More Dwarf Fortress, Less The Sims: Medieval

I’ve been around and a big fan since just after the kickstarter.

This has been my number 1 “dwarf fortress - but with a gui” candidate hopeful until recently.
It’s not so much that some other game has come along, it’s more that I’m starting to question the direction of the game or lack there of. It seems like a lot of content is still missing from the KS, and the last several updates have all been about hearthlings having conversations. I did read the update how you guys will be updating less to look at the direction of the game but IMO it needs more Dwarf Fortress and Less The Sims. I thought with Riot getting involved with your company it might be good for this game, but it seems they just wanted to steal the brothers grim to work on a different game and leave this one to die. I don’t want to change my review to a negative, but I’m getting closer with every ridiculous “this update is entirely adding things they talk about.” How is this even ok? isn’t this just copy pasta from another block of code to give them a new topic or are you giving them actual sentence structure and syntax for these topics?

And why at this stage are people still getting trapped in buildings ?

Step up guys. step up. You’re really squandering a lot of potential and community support.


There’s, like, a month worth of Desktop Tuesdays explaining how the conversation system is not simple copy/paste work, but a complex re-working of core systems which Stonehearth badly needs in order to live up to its potential.

Have a think about what people remember about Dwarf Fortress – it’s not “hey I built a castle it was really easy and intuitive”, it was “I built a castle, and the Dwarves did things that made me feel like I’d built a real castle for real people”. Players tell stories about what happened in, around and to that castle, not about the process of building it (unless, like, some random Dorf got stuck and ran out of beer, so they cancelled a job and started a conga line of dropped doors; or something like that.)

Stonehearth doesn’t have that deeper layer of storytelling or interaction yet – the hearthlings will build the things you tell them to build, and that’s about all they’ll do. The “end game” there is just building a bigger and bigger town until your computer can’t handle it anymore, and then… I guess start again?

To really live up to the expectations created by Dwarf Fortress, Stonehearth needs to generate stories regardless of whether you have a huge city or a tiny cottage. That requires deeper levels of connection between the different systems, and between the hearthlings themselves. Without that, we just have a castle building simulator, not a successor to any of the legends of a game like Dwarf Fortress.

What absolutely would have squandered the potential of Stonehearth would have been to release a half-baked, feature-lite game with no endgame and no sense that the hearthlings matter. Team Stonehearth are taking the time to properly bake their game, and make sure our waiting pays off with the best possible game we can get, not just something rushed out the door for the sake of capitalising on a spike in interest. After all, look at how long Dwarf Fortress has been in progress for – it definitely wouldn’t be the game it is now if it hadn’t been for ToadyOne’s decision to do things right rather than do them quickly. And in much the same way, team Stonehearth decided to take the time they really need, knowing that it will pay off eventually.

The conversation system is already an example of team Stonehearth stepping up. It may not look so dramatic, but they’ve up their game here and committed to producing a better, more polished, more interesting and more unique game. It’s going to take a longer than previously expected, but be much much richer as a result.


I’m not asking them to finish the game this second and rush it out the door, what I would like to point out is that about the only KS extra credit feature that’s made it in is the engi, No other races, the end classes, none of it. And the good will is already being squandered the top two reviews are negative on steam and a lot of the new ones coming in are red too, and it’s because it’s been 4 years and we’re having this discussion.

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I’ve been feeling this way for a while now. That being said, this conversation system is a necessary space waster, as I realized here. But at the same time, for as large as they’ve grown, and with how they’ve really stagnated in comparison when it comes to overall development, I worry your thoughts may be the case. Honestly, I can’t do anything about it except sit and hope. But when half of the promised features are no longer part of the planned development, as well as other objects that are already done just sit in code, it doesn’t make you feel warm and fuzzy.

To add to this a little, if you ever watch the dev streams, they really give the vibe that the old team and path are out the window, and a new team has taken over, trying to play catch up with their own ideas.

You’re right that it’s not a copy and paste system, but at the same time, it’s not very deep either. As it stands, it’s all random equation of Pick emotion, add the picture of an object, pick end emotion. There’s no personality to it, and thus there’s no life to the Hearthlings. Unless this system adds to a bigger build and goes somewhere, it’s not really that big of a feat.

According to the stream tonight and a couple nights ago, the Kickstarter Pets are in there, but aren’t planned for release until the very end. Otherwise, the rest is “on the roadmap” (which feels like a copout statement anymore).


