The Dwarrowdelf Project

For a while now, I’ve been working on a new development project. It all started with me thinking “You know, I bet it’s possible to do a better fluid dynamics simulation than what Dwarf Fortress currently uses” while waiting for the bus. I thought through a good bit of the problem, and came up with some ideas... But of course, I couldn’t attempt to implement them in DF since Toady keeps the source code close to his chest. (And I totally understand why, given that it’s his livelihood!)

Like any red-blooded programmer, my next thought was “Well, if I can’t do it in DF, I could write something myself and try it out there.” That lead to a lot of additional thoughts about the mechanics of NPC AIs, and so on, and so forth. I won’t go into those bits for now, because I’m still a good distance from implementing any AIs at all.

After a long and harrowing journey through the web reading about procedural content generation, I came to the following plan:

I will write some kind of roguelike that is played on the surface of a sphere. The sphere’s high-level terrain will be generated using “naturalistic” means—that is to say, techniques that use global knowledge of the map to create terrain that looks a bit more natural than a simple fractal height-map. At the low-level, terrain detail in the “gaps” between the high-level features will be filled in using fractal noise techniques.

To put it a different way: I want to produce continents (or “pseudo-continents” on a smaller sphere) in a way that makes them look like actual continents. Then, I want the player to play on a map at person scale, and in order to do that I need a system that doesn’t actually generate all of the terrain ahead of time. Why? Because the whole map at person scale would be huge. It would be too slow to generate it all at once, and also too massive for players to want to keep around.

Before I get started describing what I’ve done (and eventually, what I’m doing), I wanted to credit the major projects that I’ve been using for inspiration:

  • Dwarf Fortress, the mother of all “world-building” roguelikes. Or “fortlikes”, if you would.
  • Minecraft, which got me thinking about dynamic generation and "building" games from the point of view of a single character (instead of planning with an entourage of characters.)
  • Dungeon League, a great development blog that gave me the idea to work with a spherical world, and enough details to figure out how to do it right.
  • The Chronicles of Doryen, which spawned the fantastic libtcod library for building roguelikes. I’m not going to be using it myself, but its capabilities have given me a lot of ideas for how to do more advanced rendering without totally leaving the roguelike mold.

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