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."
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."