The thing is, choosing to prioritise the kickstarter stretch goals over the core game would still be rushing. It would lead to a repeat of the situation were’s currently looking at, where there’s a lot of content but none of it meshes together.

People are going to get upset that the game isn’t finished, but that can’t be allowed to sway the devs’ plans if they hope to make the game they actually intend to. Believe me, I’ve watched many great games go down the rabbit hole of “oh, people want this feature now, even though we don’t think it fits, let’s add it and keep them happy…” all of those games, ALL OF THEM which went down that rabbit hole have ended up much, much worse off because of it. By contrast, the games which I’ve seen do well in Early Access/similar programs have done well because they did what was best for the game rather than what was easiest at the time to keep the fans happy.

In fact, probably the most successful game I’ve played through Early Access was Don’t Starve and it’s various expansions; and I remember a few times where Klei outright said “no, we’re not making that change/adding that thing, stop asking.” The exception, of course, was born of a bunch of fans actually joining the company as interns, and making a proof-of-concept themselves in their spare time. I’m not sure if team Stonehearth are able to replicate that experiment, but there’s nothing stopping us from having a go at least.

If players are really upset about the way things are going, we have the opportunity to try something to offer a better solution. Prove the argument, and it will carry a lot more weight. However, when people start complaining about how long a game is taking, and getting up in arms that ‘the community is dying/losing faith’, it never helps the game. Believe me, I’ve been through that rodeo many times now.

As an example: if you want to see hearthlings get stuck in buildings less, you can make suggestions about how to prevent them getting stuck, or you suggest new techniques the developers might use (IDK, maybe there’s some new pathfinding tech somewhere? Perhaps there’s an old game which handles a similar case really well but isn’t well known?), or you can try to write your own pathfinding service to improve upon the one in the game. But simply calling out “it’s not working the way I want, you should make it better!” doesn’t give the dev team anything to go on. The only thing it can do is create a controversy over the pathfinder. And that’s something you really don’t want to do – because those controversies have a way of gathering momentum, attracting dissatisfied players to them, and creating a roadblock or a spiralling argument with no solutions. Again, I’ve watched this happen over and over – someone complains about a certain feature without a constructive criticism or any attempt at a solution, and it just creates an echo chamber for people to whinge into. Eventually, that whinging breaks out of the echo chamber, and starts scaring away supporters (either because they think the game is “bad” due to negative echos, or because they’ve seen this happen before and want to avoid the lost-cause argument.)

Complaing about negative reviews, and using that as “evidence” for why your personal dissatisfaction apparently needs to be adressed as a priority, is not only counter-productive… when enough people do the same, it kills off brilliant games which were otherwise doing just fine. Remember that our actions here provide an exemplar for other community members. It’s the reason I try never to post a complaint without at least suggesting a way to resolve it, and why I generally avoid contentious topics or threads which seem like pure complaint.

However, like you I’ve noticed some creeping dissatisfaction lately, and a small hop in negative reviews. And that’s prompted me to make my own, hopefully constructive, criticism – not of the devs, but of specific behaviours within the community. This is, hands down, one of the most welcoming and cooperative communities I’ve been part of, so I’m probably over-reacting… but like I said, I’ve seen things take an abrupt turn for the worse when complaints begin to echo off each other without providing any solutions or new lines of thinking.

The devs definitely know that players want to see those stretch goals implemented ASAP, and @sdee has already pointed out in the recent series of DT’s that the team would love to work on those stretch goals but the game requires something different right now. Complaining about that decision is, ultimately, complaining about a lack of faith in the dev teams’ vision or process. If you’ve reached that stage… well, unfortunately, there’s not much you can do except wait and see how the game turns out. If the dev team try to change their plans to keep everyone happy, nobody will end up happy with Stonehearth. So, my suggestion to you @Demon would be to wait and see what Stonehearth turns into, and maybe look into the modding community to make any changes you want to see which might not agree with where the dev team are going. You may be able to make some constructive criticisms once the “end game” is made a bit clearer, but for now there’s not much to be constructive about regarding the “shape” or direction of the game – that’s precisely what’s being worked on right now, but the results are yet to come in.


I get his. I can see how a remit changes as time goes on.
In fact as a project develops you sometimes come to realise that you set completely the wrong goals in some areas of the remit. Setting “surface” level goals without realising that they were reliant on sub structures and other elements that you had not even accounted for. Yes you could put them in in a “tick box” manner. Or you could review your entire project plan, and that’s what I feel has happened here.

