Dwarf Fortress

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Dwarf Fortress
Df logo.png
Developer(s) Tarn Adams
Publisher(s) Bay 12 Games
Designer(s) Tarn Adams
Zach Adams
Platform(s) Windows, Mac OS X, Linux
Release date(s) 8 August 2006
Genre(s) Construction and management simulation, roguelike
Mode(s) Single player
Distribution Download

Dwarf Fortress (officially called Slaves to Armok: God of Blood Chapter II: Dwarf Fortress) is a part construction and management simulation, part roguelike, indie video game created by Tarn and Zach Adams. Freeware and in development since 2002, its first alpha version was released in 2006. The primary game mode is set in a procedurally generated fantasy world in which the player indirectly controls a group of dwarves and attempts to construct a successful and wealthy underground fortress. It received attention mainly for its complexity, difficulty and for it being a two-member project surviving solely on donations. It was selected in 2012 among other games to be featured in the Museum of Modern Art to show the history of video gaming.

The game has text-based graphics and is open-ended with no main objectives. Before being played, the player has to generate worlds with continents, oceans and histories documenting civilizations and beasts are simulated. The main game mode, Fortress Mode, consists of selecting a suitable site from the generated-world, establishing the fortress, combating threats like goblin invasions, generating wealth and taking care of the dwarves. The second game mode, Adventure Mode, is a turn-based, open-ended roguelike. The combat system is anatomically detailed with combat logs describing organs getting pierced, fat getting bruised and limbs getting severed. The dwarves are modeled down to their individual personalities.

Prior to Dwarf Fortress, Tarn Adams was working on a project called Slaves to Armok: God of Blood which was an isometric 3D role-playing game. By 2004, Adams decided to shift from the original Armok to Dwarf Fortress after the former became difficult to maintain. Adams calls Dwarf Fortress his life's work and said in 2011 that version 1.0 will not be ready for at least another 20 years, and even after that he would continue to work on it. The game got a cult following and creative interpretations of gameplay victories or losses were posted on various online forums. The game influenced Minecraft; its emergent gameplay, text-based graphics, low commercial success, strange anecdotes like occasional heroic stories or intricate details were noted by the reviewers. As there is no way to win the game, every fortress, no matter how successful usually gets destroyed somehow and to encourage experimenting further through this, prompted the unofficial community phrase: "Losing is Fun!"


Overview and game modes[edit]

Dwarf Fortress has three primary game modes; it takes place in worlds created by the player where most of the elements are randomly generated.[1] Fortress Mode is an indirect control, construction and management simulation of a colony of dwarves.[2][3] There are no objectives, with the player being free to decide how to go about managing the colony and making them interact with the environment, thus making it an open-ended and sandbox-style game. Since there is no way to win, it only ends when the entire colony is defeated by the various possible threats. The visuals are text-based using code page 437 characters in various colors as graphics;[4] it consists of letters, numbers and symbols. Dwarves are represented by different colored smiling faces, a cat and dog will be a white "c" and brown "d", while a giant spider will be a grey "S".[5]

Adventure Mode is a turn-based, open-ended roguelike where the player starts off as an adventurer.[3][6] In Legends Mode, players can view maps, histories of each civilization and any figure who has lived or died in the generated world. Any noticeable achievement made by the player in any of the two game modes is recorded in the Legends.[7] A testing arena is also present, where players can simulate battles between selected units in various conditions.[7][8]

World generation[edit]

A world being generated and the years being counted. Each game needs to be played in such generated worlds.

The first step in Dwarf Fortress is generating a playable world; only one game can be played per world at a time.[7] The player can adjust certain parameters governing size, savagery, mineral occurrences and the length of history.[9] The map shows symbols representing roads, hills, towns and cities of the various civilizations, and it changes as the generation progresses. A midpoint displacement algorithm generates the world.[7]

The process involves procedurally-generated[1] basic elements like elevation, rainfall, mineral distribution, drainage and temperature, using fractals (which give it an overall natural look).[10] For example, a high-rainfall and low-drainage area would make a swamp. Areas are thus categorized into biomes, which have two variables: savagery and alignment.[11] They have their own specific type of plant and animal populations. The next phase is erosion—which the drainage tries to simulate. Rivers are created by tracing their paths from the mountains (which get eroded) to its end which is usually an ocean; some form into lakes. The salinity field defines oceans, mangroves or alluvial plains. Names are generated for the biomes and rivers.[11] The names depend on the area's good/evil variable (the alignment) and though in English, they are originally in one of the four in-game languages of dwarves, elves, humans and goblins.[10]

After a few minutes the world is populated and its history develops for the amount of in-game years selected in the history parameter. Civilizations, races and religions spread and wars occur,[12] with the "population" and "deaths" counters increasing.[7] The ticker stops at the designated "years" value, at which point the world can be saved for use in any game mode. Should the player choose to retire a fortress or gets defeated, this world will persist and will become available for further games.[9]

Fortress Mode[edit]


The game uses text symbols for graphics. For example, a dwarf is a colored smiling face and various other letters represent animals. Here, dwarves and livestock around their wagon of supplies can be seen.

