Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
Dwarf Fortress in 2013
View All     RSS
October 31, 2014
arrowPress Releases
October 31, 2014
PR Newswire
View All

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:

Dwarf Fortress in 2013

July 2, 2013 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next


While the topic of getting the game out to more people is up in the air, I ask Adams whether he has considered porting the game to other platforms, such as mobile or the PS Vita.

Mobile hasn't really been a possibility up to now, since Dwarf Fortress is a pretty intense game CPU-wise -- even ignoring the potential interface problems, mobile devices simply haven't been powerful enough to keep up with the vast number of calculations that the game is constantly doing. However, Adams acknowledges that "the specs are starting to get into line," so the possibility of Dwarf Fortress on a tablet is definitely closer to reality now.

As for PS Vita, he notes that "if someone approached us, we're not giving the code to anybody for any reason, so it would have to be something we could compile ourselves."

"It would also need to make sense to put it on the Vita," he adds. "Right now I've got a process that I do myself, where I compile it on Windows, compile it on Linux, and compile it on the Mac manually over here. The guy that ported it had to go through a pretty hellish process of my not giving him the full source code. He didn't get it, despite working with me for years, and basically having my complete trust. I mean, one mistake and we're in a lot of trouble with the code being out there."

Potentially signing an NDA to counter this possibility wouldn't matter to Adams. "I need to have a way to compile it, and I just have no idea how that works on [other] platforms," he adds. "I guess you download these developer SDKs. If Sony was willing to bear with me through that kind of nonsense, which I don't think they would be, to get one more game... it would take that kind of dedication. Which is why it usually comes from fans who care, and people who are willing to volunteer and go through the nightmare with me."

"So we're not against other systems, but it has to fit into the pipeline we've got, because of our restrictions," he says.

It's obvious that at this point in Dwarf Fortress' development, Adams and his brother must have received plenty of offers from publishers -- both to publish the game, and to offer the duo jobs. Adams tells me while he would never consider working for someone else ("we want to work on our own stuff, and the money doesn't matter"), he has considered signing Dwarf Fortress up with a publisher before.

"There was an offer to use the Dwarf Fortress name - sort of 'Dwarf Fortress: Subtitle' or whatever -- they wanted to brand one of their other games," he tells me. "And the amount of money on the table was six figures."

He adds, "When you look at that you think well, there's trade-offs. Does the brand get cheapened? Are you deceiving people? As long as they're clear this is not Dwarf Fortress or whatever, and this is not Dwarf Fortress with graphics, as people call a lot of things that are coming out these days. As long as you're upfront and honest, there's not technically a problem with that -- it's our brand to piss all over if we want."

Signing up with a publisher or giving Dwarf Fortress rights to another developer wouldn't necessarily be bad for the current fans either, he reasons. "I mean, if we had enough money suddenly to become independently wealthy and not worry about our health insurance anymore, then we're working on Dwarf Fortress even more than before -- who should complain about that?"

He muses, "It would take a very philosophical person interested in way down in the details of ethical behavior, I think, to find points of concern there. I mean, I wouldn't necessarily disagree with that person. But we've certainly talked about it, and considered some ramifications of that."

Those ramifications are what has held the Adams brothers back from such a deal -- namely, the pair believes that they were actually end up losing money in such a deal, rather than making more.

"If people saw that there was this other thing out there, we considered in the worst case scenario, then the contributions from people would just dry up, and we'd be sitting with this lump sum that would not have added up to 10 years' salary or whatever. So do we want the stress of having to search for a new IP, or a new angle all of a sudden? We have some name recognition to be able to do that kind of thing perhaps, although it's a very chancy thing."

Of course, the flipside is that it's not like Dwarf Fortress isn't risky enough as it is -- as Adams notes, "putting all your eggs in one basket like we have is a very chancy thing, right? I mean, it just takes a superior game to blow it all out of the water. There are no rules when it comes to copyright, or whatever."

Orc Fortress

With Adams touching on the idea of another similar game taking Dwarf Fortress to town, I asked him why he thinks no one has managed to successfully clone the game yet. There have been plenty of notable games inspired by Dwarf Fortress, of course, but none that really copied both the depth and the visual style of the title.

Adams believes that one of the main reasons his game has held its own is that other developers who are keen to create a similar product realize very quickly just as much of an undertaking it will be.

"We can't really know whether they were discouraged at the size of the undertaking, or whether it was never their intention to begin with," he adds of projects like Town, Dwarves?, and Game of Dwarves.

"Things like Clockwork Empires coming up are more ambitious. It seems to be doing a bunch of stuff, that'll be an interesting one to watch. But I'm just not sure if there's a point to emulating Dwarf Fortress completely, because it's not like we're a big market. It's not like people see our $50,000 a year and think 'Hey, I want a piece of that pie.' They'd much rather look towards things like Minecraft, where there are hundreds of millions of dollars."

On the topic of Minecraft, Adams is hugely grateful whenever Markus Persson and co. says that the game is inspired by Dwarf Fortress -- "that's probably where half of our fans come from!" he laughs.

Going back to potential cloning, or perhaps even a Dwarf Fortress-like game that does the job better, Adams says it's bound to happen sooner or later.

"We're happy we've managed to stay afloat for so long," he says. "I'm surprised that we haven't had our wings clipped by somebody. It just hasn't happened yet."

