Game From Earth B (And One From A)


Most games are said to be science-fictonal as a result of a narrative premise (e.g. it takes place in outer space, or maybe there are zombies). But the free download game Dwarf Fortress seems to have incorporated sci-fi properties directly into its user interface. As this excellent review/essay from Play This Thing explains, the game’s mechanics and presentation place Dwarf Fortress in an alternate history with a very different pattern of videogame development. PTT calls the timeline that produced the game “Earth B”:

In Earth B, there never was a revolution in computer graphics, all games are ASCII; and VGA was never invented.

In Earth B, Moore’s Law has progressed just as it has in our own, so that most computers now have multi-gigahertz processors.

In Earth B, computer games have existed since the inception of the computer revolution, as on our own world; but lacking the need to spend the vast bulk of their processing power pushing pixels to display pretty images on the screen, game developers have instead harnessed their power to produce incredibly detailed and sophisticated simulations that are presented to the players thereof entirely in ASCII.

The result sounds intriguing — if also impossible to play for anyone lacking the fortitude to withstand an inhuman graphic-free interface. I count myself as someone who couldn’t possibly handle the game. (And I own a Mac, so I haven’t even tried. But I mean, look at these screenshots! It reminds me of this.) Even PTT’s gushing review — which opens with comparisons to Civilization and SimCity — warns that, on the world that produced Dwarf Fortress, “there don’t appear to be any common interface conventions” with our world. That is impossibly harsh game design. The focus is entirely on data — and not at the expense of graphics, but because in the alternate history that produced this software, game players aren’t conditioned to value complex graphics. The game itself, in other words, is designed speculatively.

But still, I’d really like to experience Dwarf Fortress for myself, if I could. The game map is so naunced and richly developed that the program, which weighs in at a miniscule 5MB, consumes nearly all the computing cycles available to a modern PC over several hours to build the game environment — and that’s without rendering any graphics. Or as PTT puts it: “even though all it’s doing is processing, not throwing polygons onto the screen.” Crazy. Click through to the review to get a detailed sense for the game. The nickel version: you manage a dwarf mine enclave, looking after resources, building infrastructure, growing the population and dealing with neighbors in trade and diplomacy. And here’s one hint: “To keep your population satisfied, you need to start making beer right quick.”

A few more quick words about the gameplay: You don’t issue orders to your dwarves. You create a ranked list of priorities, and your dwarves figure out how much labor to devote to various undertakings. And combat, such as it is, looks like this. Also, read this comment for more fascinating bits about the game.

  • LINK to Dwarf Fortress site.

* * *

Now as a palette cleanser — or a reward for reading all the way down here — I’ll also link to puzzle game that’s playable through and through: Chain Factor. It’s a simple Tetris-style puzzle game that’s got a lot of layers to it, along with a pitch-perfect difficulty ramp that encourages skill development. You drop spheres in one of seven columns; each sphere bears a number, 1 through 7; and the goal is to clear pieces off the board. That only happens when a sphere is in either a row or column composed of same number of pieces as the number marked on that sphere. So a row that grows to six spheres in length will clear any 6-ball therein. When your skill grows, you can set off chain reactions with cascading spheres.

It’s all makes for a very neat and addicting gameplay experience, plus there’s good sound. Most importantly, the game itself makes far more intuitive sense than what I’ve managed to write above. (via)

One response to “Game From Earth B (And One From A)

  1. I have a lot of homework to do for advertising class tomorrow but instead I’m going to stay up all night drinking tall boys of Coors and playing this insane looking game (hopefully as a “wood-cutter”) and trying not to get tunnel vision from those pre-GUI screenshots. Thanks, Aaron.

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