When Fortress mode is selected, the player is given the option to choose the embark location in the world. The player can consider the environment, elevations, biome, soil types and mineral concentrations[13][14] which can pose significant challenges to the development or survival of the fortress.[9] Customizing the colony's supplies, domestic animals and skills are available, but each dwarves' mental and physical attributes are randomly generated.[15] The game describes in detail each dwarf's physical appearance, like hair and facial features.[15] The mental abilities, individual preferences and desires are also randomly generated. Each dwarf's relationships with others and the deities they worship can be viewed on their separate menu.[13]

The player embarks with the expedition team (seven dwarves, their livestock and supplies), but does not have direct control over them. In order to construct and operate the fortress, the player has to designate specific tasks to be performed and the dwarves will go about it.[14] They can be assigned any labors, but their work still depends on their relative skill with it.[16] Labors and skills develop based on their individual experience with the associated task. Some of the task categories are stone-working, woodworking, metalworking, farming-related and crafts-making. Similarly, there are military-related roles, combat-related skills and positions.[13] It is important for the operation and survival of the fortress, to establish wood, stone and the farming-related industries in the beginning.[17] Activities take place in workshops which need to be constructed; for example, stills for brewing alcohol.[12][18] The metal industry has a very important role for any fortress because it produces weapons and armor for the military,[18] trap components for defense and high-value furniture and decorations.[19] Other industries include leather, meat and cloth, gem, glass, and clay industries.[17]

Functional mechanics[edit]

The player initially can see a top-down view of the surface-level of the fortress site; each layer of a z-axis level can be viewed when the player changes the level. An entire underground level would be seen as its entire section of terrain while a mountain at the surface level would have only its section visible with the remaining surface landscape. Thus, for digging, the player can designate, for every z-level starting from the surface, to be carved into staircases and at the final designated level, ending the staircase by making it to be dug it into a room.[20]

The geology in Dwarf Fortress is fairly accurate. Rocks like olivine or gabbro can be dug up. The top most layer usually consists of sand, clay or plain soil—this can be used for underground farming.[13] Deeper levels will be layers of rock. Minerals appear in layers or clusters around the right depth. Gems like tourmalines appear in rare clusters.[12] Water is simulated like falling sand, every space can contain up to seven levels of it. A tile having "one" level of water is the lowest while a tile with "seven" is full.[11] There is a system for simulating temperature and heat. Fire can spread, burn dwarves and furniture.[21] There are four basic seasons in an in-game year: spring, summer, autumn and winter.[19][22]

Mineral ores can be mined just like normal stone and the raw ore can be smelted to produce their corresponding metal bars. Different ores or metal bars can be alloyed together for higher quality materials. For steel production, flux stones are used to make pig iron bars and smelt it with regular iron and coal (or charcoal). Specific metal items can be melted back to their respective bars. Without steel, the alloy bronze or regular iron are the next best suitable metals to use. Bronze requires two ores or bars of tin and copper. The metal adamantine, found deep below, is extremely light but very strong, making it excellent for sharp weapons and armor. Raw adamantine can be extracted into strands and can further be either woven in cloth or smelted into wafers.[23]

Fortress management and growth[edit]

Underground farming has customized crops like "Plump Helmet" mushrooms, which can be brewed to make mushroom wine.[13] As the fortress prospers, migrants come in larger numbers from the mountainhome (the colony's home civilization) and will need further accommodation. Trading caravans, which can be from the various neighboring civilizations including the mountainhome, visit the fortress on a yearly basis and are useful for getting supplies not available in the player's fortress area.[16][18] The role of bookkeeper, manager and broker can be assigned to any dwarf during early game.[14] The bookkeeper maintains records of every item present in the fort, the manager auto-assigns jobs and the broker deals with trading caravans. The production of crafts from any material are useful for trading.[16][19][12] The caravans also come from civilizations of elves and humans but depending on the embark region and history, they may be absent or sometimes even hostile.

Dwarves need to be provided with food and drink (mostly in the form of alcohol). A dwarf will get negative thoughts for drinking plain water and even for drinking the same type of alcohol, making it necessary to grow different crops for producing different drinks.[18] A dwarf may claim ownership over a domestic animal so it becomes their pet.[24] Not having a separate bedroom can upset a dwarf. They may make friends and marry; females give birth.[19][21] Dwarves can get upset by losing their pets, friends or relatives; interacting with or seeing their corpses can aggravate this. Some other ways they can get unhappy are by sustaining injuries or having poor clothing. A frustrated dwarf may break furniture or attack others. Continuous stress will cause them to throw tantrums in the form of going berserk, getting suicidal or going insane before their eventual deaths.[15] Their quality of life can be improved by giving them luxurious personal bedrooms and a well-decorated dining room, medical care, and providing them with a variety of drinks and well-cooked meals. One of the biggest threats to a fortress is a "Tantrum Spiral": a chain reaction where a single dwarf's unhappiness can cause the entire fortress's population to start throwing tantrums.[25] It could start when one dwarf throws a tantrum and attacks another. A resulting death of any dwarf with many friends could drastically affect the happiness of many more. Thus, more dwarves may start throwing tantrums causing a cascading effect. Once a Tantrum Spiral begins, it is difficult to contain it and can result in few surviving dwarves and a destroyed fortress due to the endless tantrums.[25][12][18]

As the fortress expands and develops, new noble positions become available. While regular dwarves will be happy with simple rooms provided to them, dwarves appointed or elected to noble positions will need more luxurious accommodation. Nobles will even make demands and mandates, getting negative thoughts if they are not fulfilled. Thus, keeping the balance between listening to the nobles versus ignoring their excessive demands is needed.[26] A justice system is present to punish criminals, for example, dwarves who injure or kill another dwarf or destroy furniture. The punishment, which can be a period in jail or a beating, is meted out by the dwarf with the specific position.[27] Sometimes, a vampire dwarf, with a fake background history, may arrive with a migrant wave. The vampire may occasionally kill and feed on one of the fortress' citizens. If this is done in presence of eyewitnesses, they will accuse the vampire dwarf and the punishment for murder will be available on justice screen.[27][24]

