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Dwarf Fortress mod turns ASCII into real-time 3D

A newly updated mod for Bay 12 Games’ cult favorite Dwarf Fortress has achieved the holy grail for DF modders: a real-time isometric 3D graphics overhaul.

Until now, all graphics mods for Dwarf Fortress were only capable of overlaying new tile sets over the 2D ASCII graphics. The Stonesense visualizer for the popular DFHack mod was originally designed to generate static screenshots of your game in isometric 3D graphics that should look familiar to anyone who was a gamer in the 16-bit era.

Until recently it could only run in an external window and come alive by holding the refresh button. Through a chain of mods and tweaks created by the community (and detailed by modder Japa Illo for Wired), Stonesense’s main developer Caldfir was finally able to overlay the isometric visualization directly onto the game itself this past June.

Released in 2006, Dwarf Fortress‘s defiantly lo-fi ASCII graphics and obtuse user interface make it look more like one of the ’80s roguelikes that partially inspired it. Underneath its underwhelming exterior, though, is one of the most sophisticated simulation engines in modern gaming. In the main gameplay mode you manage an enterprising band of dwarven settlers in a procedurally-generated fantasy world, carving out a home and trying to thrive.

Brothers Zach and Tarn Adams devoted all of their effort toward building the most elaborate and thorough simulation of a fantasy world that has ever existed. Each game generates everything from centuries of history, dynamic weather, and elaborate geological formations down to the particular alcohol proclivities of individual dwarves. The game has become something of a shibboleth for indie gamers who value depth and gameplay over graphics, and it is frequently used as a reference point by the countless independent developers it has inspired.

The newly-enhanced visuals are perfectly timed to capitalize on renewed interest coming with the game’s first major update in 2 years, which is set to roll out this week. You can download Dwarf Fortress for free from the developers’ website.