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Reception of Dwarf Fortress

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Dwarf Fortress has received attention mainly because of its emergent gameplay, text-based graphics, complexity, poor interface and difficulty, with some reviewers describing playing the game from start as a steep learning curve—with the meaning of a difficult learning process. It has been compared to other simulations games like SimCity and The Sims, Dungeon Keeper and roguelike games like NetHack. The game has not had much influence on the gaming industry because of its non-commercial nature. It being a two-man self-sustaining project, and Adams' independence and capability to follow his own ideas were highlighted. Gamasutra said, "There have been few indie gaming success stories as big as Dwarf Fortress" and Wired magazine, following one of its updates, described it as an "obtuse, wildly ambitious work-in-progress mashes the brutal dungeon crawling of roguelikes with the detail-oriented creativity of city-building sims."

The depth and complexity were praised. Jonah Weiner from The New York Times stated, "Many simulation games offer players a bag of building blocks, but few dangle a bag as deep, or blocks as small and intricately interlocking, as Dwarf Fortress." PC Gamer's Steve Hogarty commented, "Dwarf Fortress's reluctance to expend even a joule of energy in prettying itself results in astonishing hidden complexity." Regarding the open-ended nature and emergent gameplay, Rock, Paper, Shotgun's Graham Smith concluded that its procedurally generated world combined with the every character simulated "down to the most minute detail", the results are "often hilarious, occasionally tragic, and always surprising." Mike Rose from Gamasutra said, "...to an outsider looking in on this game so many years into development, with such a wide scope of features and potential play styles, it's fair to say that getting into Dwarf Fortress is perhaps one of the most daunting tasks the video game industry as a whole can provide."

The lack of graphics, poor interface and controls were seen as the reasons for the game's difficulty. However, the reviewers also noted most of it having a role in gameplay and the argument that the text-based graphics forces players to use their own imagination, making it more engaging. Weiner wrote, "[the game] may not look real, but once you're hooked, it feels vast, enveloping, alive. A micro-manager's dream, the game gleefully blurs the distinction between painstaking labor and creative thrill." Quintin Smith from Rock, Paper, Shotgun said, "The interface has a tough job to do, bless it, but getting it to do what you want is like teaching a beetle to cook." Ars Technica's Casey Johnston highlighted the difficulty in performing basic actions and felt that tinkering or experimenting ended up being unproductive; she compared it to "trying to build a skyscraper by banging two rocks together". She pointed out the lack of in-game tutorial and said how players can learn by themselves in other games, which are also open-ended or have intuitive mechanics, but in Dwarf Fortress, there is no autonomy "even after hours" of gameplay.

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