Inspired or stressed dwarves will occasionally get into a "Strange Mood", take over a workshop, and go searching for the required materials to begin construction. If they cannot find the materials, the dwarf will wait at the workshop, demanding it till it is available.[28] The dwarf will remain isolated in that workshop from the rest of the populace as the work begins. After a few in-game weeks, the work results in a legendary artifact, an item so masterfully crafted that it is usually worth more than a beginning fortress' total wealth put together. Sometimes, the crafting dwarf will get a sudden huge gain in that skill level.[18][28] These artifacts will be added to the world's records[24] and its exact description can be viewed. Through this entire period of being in a strange mood, a dwarf will not eat, drink or sleep and will eventually go insane if prolonged due to any reason.[28][19]

Threats, defense and dwelling deeper[edit]

The first in-game year will usually consist of kobold thieves and goblin snatchers trying to infiltrate the fortress. Thieves try to steal valuables while snatchers try to kidnap dwarven children to raise them as future soldiers. Goblin and kobold civilizations near the fortress will always be hostile and a source of frequent attacks. Wildlife is usually harmless,[29][19] but depending on the fortress location, more fierce elephants, bears, unicorns, giant spiders and wolves may be a threat. Wealthier and more populated fortresses will get ambushes and sieges from neighboring goblins. Ambushes consist of around a dozen armed-goblins sneaking around the map until detected.[29] Sieges consist of armies, generally bringing experienced squad leaders, trolls and war animals as mounts. Unlike ambushes, a siege is announced once the armies enter the fortress' map. A thriving fortress will also attract certain mega-beasts like hydras, titans or dragons[5][21] and randomly generated creatures called "Forgotten Beasts". These unique creatures have randomized physical qualities and abilities, thus making them have the potential to be very powerful. Undead attack mainly in evil biomes or if the player embarks with a Necromancer Tower being near the site.[30] Undead are harder to kill, and often reanimate once they are defeated with their body parts being separate units to fight.[31]

For forming military squads, a militia commander position needs to be assigned.[18] Each squad needs a barracks to train in and a uniform (armor and a weapon) can be chosen.[19] Squads can be directly commanded to attack enemies. Barracks rooms are for their on- and off-duty training. Crossbows can be made for ranged attacks and a range with targets can be constructed for training. Walls can be carved into fortifications and be used by ranged-units during attacks.[21] Kennels can be made to train war animals like dogs. Players can use traps and engineering in addition to training an army.[24] Traps can be made by constructing mechanisms and using metal or wood to construct large weapons like spikes, axe blades or cages. More complex lever-operated and pressure plate-triggering trap components are available.[19]

Combat messages being displayed during Adventurer Mode. Each message describes weapons striking specific parts of the combatants' bodies with organs getting pierced or limbs getting severed.

The combat system in Dwarf Fortress is very detailed. Combat is displayed by viewing the log which describes each weapon striking a specific part of the character's body. Internal organs can get punctured, combatants can fall to the ground, vomit and lose body parts. The wrestling skill allows characters to hold parts of the body and perform throws or break bones.[32] Each dwarf has individually detailed limbs, each with damageable bone, fat, muscle and skin. Fat can be bruised without breaking bones and vice versa. Injuries sometimes can be permanent. There is a medical system where a hospital can be set up containing crutches for disabled dwarves, traction benches, plasters and cloth for casts and bandages, thread for suturing, and splints.[33]

Digging deeper is usually done for finding magma, which as a fuel source, removes the player's dependence on coal or wood.[34] Another reason to dig deeper is for searching for specific raw materials, ores or gems. Noble's mandates often are for certain objects be made from specific materials.[12] Magma pools or even bigger magma seas are found while digging into warm rock. Near magma seas, raw adamantine strata can be found. They are shaped like columns, which pass down through the entire magma sea. These columns are hollow and can be broken, revealing an entire shaft leading deeper into the underworld or hell. Underworld creatures are countless and can bring fortresses to ruin.[33]

Adventure mode[edit]

Adventure mode is a roguelike played in the generated world and unlike Fortress mode, it is turn-based.[24] In this mode, there is character creation similar to other role-playing games. Players can choose a name, gender and spend points on the specific combat and physical skills, where the amount depends on whether the player chooses a peasant, hero or demigod. The player's character starts off in a random town depending on their race and can interact with the various non-player characters (NPCs). Some NPCs give quests (usually to slay an outlaw or megabeast), speak about the surrounding areas or offer to follow and help the player. Players can choose to explore any part of the generated world using quick-travel mode.[7] A player can find the area of their previously-slain character, visit old abandoned fortresses, seek out the treasures and wield previously-made artifacts. Instead of quitting, the character can be retired, and depending on the player's achievements, their life events will be documented in the Legends Mode among the historical figures.[24]


Early development (2002–2006)[edit]

Further information: Tarn Adams
Tarn Adams
Tarn Adams in 2013, he has been designing games since high school
Zach Adams
His older brother, Zach, who helped him with his game projects and Dwarf Fortress

