Dwarf Fortress

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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, freeware indie video game created by Tarn and Zach Adams. 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 uses text-based graphics and is open-ended with no main objectives. Before being played, the game has to generate worlds with continents, oceans and histories documenting civilizations and beasts; it is different each time the player starts from scratch. The main game mode, Fortress Mode, consists of selecting a suitable site from the generated-world, establishing the fortress, combating threats like goblin invasions 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 modelled down to their individual personalities and by getting "Strange Moods", they can craft legendary artifacts. If not provided for properly, they get overwhelmed with negative thoughts causing a cascading deterioration of the fortress' population called a "Tantrum Spiral".

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. Adams and his brother Zach started Bay 12 Games and released their games online. By 2004, Adams decided to shift from the original Armok to Dwarf Fortress after the former became difficult to maintain. He released the first alpha version and decided to rely only on PayPal donations. Adams stated that he is happy with donations, which remain stable but increase after a new version update. 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 gained a cult following and creative interpretations of gameplay victories or losses were posted on various online forums. The game influenced Minecraft. Dwarf Fortress '​ emergent gameplay, text-based graphics, low commercial success, strange anecdotes like occasional heroic stories or intricate details were noted by the reviewers. Some described the difficulty from start as a steep learning curve—with the meaning of a difficult learning process. The Adams brothers answer crayon drawing requests and short stories for their donors. 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 which take place in worlds created by the player. In the worlds, 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 and it is open-ended. Players are completely free to decide how to go about building the fortress. Since there are no ways to win, it only ends when they get their fortress defeated by the various possible threats or if the player decides to abandon the fortress. Dwarf Fortress is text-based using code page 437 characters in various colors as graphics.[4] Thus, the visuals consist 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". Triangles represent slopes, with upward triangles representing upward slopes and vice-versa.[5]

Adventure Mode is a turn-based, open-ended roguelike.[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 game modes is recorded in the legends.[7] A testing arena is also present, where players can test or simulate battles between any selected units.[7] They can be spawned, assigned to teams, equipped with weapons and these battles can be viewed in real-time or turn-by-turn.[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.[9] Only one game at a time can be played per world.[7] The player can adjust certain parameters governing the world's size, savagery, mineral occurrences and the length of history.[9] During creation, the representation of the world changes throughout the generation progress, showing symbols representing roads, hills, towns and cities of the various civilizations.[7]

The world generation process begins with procedurally generated[1] basic elements like elevation, rainfall, mineral distribution and temperature, using fractals.[10] A midpoint displacement algorithm generates the map and being fractally-generated, the world gets a natural look. Another fractal is drainage. For example, a high-rainfall and low-drainage area would make a swamp. Areas are categorized by biomes, which have two variables: savagery and alignment.[11] Drainage tries to simulate erosion, which is the next phase. Rivers are created by tracing their paths from the mountains, which get eroded, to the river's end which is usually an ocean; some form into lakes. Salinity is another field which defines oceans, mangroves or alluvial plains. Then there is the loop-erase phase, where it wipes out these rivers, generates their brooks from them, gives them flow amounts and names them. The rivers are added back and now the world has named biomes and rivers.[11] The names given depend upon the area's good/evil variable and though in English, they are originally generated in one of the four languages of dwarves, elves, humans and goblins.[10]

Biomes in each regions have their own specific type of plant and animal populations. Other various factors generated in the world are seed information, caves, underground rivers, civilizations starting points and mega-beasts.[10] After a few minutes the world is populated and its history gets developed for the amount of in-game years chosen by the player by selecting the history parameter. Civilizations, races and religions are created and wars occur,[12] with the population and deaths counters increasing.[7] The ticker stops at a designated value, at which point the map can be saved for use in a game. Should the player choose to retire the game or when the fortress falls, this world will persist on and will become available for further games. A map of the generated world can by explored using the cursor keys.[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.