Dwarf Fortress being used as a comparison often brings up the “but it’s had 14 years to develop” argument.
While that’s true, let’s remember that it also the work of one man (with a bit of inspiration from his brother here and there). So if we are talking “man hours in the project” rather than “how many years has this been a thing” then I think Stonehearth is probably already had a darn site more hours put into it than DF - by a factor of 2 or 3 x I might imagine.

I see here and Steam people changing their opinions and reviews to negative, and this seems to be an increasingly rapid trend, and that’s due to the almost 5 years this has taken so far and the open way the devs talk about needing so many more months to get the “core game” down before they can start building on the rather large list of promised features on the Kickstart stretch goals list that were reached. Not to mention the first iteration of the roadmap which has vanished.

While some hope this game will become everything they hoped, an increasing number are seeing this as a white elephant that they might as well delete from their hard drive. A missed opportunity and another example of an early access village builder game that let them down. And let’s face it there are enough of those to sink a small ocean liner.

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I’ve been thinking this ever since ‘conversations’ have been a thing, and I haven’t been able to put words to accurately describe my thoughts until you did that for me in the title.

When people pledged to this game in the KS days (I was not one of those people, however) they were drawn in on the prospects of building a city, a fortress, a castle; populating their creation with crafters and soldiers; surviving in a hostile world, filled with goblins and all sorts of monsters; and being able to play as several different factions and inhabit a world they could explore, find dungeons and ruins in, and perhaps even find other settlements and/or trade with other NPCs.

The KS goals were based around expanding this mythos and world of Stonehearth, such as the Magma Smith and Geomancer, around what was already shown. It’s clear from the past couple of alphas that the game has strayed from this path. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a dev team wanting to make the game of their choice, but if they set out a path to travel and build a following on that path, they should follow that road before laying down their own. Don’t completely abandon what you sold your original fanbase on just because you got a cool new idea that you want to put in your game. Of course, it’s completely up to you, but you’ll find that disregarding your customers is going to be a very bad idea.

So if my opinion were worth anything, I’d say that the developers should finish the ‘core game’ - engine updates, optimization, generation, building, town progression, building and filling and fleshing out the world. Let us explore the arctic tundras with the Northmen, transform our terrain with Geomancers, and build the sprawling castles of our dreams, before adding in “quality of life” features like an expanded social system, appeal, and the like. You’re still building the game you want, but you’re also giving your fans what you’ve promised.

Balance it out a bit, if you don’t want to leave your new ideas until the end. Add in a base feature or two, maybe an engine/optimization update, then expand on Appeal. Release the Vikings upon the land and then focus on giving Hearthlings complex social lives and relationships.

It’s your game, but it’s our game too. The time and effort you put into developing the game is worth the same as our money and dedication. Think about what pleases the fans, and pleases you.

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Well, Dwarf Fortress has plenty of “sims” elements – each dwarf has a personality, likes, dislikes, happiness levels, etc. That’s a core gameplay element of any DF clone and I’m glad they’ve included it.

That said. … yeah now that that’s done the next thing I’d really like to see them finish up is flowing water, rivers, and the advanced mechanics stuff like drawbridges and dams and waterwheels/windmills etc.

One thing I will agree on is the game needs more monsters – like, more than five. Ten or twenty would be good.

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As far back as I can remember (and yes I’ve been around since the KS) the game has been centered around the hearthlings. You build a town for them to live in and you were never supposed to have more hearthlings than you could get to know and remember. They were supposed to be individuals, not cute robots. Giving them traits, conversations, likes and dislikes is part of this, so no, it’s not a new idea that make them stray from the original path.
Giving them opinions about the size of rooms gives purpose to your building design (and I hope they add more stuff like that).
The appeal system gives purpose to every decorative item in the game as well as giving you a reason to not let your hearthlings live in a big stockpile. It makes sense to add this before adding more items.
If anything we should complain about them not realizing the need for these features earlier. It would have saved them a whole lot of work, rebuilding stuff, and it would have saved them from this period where players that don’t see the value of these features thinks that all “real” development has stoped and the game is dying.

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Everyone wants something different to be sure, and in the end I’m sure some percentage of people simply wont be happy no matter what we make. But despite that, I would like to make as many people as happy as I can ; ).

