Dwarf Fortress in 2013. The authors talk about the development process and plans for the future.

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“We created the framework version 1.0 - we have a huge plan and a lot of all kinds of ideas, something is included in it, something is not” - Tarn Adams and his brother Zack have been developing the procedurally generated fantasy game Dwarf Fortress for 11 years , if but to take into account the work on DragSlay and Slaves to Armok, which strongly influenced the game at the beginning of development, you will get all 13 years. Although you can download the game for free right now , version 1.0 will appear very, very soon. Tarn Adams recently said that 1.0 can be expected in about 20 years, although most likely it will appear even later "because I always underestimate the time it takes to complete the job."

But whatever the time frame, the Adams brothers have a clear goal. They understand that they have more than once been stuck at various stages of development, so their way of moving forward is to lay out all the ideas in front of them and choose where to move on in the near future. “We try to stay within the plan,” Adams says, “when we complete it, it will be version 1.0. After that, it will be possible to add many different things, but we will be more than 50 years old - there are a lot of life decisions that must be made at this age, so it is unlikely that we will adhere to this plan for another five years. ”

However, the basic idea is unchanged - to stick to the plan, not too bogged down in small details. “In a sense, we want to make a skeleton, grow a little flesh on it, but not add curly hair, as we did in the first version of the game, when curly hair was on every part of the body and we accurately calculated the temperature of their ignition and you could teleporting someone's nose somewhere, and so on - although apparently we are doing just that at Dwarf Fortress.

30-year plan

The most interesting (and dubious) aspect of Adams’s more than 30-year plan is how does the designer plan to remain enthusiastic about a project that can take his entire adult life?

I regularly communicate with developers who tell me “It was very nice to work on this game, but I can’t wait to leave it behind and do something new.” How does Adams remain enthusiastic about Dwarf Fortress? Is he not distracted by other projects?

“No,” he replies, “I mean, if we didn’t take such things into account, my plans would not be realistic. But I have been doing this for many years and I understand where I am. I know that part of my time is spent on outsiders projects, even if from the time I started working on Dwarf Fortress, I only released projects that were related to Dwarft Fortress ... like Cobalt Quest, Mac port and the like.

In fact, Adams says, he has seven other major projects that he is working on in some sense, but “they all require a lot of time and effort that I don’t have enough,” he says, “At times, when my brother and I we’re watching stupid programs on TV in his room, where I have another laptop, I’m working on these games to relax a bit. "

Tarn and Zack Adams

“ We don’t like to talk about them and we won’t tell anything else ”- he continues -“ We don’t want to make noise, because most likely they will never be born. but realize that we still have other ideas, it is necessary that we can work a lot of interesting things that you can experiment. "

There is another reason the Adams brothers are not afraid that they will ever get bored with the development of Dwarf Fortress - the incredible scope of the game and the amazing number of development directions available at any given time.

Adams says that when he gets bored with some part of the game, he simply puts it aside and does something completely different. “If I get tired of geology, I just might not have to do it for the next 10 years, right?” - He laughs - “You can just do something else.”

That is why the development of Dwarf Fortress is fundamentally different from the development of an average AAA or mobile game. An ordinary development team can spend months and years debugging a game, building a gloss, making it “ready to start selling,” according to Adams, this can lead to a loss of enthusiasm.

“You learn new ideas in the interactive development process, it’s more dynamic and not so exhausting,” he remarks. “In my case, it looks like this:“ Wow - I need to look at all medieval crops and learn all about plants! ”Recently I found out a lot of new about bananas. You can explore whatever you want. At Dwarf Fortress, you can only get tired of research. ”

But Adams is still not sure that he will be able to fulfill his 20-year plan, regardless of whether he retains enthusiasm or not. The fact that a developer sits at a computer for days on end (or nights, which may be more accurate in this case) affects him, in addition, he is not sure that the world will not change in the coming decades.