One of Tarn and Zach Adams' early works was a text based adventure game called dragslay, written in the BASIC language and influenced by Dungeons and Dragons. This was the brothers' first fantasy project. In high school, Tarn Adams taught himself the C programming language and developed it further, adding a world and goblin tribes that the player could kill. dragslay would later have an important influence on Dwarf Fortress. Adams explained his interest in fantasy games, that he had grown up "surrounded by that sort of thing...along with generic sci-fi, generic fantasy is part of our heritage."[11] It had enemies who stacked skulls outside their caves, shouted at the player's character before attacking, tracked which players they had killed—all this is present in the Dwarf Fortress Adventure mode. Years later, before entering graduate school in mathematics, Adams began working on a project he called Slaves to Armok: God of Blood. It was named after a deity in dragslay, originally named for a variable "arm_ok"—which counted the number of limbs the player still had attached. This new project was a two-dimensional (would later have 3D graphics) isometric fantasy role-playing game in which the player encountered and fought goblins.[11]

Tarn took some time off Armok to work on small side-projects, and another one which would inspire Dwarf Fortress was Mutant Miner. It was turn-based loosely inspired by a game called Miner VGA. Mutant Miner involved the player digging underneath a number of buildings, searching for ores, fighting monsters, and carrying radioactive "goo" back to the surface for application in growing extra limbs and gaining other abilities. Adams was dissatisfied with only having a single miner, and the game began to lag because it was turn-based. Adams said:[11]

...instead of rewriting the game, I thought, well maybe it should be dwarves instead. And it should be real-time to combat the [lag] problem. Now, you'd be digging out minerals in a mountain, combating threats inside, and making little workshops. Then I thought, well, how should the high score list work? We really like to keep records of plays. Not just high score lists, but expansive logs. So we'll often try to think of ways to play with the idea. This time, the idea was to let your adventurer come into the fortress after you lose and find the goblets you've made, and journals it generates.

First release (2006)[edit]

Adams began working on Dwarf Fortress in October 2002, estimating that the project would take two months, but suspended development soon after, in order to finish his previous work, Armok. He explained that it began like the 1982 arcade game Dig Dug.[35] The Adams brothers started the Bay 12 Games company, launching its website and releasing their games online. By 2004, Adams announced on his website that he would be switching his main project to Dwarf Fortress after he struggled to continue working on Armok, after all its added features became harder to maintain. Adams explained that it would be a dwarf simulation game but he kept Adventure mode as a surprise feature, which was revealed during its release.[11] At that time, his fan base consisted of a few dozen people and more came in when he made this announcement. He put up a PayPal button after a request from a fan during his birthday; similarly, a subscriber system was added later. In the next five months, they made around $300, which brought in only enough to cover the site's $20 hosting cost.[36] He dubbed the game as Slaves to Armok, God of Blood II: Dwarf Fortress; Adams explained that it was a sequel because it continued to work on much of Armok's code but said its cumbersome name was mostly "for kicks."[11]

Adams decided to focus on the game's development full-time during his first year of his math post-doctorate at Texas A&M in 2006.[37] He quit it after a year and decided to use up his $15,000 savings. The university offered him $50,000 if he would stay another year. Adams agreed and commented on this, "I woke up the morning after I gave notice, like, I can actually make this work."[35] Adams expected he would have to get a job in order to support himself and use his savings because the game had not been released yet. Development continued till 8 August 2006, when the first alpha version (version was released.[38] Donations reached $800–$1000 in the following months, this average increased gradually till they were financially stable.[37] He then decided to solely rely on donations.[39]

Development (2007–present)[edit]

Adams did not use the 3D graphics which Armok had since its development was hampered because of it. He cited the ease in development of features like fluid simulation, copyright issues with the art and more unhindered possibilities as further reasons for not using it.[34] He was used to text-based graphics and preferred it because of the traditional connection to roguelikes; he also did not want each object to have a tile representations.[34] The story-generation originated first from Armok, although present to some extent in dragslay. Tarn and Zach would write different chapters of events they would like to see, mix it together and try to implement it. Most of this story writing is handled by Zach, who also has a role in the game's development.[37] He graduated in ancient history and books like The Twelve Caesars and the writings of Assyrian kings influenced the game.[34]

Tarn Adams was influenced by roguelike games like 1985 Hack because of its randomly generated levels and detailed mechanics.[35] The body part and wound system was inspired by 1990 role-playing game Cyberpunk 2020. Adams cited Ultima series as the inspiration for his generated worlds.[11] Adams prefers modeling on individual elements, rather than entire systems, for better simulations with the outcomes being under his control. He makes lists of features, either researching online, taking from community suggestions or specific sources which are comprehensible to him.[34] During world generation, Adams made an algorithm to simulate rain shadows which occur in areas at the side of mountain deserts.[10] For the distinct personalities of each unit, he took it from NEO PI-R test of which he admitted knowing little about.[40] Simulating each individual's body led to the butchery and the wrestling system. Each dwarf navigates using the A* algorithm. The feature of carps eating dwarves was unexpected when the game was released. He had written them having the same size and carps were designed to be carnivorous.[33] Adams composed the game's flamenco-inspired music.[41]

