Archive for the ‘meta’ Category

The vagaries of the internet’s attention: More Dwarf Fortress design/dev commentary


I checked my blog stats one morning a few weeks ago and saw this:

Apparently my post on Dwarf Fortress and Goblin Camp got reddited by someone and things kinda took off.

It is a strange thing to suddenly get a whole lot of attention when I’ve mostly just been shooting my mouth off about random things for the sake of itself. I saw people who read my post commenting on points I raised, and I saw people who misread my post comment on points I didn’t even make. Others commented on points I somewhat unintentionally made due to lazy and unclear writing. Others picked up on an exaggerated sense of urgency and conflict between Dwarf Fortress and Goblin Camp that I put into the writing to make it more interesting (presumably, mostly to myself and a couple readers of this blog).

It’s all a bit overwhelming, and it’s always upsetting when it looks to me like someone is wrong on the internet. No wonder writers can get frustrated with their words being mis/re/interpreted!

Right, so there are a few points raised in various comments that I’d like to specifically address now that time has made mild all heated feelings. I’ll uncharitably paraphrase a comment or criticism then address it.

1. “Learn to use the interface/keyboard commands/job manager, noob!”

I assure ya’all that I am familiar with the job manager and that I’ve learned the keyboard commands of DF inside and out. I am indeed not just some noob who can’t be bothered to learn the system and who should go back to playing Farmville or Bejeweled. In my post I left out detailed explanation and critique of the particulars of DF’s user interface for the sake of brevity. It still stands that the systems are esoteric, unwieldy, and – the real kicker – may interact very poorly with the game systems (eg. “Job cancelled by Urist McUrist. Need this or that material!” x1000). Results of supply chain breakdowns are occasionally disastrous, which may or may not be as fun as advertised, depending on your attitude. This last point is where Goblin Camp’s “pull” job orders work very nicely (if things still work as they were described) compared to Dwarf Fortresses “push” job orders.

Let me explain: To make high-level things in DF, a slew of materials need to be processed through various steps, and I need to give the order for each step either by-hand or through the job manager of them. To make a steel item I would need to designate the mining of coal, an iron ore, and a flux material, then order the smelting of the ore into pig iron, order the processing of pig iron with flux into steel, then order a steel goblet to be crafted. I have to push each material and process from the bottom up. Consider an alternative: What if I could just order a steel goblet from the workshop and the workshop sent an order for steel to the smelter which would, in turn, send out an order for iron ore, flux, and coal to be mined from active veins of each? This is “pull” versus “push”. It’s one action from me vs. a whole list of actions.

In the end, it’s about whether the decisions the player has to make are meaningful or meaningless; I don’t want a game to treat me as a mindless automaton. It is largely irrelevant if I mine iron ore square 1 vs. iron ore square 2 (unless square 2 opens on to a cavern full of giant cave spiders, but them’s the breaks). As I was saying, there is a difference between meaningless micromanagement (eg. hand-designating every square to mine out in DF) and meaningful micromanagement (eg. unit ability control in StarCraft).

If I am micromanaging actions that can be handled just as meaningfully by the computer, if it is a problem that has only one reasonable solution that I have to provide over and over, then I feel like I’m wasting my time, and that is the core of my objection to the intense micro of DF.

A couple quick counter-counter arguments:

  • Yes, the “more is more” design philosophy of Dwarf Fortress is indeed its particular charm and I love finding diorite, gabbro, rhyolite and so on even if they could all be summed up as “rock”. However, this quality of excessive detail in DF  is not mutually exclusive with non-tedious micromanagement or a transparent UI/game interaction scheme.
  • Yes, Tarn is ‘working on it’. I certainly respect the problems he is dealing with and I respect him as a game creator — this does not mean it is illegitimate to critique his creation. Which brings me to my second point…

2. “Dwarf Fortress is still in alpha, you can’t expect too much from it.”

Well, yes and no.

It is an alpha in the sense of not being done, but it isn’t in the sense that tons of people are playing it right now as a game. This is not an “alpha” in the usual sense of a linear software development process with an alpha, beta, and final release (and then some followup patches and expansions). Dwarf Fortress has an ongoing, responsive, and open-ended donation-driven development model which is quite unlike the thinking surrounding a traditional commercial game. The effect of this is that DF is a process, not a product.

I contend that it is quite legitimate to comment on the process of DF’s creation as it is ongoing.

There were probably more comments that I should address, but that’ll have to wait for another time. (I will say that I do find all the interest and discussion around Dwarf Fortress completely fascinating.)

I’ve got one final point for this post:

Based off everything Tarn has said in interviews and his dev log, I am struck by the thought that what he wants Dwarf Fortress to be is not the same as the game that most people are playing. Tarn is making Slaves to Armok 2; Most fans are playing Dwarf Fortress. Tarn is making a fantasy world simulator that is focused more on creating a Roguelike/RPG experience than on the Dwarf-themed city-builder which everyone else cares much more about. This is reflected in what development has been focused on: extreme detail for creatures and combat versus streamlining the interface and usability of the city-building game.

And I think that’s really the answer: Tarn is not (deeply and ultimately) in it for fortress mode. Other people, other projects – like Goblin Camp – are in it primarily for fortress mode, for the fantasy city-building simulation game. [To clarify, I wouldn’t say that Tarn is not interested in fortress mode, just that it is not the primary objective of the whole project of creating a fantasy world simulation to serve as a medium for genre narratives. In other words, it’s not his goal to make the best fantasy city-sim it could be, so it is somewhat nonsensical to expect it. With that observed, all this nattering about the design and development of DF is purely academic. I can live with that because it’s fun to write about what DF is, isn’t, could be, and should be. ]

ps: “If you think you’re so smart, why don’t you make your own game?”

