MalcolmLittle in "HardlyLand"

Posts Tagged ‘Tim Denee

There is a game I love to read about. I have yet to play it. It is called Dwarf Fortress. The basic premise is that you have a small group of dwarves at your disposal and you need to build them a home. You decide what skills/occupations to give them and you order them around, telling them to dig, build and produce items. The dwarves have wants and motivations and they need to be kept (reasonably) happy, (preferably) sane and alive (for as long as you can manage).

An artist named Tim Denee has illustrated two different attempts at bringing prosperity to his dwarves. Tim, an obviously skilled player, creates advanced and intricate fortresses but doom is always looming near in Dwarf Fortress. The life of a dwarf is a life of strife.

The game is hard. The complexity is mind-blowing. The interface is dense, almost esoteric. Just placing your fortress in a favorable spot on the map (randomly generated by the game, complete with thousand year history and scores of denizens) is a tough choice, seeing as you need your base to be near mountains (for ore and for shelter; the dwarves shun sunlight), large bodies of water (above- or underground) and forests (for wood). It is in every way a strategic simulation game but it shares a lot of with a RPG sub-genre called “roguelikes“. Like many roguelikes you need to study a lot before even attempting to play. It is daunting. It is why I have yet to try the game myself.

Another similarity it has with the roguelike is that it has practically no graphics; the visualization is done through ASCII characters symbolizing the different items, surroundings and creatures in the game. One reason for this is probably so the developers of the game do not have to bother with graphics. At all.

One aspect that makes Dwarf Fortress truly great is that playthroughs leave great anecdotes. Similar to the Sims, Dwarf Fortress gives players such experiences that the retelling of these tales of legendary triumphs (and legendary defeats) are genuinely interesting to people who haven’t played the game. A friend of mine told me in an off-hand manner that goblin raids often attack his fortress and sometimes manage to steal away a few of the dwarves’ children. The children often return when fully grown and attack my friend’s base with the rest of their new goblin comrades.

Tim Denee’s illustrations are quick and to-the-point. They show nicely how he envisions his game sessions, which is what makes a game with basically no graphics so magical. You get stories like this. Hilarity ensues.

1: Denee’s first illustrated fortress “Bronzemurder” [Updated link]

2: His second chronicled fortress “Oilfurnace