“I’m sure that at some point we will begin to lose strength, not because of a loss of inspiration, but simply because our bodies will begin to fall apart,” he says, “and I don’t know if the game will remain interesting at this point, what kind of operating systems will be, what strange things people will wear on their heads, allowing them to see strange things with the help of their iPhone - by that time, Dwarf Fortress might be dead for a long time. ”

“Who knows what will happen then,” he adds, “but if we are still alive and we need to transfer the work on the game to others, we will most likely think about opening the source so that people can do whatever they want. We will add to them our notes and the like. But this is just idle speculation, isn't it? Although in general we think so. ”

He sees the future of Dwarf Fotrtress about the same as that of Nethack or Dungeon Crawl , on which new development teams continue to work.

“We will try to keep the game in our hands for as long as possible,” he says, “but we will not be able to do this forever. She will stay afloat while someone keeps her afloat, right? ”


Dwarf Fortress is very difficult to understand from scratch, largely due to ASCII text graphics and a complete lack of manuals. But an outsider looking at this game, which has been developed for so many years, has such a huge set of features and game styles, we can confidently say that getting to know Dwarf Fortress can be one of the most exciting experiences that the computer game industry can offer.

“It seems to me that, compared to 2006, the game has become easier,” Adams says. “It's not about the mechanics, most of the Dwarf Fortress mechanics are still hidden. A large number of updates also does not matter - what I mean is that I spent a month on beekeeping, but you do not have to study beekeeping at all. Although, if you want to get honey and wax, you will have a new direction for research. ”

The designer claims that there are different types of inaccessibility and it all depends on what the player is interested in.

“There are basic problems with the interface, like using inconsistent keys,” he explains. “Then there is a graphic that is not a graphic [laughs]. All this is improving rather than getting worse. ”

“But when it comes to things like ambiguity — poor goal setting or requiring players to set goals independently — you will most likely be able to say that more opportunities make the situation worse. But in fact, the fundamentals of survival have not changed much. ”

“The more time passes, the better the wiki ( Russian ) becomes , the manuals, the more videos appear, the community becomes more and more friendly. Dwarf Fortress is now easier to understand than ever. But not easy! ”

When the game reaches the aforementioned version 1.0, Adams is going to add manuals, a more consistent interface, context-sensitive help to it - all this is in his scheme, but he is not going to include two-dimensional, isometric or three-dimensional graphics, although the Dwarf Fortress community has already done a huge work on the visual part of the game. In fact, Adams was already trying to start working on the manuals, but found that this could seriously slow down the development process. “Graphics also slows down development and that’s why we don’t have it,” he says. “The situation with the manuals is similar, since they need to be constantly updated. But I am definitely ready to make these sacrifices, as the availability of manuals will radically simplify the game for beginners. ”

So far, he is quite happy that the Dwarf Fortress community is doing this work for him. “A huge number of people help others understand the game, and if I become one of them, this is unlikely to improve the situation,” he laughs, adding, “I’m not laughing at other people's problems at all - it’s hard for me and it’s my fault. Just when you talk about something for many years, you become somewhat frivolous. ”

I asked Adams if he believes in the possibility of creating a game that is no less deep than Dwarf Fortress, but more accessible to the average player.

“Of course,” he replies. “It will have faster access to depth. I mean something like the Sims - how many copies did they sell? This game cannot be called simple, but it is played by millions of people. The Sims is a good example of a game that is both complex and affordable. ”

“I've never played Minecraft, but it seems to be deep enough if you want it, right?” - he adds - “And, despite this, eight-year-old children can play it. So I think that such games already exist. ”

Losing the audience (Fan Drought)

God sent the Adams brothers such enthusiastic fans that they not only enjoy playing and helping new players, but also donate tens of thousands of dollars every year to just keep the brothers afloat. But what if in subsequent years the number of players begins to decline and it becomes impossible to live on that money?

“Then I will most likely become unemployed,” Adams laughs, although he understands well that most likely this will not happen. “Probably we are already famous enough for our new project to attract attention.”

