I’ve been playing a lot of Dwarf Fortress recently and things had been going well on my very first fortress. I couldn’t seem to attract new migrants but everything was ticking over rather nicely. So I decided to expand my base by digging underground eastwards with my head miner, Einstein. Unfortunately the river is also eastwards, Einstein had to run for his short rotund life when that water came. He made it to safety fortunately and I decided to pave over the lower stairs to help cover up this minor incident of losing the whole of my lower levels to flooding.
I enlisted all my mason’s to help and in no time it was done. It wasn’t too bad I didn’t have anything built down there yet and I could always make a well above it. Five minutes later a notice popped up to tell me one of my carpenter’s, Isaac Newton, had drowned. Yes in my haste I had forgot to check no one else was down there before bricking up my lower levels, and as a result Newton had drowned as the water slowly rose above his stubby head.
And how does the game decide interpret Einstein’s day? With two wonderful sentences:
Saw a friend die today. Saw a beautiful waterfall today.
That’s the only way I can describe why Dwarf Fortress is such great fun and the reason I’ve sunk many hours of my life into it. It’s not that I can create a fortress of Dwarfs all named after the greatest thinkers of all time. It’s not the clever water physics that can be manipulated. It’s the sheer joy of when things go terribly, terribly wrong. Up until that point I had a functioning fortress that was doing well for itself, and I was becoming bored. After that point though it became hilarious fun of terrible tragedies.
Which is my main point, that managment games are more fun when something goes wrong. Sure it’s nice to have a money making rollercoaster park, but it’s hilarious when the rollercoaster goes off the rails with the park inspector on it. It’s dandy to have a Sim do well in life but it’s side splitting to have your Sim return home to find their baby on the lawn, their wife on fire and their roommate turned to charcoal, and only having the chance to save one of them.
When you look back on playing those games what sticks out in your head most? Chances are it’s going to be a horrific tragedy, a moment where it all went tits up. It’s all about the unexpected moments that come out of nowhere and you having to do crisis management to make sure you survive. Dwarf Fortress seems to be built solely on that basis even with the slogan, “Losing is fun,” because it is. It’s fun when a fire imp sets one of your cats on fire and it head straight into the wood stockpile.
If everything goes to plan then the game is boring and conversely if the game continually defeats you quickly it’s boring. Dwarf Fortress will throw many things at you but has retained that balance to allow you to rebuild and continue on, mainly so it can do it again but who cares when it’s so fun.
It’s not just management games that are fun when they go wrong just look at Left 4 Dead. That game has an AI director whose job is to grief you as much as possible, to toy around with you before finishing you off. Oh your nearly at the safe room are you? Well here’s a tank and I’ve placed a witch right at the safe room door, have fun. And it is, so much fun to die. Games are so much more fun when developers accept that those things are what make a fun game and actually incorporate it in gameplay.
This let’s play of Dwarf Fortress proves why failing so badly can be so much fun.
Oh and incase your wondering what happened to Einstein after the flooding, the fortress got a lot new migrants right after (my guess they wanted to see the fortress that flooded itself, like a freakshow attraction) so he became the new sheriff. He later had to take down Darwin after he went beserk in the funiture stock pile.