat a rabbit? If I were the wolf, I would eat the rabbit because its smaller than me and I eat meaty things like rabbits. That same logic applies to our carp. He and the dwarf are roughly the same size (I can take him!) and the carp eats meaty things, like other fish. It just so happens that our dwarf is also a meaty thing. So, something on its face like a river carp drowning or eating a dwarf out of the blue can be silly and billed as unexpected but with a little understanding you might have seen it coming from a mile away. (let it be known, carp are less dangerous compared to what they once were).

That makes dwarf fortress fascinating. It’s like The Sims and Majesty. It’s your duty to make sure Bob Newbie doesn’t drown in the pool except you can’t take over his brain and tell him to stop swimming and go to sleep. It’s a god game where you play on the base needs of your dwarves and hope they follow your orders when they get around to it. What makes the game so difficult is how uncompromising it is. If dwarfypants has a pet ox that he takes in the cave with him, it will die. It will die because it will starve because there’s no grass in a cave. His pet dying will make him sad, and if he’s sad already it may be the breaking point and he might go insane in a number of ways. (You will pray that he just takes off his clothes and runs around naked instead of slaughtering everything in his path until he is cut down without mercy)

It’s a mechanics based game. The only story you get is literally “Seven dwarves leave their mountain home and go to set up a new one”. If you haven’t read it yet or arent keeping up I encourage you to read The Story of Shimmeroiled which, at the time of my writing, is still ongoing. There are so many ways to succeed and fail in this game and it’s all based on systems within systems. Your dwarves can starve, get dehydrated, go insane, be slaughtered by mythical beasts, be slaughtered by greedy goblin raiders after your gold laden hills, or any number of things. There is no set story except that you will start, and you will die. The mechanics work together so well that a story gets created out of thin air.

I could list off all the mechanics in play like, animal breeding, crafting, and butchery but that would take hours of your time to read and isn’t the point of this post. The point is that a game with no story to speak of, ugly utilitarian graphics, a confusing UI, and a steep learning curve can be an amazing game that makes up for the deficiencies in every other department just by mechanics alone. That is why I argue that mechanics are most important part of any game. From this point on I intend to pick out singular game mechanics from my favorite games and go into detail on why I think they make a compelling or enjoyable game.

Posted by Shofixti

This post definitly gets a thumbs up from me! Ive tried to explain the very same thing to some friends before, but I just ended up sounding like ive gone Stark Raving Mad myself. This words my same sentiment quite nicely

Posted by Daveyo520

It is a pretty awesome game.

Posted by Viking_Funeral

I love Dwarf Fortress, but sometimes I'm not sure she loves me.

Posted by jesterroyal

I think she loves none of us. That's her charm. If she loved us, she would stop being fun.... Are we in an abusive relationship?

Posted by Shofixti

@jesterroyal said:

I think she loves none of us. That's her charm. If she loved us, she would stop being fun.... Are we in an abusive relationship?

Nah. She just has a peculiar notion of "fun"

Posted by jesterroyal

There is a certain insanity to dwarf fortress. I think the real insanity lies in how completely everything is simulated. After you accept some strange constants like "Dwarves drink booze almost exclusively" and "Dragons exist" its shockingly straightforward and complicated at the same time. Different types of ore produce different metal. You need soil or wet ground for farms. Its just insane how many systems are at work. But if you just accept that this world works by near real world standards it starts to be manageable. I decided no to put that in the original blog because.. Well. Brevity is often best.

Posted by Video_Game_King

I guess I'm with you on this. The game's tough to get into (I want to ask if anybody figured out that there are multiple Z levels without checking a FAQ their first time, but that sounds kinda dumb), but all the random stuff that happens, whether it's from you or the game, makes it all worthwhile. And then I come in and fuck shit up.

Posted by jesterroyal

I think if anybody figured out anything in this game without reading the wiki or a guide book (like I did) they are savants and really have nothing else to do in life.

Posted by Shofixti

When I first played DF, I played it blind. No outside resources to back me up. And yeah, I can confirm that's pretty much a nightmare. "discovering" the Z-axis was more like panicking as I thought I had moved the camera to some other Zone and worrying about ever finding my Dwarves again.