Before embarking in Fortress mode, the player is given the option to choose the location in the world. The player can consider both the environment, elevations, biome, soil types and mineral concentrations.[13][14] Certain locations and features can pose significant challenges to the development or survival of the fortress. Players are able to use an in-game site finder to search for a suitable location.[9] The player can, before embark, customize the team's supplies and skills, but each of the dwarves' mental and physical attributes are randomly generated.[15] Labors and skills develop and advance based on their individual experience with the associated task. Functional labors include mining, masonry, grower, herbalist, mason, mechanic, trade negotiator, carpenter, brewer or cook. Military related roles and combat-related skills and positions are also able to be developed through experience.[13] 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 an expedition team of seven dwarves and their supplies, but does not have direct control over them.[13] In order to construct and operate the fortress, the player has to designate specific tasks to be performed and the dwarves will self-designate an appropriate individual to the task.[14] Dwarves can be assigned any labors, but their work still depends on their relative skill with it.[13][16] It is important to the operation and survival of the fortress to establish wood, stone and the food industries in the beginning.[17] Most of these activities take place in workshops which need to be constructed; for example, stills for brewing alcohol[12][14] or a fishery workshop where a dwarf with the fish dissector labor enabled will extract meat and shells from caught marine fauna.[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 for the nobles.[19] Other industries include leather, meat and cloth, gem, glass, and clay industries.[17] The production of crafts is used for products that are useful for trading with merchant caravans.[19][16] Goods can all be kept in designated stockpiles.[12]

Functional mechanics[edit]

The geology in Dwarf Fortress is fairly accurate. Minerals appear in layers or clusters around the right depth. Gems like tourmalines can appear in rare clusters.[12] Rocks like olivine or gabbro can be dug up. The top most layer usually consists of loamy sand—this counts as soil and can be used for underground farming. To farm on bare rock, irrigation is required.[13] 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 detailed system of temperature and heat. Fire can spread, burn dwarves and furniture.[20] There are four basic seasons in an in-game year: spring, summer, autumn and winter.[19][21]

Mineral ores can be mined just like normal stone which leaves behind the raw ore that can be smelted. When smelted, they produce their corresponding metal bars. Different ores or metal bars can be alloyed together for higher quality and different materials. For steel production, flux stones are essential to make pig iron bars and smelt it with regular iron and coal (or charcoal). Specific metal items can be brought from traders and 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 thus making excellent sharp weapons and armor. Raw adamantine can be extracted into strands for the dwarves whose labor is enabled and the strands can be either woven in cloth or smelted into wafers.[22]

Fortress management and growth[edit]

Dwarves need to be provided with food and drink. Drinks are mostly in the form of alcohol and they need it twice the number of times as food. A dwarf will get negative thoughts for drinking plain water and even for drinking the same type of drink all the time, making it necessary to grow different crops to produce a variety of different drinks. A cook can be assigned to work at a kitchen to convert raw food into prepared meals that give dwarves positive thoughts.[18] A dwarf may claim ownership over a domestic animal so it becomes their pet, thus preventing it from being taken for butchering.[23] Trading with various caravans which visit the fortress is useful to get supplies which are not available in the player's fortress area.[16] A trade depot needs to be made for this and the first caravan arrives in the autumn season of the game.[18] A refuse dump for corpses and filth can be designated outside to prevent the spread of miasma which can upset the dwarves. Underground farming has customised crops like "Plump Helmet" mushrooms, which can be brewed to make mushroom wine. Cats can be brought to take care of vermin.[13] A pen can be designated for animals. 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,[18] while the manager auto-assigns jobs and the broker is used for trading with caravans.

A bedroom for each dwarf is needed. Beds can be assigned as dormitories in case not every dwarf has their room yet.[18] Migrants come in larger numbers from the Mountainhome to the fortress as it prospers, and will need further bedrooms.[16] Dwarves may marry and female dwarves give birth.[19] A dwarf's family and relationships can be viewed and they occasionally make new friends.[20] A given room's worth can be increased in various ways, for example by the quality of furniture, smoothing the stone or if it is dug out from clusters of gems or valuable minerals. Assigning such rooms to any dwarf will make them happy and there are modifiers associated with the room's worth.[12] After smoothing, a room's floors and walls can be engraved. Each of the engraver's works can be viewed by reading the description of it. Subjects engraved range from notable events that happened during the fortress's founding to images of the dwarves themselves.[18]

As the fortress expands and develops, new noble positions will become available. While normally regular dwarves will be happy with simple rooms provided to them, dwarves appointed or elected to noble positions will demand specific luxuries in their accommodation and will not be pleased if dwarves of lower positions get better 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.[24] A justice system is present to punish criminal dwarves which needs the noble position "Sheriff" or for larger fortresses "Captain of the Guard". Other nobles may accuse specific dwarves for the player failing to complete their mandates or trading items prohibited by the nobles. If they do not get punished, then the nobles get additional negative thoughts. Other ways of a dwarf becoming a criminal are during a tantrum injuring or killing another dwarf and destroying furniture. The punishment, which can be a period in jail or a beating, is meted out by the sheriff or the dwarf with the higher position.[25]