Agon is absolutely right about the traits/conversations/likes/dislikes/etc. is trying to help us reach the original goals of building a city/fortress/castle (at least we see it that way ; )). While you may not see much value in a hearthling liking or hating a chair or a table, its a lever that we can play with - for example: maybe a hearthling really loves the items in their home, and then a monster goes into their room and makes a mess of everything - lowering the quality of the items. Next thing you know, the hearthling runs around town telling everyone they can see that their beautiful house is now ruined. Now you the player have a reason to care and a cute story was made ; ).

BTW - that’s a hypothetical situation, I don’t think we’re really going to make monsters that do that. But maybe, who knows ; ). The point is just that these underlying features (which are a little boring on the surface) allows us to give the player short and long term goals that really matter overtime.

Agon is also right that if we had thought of them to begin with we would have saved ourselves a lot of trouble… but them’s the breaks ; ). Hindsight is always 20/20.

I also agree with @Hieronymous, we simply need more creatures. I don’t know if I’ll get to ten or twenty : /, (that’s a lot!) but I’m gonna try and make a few over the break. I’ll show you guys in the next stream I do (maybe… a little over a month from now? or maybe sooner on someone else’s stream), but I can’t promise on a number or I would be lying ; D.


The more I look at early access game development, the more I see recurring patterns.

From someone looking at the bigger picture, It makes sense to add interlocking systems like conversations and traits and likes and dislikes, to get that dwarf fortress like fidelity.

but not everyone can see that. Some can. But more often than not, their voices will be drowned out over time. And as much as you might want to fight it and try to reassure and tell people why certain things are important, at the end of the day it would require a fundamental change in the human condition to get people to see things your way at this point. Working with rather than against the mob is something that I’m gradually starting to see as the best course of action, as an inevitability much like the tide, the wind and so on. The most important thing for the stonehearth team to remain in good graces right now is to deliver, or at least show they are delivering on the original promises as soon as possible, and let there be no compromise.

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One thing that’s hard to tackle is that “Dwarf Fortress” is a supremely complex game – it’s a gestalt of a lot of apparently unnecessary, redundant, and time-wasting systems. It seems like a waste of time to model an individual personality for each dwarf, to use a complex injury model instead of hit points, to model ten thousand years of world history before you generate each fort, etc. – and, if you look back on the Dwarf Fortress forums, you will find literal decades of people complaining that Toady was wasting time working on all those things when they thought he should have been doing [X] instead. But the net result of all those things is that you get emergent unique behaviors in every fort that tell a story.

See, e.g., Boatmurdered: Dwarf Fortress - Boatmurdered . If you look at what happened in that Let’s Play, the eventual fall of the fort was a multi-step process:

  1. Raids by enemy goblins and swarms of feral elephants become too much for the fort to handle via standard combat
  2. Player designs an engineering system to flood the outside world with lava when a lever is pulled
  3. That in turn starts fires which accidentally get out of control
  4. the out of control fires cause a mood spiral which causes everyone in the fort to go insane or berserk

That’s a great story but look how many different systems are interacting there! You have the swarming elephants because of biome and environmental mechanics. You have flowing water/lava mechanics. You have engineering mechanics. You have spreading fire mechanics. You have mood happiness/unhappiness and relationship mechanics. Almost all of that’s pure background stuff – the only part the player has direct control over is the engineering (even dwarf mood is controlled only indirectly).

If Stonehearth is going to approach that kind of experience, then the Dev team has to spend a bunch of time working on building background depth in ways that will initially seem pointless. The conversation and appeal systems may seem like Sims-esque wastes of time, but happiness and sadness systems are an additional gameplay loop that feed into combat, fort maintenance, etc. (“my soldiers are too sad to fight”, etc). as the Boatmurdered example demonstrates.

That said, yeah, I went back and looked at the kickstarter goals and I would like my baby mammoth and maybe even my baby dragon. Model an elephant and reskin it with fur and that’s a two for one!


Too sad to think that most people would see this as:

1 Mob invasion is unbalanced, game is too hard.
2 - 3 Mechanics are broken, things are not working the way I intended
4 Ai is dumb


You have a good point here, bruno.
In a complex game with many interlocking systems, you’ll get situations where players don’t immediately know why things happen the way they do. Maybe something to combat this could be making investigation of problems something players are nugded to do, somehow. Basically try to turn the reaction from being confronted by a problem from:

Why does this happen, what the ****, this is bullshit!


Ah shit, that’s annoying. How did this happen in the first place? Is there a good reason for this.

The dev’s already try to do this by making most things visible, but what I mean is an aditional layer of investigation, where the player is encouraged to find stuff out.