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next

Related Jobs

Activision Publishing
Activision Publishing — Santa Monica, California, United States

Tools Programmer-Central Team
Vicarious Visions / Activision
Vicarious Visions / Activision — Albany, New York, United States

VFX Artist-Vicarious Visions
Magic Leap, Inc.
Magic Leap, Inc. — Wellington, New Zealand

Level Designer
Amazon — Seattle, Washington, United States

Sr. Software Development Engineer - Game Publishing


Jonathan Jennings
profile image
Honestly sounds like the dream situation ,content, working on the game of your dreams with a devoted fan base that helps cover your costs , and no end in sight. Great article! It only makes sense such unusual and unique game would be born Forman unusual and unique process!

Nick Harris
profile image
I have spent 20 years making productivity boosting tools so that I can make my game in 10.

If I hadn't gone to all that effort I wouldn't finish the game within my lifetime...

Peter Eisenmann
profile image
Seriously? Care to tell us more?

Jeff Leigh
profile image
I am curious as well. I've spent several years creating my own game engine and content creation suite (including a complete mesh editor) so that my Internet-based team could be more productive.

Finding a rugged self-made hammer in a blacksmith's toolbox is a far more interesting story than finding one purchased at the local hardware store.

Maria Jayne
profile image
The Ascii artwork is the primary reason I gave up trying to figure this out, I just couldn't identify so many different characters within the context of a layered 2d plane. Since I couldn't assimilate that, despite me enjoying its premise and managing to dig out some basic rooms in the side of a mountain, I lost interest.

I did think there were no games I couldn't play because of bad graphics, but for me, this is the line I draw. Consequently I did buy the Paradox attempt at recreating it known as A Game of Dwarves. It was fun for a while but lacked the complexity.

It's cool these guys have a dedicated fan base that will support their development so thoroughly, I do feel though this type of game would do far better with improved visuals. When you look at how popular Civilization and similar style management games are, there is an open market for managing a fantasy settlement.

Elwood Blues
profile image
2D (actual) graphic tilesets are available and officially supported, btw.
There's also a "Lazy newb pack" that really simplifies player's life.

Steven Christian
profile image
Even with the lazy newb pack, the map generation is still in ASCII, and the UI is still as confusing and inconsistent as hell.
Also, moving up and down slices is still of course the same.

I prefer the style of Rimworld, with a proper control method and a zoomable top-down view that doesn't obscure the play area with isometric walls (like other DF clones).
Also, a single layer helps greatly to see all of the action easily.

Tynan just need to get to work adding more depth.

august clark
profile image
The Ascii is probably the least difficult thing to come to grips with and the abundance of graphical tilesets (there is even a isometric visualizer included in the Lazy newb pack) makes that a non-issue for most people.

No, what this game takes is time, and the patience to persevere over an aggressively bad and schizophrenic UI, and patience to learn and understand hundreds of systems being simulated at once. If you can do that, it is one of the most amazing experiences in gaming. If you cannot, go read some of the succession LPs of this game (Brozestabbed, Gemclod, and Boarmurdered all come to mind) and live vicariously through the failures of others!

Jesse Tucker
profile image
I agree 100% with august. It took me 20 minutes to begin to feel comfortable with the ascii, but many days to even begin to get used to the UI. It drives me nuts when UIs are inefficient and cumbersome, and it ruined the experience for me.

Jack Nilssen
profile image
Tarn Adams is my hero.

Michael Arevalo
profile image
Tarn and Zach inspire me to be a better developer and give me hope that I may someday also make a living doing what I love, even if it doesn't make me a millionaire.

Kujel s
profile image
We don't need to be millionaires, just successful enough to live comfortably as we work on our craft ;)

Matt Cratty
profile image
Honestly, I played DF for the first time last year, and its better than just about anything I've played since 2004 (with probably 3 exceptions).

Its so old school that ... um... insert joke here.

I love the craft, detail, and community that has build up around this cult classic that I hope will never die.

Nathan Ridley
profile image
"It's not like people see our $50,000 a year and think 'Hey, I want a piece of that pie.' They'd much rather look towards things like Minecraft, where there are hundreds of millions of dollars."

The brothers have this massive, massive blindspot regarding the importance of the UI. That $50,000 cap they perceive is barely scratching the surface of what would be possible for them if they made the damn thing a bit more accessible to the average person. It's great that their small niche base loves ASCII art and doesn't mind fumbling their way through a hostile interface in order to play the game, but that is the primary reason the game stays confined within a tiny niche corner of the gaming market.

They have the real possibility that if they did that seed work, even just on exposing an API into the game, as opposed to venturing into a full-on UI overhaul, that enough new people would be introduced to the game that they could hire a third developer to focus specifically on the API and UI aspects of the game, leaving them free to keep working on the bits they love.

Ben Sly
profile image
Toady has repeatedly said that they don't want to work with another developer. I don't know how much of that is rationalizing their work style's virtue, but they are quite protective of the code that has become their livelihood.

I do also get the feeling that the code is of sufficient complexity that it's going to take a long while before said new hire stopped doing more harm than good, and it might be rather frustrating for both parties to ensure that the new developer understands the brothers' vision precisely. The Adams' are working on it slowly and painfully but steadily; tampering with the working dynamic that is so unique among game development might easily backfire.

Rob Graeber
profile image
The API idea is interesting, but it seems clear they aren't in it for the money.

Rob Graeber
profile image
The API idea is interesting, but it seems clear they aren't in it for the money.

Brian Schaeflein
profile image

I enjoyed DF, but the schizo UI was just overly burdensome. I gladly traded away features that were frustrating to use in favor of fewer features that were simpler to use. Considering Gnomoria gets patched just about every week with new features, I have no qualms about my choice.

Jason Deathmunger
profile image
I will always play DF. I will teach my children to play DF. BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD.

Daneel Filimonov
profile image
Will you name your first-born Urist? :P