Sure! I’ll, uh, keep you posted on how that works out. [More: I really want to do this. I did have a number of months free a few years ago, but I didn’t get as far as creating an actual playable game. It was, however, an intense learning experience. I’d love to do the game-auteur thing again when I’m in a financial position to do so.]

Gaslamp Games blog


Much of my blogging energy has been going toward writing Important Weekly Updates to the new Gaslamp Games blog. Yes, much of these updates consist of complaining and making sassy comments about our lead programmer, but the whole team is writing posts regularly so perhaps it’s interesting enough to check out, and I encourage you to do so.

Our illustrious lead programmer got the idea for this blog-as-marketing from how Wolfire Games does their thing. What he fails to realize is that what Wolfire has going for them that we do not is that they have furries. Furry fans are, ahem, rabid.

My posts on the Gaslamp Blog thus far:

Conflict Resolution; Tools for all people
In which I post the comic I posted in my previous entry here then complain about software with bad UI design. Also made fun of where the lead programmer lives.

Herding Art
In which I complain about having to art-direct a project after five previous artists have had their way. Also made fun of the lead programmer’s art skill.

Its an Eyebrow Thing
In which I talk about drawing the Dungeons of Dredmor hero character’s eyebrows and manage not to complain about our leader programmer, but rather about how the best sprite artist we had was sucked into a vortex named Blizzard so we’ll never get a sprite out of him ever, ever again.

As for posting here, and on my journal, I’ll probably do some combination of linking from blog to blog, cheaply recycling content, and adapting posts from one place to another with a slightly different angle. Or something.

It’s a bloody pain trying to run three blogs, though I appreciate the social-guilt enforced update schedule of the Gaslamp blog. I’ll just have to stew this problem in the ol’ think-pot.

Meta: Finding an Approach to Blogging


I imagine this sort of meta-blogging post is profoundly uninteresting from a certain standpoint, if not many. If so, feel free to stop reading here. I won’t be offended. The reason for writing this up is purely selfish; I find that doing so helps me compile my thoughts which I then must commit-to because I’ve posted them publicly.

And another great counter to me being meta is that I ought to be writing about my primary topics rather than thinking about how to write as a subject itself. To be /meta/ in this respect, it is to be (with apologies to Pratchett for stealing his line),  second-guessing myself, then third-guessing those thoughts, then fourth-guessing and so on in a spiral of self-questioning — it is simply what I do.
(It’s amazing I get anything done.)

The point though is the question of how I’m approaching the act of writing for this blog:

There’s a school of blogging that says you should make your updates brief and often. I saw this stated explicitly a few years ago on Raph Koster’s site somewhere; I don’t remember the precise post, but you can see it in his style of updating. It’s like twittering. Personally I find this format insubstantial. (Yes, yes, I like posting single sentence quips as much as the next guy, but there’s more to life than only ever being able to do that.) — Thoughts are not developed enough to be really interesting or engaging, with any depth.

(And the cynical thought: This post-lots-with-little-content is efficacious if your goal is to stream as many eyes as possible past your ads as often as possible.)

There’s another school of blogging, the Steve Yegge School that holds that you should update very substantially, far and in-between, and that it is a long-format piece of writing that will be able to sink into memory and stick with a reader. I agree, and I find his insanely-long-by-current-standards posts fascinating, but they are indeed difficult to digest given a busy schedule with 5-15 minute breaks between periods of work, so I can see how such huge posts would be difficult to read in terms of the trends of web media consumption. (Did I just make that sentence? Kick me.)

Another school of thought holds that you should update your webpage (and by extension blog) only when you don’t suck — thanks Mu. And this bit of advice from somehow who went over 3 years without updating his site except once to say that everything sucks at the midpoint of that time period. Take it how you will.

In other words: update only when you feel like you have something interesting to say, be it long or short. This seems like a good rule, a compromise between long and short form blogging with the ultimate goal being quality. I shall try to follow this rule.

(And don’t apologize for not updating. Nothing is so pathetic as the blog that apologies for not having content!)

So I’ll see you next time I have something to post that I think doesn’t suck.

[A sketch of a city with no sprawl.]

Worlds Within Worlds


So here goes.

I’m a freelance digital artist and I mostly do graphics for computer games — “What, really? You make graphics for video games. How is that a real job?” — Yet here I am, paying the rent. It is not so easy as one might imagine — “What, you have to actually work?” — but  there are worse things I could be doing!

I mean hell, it’s not like I haven’t ‘blogged’ before in various forms, particularly on my GameDev journal, but there is some legitimacy to having this *waves hands at screen*. That! … and a blog, from all I’ve seen, is a great way to populate search engines with your stink, thus I have a certain self-promotional angle here which is ideally good not only for me professionally [if I can manage not to stick my foot in my mouth too hard; I assure you, every sentence is a struggle in self-restraint] … um, not only good for me professionally, but it’ll also fulfill some narcissistic impulse I will readily admit to possessing.

Because, honestly, any artist has to be a narcissistic egotist on some level because they think what they have to express is good enough to unload upon the world whether the world likes it or not. With all the junk in the world, it takes some gall to think you’ve got something to add to it. And maybe I just have to because it’s what I must do. I’m just admitting all of this upfront, openly, and self-critically — (I’ll warn you now, I’m all for self-examination. More on this in future self-examinations.)


I’m going to talk about art, Art (with a capital ‘a’!), digital art, games, drawing comics, game design, game art, game programming, writing, the businesses thereof, and my various struggles within and without it.

With pictures! for you tl:dr folks. (No picture in this post because it’s the first one and I was caught off-guard by the horror of having a silly filler intro remain here and so had to write this whole bit to ameliorate the situation.)