Dwarves and the First Amendment

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Barrett Brown

I am the founder of the distributed think-tank Project PM and a regular inactive to Vanity Fair and Skeptical Inquirer. My work has also appeared in The Onion, National Lampoon, New York Press, D Magazine, Skeptic, McSweeney's, American Atheist, and a couple of newspapers in the U.S. and Mexico as well as a few policy journals. I'm the author of two books and serve as a consultant to various political entities and private clients.

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8 Responses

  1. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    That’s a wonderful tribute to/parody of Tolkien. Judging from the evidence in the History of Middle Earth, the reason that he never got his tales of the First Age into any sort of final or even consistent form is that every time he worked on them, he added to them is ways that made them better, fuller, and more compelling, but even further from complete than before.Report

  2. Avatar Ryan Davidson says:

    Don’t get me started on DF. My most recent effort was in a valley blessed to be far enough from goblin civilization to avoid regular sieges. I got a pretty nice little fortress going, with an artificial underground river powering waterwheels, which in turn powered a series of pumps bringing molten magma up from the depths (something like 120 levels, the scale being somewhat indeterminate) for use as fuel in forges and smelters. I even used the waterwheels to power pumps pushing water up to the surface, filling a deep pool around a steel tower. The pool emptied into a sluice which was to create an artificial waterfall in front of the entrance to the fortress. Not only pretty, but instant involuntary dwarven shower, necessary given the fact that the little buggers seem incapable of holding on to the soap I had them make long enough to clean themselves.

    Then winter came.

    The water I’d pumped to the surface instantly froze solid, including the water which was falling in front of the entrance. Due to the odd way water is handled in the code, said water spontaneously multiplied in mass by a factor of about seven. The resulting ice boulders plunged through the ground in front of the entrance to the fortress and penetrated approximately a dozen stories into the vaults beneath. It’s a miracle no one was killed.

    I haven’t had the patience to go back and fix that little problem, but the fort is waiting for me…Report

  3. Avatar Hedges Ahead says:

    The story above is a tribute to Tolkein only insofar as Tolkein based his works on a few simple axioms or precepts, the language he created, and then built around it the world from which the language would have developed. Dwarf Fortress has just an algorithm (a really good one!) from which all its interactions are mapped and calculated in a more robust manner than Tolkein could have attempted in analog. That is to say, the story above came to be due to an interesting set of outcomes from a random-number-generator; there are a vast number of personal narratives for other heroes and inhabitants of the world in question, though likely much more banal (at least for a fantasy setting).
    That’s DF’s strength; it has its axioms, and uses it to populate an entire world. The total population of fantasy worlds is always something of a bound; a census on any Final Fantasy game would give a world population in only the triple digits, for example, and a great many of these are one-liner NPCs. DF takes a ridiculous amount of processor power and cycles just to grind through the world-building phase, but it’s a world built and populated with a rigor that only mathematics could provide. You can determine what proportion of the dwarves have drinking problems, for example (usually ~90%). True, it’s not a perfect substitute for the creativity of a dedicated fantasy game writer, but purely by playing the numbers you end up with interesting stories like the one above.
    It’s a shame Dwarf Fortress won’t catch on. Newly minted gamers are spoiled by modern graphics. Forget 3D rendered spirtes, in fact, forget sprites. DF goes all the way back to the DOS game rogue-like graphical tradition. That is to say, pretend this
    h..@
    is a mindflayer bearing down on the hero. It’s an entirely alien visual vocabulary for someone not steeped in DOS or ASCII games, and another unfortunate layer of complexity atop complexity. DF is to UNIX what Civ5 is to an iPhone interface. A very steep learning curve.Report

    • Avatar Ryan Davidson says:

      @Hedges Ahead, it’s not so much a learning “curve” as a learning “brick wall.” There are rumors of a 3D visual interface, but even the official text interface can humble the fastest processors after a while.Report

  4. Avatar Simon K says:

    I had not heard of Dwarf fortress before. I’m horribly afraid to try playing it for fear that it may consume my life …Report

  5. Avatar Strangething says:

    Speaking of the first amendment, there is a running joke on the Dwarf Fortress forums that all the discussion of murder and child abuse might attract police attention. Somewhere there is a mystified FBI agent getting a crash course in Dwarf Fortress.Report