Sometimes, a vampire dwarf may arrive with a migrant wave also having a fake background history. The vampire may occasionally feed on one of the fortress' citizens and drain his or her blood. If this is done in presence of eyewitnesses, they will accuse the vampire dwarf who in turn will try to counter these accusations by blaming someone else in the justice screen. Vampires do not need sleep, food or drink and can be spotted by careful players.[25] Every dead dwarf needs to be given a proper burial by constructing coffins. If they are not given a proper burial and their body is left to rot, their ghosts will soon haunt the fortress, terrorizing the citizens. If the corpse is inaccessible, a memorial slab can be engraved instead.[23] Dwarves can get upset upon losing their friends or relatives. Interacting with or seeing their corpses can aggravate this. They may express their frustration by breaking furniture and if a dwarf gets too many negative thoughts they may resort to suicide. Dwarves whose needs are not satisfied or who are stressed and unhappy will go into berserk, suicidal or homicidal tantrums.[15]

A "Tantrum Spiral" is a chain reaction where a single dwarf's unhappiness can cause the entire fortress's population to start throwing tantrums. This is one of the biggest threats because it comes from within the fortress itself and not from any external cause.[26] A Tantrum Spiral could start when one single dwarf throws a tantrum due to unhappiness and attacks a nearby citizen. A resulting death of any dwarf with many friends could drastically affect the happiness of many other dwarves. Thus, more dwarves may start throwing tantrums causing a cascading effect. Keeping all the dwarves with more happy thoughts than unhappy ones at all times will prevent this. Losing a friend, encountering a ghost, coming in contact with miasma, sustaining injuries, losing a pet or having poor clothing can give a dwarf negative thoughts. Some ways to give positive thoughts are by improving their living conditions by giving them personal bedrooms, improving the main dining room or providing them different alcoholic drinks and well-cooked meals. 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.[26]

Strange Moods and industry[edit]

Legendary artifacts will be constructed by inspired or stressed dwarves, when they occasionally get into a "Strange Mood" (sometimes possessed by a spirit), take over a workshop, and demand various materials. Once the dwarf claims a workshop, it will go searching around the fortress for the required materials and begin construction, with the player getting an initial notification and another when the artifact is completed. If it cannot find the materials, the dwarf will wait at the workshop till the required material is available.[27] 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 an item so masterfully crafted that it is usually worth more than a beginning fortress' total wealth put together. Sometimes, the said dwarf will get a sudden huge gain in that skill level.[18]

A single dwarf may get a strange mood only once.[27] It might strike at any time: the affected dwarves stop doing their work and will rush to a specific workshop with an idea of crafting or constructing an artifact item. If successful, they will get a happy thought, may get maximum "legendary" status in the respective skill and the fortress will get an artifact item to use or admire. A weapon artifact, for instance, will be extremely useful.[27] These artifacts will be added to the world's records.[23] 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. The materials demanded can be viewed by the player. If the duration is extended beyond the limit, the dwarf may leave the workshop and eventually succumb to thirst or go berserk, attacking nearby dwarves and needing to be put down.[27] Relatively high skill levels may result in the dwarf's work being a "masterpiece"-quality item.[19]

Threats, defense and dwelling deeper[edit]

Wildlife is usually harmless, sometimes consisting of keas or monkeys which may scare the dwarves or steal supplies. The flora and fauna depend on the player's location.[28][19] More fierce wildlife which can be dangerous include elephants, bears, unicorns, giant spiders and wolves. Random creatures like vampires, hydras, titans, dragons (which can cause fires) may attack a thriving fort.[5][20] The first in-game year will usually consist of kobold thieves and goblin snatchers trying to infiltrate the fortress. They will be hidden unless detected by any citizen or livestock. Thieves try to steal valuables while snatchers try to kidnap dwarven children to raise them as future goblin soldiers. Wealthier and more populated fortresses will get ambushes and sieges from neighboring goblins. Ambushes consist of around a dozen armed goblins who sneak around the map until detected. An equipped and trained military can easily defeat them, but the usual victims are civilians who leave the fortress for outdoor-related tasks.[28]

