The rebirth of the uncool

The simple fact is this: All too often, in today’s world, mediocrity masquerades as quality.

Let me rephrase that: We allow ourselves to sacrifice quality based on popular representation. Things that look cool — or sound exciting, or are marketed well — take the place of things that are truly well done, or well made, or well created.

I’m not sure what it is about human behavior that allows us to make that mistake. But I am unable to count the number of people I know who are motivated to buy something, or use something, or play something — and not because it’s high quality, but because the allure of the item or the marketing around it entices them.

Case to the contrary: This screenshot.

That is probably the least-sexy screenshot since … oh, I don’t know. Probably since 1988 or so. I know 8-bit computer games that had more graphic flair and visual appeal than that picture right there. Heck, come to think of it, the weak-sauce games I wrote for high school computer class (a long time ago, thank you … and I always got high marks in computer class) had more shazam than that. That’s just plain … dull.

But I can tell you this: I have not seen, played, or even heard of a game with more intricacy, complexity, control or gratification than Dwarf Fortress in decades.

I’m not a hard-core gamer; I’ve mentioned that repeatedly here. I don’t spend much time playing games, usually because I’m engrossed with resurrecting old hardware and getting it out the door again. I don’t play WoW, I don’t follow the gaming industry. Most of the hardware I own can’t even handle Neverball. I do play games, from time to time, but they rank low on my list … somewhere near watching TV or online chat.

But Dwarf Fortress is posing a serious challenge in the battle for my free time. I was almost late putting together that desktop machine I gave away yesterday, because I was too busy orchestrating the innermost structure of my dwarven expedition — designing the underground halls and defenses, directing the construction, managing the workforce and labor teams, providing workshops and recreation areas, rationing for the coming winter seasons, converting raw materials into marketable goods. … Everything.

Sexy it is not. Beautiful it is not. Graphically appealing it is not. It will run on slow, slow machines and that’s actually a bad thing, because it means you don’t have the excuse of claiming your hardware can’t do it.* It’s blocky, chunky, stodgy — even primitive in some ways. And I guarantee that if you break the seal on this one you will not put it down for a week or more. After ten minutes, you won’t care what it looks like.

In a world where all too many games, all too many movies, all too much technology and all too much music is exceptionally poor quality, but sold with a thick veneer of quasi-cool on it, Dwarf Fortress is a complete antithesis. It’s uncool, but I can guarantee that taking even just a moment to try it will hook you.

So make sure that moment isn’t the night before a job interview, or your wedding, or a meeting with your boss. Try it out, but give yourself lots of free time. Transoceanic flight? Good time for Dwarf Fortress. Twenty minutes before picking up the kids from school? Bad time for Dwarf Fortress.

I have no better way of explaining it except to say that high-end, flashy professional games make are … dwarfed by this one. (LOL, a pun. ๐Ÿ˜€ ) This one has detail, control, plot, challenge, complexity, strategy — it’s just an all-around good game. For once, quality is obvious, and appearances be damned.

They say you either got it or you don’t. This one definitely does.

P.S.: Thanks — or maybe “thanks a lot, pal” — to Bionic Apple for mentioning it on the Arch forums.

*Disclaimer: It actually requires some 3D acceleration so you might not be able to run it on a 100Mhz laptop. However, I’m using an 8-year-old Pentium III with an Nvidia card in it, and it’s running fine.


11 thoughts on “The rebirth of the uncool

  1. IceBrain

    I discovered Zork recently ( and played many hours.This days, the game I play the most is CoD4, but it’s the only recent game, all others are abandonware.

    Transport Tycoon is an old favorite, and runs in my 800MHz w/ Ati Rage Mobility without a glintch.

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  4. James

    Zork is neat, but my favorite text-based game is definitely ZZT. It was one of the earliest games to include a level and script editor.

    You could make entire games in ZTT, and hundreds of people did; many of them surpassing the original levels in quality.

    Alas, even though ZZT isn’t amazingly complicated, there hasn’t been a complete Linux port made of it. DreamZZT was still missing a few enemy types last time I checked.

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