The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

Book Review: Getting Started With Dwarf Fortress

One of the most interesting talks given at ELO was on Dwarf Fortress, a
computer game described as "The Most Complex Video Game Ever Made." I
review on occasion for O'Reilly, and as a result, I ordered "Getting
Started With Dwarf Fortress," by Peter Tyson - I want to strongly
recommend the book here. It has an introduction by Tarn Adams, one of the
two creators of the game, which is continuously under modification. The
book convinced me of several things, germane here: First, Dwarf Fortress
(and other games) may well be the most challenging and absorbing
electronic literature in existence; second, that it's engendered an entire
culture around it; and third, it is tremendously demanding on the player.
I'm not playing it myself; I realize my own limitations. But I'm
fascinated by the game itself, which is almost "jellyfish" in its
morphology - on one hand, there's the screen interface, the visual
gamespace; and on the other, there's the enormous number of processes
running things clean and quick beneath the surface. Likewise there's the
game itself, and then there's there's the community beyond the game (which
isn't networked, as far as I can tell). The book goes deeply into the
culture of the former, with chapters on things like "Justice, Healthcare,
and Vampires," and "Dwarf Resource Management" - as well as subheadings on
things like Metal, Meta, Cloth, Food, etc. - all different industries in
the Fortress world. The book also describes the Dwarf Fortress Communities
and Forums.

I really recommend this, even if you're not interested in playing the
game. I personally feel its addictive draw - only a download away. But I
learned my lesson with far simpler games like Adventure (which I modded of
course): knowing myself, I have to stay away. On the other hand, think of
Getting Started as an introduction to one of the most power genres of
electronic literature around, and you may find your fascinated - there are
so many possibilities! - even hacking the game, or thinking through what
virtual worlds actually mean (this one's more or less ascii-based, and yet
far richer than much of what I've seen in Second Life). Get the book (has
a cool cover too, somehow reminding me of Ken Wark).

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