A z-axis was introduced in the 2008 release because he felt the limitations with a single plane increasing;[11] the feature of making various constructions like walls was also added at this time.[21] In the earlier version, players could dig only into a mountainside and not underground because of having only one "z-level", thus it was considered "2D". This was significantly easier to maintain due to the limited playable area. Adams commented that this major change was further difficult to implement because of considering details like fluid mechanics and cave-ins.[34] The z-axis system removed the old form of metal availability, river-chasm-magma setup and allowed fortresses to be built underground. The April 2010 release brought 30 new underground species and in 2011, some added features were night creatures and gremlins, which have the ability to trigger a fortress' levers.[34] In 2012, more traps, abilities, syndromes, detailed cities and tombs were added in addition to vampiric and lycanthropic infections, necromancers and undead.[42][43] Minecarts as a new hauling system was added in the same year.[44] In 2014, the major update focused mainly on the generated worlds and Adventure mode.[45]

On his reliance on PayPal donations, Adams says he is content since he feels that people really like his work or they would not pay.[46] Ever since its release, donations kept increasing and remaining stable except having a sudden increase during a new version update.[37] He got $50,000 in 2010 because he released a major update after a long gap. Their expenses being low, he has maintained that he is happy as long as game is self-sustaining and will not charge for it. In 2011, he refused a job offer from an unspecified major game developer and a $300,000 deal to license the name Dwarf Fortress from another company. Adams felt that this amount would not equate to the long-term donations he would receive.[35] Adams said the he prefers working on his own and not being part of the gaming industry. In 2013, the average was $4000 a month[39] and Adams said, "Barely in the black one month, a little in the red another month. ... It's a risk I'm willing to take, and really I couldn't have it any other way."[36] He spent no money on advertising and was happy when bloggers, reviewers like former game journalist Kieron Gillen from PC Gamer and Games for Windows wrote about his game.[36]

Further updates[edit]

As of January 2015, the latest update was version 0.40.24, with it completing twelve years in development despite being in alpha version.[47] Adams says he has been able to maintain focus by shifting his attention to different aspects of the game, given its numerous varied features. While regular game development aim to perfect their work for release, he considers this a drawback since he continues exploring and learning while adding new features.[39] Wired and Rock, Paper, Shotgun noted its sometimes funny but unintentional bug fixes, with PC Gamer saying it makes an entertaining RSS feed to subscribe to.[8][21][48] Adams has two favorite bugs. One is about a farmer dwarf planting their own bed. The other involves a dwarven executioner, with broken arms unable to use his hammer, delivering punishments by biting his victims and tearing off their limbs, keeping one in his mouth for many years.[49]

Tarn Adams considers Dwarf Fortress his life's work, and has stated in 2011 that he does not expect version 1.0 to be released for at least another twenty years, and even after that, he would still continue to update it.[35] Adams calls his game an open-ended "story generator".[35] The game's code base is proprietary, and Adams has stated he has no plans to release it into the open source domain, citing the risk of them going into financial trouble.[40] He acknowledged the role of the community in supporting its development and has endorsed a number of third-party tools, visualizers and interface code. He explained he would consider releasing its source if he could not maintain it any more, seeing different game developers taking it up.[39] He says that he does not mind any modifications as long as he is not put into risk.[40]

Adams describes version 1.0 having an Adventure mode that would be a regular role-playing game, with changing plots and ordering subordinates to perform various tasks.[39] Fortress mode would have a closer relationship with the outside generated world through war, trade and diplomacy.[39] The world being bigger; he envisages the game to have much more features like magic, a tutorial and a better interface.[39] According to him, a tutorials is a burden because of the additional need of updating it.[39] He said of version 1.0, "...sitting down with a fresh DF world would be like sitting down to read a middling fantasy author you haven't read before, but with all the extras that being a video game provides, including the ability to write your own sequels."[49] Modern in-game technologies and 3D graphics were some fan requests Adams said he would never implement, yet showing ambivalence about the latter if the task was easy enough.[49] For Adams working on adding new aspects to his game, he prioritizes what he wants to see, what the community wants, and sometimes anything that catches his attention.[40]


The game received attention mainly because of its emergent gameplay, text-based graphics, complexity, poor interface and difficulty, with some reviewers describing playing the game from start as a steep learning curve—with the meaning of a difficult learning process.[14][15][35][40] It has been compared to other simulations games like Simcity and The Sims, Dungeon Keeper and roguelike games like NetHack.[12][35][48] The game has not had much influence on the gaming industry because of its non-commercial nature.[35] It being a two-man self-sustaining project, and Adams' independence and capability to follow his own ideas were highlighted.[2][7][50] Gamasutra said, "There have been few indie gaming success stories as big as Dwarf Fortress"[11] and Wired magazine, following one of its updates, described it as an "obtuse, wildly ambitious work-in-progress mashes the brutal dungeon crawling of roguelikes with the detail-oriented creativity of city-building sims."[48]

The depth and complexity were praised. Jonah Weiner from The New York Times stated, "Many simulation games offer players a bag of building blocks, but few dangle a bag as deep, or blocks as small and intricately interlocking, as Dwarf Fortress."[35] PC Gamer's Steve Hogarty commented, "Dwarf Fortress's reluctance to expend even a joule of energy in prettying itself results in astonishing hidden complexity."[12] Regarding the open-ended nature and emergent gameplay, Rock, Paper, Shotgun's Graham Smith concluded that its procedurally generated world combined with the every character simulated "down to the most minute detail", the results are "often hilarious, occasionally tragic, and always surprising."[7] Mike Rose from Gamasutra said, "...to an outsider looking in on this game so many years into development, with such a wide scope of features and potential play styles, it's fair to say that getting into Dwarf Fortress is perhaps one of the most daunting tasks the video game industry as a whole can provide."[39]