Sieges consist of armies of enemies, generally bringing experienced squad leaders, trolls and war animals as mounts—both which can destroy buildings.[19] Unlike ambushes, a siege is announced once the armies enter the fortress' map. Rather than sending dwarf soldiers directly toward these armies, which can result in heavy losses, players can use traps, engineering and general defense during such sieges. A thriving fortress will also attract certain mega-beasts, which appear aboveground, or randomly generated creatures called Forgotten Beasts, which may appear below ground. They are dangerous unique creatures with randomized physical qualities and abilities like poison sprays, webs and building destroyer abilities. Undead are harder to kill, and often reanimate once they are defeated with their body parts being separate units to fight. Undead attack mainly in evil zones or if the player embarks with a Necromancer Tower being near the site.[29] Evil biomes are challenging because of freak weather and turning any living creature into a zombie. Thus, any dwarf dead in this area will reanimate and may even come out of their coffins. A butchery and fishery industry will also be difficult to set up because animal parts can also reanimate and attack dwarves.[30]

In the military setup, multiple squads can be formed with patrols scheduled so that at a given time, no one is inactive, thus making conscripting dwarves an effective plan to control their large populations.[23] A militia commander noble position needs to be filled first. It is favorable to make the unskilled workers to do hauling work and join the militia while letting the professional get on with their respective work.[18] Each squad gets a random name, needs a barracks to train in, and a uniform (armor and weapon) needs to be chosen.[19] Squads can be directly commanded to attack enemies. Barracks rooms are for their on- and off-duty training. Archery in the game is using crossbows and training involves constructing a range with targets. Those with this skill will be labeled as "marksdwarves". Traps can be made by ordering a mechanic to make mechanisms and if without metal, a carpenter to construct spikes or spiked balls or cages. A trap can then be made by ordering these two or any weapon of any combination to be constructed a location. Walls can be carved into fortifications and be used by archers during attacks.[20] Kennels can be made to train war animals for dwarves with the animal trainer skill.[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, characters can fall to the ground and vomit and lose body parts. The wrestling skill allows characters to hold parts of the body and perform throws or break bones.[31] 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 for taking care of minor injuries. A hospital can be set up containing crutches for handicapped dwarves, traction benches, plasters and cloth for casts and bandages, thread for suturing, splints and a dwarf can be assigned a role of chief medical officer.[32]

Digging deeper is usually done for finding magma, which is a fuel source and removes the player's dependence on coal or wood.[33] Magma is used for smelting ore and is deep underground.[12] Another reason to dig toward deeper z-levels is for searching for specific raw materials. Nobles dwarves like dukes, barons or counts will demand heavily decorated mausoleums as their tombs. They end up throwing a tantrum if they do not like it. Dwarves given positions of nobles often mandate the certain objects be made from specific materials or metals.[12] Magma pools or even bigger 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 entire fortresses to ruin.[32]

Adventure mode[edit]

Adventure mode is a roguelike played in the generated world and unlike Fortress mode, it is turn-based.[23] 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.[23]


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 Adams 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 was free to 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, 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 holes 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.[34] 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.[35] 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.[36] He quit it after a year and decided to use up his savings of $15,000. 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."[34] 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.[37] Donations reached $800–$1000 in the following months, this average increased gradually till they were financially stable.[36] He then decided to solely rely on donations.[38]

Development (2006–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.[33] 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.[33] The story-generation originated first from Armok, although present to some extent in dragslay. Both 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.[36] Zach graduated in ancient history and books like The Twelve Caesars and the writings of Assyrian kings influenced the game.[33]

Tarn Adams was influenced by roguelike games like 1985 Hack because of its randomly generated levels and detailed mechanics.[34] 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 outcomes being under his control. He makes lists of these, either researching online, taking from community suggestions or specific sources which are comprehensible to him.[33] 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.[39] 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 while carps were designed to be carnivorous.[32] Adams composed the game's flamenco-inspired music.[40]

A z-axis was introduced in the 2008 release because he felt the limitations with a planar surface increasing;[11] the feature of making various constructions like walls was also added at this time.[20] 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 because of taking into account details like fluid mechanics and cave-ins.[33] The z-axis system removed the old form of metal availability and river-chasm-magma set-up 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, who have to ability to trigger a fortress's levers.[33] In 2012, more traps, abilities, syndromes, detailed cities and tombs were added in addition to vampiric and lycanthropic infections, necromancers and undead.[41][42] Minecarts as a new hauling system was added in the same year.[43] In 2014, the major update focused mainly on the generated worlds and Adventure mode.[44]

