Pure, unalloyed geek

Imagine the Platonic Form of a geek-oriented game.

The author developed it in his spare time, and it is available for free. It is spectacularly ambitious, and as a result is in beta (or more likely alpha), and (despite constant development work) will be in this state forever. The graphics are simple or nonexistent, but the world-model is so complex, intricate and massive (not to mention bloated with unnecessary yet highly awesome features) that it needs a high-end computer to run smoothly.

Most of the fun of the game is playing around with the world’s mechanics, which are rich enough to allow abundant exploitation in unexpected ways. In fact, there probably isn’t a well-defined ultimate goal – although there are enough quantitative elements that experienced players can develop a good-sized e-penis. Gameplay lends itself to obsessive, addictive micromanagement.

And, of course, the Form is not easy. Apart from any bugs that result from its perpetually-unfinished condition, it is deeply unbalanced, opaque and has a complex, unintuitive interface that employs every button on an extended keyboard. There is no in-game tutorial, but the fans are geeky enough that the game has its own wiki. The game is virtually unmarketed, but does well enough through word-of-mouth to have a healthy community.

The genre is either sci-fi or fantasy, but definitely not that anime / Lord of the Rings movie / fluffy-Celtic-pagan-with-fairies fantasy that chicks like. If we’re going to do Tolkien it’s going to be hardcore Silmarillion stuff. The game is definitely not family-friendly, but this is due mostly to buckets of blood; there might be some sex, possibly, but it’s mostly implied and non-obvious and out of the way where it doesn’t make anyone uncomfortable.

Ladies and gentl- okay, who am I kidding here, gentlemen, gentlemen, gentlemen, gentlemen and possibly a lady: the Form of Pure Geek Games has an avatar upon this merely physical plane, and its name is Dwarf Fortress.

In geek-classic Cryptonomicon, geek author Neal Stephenson’s geek protagonist equated geeks with dwarves: moody, reclusive, not good at fuzzy interpersonal or aesthetic problems but capable of obsessive focus on complex technical tasks or experiments for their own sake. One of the nice symmetries about Dwarf Fortress is this convergent-motive thing: the dwarves are the sort of people you’d expect to spend untold time labouring over an intricate series of floodgates in order to sink a magma caisson through an aquifer, or rigging up a massive pump system powered by windmills in order to create an artificial waterfall, or building a gigantic pyramid for no reason other than to see if it could be done; and so are the only people who are able to put up with the game’s flaws for the sake of its strengths.

Expect more.

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