The lack of graphics, poor interface and controls were seen as the reasons for the game's difficulty. However, the reviewers also noted most of it having a role in gameplay and the argument that the text-based graphics forces players to use their own imagination, making it more engaging.[35][51] Weiner wrote, "[the game] may not look real, but once you're hooked, it feels vast, enveloping, alive. A micro-manager's dream, the game gleefully blurs the distinction between painstaking labor and creative thrill."[35] Quintin Smith from Rock, Paper, Shotgun said, "The interface has a tough job to do, bless it, but getting it to do what you want is like teaching a beetle to cook."[13] Ars Technica's Casey Johnston highlighted the difficulty in performing basic actions and felt that tinkering or experimenting ended up being unproductive; she compared it to "trying to build a skyscraper by banging two rocks together".[14] She pointed out the lack of in-game tutorial and said how players can learn by themselves in other games, which are also open-ended or have intuitive mechanics, but in Dwarf Fortress, there is no autonomy "even after hours" of gameplay.[14]


Dwarf Fortress has attracted a significant cult following.[1][52] Web communties devoted to the game came up on Something Awful forums besides on Bay 12 Games.[53] The game's difficulty, with most fortresses eventually succumbing to various forms of defeat, and to encourage further experimentation through it led to its unofficial slogan "Losing is fun!"[35][45] Adams said that it was originally from the manual and there as a consolation for players to get a grip on the issue of permadeath.[11] The game's official podcast is called "Dwarf Fortress Talk", where the brothers answer questions from players.[48] They send out crayon drawings or short stories to the donors, customized to their requests and feature the highest donors on their website. Besides donations, Adams said some fans have given computers while others have directly helped him with the game development. A community member ported it to Mac and Linux for free and other volunteers handle the bug tracking system.[39]

Players and members of the community have often written creative interpretations of game events. Fans have made diaries, short videos, comics and audio depicting their stories whether it involved success or defeat.[15] Besides testing the game, sharing it with others and supporting it through donations, they make suggestions, help newcomers, share stories, and information in the Bay 12 Games forums. They maintain the dedicated wiki; there are also fan-organized podcasts and meet-ups.[40] Adams commented about some fans who donated but have not played the game—just there for reading the stories. In 2006, a saga called "Boatmurdered" where fans passed around a single fortress and each played the game and saved it before sending it to another, was portrayed in detail from the start to its destructive end. This spread around gaming sites and boosted the game's popularity. Other notable fortress illustrations were "Matul Remrit",[54] "Bronzemurder" and "Oilfurnace", with the latter two being comics.[6][55]

On the game's community, Tarn Adams said, "They are the reason I've been able to make the step from hobbyist to full-time developer. I'm lucky to be able to run with whatever ideas we have and try new things."[40] On players sending him forum posts or emails detailing their stories or events that happened during the game, Adams said, "It's really gratifying, because it's one of the things we set out to do is to get people to write these narratives about their game."[46] Adams has admitted that some feats of the community surprised even him.[40] Adams stated that the most impressive thing he had ever seen done with the game was when a player managed to create an entire Turing-complete calculator powered by dwarves. It was an 8-bit water-based programmable computer using around 10,000 objects consisting of 672 pumps, 2000 logs, 8,500 mechanisms and thousands of doors and blocks.[56]

There have been tutorials on YouTube with one being a 15-part series, and another 12-part written series called "The Complete and Utter Newby Tutorial for Dwarf Fortress".[57][58] There are third-party utilities for the game like "Dwarf Therapist" which helps the player in managing toggling labors and skills.[14][18] Another one called "Stonesense" with the help of "DFHack", a library, can render the game in a 3D isometric view.[1] A "DF to Minecraft" utility was developed where players could load their in-game works to be able to view it while playing Minecraft.[51] An illustrated guide to the game, called Getting Started with Dwarf Fortress: Learn to play the most complex video game ever made was released by technology publisher O'Reilly Media in 2012 written by Peter Tyson. Containing 240 pages, it has a foreword from Adams and is updated along with the game's development.[59]


The game influenced Minecraft, reviewers considered it a more user-friendly version of Dwarf Fortress.[5][35][60] Adams says he is thankful for the Minecraft developers citing his game because that drew more players. There have been many other games inspired by the game but they failed to replicate its visual style and depth.[39] Homages to the game appear in the World of Warcraft.[35] In March 2013, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City exhibited Dwarf Fortress among other games selected to depict the history of video gaming.[61] The curator, Paola Antonelli, said she was amazed by the combination of "beautiful aesthetics" and "mind-boggling" complexity in the game.[35] In July 2014, the game won a poll conducted by Turtle Beach as the community's most "Beautiful Game"; games were nominated by fans posting videos, images or text, and a list was compiled by the community which also contained The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Far Cry 3 and The Last of Us.[62] Justin Ma, one of the developers of FTL: Faster Than Light, commented on its use of text-based graphics, "Part of the reason Dwarf Fortress can include a breadth of mechanics unseen in other games is because complex mechanics are expressed in the most simple of visual forms."[3] Gaslamp Games cited it as one their main influences for the game Clockwork Empires.[63]

