Dwarf Fortress is no longer the most mysterious computer game

When Tarn and Zack Adams, two of the creators of Dwarf castleAnd the They were children, their father worked for the East Sacramento Sanitation Department in the ’70s and ’80s. Specifically, Tarn explains over Zoom, their father was the man who “brought computers into wastewater treatment plants,” helping digitize the measurement of things like “fluxes, digestibility, bacteria,” and most of all, “activated sludge.” .

For anyone even vaguely familiar with this strikingly complex settlement sim Dwarf castle, these can be game items. Sadly, despite calling on the community to implement fecal mechanics for years (check out any number of forum threads on the subject like “sanitation” and “about peeing and peeing”), the two brothers still had to hold back. Stool, to this day, is still a “no,” Tarn says. However, composting is a possibility — “because composting is so beneficial.”

Within the Dwarf Fortress community, feces and urine in rare colors are discussed

within limits Dwarf castle Society, feces and urine are discussed in rare tones. People have thought about how it can be used to fertilize crops, dye clothes, and biological warfare. Mostly, though, players want a sewage system, another complex mechanic to manage amidst a game full of many other complex systems intertwined. This should tell you everything you need to know about silliness and seriousness Dwarf castlea game with a simple enough premise that quickly turns into anything but.

In the beginning, you are given a handful of dwarves whose goal is to sleep in the land and make a home. You dig slowly, carving a corner of cavernous paradise. Your dwarfs love to drink beer, but they also get sad. (You might reasonably ask if they are alcoholics.) You do your best to keep them happy, but life is full of challenges big and small. In fact, the favorite phrase among fans of the game is “losing is fun.” Before long, your earthen dwellings will fall, whether at the hands of a vampire, famine, or perhaps most tragically, the gushing aquifer that floods the wonders of the labyrinth.

Since its release in 2006, Dwarf castle It was a serious pursuit for two primary reasons: the ASCII graphics and the lack of in-game tutorials. Playing the original version for the first time remains one of the most confusing gaming experiences. In the beginning, you create a procedural world, though it is handled differently than most other games. The timeline flickers on the left side of the screen while the map scrolls and flashes in the middle. Mountains rise from the land to be eroded by rivers and empires rise and collapse, leaving behind only crumbling ruins.

This is the first way Dwarf castle It imparts a sense of “context vertigo”. Once the world is created, decide your place in it – where you would like to build your bearded population base. Now, you should start analyzing the mass of obscure ASCII codes – rigorous, yes, but filled with a veritable flood of numeric information. You may see a world full of procedural possibilities while also beginning to feel the twinges of a headache. Like many others, I never learned to play this version. I was perfectly happy admiring her from afar.

“The cognitive load of the game is too high.”

Tanya Short, co-founder of Kitfox Games, the company that publishes the new version of Dwarf castle, I felt a similar way. In 2014, I attended a workshop about the game in Montreal, where I learned the basics for a few hours (cave digging, mushroom cultivation), but when I got home, I hit a brick wall. “The game’s cognitive load is very high,” Short told me over Zoom. “When someone held my hand, I could enter… [but] The cognitive load of trying to run it [on my own] It was so loud, it was so scary, and it felt more like action, though in theory it’s only 30 seconds of mental scene re-editing.” Now, however, with the recently accessible — and notably cute — pixel art graphics, “The cognitive load is gone—dissipated,” says Short. “It’s just a game now.” In fact, Short considers herself one of the target demographics for the remake: Dwarf castle curious.”

The ASCII graphics were “running out a little bit,” Tarn admits. Despite their dense arithmetic beauties and the way they facilitate rapid development (before, the pair never had to worry about an artist’s product line), the 255 tokens at their disposal imposed limitations. “Pretty much every character was used, and a lot of it iterated,” says Tarn. “If you can tell a puck wrestler from a goose from a mountain goat, you do so through context or with the look command, which is cumbersome in the script.” If you’re confused, don’t worry – I was. “All of these are white,” Tarn explains.

a: hover]: text-gray-63 text-gray-63 dark:[&>a:hover]: text-gray-bd dark: text-gray-bd dark:[&>a]: text-grey-bd [&>a]: underline shade of gray 63 [&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-dark black:[&>a]:shadow-underline-dark grey:[&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-gray”> Image: Kitfox Games Image: Kitfox Games

