Building vs. Simulation – Dwarf Fortress

839 words.

So a weird thing happened. I played more Dwarf Fortress. And then a little more. And I kind of started liking it. “It’s really not that hard once you learn it.”

This is Bekarlogem, my third fortress. Bekarlogem apparently means "Dippedpainted" which makes me giggle every time for some reason.

Ha! Just kidding. It’s still super hard. Every screen has a different method of navigating the menus. Sometimes it’s arrow keys. Sometimes it’s tab. Sometimes it’s the + and - keys. Sometimes it’s the * and / keys. I’m not kidding about any of that. Every single thing on the screen leads to the question, “What does *that* mean?” As in, “What does it mean when that dwarf is blinking like that? What does it mean when those letters pop up in the corner of the screen there? What does it mean when this guy’s name is blinking in this list?”

And there are no answers, mind you. The game itself does not tell you jack squat about anything. You have to Google it to find out that, oh that blinking dwarf is unhappy in *this* particular way, or oh there’s a combat report to read, or oh, that guy has a legendary skill. Even knowing what the blinking means, you *still* can’t find out the equivalent information inside the game anywhere. There’s no screen anywhere that I’ve found that says, “This dwarf is unhappy because of this reason so go do this to fix it.” You can sort of infer and guess what the reasons might be after reading his “thoughts and feelings,” but that’s about it. You just have to memorize the cues for later. “Learning the game” basically means memorizing wiki information that others have figured out over the last ten years.

I’m pretty sure the whole game is a parody. Or just one giant troll against the whole Internet from a couple of brothers.

But it’s still pretty interesting. Those Kruggsmash videos make Dwarf Fortress look *really really* cool. Like, seriously, just about the coolest RPG in the universe. But… it’s because he edits out about 95% of the actual gameplay footage and replaces it with his own commentary, sound effects, music, role-playing, and drawings.

I mean this is some of the finest game video content on the Internet right here. The amount of work that must go into these videos is staggering. This whole series is excellent.

I think it was when I finally figured out how to dig downward, an extremely unintuitive process. *That* was when I crossed a point of no return. That was when I’d invested too much time in “learning the game” to just walk away from it. It felt like winning the superbowl to see my dwarf dig down a few z-levels into the rock. I had to watch two videos and read a wiki guide to finally crack the code of how to do it successfully. It was almost like playing EverQuest! (Zing!!!)

But anyway, back to the topic of this post, Dwarf Fortress got me thinking about the nature of building games versus simulation games.

Dwarf Fortress strikes me as much more of a building game, with simulation features. Whereas RimWorld is more of a simulation game, with a little bit of building thrown in. I like the RimWorld formula better.

I’m not all that keen on just “building stuff” in games. Some people like to take the time to make neat-looking forts and plan everything out and make it aesthetically pleasing. Those seem to be the people who play Dwarf Fortress. Me? I just make a big square and throw crap in it because who cares, the game runs exactly the same whether it looks nice to the player or not. That’s mostly how I play my RimWorld games. I just jam a flower pot or two in everyone’s room somewhere and call it a day.

I mean sometimes I round off corners and make things symmetrical and whatnot but only if I have time and there’s no other pressing duties. To me the only reason for building is to prepare for some sort of threat that’s going to come later. Building just for the inherent purpose of building isn’t that fun for me.

The point here is that I’m spending a *lot* of time in Dwarf Fortress mining tunnels, making stockpiles, building workshops, and things like that. But what I *want* to do is monitor the dwarves’ behavior. (Editor’s Note: holy crap the possessive plural of “dwarf”?) And that part is hard to do. That makes me think I’m playing more of a pure building game, where the main point of it is building out tunnels and laying traps and creating complex machinery that all works together to automate laborious processes.

So I think in the end I’m going to get tired of Dwarf Fortress, simply because there’s just too much building and not enough simulation. And, you know, there’s no sound effects and no user interface. (Yes I’ve tried Soundsense… I didn’t like it.)

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