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Dwarf Break!

My new job as a substitute is looking to have a really loose schedule, so it looks like my gaming time won't be impugned much.  Unfortunately, I'm so very burned out from Skryim right now that my goal of completing the game does not seem immediately likely, and I see XCOM still has awhile to go until I get to do a bug-free replay of it, having not bothered to release a patch since the Oct 11th hot fix had not gone so very well.

I've spammed up my favorite forums enough, my procrastination really needs another outlet.  A Game Of Dwarves to the rescue.
What is A Game of Dwarves and wherein lay the appeal?
  • Start with Dwarf Fortress, an extravagantly complicated text-based simulation where you are essentially designating things to do and your "dwarves," like a determined colony of bearded ants, go about attempting to fulfill your orders.  You have a nice randomly generated map of multiple levels that your dwarves' AI is sufficient to navigate to get the job done.
  • Get rid of the neigh-impenetrable, text-based GUI of Dwarf Fortress.  Instead, give it freely rotatable, 3D engine with an easy to understand and use GUI.
  • Simplify the building process a great deal.  Most notably, resources no longer lay about on the ground, but rather go to a simple count of "gold, food, wood, stone, titanium" and a few others.  No more having dwarves drag blocks across the map to build things: instead, you just plop down whatever structures you like, expending those resource points, and wait for the crafter dwarf to come by and start building them.
  • Remove the item crafting.  A Game Of Dwarves will never have you assign tasks to render an animal carcass into fat, turn that fat into lye, create ash from wood in an ashery, then combine the ash and lye, because you siimply wanted your dwarves to have soap.  Instead, there is no crafting anymore, and any items (with the exception of those for the prince) are just simulated in the buildings you place (e.g. a happiness-boosting bucket with soap) or by investing points in a simple research tree (e.g. a "cloth armor" research category that, once invested in, just boosts all the dwarves' maximum hitpoints).
  • Take out the idea of placing a new settlement on a randomly generated world map.  Instead, there's now a directed campaign of 12 predefined mission maps.  There's also the option of playing a "custom game" mode, which is just a single map (not sure if it's randomly generated or not).
  • Now give it a goofy sense of humor and play off your dwarves as bumbling but industrious ginger-haired drones.
In the end, you get much of the satisfaction of Dwarf Fortress's open-ended fortress building, but it's a whole lot more accessible.  Put another way, it treats the following comic as a problem instead of praise for Dwarf Fortress:

A Game Of Dwarves lay somewhere between a casual and hardcore game in that it is designed to be accessible, but it is not so very accessible as, say, Bejeweled.   It's pulled back a bit from the lofty ideals of painstaking simulation to be found in Dwarf Fortress and instead is much more of a managerial sim, in the vein of Evil Genius or Dungeon Keeper, whereas Dwarf Fortress was more of a roguelike that is played like a managerial sim.  In the end, aside from the 3D space, all that was retained was the dressing: In A Game Of Dwarves, you not an evil spy (as in Evil Genius), nor a dungeon keeper, but rather a dwarven prince managing a colony of dwarves.

That said, I find A Game Of Dwarves to be excellent so long as you understand that this is a very relaxed game.  It does not excessively challenge you nor expect you to do a lot of research to play.  For best results, mellow out and just enjoy watching your happy little dwarves go about their business.  Of the non-technical complaints I've seen of the game, it has been for players that were not willing to do this.

As far was technical complaints go, A Game Of Dwarves does have a bit wrong with it.  The production values are generally low, and the platform feels less than efficient at times.  It has a number of bugs at release, including:
  • Sometimes, some of the jobs you've designated will go undone.  Scholars won't go to their research tables.  Workers won't try to harvest plants.  Diggable tiles, designated to be dug and fully reachable, ignored by the diggers.  I believe these issues are related to the games' pathing routines wrongfully marking some things as inaccessible or in-use.  Workaround: just save and reload the game, which forces the game to reevaluate everything.
  • Pathing is somewhat overly streamlined.  It's not uncommon to have miners returning to get some food or rest, walking right past banquet tables or free beds, because the pathing routine told them that something laying hundreds of steps away was closer (perhaps as the underground crow flies).  While I've seen dwarves path to places very far away, other times I've seen they were unable to figure out how to get there and simply idle about when there's work to do.  Workaround: Teleport your dwarves, as they will reevaluate their pathing upon being teleported.  Teleporting is free and has only a short cooldown, so there's really no reason not to.
  • Perhaps the worst bug for me is that the "zooming" control will get stuck.  You'll end up at a perspective far from the action going on, it's not nearly as immersive, and it's that much harder to control.  Other people have reported the opposite problem: the camera gets stuck zoomed in too far, and I can see that as being quite awkward as well.  I've been fortunate enough so far as to avoid the issue where the camera gets stuck under the action, preventing you from doing anything.  There is no workaround, I tried everything the developers recommended without any luck, and unfortunately the camera position is saved to the save game file so you can't reload to get rid of it.
That said, why be a snob?  The developers have been extremely active on the forums, and promise to release a number of fixes very soon.  This is the kind of indy game developer focus that makes them look very good.

Until those patches are released, it looks like I've still some time to burn before my current games get patched again.  I suppose I should try to play some more Skyrim.


alex zhou said…
Although The graphics and UI come with a catch. A game of dwarves cannot possibly manage the depth of dwarf fortress.
geldonyetich said…
Technically, it's possible, but usually not feasible. In order to manage the depth of Dwarf Fortress with a graphical UI, you'd have to dump as much development as is required to represent everything Dwarf Fortress does in a graphical manner. That's a very tall order, and Dwarf Fortress's textual interface gives them the advantage of leveraging the players' imagination to do it instead.

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