Now, the mountain goat is a pixel art version of that, and the goblin wrestler is, well, the goblin wrestler (which, as befits the depth of the game’s simulation, is capable of producing children). The challenge wasn’t, Tarn says, in creating a variety of artwork to match the array of eye-watering variants the game could cast (the troll was “nailed right on the spot,” while different hair and, most importantly, beards came together more naturally over time ). Instead, it represented the subterranean space of the game. “The challenge was, how do you render this environment in 3D when you’re doing 2D slides?” He says. The example Tarn gives is the cliffs. The point of confusion was in the original version, the ramps required an upward triangle to be placed next to a wall and the space at the top of the ramp was clear. “There are four tiles that have to come together to create a perfect ramp,” he says. “Now, we have a giant slope tile set that shows ridges pointing in different directions. It works but it took a long time to get to that.”

“They are driven by the craft, the possibilities, and the dream of making something new.”

With Tarn and Zach not wanting to deal with the bureaucracy of an actual game studio, part of Kitfox’s publishing deal included recruiting the necessary artists and composers, many of whom were active participants in Dwarf castle social communication. Short admits that this was a “nerve-racking” process. “You don’t want to look like you’re playing favorites,” she says. “He’s a weird politician, isn’t he?” With the exception of one mishap involving stolen work (which resulted in over 10,000 sprites being scrapped), working with these mods has been a very positive experience. “They are very technically competent. They tend to be very collaborative and very communicative.” “However, they are not motivated by money. They are motivated by the craft, the possibilities, and the dream of making something new.”

You could describe Tarn and Zach in the exact same terms, two developers, in the often entrepreneurial arena of indie game development, akin to punk rockers. since 2006, Dwarf castle It was a free game, with the couple’s livelihood maintained solely by donations obtained from a page stashed away in a corner of their website and then via Patreon. Before signing with Kitfox, they were DIY probably to a fault, the money from these donations is enough to live on (ranging from $3,400 to $8,181 per month, according to this Vice article) but a little more than that. Then, a few years ago, Zack developed skin cancer, and had to dip into his personal savings to cover what his health insurance didn’t. The Steam version, then, is a way to provide Tarn and Zach, 44 and 47, respectively, with a degree of security — money for “a very rainy day,” Tarn says. “We don’t expect any major changes in the future in terms of how this country is structured,” he says. “[So] We have to figure it out ourselves, what we will do, and this [the Steam and Itch version] It seems like the best solution for us.”

Judging by the 4,072 (and counting) reviews already compiled on the game’s Steam page (a good if inaccurate indication of the game’s sales), the maneuver pays off. With the liberating impact of visuals and a more user-friendly interface, a new batch of players is already experiencing procedural stories of the kind they may have only heard of in the forgotten pages of the Internet or in the depths of Moria-esque forums. Possibly one such game is Boatmurdered, an epic sequel game involving players from The Something Awful Forums whose restive fortress was plagued by deadly elephants before ending in a frenzy. Perhaps your story will be less joyful, especially because of a little elf who captured your heart. Perhaps this dwarf will be immortalized as a work of art by friends and family who outlived them.

“We have a difficult decision between the economy and the boats.”

Death may be an inevitable fact of both life and dwarf castle Simulation But as Tarn explains, the Steam release doesn’t signify anything close to the end. New features will continue apace, just as they have been for the past 16 years. Indeed, in one breath, Tarn churns out a decade-long to-do list, ending with what seems like an insane philosophical deadlock and a planning nightmare. “We have a difficult decision between the economy and the boats,” he says. “Boats are too important to make the economy work. The economy is too important for boats to have a reason to be there. Do they do it all at once?”

Such a question refers to a game that Tarn likens to a balloon whose surface area only increases when it is blown up. “If you add something to the game, it interacts with almost every other system, and you can’t put all of that interaction in there, so you can save some and call it the next development arc. We have plans for 15 or 20 years, and there will be more after that,” Tarn says. That’s something you’re thinking about, too. Do you want the project to continue? Do you want to pass it on to someone? Do you want to pass it on to everyone? We haven’t made decisions there about how or what we’re going to do with it. I mean, we’re not really the type of people who would walk away from it and toss it in a basement somewhere. We’ll see what happens, but we still have work to do.”

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