Game designer Craig Ellsworth commended Dwarf Fortress for having a uniquely long "staying power".[64] According to Ellsworth, it will not be replaced by any other more advanced game of its genre, partly because of it being the pioneer of its own and since its on PC; console games get replaced faster. He wrote, "There is simply no such thing as a flashier Dwarf Fortress, and there can't be, by definition."[64] Other reasons, according to him, were it being free and its long development period with its design to be "never-ending". He wrote that the game will have it maximum interest at its 1.0 version with its legacy being more than just a historic value compared to other classic games. He pointed out that people like the game in its present condition; they will continue playing it more ardently, as long as it keeps developing, especially with new additions and features. He compared it to the board game Monopoly and the card game Magic: The Gathering. Ellsworth finally said that the game is either a "one-time fluke" or will inspire "a rise of ultra-small indies" with similar financial setups.[64]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Moore, Bo (July 2014). "Now You Can Play Dwarf Fortress in Real-Time 3-D". Wired. Retrieved 24 July 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Kieron Gillen (18 February 2011). "The Very Important List Of PC Games, Part 5/5". Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c Pearson, Dan (31 January 2013). "Where I'm @: A Brief Look At The Resurgence of Roguelikes". GameIndustry.biz. Archived from the original on 2014-09-03. Retrieved 24 July 2014. 
  4. ^ Shimomura, David (29 April 2014). "Road to Two5Six: Tarn and Zach Adams". Kill Screen. Archived from the original on 2014-07-27. Retrieved 30 December 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c Daniel Goldberg; Linus Larsson (September 2013). "The Amazingly Unlikely Story of How Minecraft Was Born". Wired. Retrieved 10 June 2014. 
  6. ^ a b Mastrapa, Gus (September 2010). "Kiwi Comic Tells Tale of Dwarf Fortress Failure". Wired. Retrieved 14 May 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Graham Smith (16 April 2014). "Dwarf Fortress: The Detailed Roguelike That's Easy To Play". Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Archived from the original on 2014-07-09. Retrieved 14 May 2014. 
  8. ^ a b McDougall, Jaz (July 2010). "Dwarf Fortress dev log remains hilariously grim". PC Gamer. Retrieved 14 May 2014. 
  9. ^ a b c Tyson 2012, p. 9–14.
  10. ^ a b c Hall, Charlie (23 July 2014). "Dwarf Fortress will crush your CPU because creating history is hard". Polygon. Archived from the original on 2014-09-08. Retrieved 30 July 2014. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Josh Harris (27 February 2008). "Interview: The Making Of Dwarf Fortress". Gamasutra. Archived from the original on 2014-05-11. Retrieved 17 April 2014. 
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h Steve Hogarty (August 2011). "Dwarf Fortress diary: How seven drunks opened a portal to Hell p:1". PC Gamer. Archived from the original on 2014-07-27. Retrieved 17 April 2014. 
  13. ^ a b c d e f Quintin Smith (23 September 2010). "Dwarf Fortress: The Song Of Onionbog, Pt 1". Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Archived from the original on 2014-05-14. Retrieved 28 May 2014. 
  14. ^ a b c d e f g Johnston, Casey (25 February 2013). "Dwarf Fortress: Ten hours with the most inscrutable video game of all time". Ars Technica. Archived from the original on 2014-08-12. Retrieved 12 May 2014. 
  15. ^ a b c d e Alex Spencer (26 Dec 2013). "A History of Roguelikes in 6 Free Games". IGN. Archived from the original on 2014-04-13. Retrieved 15 May 2014. 
  16. ^ a b c Quintin Smith (27 September 2010). "The Song Of Onionbog, Pt 2: Ingish's Duty". Rock Paper Shotgun. Archived from the original on 2014-05-11. Retrieved 28 May 2014. 
  17. ^ a b Tyson 2012, p. 109.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h Quintin Smith (28 September 2010). "The Song Of Onionbog, Pt 3: Turtle Biscuits". Rock Paper Shotgun. Archived from the original on 2014-05-14. Retrieved 28 May 2014. 
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h Quintin Smith (30 September 2010). "The Song Of Onionbog, Pt 4: Fascism & War". Rock Paper Shotgun. Archived from the original on 2014-05-11. Retrieved 28 May 2014. 
  20. ^ Tyson 2012, p. 24.
  21. ^ a b c d e f "Roburky's Dwarf Fortress Diary". Rock, Paper, Shotgun. 14 June 2009. Archived from the original on 2014-05-14. Retrieved 14 May 2014. 
  22. ^ Tyson 2012, p. 46.
  23. ^ Tyson 2012, p. 117–120.
  24. ^ a b c d e f Steve Hogarty (August 2011). "Dwarf Fortress diary: How seven drunks opened a portal to Hell p:2". PC Gamer. Archived from the original on 2013-10-01. Retrieved 17 April 2014. 
  25. ^ a b Tyson 2012, p. 77–78.
  26. ^ Tyson 2012, p. 73–76.
  27. ^ a b Tyson 2012, p. 133–135.
  28. ^ a b c Tyson 2012, p. 67–70.
  29. ^ a b Tyson 2012, p. 161–162.
  30. ^ Tyson 2012, p. 163–164.
  31. ^ Tyson 2012, p. 106.