This is the such a great example!!! So many of the complaints and negative reviews on Steam are folks that don’t understand that there’s a reason why they’re working on more background systems and less features. Even though the devs flat out said the purpose of all this was to tie all the planned features together. There’s a method to the madness, but everyone is such an expert these days that they know the absolute best way to develop this game.

I totally agree that it’s difficult when so many folks are dead set on ignoring what is spelled out plainly for all to see. I liked your comment at first, but I disagree about giving in to mob mentality and the devs just delivering on generic KS promises. We are seeing the very real negative side effects of developers choosing to go EA. The reasonable voices in the community have to remain steadfast, or we’ll end up with a soulless game of cobbled together features that might be good for a round or two, but ultimately ends up just “collecting dust”.

This kind of reminds me of FolkTale. Slow development, looked amazing, folks started complaining, pretty much all the reviews went negative, and the devs finally said F it and yanked the game. Could be dead, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the game popped up in a couple of years finished or under a different name with a big middle finger to all the haters. Then again I would not blame the devs at all for taking the money and moving on.

Since the triple A developers just push crap out as fast as possible and use live launches as open betas it’s really affected the community. While a lot of folks complain about it, it has gotten to the point where a generation of gamers now feel like that’s acceptable and are pissed when companies follow a more traditional timeline. Remember when you rarely got a screenshot or were excited a popular gaming magazine (you know the paper kind) had an article with a few tidbits or a dev interview about the concept and even though the game was still years away from beta you were excited? Kiss those days goodbye. We want it when we want it and it better be exactly how we thought it was going to be or the developers are idiots, all the talent has left the teams, and they’re purposely trying to rob us of life and limb along with our money. I’m not bitter, just jaded… :glum:


Yeah, in some ways DF’s interface gives it an “advantage” in that

  1. the developer can add infinite new layers of detail without worrying about things like “bugs” or “graphics”, and

  2. anyone who fights their way through the interface isn’t going to be fazed by unbalanced or difficult mechanics; it’s a self-screening design.

Stonehearth’s more accessible, so it needs to be more accessible, and clearly explain and indicate to players what’s going on behind the scenes, etc.

Still, though – if they can get Stonehearth to a point where a fort can fail and collapse in the same sort of way Boatmurdered did, they’ll have successfully captured “dwarf fortress with graphics”, imho. In practice, though, that’s going to mean a lot of background work – more enemies (elephants, etc.), more engineering and water flows (dams? Pumps? lava flows?) , more natural disaster type events (FIRE!!!), and the mood spiral (which they’re working on and all this work with relationships and appeal etc. feeds into).

There are a few other things that would be nice to have too – art generation that reflected the history of the fort (say, statue-crafting that imported the image of particular hearthlings doing particular noteworthy things, etc.), maybe a slightly more tactical combat system (say, real formations, hammers with knockback, pikes with longer reach, etc.). Overall though I’ve been watching since the kickstarter and Stonehearth has been making consistent progress all along (even if sometimes it seems like asymptotic progress).


Is it possible to replace an object (for exampe a tree) with a burning tree?
Or add “invisble wall mounted lamps” to all the walls of the bulding and destroy it after a sertan tieout?
I think it’s a way to implement fire mechanics. But so many light sources will do no good to the perfomance!

Heh, I recently made a strong argument for “Lets add fire to the game” and even though the engineers originally sad “that’s just crazy”, I kept leaning on them to explain why. So here’s what they said (translated through an artist’s brain):

Making the visual of fire look reasonable is not terribly hard (though still a lot of work), i.e. getting a ‘thing’ to look like it is on fire, spread fire to somewhere else after a certain amount of time, and eventually die out. However, that’s not what the hard part about what fire is, the hard part is: how do hearthlings/creatures/plants/furniture/buildings/water interact with that visual. That’s where stuff gets really crazy and requires TONS of intricacies that I didn’t even think about until we actually walked through some of the problems (thanks @ayazar and sorry for being annoying about the question ; )). In a nutshell, the interaction multiplies the work required by something like a factor of 10, and sadly, that’s what fire is, fire is the interactivity with the world, which pushes fire down pretty low on priorities… shrug, but that’s how things go : /.



For my own understanding, can you give me one practixal example of the crazyness involved.

We already have fire, look at the fire arrows, that set enemies on fire.
What they are talking there is probably not just an visual effect, it is probably fire physics, like what they did with the water, instead of going the lazy way like minecraft water