“We can always sell our reputation on Kickstarter,” he adds. “There are so many different opportunities these days and I don’t think I have to get a job and do Dwarf Fortress in my free time. There are alternatives. But we still want to do Dwarf Fortress. ”

Adams does not like to think on such topics and this is not surprising, given all the depressing thoughts that people will forget about the work of your whole life.

“Then you won’t do anything, right?” He says. “That's how the world works.” Some games remain popular, take a look at rogue games. But their communities have been destroyed and recreated millions of times. So, who knows. ”

The long-term prospects of Dwarf Fortress help thatThe Museum of Modern Art in New York recently chose it as one of its historically important games - this event truly inspired Adams.

“This gave us confidence that the land would not go under our feet if donations were exhausted,” he remarks. “It also gave confidence that support for the game would not stop. It was an important milestone. Such events help us to feel confident in the future, which is very nice. ”

Of course, there are ways in which the Adams brothers can make their future more secure. One of them is to put the game on Steam, in front of the eyes of millions of possible players. To do this, you will need to go through Steam Greenlight.

“Things like Steam Greenlight make the world less clear to us,” Adams says. “Our politics is like a movie.”Field of Dreams / Field of Dreams (Field of Dreams) with Kevin Costner - if you build it, they will come. Everyone came to us themselves, the whole press - we never advertised, we never went to conferences, we didn’t do anything like that. ”

Adams notes that he does not want to seem selfish or arrogant - they just did not think about popularity when they started developing the game, so when it began to attract attention, they just took it for granted.

Therefore, he is not sure that Greenlight will be a good idea for Dwarf Fortress. “When we are dealing with things like Steam Greenlight, I’m not quite sure that they will fit in our situation, that it will be something like a fruit hanging on the lower branch and we can just reach out and say“ Well, we will spread through Steam “He says.

"I do not understand this well, for many years we lived quietly and do not have business instincts that would say" We need to get there. " If enough people start to bother us because they want Steam to track the time spent on the game or something else, if our current fans want it, then it will be much more interesting to us than to increase the audience. "

That is, placing Dwarf Fortress on Steam will be a service to current fans, and not an attempt to attract new players?

“I think so,” he replies, “Maybe it sounds very selfish, as people spend a lot of energy to put their games on Steam and show them to people. But I can’t say that we got everything for nothing, because we worked a lot on the game before people started talking about it. But now I don’t really care and I’m not sure that this will be a meaningful waste of time. ”


Now that we have started discussing the attraction of new players, I asked Adams if he was going to transfer the game to new platforms like mobile or PS Vita.

Mobile platforms didn’t make sense for a very long time, since Dwarf Fortress was a very demanding game for the processor - even without taking into account possible problems with the interface, the power of mobile devices was not enough for a huge amount of calculations constantly performed by the game. However, Adams admits that “the parameters are close to our requirements”, so the likelihood of Dwarf Fortress appearing on the tablet increases.

Regarding PS Vita, he notes that “under no circumstances will we give the code to anyone, so we should be able to compile it ourselves.”

“Porting to Vita should also make sense for us,” he adds. “Now I do everything myself, compile code for Windows, compile for Linux, compile for Mac, everything is manual. The guy involved in porting went through real hell since I did not give him all the code. He never received it, although I have been working with him for many years and trust him completely. I mean that one mistake is enough and we will have a lot of problems with the code in the wrong hands. ”

The ability to use the NDA to prevent this possibility does not matter to Adams. “I should be able to compile it and I have absolutely no idea how to do this on other platforms.” - he adds - “Probably you should download their SDK. If Sony wants to go through all this nonsense with me, and I don’t think she wants to, for the sake of another game ... but that’s what it takes to be so stubborn. That's why porting is usually done by fans who care about it and who are willing to go through the whole nightmare of working with me. ”

“So we have nothing against other systems, but they must fit into our development process and our limitations,” he says.

