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Roses are red, violets are blue, now Dwarf Fortress can write poetry too

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Bay 12 Games, also known as the brothers Zach and Tarn Adams, is responsible for Dwarf Fortress, one of the most beguiling and inscrutable games around. Famous for its complexity, it features a rigorous set of world-generation algorithms and historical simulations that generate some of the most epic tales ever to be hidden inside the outdated interface of an ASCII game. And as of Valentine's Day it seems your dwarves are well on their way to being able to write their own poetry.

In a long forum post from Jan. 30, Tarn Adams talks about the plan to augment the games' historical simulation with epic poems. A fan named "King_of_Baboons" asked...

When a historical figure becomes a legend by defeating an evil beast, or when they become an important leader, they usually receive engravings, statues and books that concerns their heroic acts. Will such people receive a song in their honor? Maybe even a play about them?

To which Tarn replied, "We're doing songs and poems, and those have topics. Plays were in the list of things that necromancers were going to write, but I didn't get to it, and it's not currently on the plate for this release."

Since then, the poetry engine seems to have been moved up the ranks of the to-do list. But, in typical Dwarf Fortress fashion, it's not that simple.

Before individual poets can generate actual poems, the game world must procedurally generate poetic forms. Thus, Tarn has created a sample set of 30 kinds of poems that dwarves, and ostensibly other creatures, can create in a single given world. Each form is tied to a region of that world, and each appears to have its own inbuilt history.

Sample poetic forms, From Bay 12's working list, include the following:

A dramatic poetic form, originating in The Dune of Feet. The poem is divided into two distinct parts: a quintain and two couplets. Use of elision is characteristic of the form. A form of parallelism is common throughout the poem, in that certain lines have similar grammatical structures. Each line has five feet with a tone pattern of even-uneven-even.

The first part is intended to describe the past.

The second part is intended to offer a different perspective concerning current events.

A solemn poetic form intended to make an apology, originating in The Shins of Intricacy. The poem is a single couplet. Each line has six syllables. Every line of the poem has a medial caesura. The first line concerns the past. The second line concerns the future.

A ribald poetic form intended to praise a lover, originating in The Laborious Sun. The poem is a single couplet. Use of assonance, consonance and vivid imagery is characteristic of the form. The second line of the couplet uses the same placement of allusions as the first line. The second line of the couplet presents a different view of the subject of the first line. The first line has six syllables. The second line has nine syllables.

Polygon has reached out to Tarn for more information, and will report back on how these poetic forms will shape the world of Dwarf Fortress, and in what way they're tied to the upcoming procedurally generated linguistics engines, and how the game will seek to create the instrumentation used to accompany them.