In Dwarf Fortress, players arrive in a massive game world with a small team of dwarves and a rudimentary set of tools and supplies. The goal from there is to simply survive, a process that is complicated by the dwarves themselves, which are quirky and hard to manage.
Players don’t have specific control over each individual dwarf, so if one gets sleepy or distracted, they simply might not go to work that day. On the other end of the spectrum, if they’re criminally insane, they could make a holiday out of murdering their friends instead. That’s why many players use add-ons such as Dwarf Therapist to get inside the dwarves’ heads and noodle around. The insights gleaned can be used to re-task certain dwarves to low-stress activities or improve their living quarters in hopes of cheering them up.
That type of intervention will be complicated going forward by a new system for storing memories, which co-creator Tarn Adams said will give dwarves the ability to retain and reflect on past events for the first time.
In practice, it sounds an awful lot like how memories are formed in Pixar’s Inside Out.
Once the update goes live, each dwarf will be able to store up to eight short-term memories, which Adams describes as “emotion+event combinations that have had the highest positive or negative impact on the dwarf over the last year.” Dwarfs will regularly spend time recalling and reflecting on those events, an activity which will contribute to their stress level. Then, once an in-game year passes, a short-term memory can graduate to become one of eight long-term memories.
“Long-term memories periodically return to affect the dwarf forever,” Adams said, “until they are overwritten. Later, we might group the long-term memories according to stage of life, keeping more of them but changing their impact values over the years and also use grappling with long-term memories as a way to provide permanent personality/value changes and new life goals and so forth. For now, the existence of long-term memories will suffice as a form of personality change/character arc on its own.”
Of course, before the update could be considered for release, Adams had to test it out. So he dropped a boulder on a dwarf, killing them instantly, and let the simulation run for a year. The result? “Tantrums, depression and oblivious wandering,” he said, “so it seems to be working.”
But that’s when things got a little weird.
“When the first long-term memories were stored for one dwarf,” he said, “it was horror at seeing their lover die, grief at their lover being dead, and fright at being haunted by their dead lover, with proper impact values not likely to be overwritten any time soon, certainly not by the old culprits of seeing nice furniture and completing jobs, though those still decrease stress a little bit day-to-day when experienced and are thus good to have in a dwarf’s life. (I wasn’t aware of their relationship status when the boulder fell; that’s just how it turned out, sadly.)”