Obviously, at this stage of development, Dwarf Fortress, Adams and his brother should have received a lot of offers from publishers - both about the publication of the game and about employment. Adams tells me that although he never considered working for someone else (“we want to work on our projects, and money doesn’t matter”), he was considering signing a contract for Dwarf Fortress with the publisher.

“We were asked to use the name Dwarf Fortress - in the spirit of Dwarf Fortress: Subtitle or something like that - they wanted to call one of their games.” - he tells me - “We were offered a six-figure sum.”

He adds, “With a good thought, you will realize that this has both pros and cons. Will the brand be worthless? Would you fool people? While they clearly understand that this is not Dwarf Fortress and not Dwarf Fortress with graphics, as they say a lot now, while you are open and honest, there are no technical difficulties - in the end, this is our brand and we can do everything with it we want to. "

Signing a contract with a publisher, or transferring rights to Dwarf Fortress, can also be beneficial for current fans, he says. “What do I mean, if we suddenly have enough money to be financially independent and no longer have to worry about paying for health insurance, then we will work even more on Dwarf Fortress - how can anyone not like this?”

He thinks, “To understand this, you will need a person who is very well versed in the philosophy and ethics of human behavior. We definitely discussed this and looked at the various consequences. ”

It was the consequences that did not allow the Adams to conclude such a deal - they are sure that in reality they would not have earned money, but lost.

“If people see another game, we are talking about the worst-case scenario, then their donations will run out and we will be left with an amount that you cannot live for 10 years. Do we suddenly want to create a new intellectual property? Our names are famous enough for us to do something similar, but this is a very risky task. ”

On the other hand, it cannot be said that the authors of Dwarf Fortress are afraid of risk - as Adams notes, “putting everything on one project, as we did, is a very risky decision, isn't it? Another game can destroy it all. No copyright will help. ”

Orc Fortress

Since Adams was talking about how a similar game could harm Dwarf Fortress, I asked why, in his opinion, no one had succeeded in successfully cloning the game so far. There were quite a few notable games inspired by Dwarf Fortress, but not one of them could copy the depth and visual style.

Adams is sure that one of the main reasons for the uniqueness of his game is that other developers very quickly realized how much effort and time they would need to invest in such a project.

“We don’t know if this awareness stopped them or if they weren’t going to do anything like that from the very beginning,” he adds for projects like Towns , Dwarfs and Game of Dwarves.

“Games in development like Clockwork Empires are more ambitious. Apparently, they will have a lot of interesting things. But I'm not at all sure if it makes sense to completely copy Dwarf Fortress, because our market cannot be called big. It’s unlikely that people look at our 50,000 dollars a year and say, “Hey, I want a piece of this pie.” Rather, they are looking toward Minecraft with its hundreds of millions of dollars. ”

Speaking of Minecraft, Adams would like to thank Markus Persson and his colleagues for saying that their game is inspired by Dwarf Fortress - “half of our fans found out about the game from them!” He laughs.

Returning to the possible cloning or even the appearance of an improved version of Dwaf Fortress, Adams says that someday this should happen.

“We are happy that we have been able to stay afloat for so long,” he says. “I am surprised that no one has yet cut our wings. It just hasn't happened yet. ”


“I read on Gamasutra about the ethics of shareware games and things like monetizing and Skinner Boxes"- Adams tells me -" we are very lucky that we were able to avoid all these difficulties and somehow earn a living. "

Without a doubt, the financing model of Dwarf Fortress - a completely free game that survives through donations from players - is radically different from the business models used in the modern video game industry.

Adams believes that he knows exactly why such a business model works in his case and will not work in many others.

