December 30th, 2009


Share the Wealth Wednesday #6

Share the Wealth Wednesday!

After too-long a hiatus, one of my favourite features returns from the abyss of nonexistence into which it had so unintentionally toppled long weeks ago. And it does so in style, my friends. Rest assured of that.

For those of you who have missed out on this most hallowed of traditions, allow me to in brief elucidate: Each wednesday (with the exception of the last few...), we all post something which can be found online, freely and readily available, for our enjoyment, entertainment and/or education. It can be a YouTube video, a free online game, a webcomic, or whatever else. So long as it can be had for free with but a few clicks of the mouse, it’s all fair game. And so, in that spirit...

I would like to introduce you (at least those of you who have not yet had the pleasure) to Dwarf Fortress. A game for and by the mentally ill.

Dwarf Fortress is by far the most involved and complex “building” game I have ever seen. In the briefest of terms, the game is about building a fortress full of Dwarves, mining, digging, crafting, and defending against hordes of theives, monsters, marauders and invaders. The depth and complexity, of it, though, is staggering.

You start off with a group of seven dwarves, which you can assign skills to at the beginning of the game. There are literally dozens of groups of skills which a dwarf can have, and there is no way you will be able to cover all of them at the beginning of the game; the best you can hope for is a smattering of useful ones, and hope you can hold out long enough for your first wave of immigrants to bring with them a few specialists to fill in the gaps. These skills range from carpentry, masonry and farming, to axe-wielding, crossbowmanship, and wrestling, to gem setting, comedy and animal dissection. Additionally, you can purchase whatever starting equipment you might like (up to a certain value) before setting out, ranging from digging equipment to weapons and armour to pets and domesticated animals (useful for breeding, butchering for meat and leather, milking, training, keeping vermin at bay and a thousand other purposes), to toys to keep children entertained and indeed help prepare them for their future careers.

Once you’ve sorted out what sorts of dwarves you want and what gear their expedition should have, you then find a location in your randomly-generated world you want to settle. The diversity and complexity here is no less astonishing. You can play in tropical biomes, where the weather is warm, trees are sparse and animals to hunt are abundant. You can play in the mountains, where rocks and metals are abundant, steep cliffs and deep valleys provide excellent defensive positions but other resources are scarce. You can play in swamps or the arctic. By the ocean or in the swamp. Each randomly-generated world will contain each of these, with weather conditions, flora, fauna and other factors which logically stem from them.

And then you set out, striking the earth! As with many of these sorts of games, you don’t play a character per se, so much as guiding and instructing the characters in the game to do their own thing, setting paths to dig, through strata of earth which can extend downwards below the ground for what seems like miles, or upwards into the hills and mountains above for hundreds of meters. Building rooms, workshops, barracks and training facilities, banquet halls and machine rooms, forges, storage rooms and traps.

And oh, those traps. Though the game has many traps which you can build as an integral part of the game, most experienced players consider these entirely too simple for their tastes. And so they devise their own. I am myself still a novice in this respect, but I’m fairly proud of an arrangement I started on last night. The main entrance of my fortress has been walled off, with just a single winding pathway leading up to it (so that invaders cannot fire arrows down the hall into my fort; the many twists and turns prevent this). In the middle of this labyrinth is a large squared-off room. When invaders come in force, they tend to group together in squads, and it’s this particular fact that I built this trap in mind of. Because, you see, when the main body of an invading force enters this room, ONE of them will eventually be the first to set foot down the hallway into the fortress, while the rest stand in the large square room behind him. When this brave scout does so, he will, however, be sealing their fate: There is a pressure plate on the floor just there, and as soon as he steps on it, the ground of the entire room behind him will slide away; a giant trap door. All of his comrades will fall into a deep, dark pit, from which there is no exit. Simultaneously, iron bars (forged in my workshops deep below) will spring up before and behind him, trapping him, alone, in my hallways. It’s at this point that my archers will be ordered into place on a perch overlooking the labyrinth, and told to open fire... Those invaders who do not die from the initial fall will be left to rot. Gradually, frustration, starvation and dehydration will begin to take them, and then it is only a question of whether they go insane and turn on one another or die of exhaustion down in this hole. The point is an academic one, however, as afterwards, my dwarves will tunnel in, strip their bodies of weapons and armour, toss their corpses onto a refuse heap outdoors, where, after wind, rain and scavengers have stripped their bones clean of rotting flesh, my workers will fashion from their bones arrowheads which can be used to defend the fortress which they foolishly threw their lives away trying to invade.

This is the detail which goes into the defenses of a SINGLE ENTRANCE TO MY FORT. Think about that for a moment and marvel at the depth of gameplay here.

The graphics are commensurately simple; the processing power which this game takes up is not inconsiderable, and so by default the graphics are extremely primitive, just to save on system resources. This having been said, a number of groups have stepped up and designed graphics for the game with increasing levels of detail. I, myself, use a sort of mid-tier level of graphics, as my computer, long-suffering and faithful though it may be, is old and tired and cannot handle the higher-end stuff without the game slowing to a crawl.

There may be some among you intrigued by my description but daunted by the notion of needing to learn how to actually play. FEAR NOT! For there is a handy FORTY-PART SET OF TUTORIAL VIDEOS on YouTube which will teach you all you need to know! (And here again, I re-iterate the “by and for the mentally ill” aspect of the game) I, myself, watched the first seven or so before deciding I had the basics down and was ready to play. Beyond that, the expansive and informative Wiki set up for the game answers much of what I need to learn (such as the exact chemical compositions of the various rocks and ores that I extract from the ground and what they can be used for).

If you think you have it in you, my friends, I do recommend this game. Hours upon hours of extraordinarily detail-oriented enjoyment is there to be had. Go forth and strike the earth!

So! There’s my contribution this week, which I hope has in volume made up for the lack of the past few weeks. What about you, friends? In what particular fashion will you Share the Wealth!?!