Slaves to Armok: God of Blood Chapter II: Dwarf Fortress known primarily as Dwarf Fortress is one of the
most emotionally compelling games I’ve ever played. This is in spite of (or perhaps thanks to) its lack of
graphics; everything is rendered using American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII)
characters. Using the games standard graphics pipes (|) may represent walls while smiley faces (☺)
would be used for each individual dwarf. Optional tile sets have been created by fans so that instead of
just seeing the letter ‘d’ you see a small sprite of a dog. Either way the graphics are extremely
minimalistic. They help show that photorealistic graphics are not necessarily required in order to tell a
compelling story with a multitude of emotions.
Dwarf Fortress is a strategy city building simulation. The simulation is very important. The game world is
completely unique for each game you play. It is randomly generated and starts with a complete game
world with non-player characters thrown into a large world. Then the world is simulated for 1000 years.
The characters may form alliances or wage wars. Legendary heroes are made and then fade from
existence. Landscapes may be devastated to be rebuilt over time. Everything is recorded to present the
player with their new world. If any aspect is undesirable the simulation may be repeated with a new
seed. Fans of the game create new worlds solely for the purpose of reading about the history of each
particular world. Once this is done you may select where your dwarves will start out, to find out that this
area is only a small fraction of the entire game world yet is still large enough for a fulfilling game. It is a
very special feeling knowing that the game developer has put a lot of effort into ensuring that each
player will be able to interact with their own world.
The game’s motto is “Losing is fun.” It may be hard to understand at first even though losing is
guaranteed early on. There are no advanced controls using the mouse or any other input device.
Everything is controlled through the keyboard and accessed by a series of menus. Combined with the
graphics this can and will put off many players. However once you get into Dwarf Fortress, it is hard to
get out. You may spend days building a fortress only to die to a randomly generated Hydra. Of course
losing is fun and you will want to start over either in a new world or maybe even reclaiming your old
fortress. And with losing you learn more about the game. You understand why you lost and over time
will learn how to prevent it. A new player might have all of his dwarves die of hunger or thirst early on.
Next game they choose to bring more food and drink with them at the start of their adventure only to
realize that without a pickaxe they cannot dig or mine at all. Another game they might anger the elven
merchants by trying to sell them wooden products. No good can come of this other than the fact that
losing is fun and often it is better not to anger other people. A lot of frustration is associated with this
phase of gameplay but keep in mind that losing is fun. You just have to put your head down and power
In a standard game I would choose a location at the base of a mountain or on a cliff. I want to be able to
dig directly into the side of the mountain to form my dwarves’ new home and then have the option of
going up or down from inside. Hopefully I’d have a river nearby but it’s not a necessity. I do have to have
trees and plants outside as well as a way for caravans to access this starting area.
I must say that I have a strong emotional connection with all seven of the initial dwarves. They are like
the main characters of any role playing game although you never control any of them directly. Instead
you select a task to be completed such as digging or mining and the dwarves who are designated as
digger or miner start their task. That is assuming they are not hungry or thirsty or require rest.
Everything is given a pseudo-randomly generated name such as Ushat Udnobol or Urush Lilaralath. Over
time I actually get to learn their names and associate them with their professions. I am joyed when I can
accurately recall who I am selecting by their image and location alone. But that is nothing compared to
the ecstasy of seeing the message that new dwarves have joined the fortress. This occurs every once in a
while seemingly random but actually associated with how well the player is doing. More dwarves means
more labor can be completed. Dwarven children may be born into families as well. Mothers feel love for
their children and happy dwarves mean better work. All that combined make me feel optimistic about
That is until my dwarves start complaining about food and alcohol. Mostly about alcohol. Unfortunately
alcohol cannot be gathered or grown. Instead the crops and herbs have to be brewed into alcohol. This
leads to a state of apprehension as I wonder if my dwarves will be able to make it through the Winter
season. I am suddenly surprised by the arrival of a Dwarven caravan that offers to trade with me. I sell
most of my goods and buy all the food and drinks I can. And then I wait. I try to mine more out of the
mountain as a distraction from constantly looking at my supplies. Dwarves with nothing else to do make
small goods out of rocks for future sale. In Spring the next group of migrants arrive and I am amazed at
the number of new dwarves. Apparently I had traded enough so that I get more than ten new workers. I
look and see that food and drink should not be a problem from now on. I look forward in anticipation for
each new trade caravan followed by the immigration season.
As time passes the fortress grows larger and larger. I am slightly annoyed by having to set up each task
manually but this just means there is no possibility of boredom with this game. New things happen all
the time that take your attention. Dwarves die and require a coffin. Magma may be found underground
and will have to be harness to power a furnace. Goblins will attack and have to be fended off. Eventually
I will lose. I may accidentally awaken a titan buried in the mountain and be unable to slay it. But it will be
fun. I have to remember to have a battle squad ready both at the entrance of my fortress and within. At
the same time I have to be careful and not mine too much out at once.
Overall I am in awe. I am awed by what my initial seven dwarves had created. A massive fortress
containing hundreds of dwarves. I am awed by the entire social interaction within my fortress. Dwarves
are selected to be nobles and run the entire fortress. I am awed by the detail that goes into creatures.
You can give something six arms and legs, a dozen eyes and make it any size you want but without lungs
it will not be able to breathe. But most of all I am awed by the people who have made this game. Two
brothers designed this from scratch. One of them does all the programming. This is his day job and asks
only for donations. I read with interest each and every one of his blog posts detailing new features and
mechanics. I wait for the day when Dwarf Fortress is out of alpha and is finally released. And I can only
hope to make a game that is loved and admired by as many people as this is.