Dwarf Fortress: Very Ambitious Roguelike


“Completion” is not the same of breaking the game further and further.

The problem of DF is that it has an OVERLOAD of stuff, most of which is broken in some way. He needs to start making stuff work more than he needs adding more crap. Or at least do BOTH in parallel, instead of just adding crap like he’s done in the last 5+ years.


Problem is, people love his crap.


Maybe this is just letting myself be taken in by the myth, but I don’t think DF can be judged by the standards of any other games. It is Toady and Toady is DF. It wouldn’t be anything that it is today–good or bad–if he wasn’t doing exactly his own thing with it. I think it’s a flawed game (I’d rather play Gnomoria), but it isn’t just a game anymore. It’s this artifact. Or maybe a performance. The invention of a mad scientist with a mad vision. To start telling him he must hand it over to “those fools at the academy” (to extend the mad scientist metaphor) just seems like it ruins what’s special about it. Even in the interest of playability, I think it’ll end up being a lesser thing because of it.

Yeah, I have kinda been taken in by the myth, haven’t I?


Nope, this is all or nothing kind of thing. It’s not like that.

There is a vision of a game, and ways to fulfill that vision. It’s just about how you go designing things and priorities you give to them. It’s the EXACT same game, but in one case it’s far better organized.

The way Toady works is separated from what he works on. And there are ways to build the exact same thing, but through other means.

Same for the whole deal of elegant design versus feature creep. And all the “emergent bugs” stuff that DOMINATES the emergent, logical and coherent stuff.

Some people just love that now all birds fly into trees and die. But it’s just a fucking bug and having it in the game isn’t cool AT ALL. Nor something you are supposed to brag about when you explain how great DF is.

Because this is the kind of game that goes modeling arm hair but then spectacularly fail on many major things. At that point it just becomes the funny experiment that gets mainstream attention just to point out how queer it is. It’s damn shameful.


Making the game open source or bringing in additional developers is also highly unrealistic.
Toady freely admitted on several occasions being not an exceptionally good programmer, and that it takes him an eternity to rewrite game systems and then bring in huge amounts of bugs it takes another eternity to slowly plug away at fixing is a testament on itself.
So what is to expect of the source code is layers and layers of hard to read and maintain spaghetti code other developers would throw a tantrum over.

I already wrote earlier that I had most fun with DF when it still was a 2D affair where you dug deeper and deeper into the mountainside and that was what measured progress, with the underground river and the chasm and so on.
I’ve long since given up actively following development in a remotely regular fashion, I just check out the status page maybe twice a year to see whether there was a new version.
While all the “big” systems that are being worked on (or planned in the “long term”) are sometimes exciting, what I’d REALLY like to see was at least a minor overhaul of the interface and “automation”.
The former doesn’t have to be mouse control or anything, just a pass over all the things you as the player ought to control with various tweaks to make this easier (or even realistically possible in the first place).
And with the latter I’m referring to the resulting gameplay implications, like with the military system. Generally speaking, some systems should be able to be set to “automatic” and basically handle themselves - I’m looking at you dwarven military.

Probably never going to happen, though.
In any event, I still have kind of a morbid curiosity which (considering direct implications on actual gameplay) almost completely pointless system will be Toadies next multi-year project.

Edit: HRose, also there’s no point ranting about such bugs. It’s totally normal for Toady to break things in major updates, and it’s normal for him to “forget” about implications some of his changes will have. And you’re being a bit unfair pointing to those as the only things being part of peoples narratives about the game -they’re, for the most part, the hilarious stories that crop up whenever a new release comes out, but NOT what makes up “serious” AARs.



Btw., since he failed to add one himself, here’s a link to HRose’s rant on the DF forums.



He gets paid and yet for all your insight you don’t. Damn shameful.


Don’t feed the HRose.


We need a rich dwarf fortress fan to hire a bunch of programming ninjas who can assist Toady but not get in his way or add to the complexity. Who at the very least can create some kind of system that allows others to write a UI and renderer on top of it. Stonesense is pretty amazing but quite the hack.


Don’t worry, HRose is working on his own roguelike. No-one will want to play Dwarf Fortress when he makes the ultimate game which trumps all games based on his years of game critiquing experience. Your uber-roguelike will be out any day now and it will be perfect in ways Dwarf Fortress wished it was, won’t it HRose? Those who can do, those who can’t… “teach”?


Well, I’ve been saying for several years now that Dwarf Fortress is the Winchester Mystery House of games. It doesn’t appear to have changed. Toady would rather add new stuff than bring the whole into a coherent game dominated by a meaningful interface.


