Playing Dwarf Fortress

I was looking into getting a minecraft account for the kids, and not knowing much about the game I started out on wikipedia just to see what the hype about the game was all about. I know what the game looks like of course and in my mind it was just virtual lego, but I wanted to learn a bit about the company (especially if I was going to hand them some money), what the multiplayer aspects of the game were like and whether I could run it on Ubuntu, or run my own minecraft server. Maybe I’ll write up something about minecraft someday, but the investigation led me to a game which was supposedly one of the influences for the author of minecraft: Dwarf Fortress. I was immediately intrigued. I have a small Dwarf army for Warhammer Fantasy Battle, and some of my favorite characters in RPG games have been dwarves. For non-geeks: we’re talking Dwarves ala Tolkien, not Disney here. I also read Casey Johnston’s ARS article on DF which can be read either as a warning or a challenge – you choose.

update 141126: Using Arch more than Ubuntu lately and found that Dwarf Fortress is in the official Arch repos, so installing it is as easy as
pacman -S dwarffortress


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Super Star Trek in Python

OK kids, make sure you have python installed so you can fire photons in this python remix of the classic Fortran Super Star Trek classic terminal game from the mid 70s. I played this game (poorly) in High School and had gotten frustrated trying to run the original Fortran version some while ago. Turns out ESR had ported (a C port of) the original Fortran code which runs great. Make sure you pull out the latest version from git since its got some essential bug fixes from: (this link is dead as of 151111)

See Bill Lahti’s java and android port of the game!

and Tom Almys page

Here’s ESR’s original G+ post and there’s some more banter about the history of the game in the comments to his blog post.

There’s a nice writeup of the history of the game and how its played here.

Here it is, running happily in terminal under Ubuntu 11.10:

Retro gaming: Warcraft II on Ubuntu

Backstory: The kids have been using an old and relatively slow (Celeron) IBM Thinkpad R60e running Ubuntu 10.04. [update 130317: tested and working on 12.04] There have been a lot of configuration tweaks over the past year, including adding the Angerthas and Tengwar fonts for those all-important letters to friends in Dwarvish or Elvish. The installation of VLC so they can watch any Doctor Who ever made (I have them all in mp4 format). As for gaming, Tux Paint, Super Tux Kart, and Super Tux are perennial favorites, but Armagetron Advanced and various 2D puzzle games get alot of attention. The laptop also serves well for frequent visits to Webkinz (though the recent release of some kind of hamster critters at first didn’t work in flash but used some proprietary plugin which didn’t work in Linux. We got around this by running Windows in Virtualbox but what a hassle just for a 3D first-person marble madness maze game which sucked (they recently released a flash version but the kids quickly lost interest in it anyway).

This post is supposed to be about Warcraft!
I was a big fan of Warcraft II when it first came out and used to have LAN parties all the time with friends to play it and the kids really wanted to play that. Running it inside Virtualbox was waaay too slow, and I couldn’t get it to go full screen anyway. Also, I have another slow System76 meerkat (also underpowered) hooked up to the old TV with a VGA adapter (and also running Ubuntu 10.04) [now 12.04 as well] and the kids are *obviously* going to want to play against each other! Since this post was written in 2010 I’ve installed Ubuntu on my MacBook and set this up on there as well. Thankfully, installing Warcraft II in Ubuntu is pretty much a solved problem.

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A game of Talisman

There was a time in my life when hanging out was synonymous with games. Video games, let alone personal computers were still in their infancy at the time and we had all grown up role-playing, so tabletop games were a natural extension of that interest. It didn’t matter where we ended up hanging out, there was usually some kind of game involved, though the games with all the little chits and cards were only busted out when we weren’t role-playing. There were lots of different classes of games, but a favorite was that of the “beer and pretzel” variety – games that evoked the spirit of role-playing in some way with none of the messy thinking.

Games like Wiz-war, Space Hulk, and Talisman were turn-based games were you rolled the die, moved your piece (which was usually a painted model of some kind since you had a ton of them anyway), and worked out your encounters so the next guy could go. Then you were free to grab another beer or go and twiddle with the stereo for a few minutes. Though I can’t say that Talisman ever was a personal favorite, it was good to haul it out of the closet again to recapture that spirit.
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MySpace = Geocities circa 1995

I’ve been ‘online’ since before the internet was open to normal folks. Our school computers were connected to the nearby national lab in the mid 80s. I used to dial into many a BBS in the early 90s. I remember using the first web browser, Mosaic in 1993. Then Al Gore said that everybody else should be allowed to use the internet too and it started to suck.

AOL 3.0 came out the following year and people surged online. There were tons of small start-ups (usually old BBS providers) offering cheap, no frills connections to the internet too. Lots of kids started learning HTML and creating their own web pages.

Geocities (the old Geopages) started offering free web space to build ‘online communities’. While it was possible that a geocities site wouldn’t suck, it was really rare that one wouldn’t. The typical Geocities page was a mess of big slow-loading background graphics with impossible to read text of some color with no contrast to the background over it. Then came the flashing animated gifs and pop-ups and blinking text.

Most decent sites were still on University or government servers. What was decent? Sites with content, information, links to other useful pages. What was indecent? High School kids putting their personal diary online to share rude comments about their social studies teacher, or a bit later when snippets of code began to circulate, a lame ‘guestbook’ where visitors could ‘sign in’ and leave a terse comment ostensibly for the person visited, but really more as an enticement to others to view their own page (early viral marketing).

Well, Myspace is the 2003 version of Geocities.

The personal pages are just as hack, the communications are just as shallow, a ‘place for friends’ is a misnomer. The site is not designed to foster true communication between friends, it encourages quick one liners. It’s the web version of that annoying email forward your clueless friend sends to everyone in their address book.

Myspace is a lot like the High School experience I hated. The cliques, the superficial-ness, the adolescent practical jokes, public humiliation of anyone not in the ‘cool group’ – it’s all there.

One might argue that everything on myspace are aspects of real American society being reflected online, but I think that a different design would elicit a different result.

Look at Slashdot or Digg – while all users have a ‘profile’, a user’s ‘karma’ or status in the community is a result of the reaction of the community to a user’s participation over time. If you don’t participate, you’re just another member, but if you do – others can rate you as a good guy or otherwise and this ‘rep’ develops over time. Others who read what you’ve written later on may find you to be of like mind and choose to follow your future conversations, or weight them more heavily. The conversations that develop on these kind of sites (and on topic specific personal blogs like that of my friend NonProphet) are generally deeper, and since friendship is based on the quality of communication between people – this is a major point.