On his reliance on PayPal donations, Adams is content with it since he feels that people really like his work or they would not pay.[45] Ever since its release, donations kept increasing and remaining stable except having a sudden increase during a new version update.[36] 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 Dwarf Fortress is self-sustaining and will not charge for it. In 2011, he refused a job offer from an unspecified major 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.[34] Adams prefers working on his own and not being part of the gaming industry. In 2013, the average was $4000 a month.[38] 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."[35] 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.[35]

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.[46] Adams updates Dwarf Fortress periodically and often taking down items or features from his list which get outdated or are pending for too long. Adams has been able to maintain focus by shifting his attention to different aspects of the game, given its volume of varied features. While regular game development aim to perfect their work for release, he considers this the drawback since he continues exploring and learning while adding new features.[38] 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][20][47] Adams has two favorites bugs. One is about dwarves planting their own bed while sleepwalking. The other involves dwarven executioners delivering punishments by biting their victims, keeping their arm in their mouth for many years.[48]

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.[34] Adams calls his game an open-ended "story generator".[34] 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.[39] Nonetheless, 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.[38] He maintains that he does not mind any modifications as long as he is not put into risk.[39]

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.[38] Fortress mode would have a closer relationship with the outside generated world through war, trade and diplomacy.[38] The world being bigger; he envisages it to have much more features like magic, tutorials and a better interface.[38] According to him, tutorials are a burden because of the additional need to be updated.[38] He said, "...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."[48] 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.[48] For Adams working on adding new aspects to his game, he prioritizes what he wants to see, what the community wants, specific initial features needed before making it more advanced, and sometimes anything that catches his attention.[39]


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][34][39] It has been compared to other simulations games like Simcity and The Sims, Dungeon Keeper and roguelike games like NetHack.[12][34][47] The game has not had much influence on the gaming industry because of its non-commercial nature.[34] It being a two-man self-sustaining project, and Adams' independence and capability to follow his own ideas were highlighted.[2][7][49] 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."[47]

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."[34] 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."[38]

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 significant role in gameplay and the argument that the text-based graphics forces players to use their own imagination, making it more engaging.[34][50] 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."[34] 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 also 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][51] Web communties devoted to the game came up on Something Awful forums besides on Bay 12 Games. Adams uses the nickname "Toady One" on the forums.[52] 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!"[34][44] Adams said that it was originally from the manual, added 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.[47] 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.[38]

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 story whether it involved heroism 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 have compiled a dedicated wiki for the game. There are also fan-organized podcasts, and meet-ups.[39] 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",[53] "Bronzemurder" and "Oilfurnace", with the latter two being comics.[6][54]

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."[39] 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."[45] Adams has admitted that some feats of the community surprised even him.[39] 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 further thousands of doors and blocks.[55]

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".[56][57] There are third-party utilities for the game like "Dwarf Therapist" which helps the player in managing toggling labors and skills quicker.[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.[50] An illustrated guide to the game, called Getting Started with Dwarf Fortress: Learn to play the most complex video game ever made had been released by technology publisher O'Reilly Media in 2012 written by Peter Tyson. Containing 240 pages, it also has a foreword from Adams and is updated along with the game's development.[58]


The game influenced Minecraft, reviewers considered it a more user-friendly version of Dwarf Fortress.[5][34][59] Adams has been thankful for the Minecraft developers citing his game, because that drew more players. There have also been many other games inspired by Dwarf Fortress but they failed to replicate its visual style and depth.[38] Homages to the game appear in the World of Warcraft.[34] 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.[60] The curator, Paola Antonelli, said she was amazed by the combination of "beautiful aesthetics" and "mind-boggling" complexity in Dwarf Fortress.[34] In July 2014, the game won a poll conducted by Turtle Beach as the community's most "Beautiful Game" where games were nominated by fans posting videos, images or text; 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.[61] 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.[62]

Game designer Craig Ellsworth commended Dwarf Fortress for having a uniquely long "staying power".[63] 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; also since its on PC, because 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."[63] Other reasons, according to him, were it being of no charge 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 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.[63]

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]