Considering I don’t treat DF as a roguelike and I’m mostly interested in the Dwarf Fortress mode, and that my own project, even in its utopian completion, is completely devoid of world-simulation or randomly generated stuff, then it’s really about completely different kinds of games that are only partially related on the basis they are mostly ASCII.

I only wish I had Toady coding skills and get stuff done at his pace.


Make branches. Cataclysm is an example of a game that got out of his original dev hands and HUGELY IMPROVED because of it.

HRose, you should probably be banned from opining on roguelikes. The new Cataclysm is TERRIBLE.


Neither Toady nor DF NEEDS anything. You want them to have things. You think they would be better with certain changes. I suspect that you are proposing some sort of “needs to have these features to be successful” but its clear that DF is already successful by any measure that Toady applies to it.

There is a vision of a game, and ways to fulfill that vision. It’s just about how you go designing things and priorities you give to them. It’s the EXACT same game, but in one case it’s far better organized.

He started it as a hobby project. It might be his livelihood now but its still really a hobby project. Making it an efficient, organized job would, I suspect, destroy the satisfaction that Toady gets from working on DF.


Despite everyone knowing what DF needs/wanting more/whatever, no game has been able to really make a dent. Gnomoria is good, various other DF-likes are good, but none have come out in such a way as to topple what DF has done. Or will do. And it is the ‘will do’ that probably gives it legs. Most games don’t have a 20-year vision. Half the fun of DF is anticipating what might be coming. Or watching hilarious emergent behavior, bug or not.


I only partially agree with HRose–I too remember what it was like back in the 2D days, and there definitely was something lost when it became a lot less focused of an experience with the switch to 3D. I too think Toady should focus more on making existing stuff work better before adding new types of butterflies and whatnot. But, on the other hand, lets face it–DF has definitely veered out of “game” territory and into “art” (as much as I hate getting pretentious about these sorts of things). I’m not sure we would have gotten DF at all if Toady weren’t the type of person to focus on enhancing the simulation over improving the game.

I’ve also come to accept that, as long as Toady has his patrons (i.e. those few backers who largely fund him), this is what DF will be, and I don’t think I’ll get the vision that I have for what DF should be (which is fine, it’s his game, after all).

I do have hope for Clockwork Empires, though.


I thought about Toady when I read this RPS piece on Ultima Ratio Regum. Brilliant mind that wants to really dig into an obscure subject and make something magical. God bless him, right? But then I started reading about how he doesn’t believe in Kickstarter, and a kindly family member is going to support him for a year, and oh by the way he can’t start working on URR because he has to finish his thesis, which has been delayed but it’s not his fault. Someone in the comments said the developer emails back and forth with him.

I look at all that and think about someone that is never going to get the job done. Reminds me of my dad (who happens to be diagnosed with ADHD). Lots of big plans about little things, but can’t stay focused on the big picture.

I’m more than happy to let them toil away. They are creating something great that people genuinely love, which may be more than I ever accomplish. But I’m not sure I can watch them operate, if that makes any sense. Makes me shift in my chair a bit.


I argued with that guy endlessly about going open source if he doesn’t plan to profit from it in the end.

I just don’t understand, these projects have so much bigger hopes of fulfilling their goals if they were more a community effort. Plus, once you have an excellent world generator then every other guy after you is going to have an excellent basis to start from. It’s like we keep trying to reinvent the wheel.


So that’s what you do in your sparetime? Try to convince roguelike developers to make their game open source? ;p

While going open source can sometimes speed up development, I feel you’re giving the idea far too much credit.
Just going open source doesn’t magically get stuff done.
I’ve seen countless open source projects over the years die down and/or fail to go anywhere.



Whilst there’s more “peoplepower” to help churn through the project, there’s also less of a concrete vision. If “everyone” gets a say, who gets to drive the project? Who is the auteur? If I don’t like ‘the’ project, I can just fork it and make my own version. What happens if my version is more popular than the original, when all I did was change a few lines somewhere?

At uni in 2006 a classmate tried arguing with Toady about making DF open source. I kind of agreed with Toady: It’s his project, his vision and he started it. He doesn’t want to see it ruined – or not even just ruined, but pushed in a direction he doesn’t want it to go, even if that’s not the exact version he’s working on. I’ve paraphrased and adapted his analogy: “Imagine if everyone was allowed to draw on the original Mona Lisa with easy-to-wipe-off pens if they wanted to. Someone would inevitably draw a huge cock on it and that would have many pictures taken of it. Whilst the original is still available via wiping it off, that cock-stained Mona Lisa will be all most people would see in the future. It will taint their vision of the image, whether they want it to or not”.