  32. ^ Kieron Gillen (13 September 2006). "The State of Independence #5". Eurogamer. Archived from the original on 2013-03-28. Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  33. ^ a b c Steve Hogarty (August 2011). "Dwarf Fortress diary: How seven drunks opened a portal to Hell p:3". PC Gamer. Archived from the original on 2013-09-30. Retrieved 17 April 2014. 
  34. ^ a b c d e f g "Dwarf Fortress developer interview". PC Gamer. August 2011. Archived from the original on 2013-03-08. Retrieved 14 May 2014. 
  35. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Johah Weiner (21 July 2011). "The Brilliance of Dwarf Fortress". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 May 2012. 
  36. ^ a b c Chris LaVigne (March 2008). "Critical Success, Commercial Flop: For the Love of the Game p:2". The Escapist. Archived from the original on 2014-08-15. Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  37. ^ a b c d Jaz McDougall (August 2010). "Community heroes: Tarn Adams, for Dwarf Fortress p:1". PC Gamer. Archived from the original on 2013-01-11. Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  38. ^ "Older Versions". Bay 12 Games. Retrieved 13 July 2012. 
  39. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Mike Rose (2 July 2013). "Dwarf Fortress in 2013". Gamasutra. Archived from the original on 2014-05-11. Retrieved 18 April 2014. 
  40. ^ a b c d e f g h Meeks, Elijah (11 May 2010). "Procedural Humanities - An Interview with Tarn Adams, Creator of Dwarf Fortress". HASTAC. Archived from the original on 2014-02-01. Retrieved 19 June 2014. 
  41. ^ Hall, Charlie (24 July 2014). "Download the Dwarf Fortress soundtrack and rock out in ASCII". Polygon. Archived from the original on 2014-10-22. Retrieved 23 October 2014. 
  42. ^ Senior, Tom (February 2012). "Dwarf Fortress update adds "secret vampire dwarves" and werewolf invasions". PC Gamer. Retrieved 14 May 2014. 
  43. ^ Smith, Adam (14 February 2012). "Never Too Deep: Dwarf Fortress' Massive Update". Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Retrieved 24 July 2014. 
  44. ^ Tyson 2012, p. 187.
  45. ^ a b Elliott, Melissa (25 July 2014). "Into the deep: it's time to learn how to play Dwarf Fortress". PC Gamer. Archived from the original on 2014-10-31. Retrieved 31 October 2014. 
  46. ^ a b Chris LaVigne (March 2008). "Critical Success, Commercial Flop: For the Love of the Game p:3". The Escapist. Archived from the original on 2014-08-15. Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  47. ^ "Dwarf Fortress Current Development". Bay 12 Games. Retrieved 10 July 2012. 
  48. ^ a b c d Mastrapa, Gus (April 2010). "Elaborate, Sprawling Freeware Dwarf Fortress Updated". Wired. Archived from the original on 2014-08-15. Retrieved 14 May 2014. 
  49. ^ a b c Jaz McDougall (August 2010). "Community heroes: Tarn Adams, for Dwarf Fortress p:2". PC Gamer. Archived from the original on 2013-01-14. Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  50. ^ K. Thor Jensen (8 August 2011). "The Geekiest Game Simulators". UGO Networks. Retrieved 15 May 2014. [dead link]
  51. ^ a b Senior, Tom (September 2010). "Explore your Dwarf Fortress dungeon in Minecraft". PC Gamer. Retrieved 14 May 2014. 
  52. ^ Pearson, Dan (July 2013). "Dwarf Fortress creators were offered "6 figures" by a publisher". GamesIndustry.biz. Retrieved 24 July 2014. 
  53. ^ Chalk, Andy (June 2014). "Dwarf Fortress update coming in July, the first in two years". PC Gamer. Retrieved 25 July 2014. 
  54. ^ Luke Plunkett (30 January 2013). "After Years Of Playing A Game, These Guys Turned Their Exploits Into A Giant Story". Kotaku. Retrieved 15 May 2014. 
  55. ^ McDougall, Jaz (September 2010). "Oilfurnace: an illustrated Dwarf Fortress tale". PC Gamer. Retrieved 14 May 2014. 
  56. ^ Ganapati, Priya (October 2010). "Geeky Gamers Build Working Computers out of Virtual Blocks". Wired. Retrieved 14 May 2014. 
  57. ^ Gillen, Kieron (8 January 2009). "Losing Is Fun, Learning is Better: DF UltraTutorials". Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Retrieved 24 July 2014. 
  58. ^ Gillen, Kieron (10 March 2009). "Dwarf Fortress For Minors: Newbie Tutorials". Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Retrieved 25 July 2014. 
  59. ^ Brown, Nathan (June 2012). "Dwarf Fortress guide published". Edge. Retrieved 24 July 2014. 
  60. ^ Luke Plunkett (12 November 2010). "The PC's Best Free Games Right Now". Kotaku. Retrieved 15 May 2014. 
  61. ^ Eddie Makuch (29 November 2012). "Museum of Modern Art opening game gallery". Gamespot. Retrieved 10 June 2014. 
  62. ^ "[Media Alert] Dwarf Fortress tops Turtle Beach poll to find players' "Beautiful Game"". Gamasutra. 23 July 2014. Archived from the original on 2014-10-22. Retrieved 21 September 2014. 
  63. ^ Lahti, Evan (August 2012). "Interview: Gaslamp Games' mad, incredible vision for Clockwork Empires". PC Gamer. Archived from the original on 2014-03-27. Retrieved 25 July 2014. 
  64. ^ a b c Ellsworth, Craig (24 March 2013). "Dwarf Fortress: A game that will live forever?". IndieGames.com. Archived from the original on 2013-06-02. Retrieved 24 July 2014. 

External links[edit]