Creating History Is Hard

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

I still haven’t played Dwarf Fortress, but its world-building process intrigues me:

Adams has, over the years, developed an intricate process to simulate eons of complex geologic time, a way of stacking fractal layers and blending them with algorithms to give life to each world.

The first layer plots the annual rainfall of each map location. Then a separate fractal simulates the deposition of mineral elements throughout the underground strata, giving the land itself a kind of texture. A temperature fractal is generated and rough biomes emerge as contiguous tiles on the map that contain a subset of closely related flora and fauna.

The order here is important, because in the next step — drainage — Dwarf Fortress begins to simulate the complex forces of erosion. Only after the biomes have been created can the rivers run, slashing deep valleys as they flow toward unnamed oceans. When they finally meet the sea a salinity algorithm kicks in to define the areas for swampy river deltas, alluvial islands and mangrove swamps.


In his research for the game Adams learned that in the real world when warm, wet air travels up the side of a mountain it loses moisture. Rain precipitates out creating areas like rain forests and snow capped peaks. On the other side of the mountain deserts form in areas that are called “rain shadows.”


After the map has been locked into place, the game assigns a kind of energy to each region, ranging from good to evil on a scale of one to 20. It then uses the positive and negative energy of each area to generate place names — The Ocean of Muting sit along the edge of The Jungles of Mire near the Ivory Hills — and on and on creating hundreds of uniquely named regions.

But these are just the names as translated for the player. Adams says that each area of the map has been named by one of four cultures. Human, dwarven, elvish and goblin languages are actually programmed into the game.

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