“We did not try to make a hit for millions of dollars, and from communicating with other people I got the impression that they are pursuing just such a goal, releasing a game on the iPhone and so on.” He remarks. “Not all, of course. But we no longer need to work on it and think about ways to monetize. ”

“I saw what people go through,” he continues, “ Rocketcat Games (Punch Quest) live next door and sometimes we meet with them. It's very difficult to decide on our shareware model, isn't it? Their model was too generous and it’s not working. We are very lucky to not have to do this. "

People who are interested in Dwarf Fortress know that Adams sends drawings made with colored pencils to the donated money and adds them to the “Champions List” - this is very different from what other modern game developers offer.

“Extremely bizarre, isn't it?” He laughs. “But, fortunately, our requests are not great, we do not need a lot of money and we earn enough to continue to pour from empty to empty. $ 50,000 a year for two. "

“It probably looks like shareware,” he says of his own monetization technique, “we weren’t guided by anything. Someone said, “Why don’t you put a PayPal button on your birthday so I can send you $ 50?” Over the next four or five months, we received $ 300. I was still working then, and Dwarf Fortress had not yet quit. Then we released the game and in the following months received $ 800 and $ 1,000. And we thought, “It looks like we are getting it.” Now we get about 4,000 per month and it's just amazing. ”

After learning that the authors of Dwarf Fortress earn $ 50,000 a year solely from donations, I asked how donations are distributed. I assumed (as it later turned out correctly) that it is unlikely that everything comes down to small amounts from a lot of people and most likely Dwarf Fortress has its own “whales” - people who pay unreasonable, optional amounts.

“The subscription system is working now, simply because people asked to do it,” he told me. “Some people translated four-digit numbers. But we didn’t ask them about it - they all sent the money themselves and they all knew exactly what they were paying for, because they all played for a very long time — in some cases, years — before sending something. They received nothing from this except moral satisfaction. ”

“They probably have similarities with whales,” he continues, “but these people regularly send large enough amounts. Some donated computers. Some of the time - a lot of volunteers work with a bug tracking system and answer user questions. One guy ported the game to Mac and Linux — all completely free. ”

Everyone just wants Dwarf Fortress to continue, he says, so if they like the game, donations are in their own interests.

“Probably ordinary whales are interested in receiving gifts,” he adds. “There are all kinds of gifts — ethical behaviors. I know too little about other markets to draw any conclusions, but other people talk a lot about it. ”

Hey, party people (Hey Scenesters)

It is noteworthy that although the Adams brothers are definitely indie developers, they very rarely communicate with other developers and almost do not participate in the life of the indie community.

“This is not a focused decision.” - Adams tells me - “I just have such a character. As a child, I had few friends and I did not consider it necessary to spend time with someone. So I don’t see the point now. I have never liked Twitter / Facebook. I’m interested in watching other people talk to each other, but I never had the desire to participate in this. ”

This is not to say that the brothers never go anywhere. As I said earlier, they met with Rocketcat Games and tried a variety of mobile games, which are usually not interested. This year they drove an EVE Fanfest in Iceland, where Adams gave a talk - “We agreed because it was cool!”

But overall, Adams is not particularly interested in communicating with other developers. “Something like the GDC is not the place we are invited to,” he says. “This is the place you pay to visit.” Same thing with exhibitions. Networking has never made sense to us, that’s how we are doing. ”

“It is unlikely that we will start looking for work, if we do not succeed with the current game, we do not want to work in someone else’s studio.” He continues. “We are not interested. And there is no particular need, although most likely it would be very beneficial. We have no desire to talk about game development or something like that. It seems to me that we have a very mature process, since we have been doing this for 13 years. ”

Although Adams received his Ph.D. in mathematics from Stanford University and studied mathematics for a short period of time, he says that his lack of communication hindered scientific work. At times, mathematics is an extremely social field of activity, he says.

“You probably think that mathematicians lock themselves in the bathroom and solve theorems in darkness and loneliness, but in reality everything is tied to co-authorship in scientific works, taking into account other people's interests and working together on problems that are too complicated for a loner.” He says. “I guess I'm just a non-communicative person.”

But despite the lack of social skills and lonely work on the game of a lifetime Adams is completely satisfied with his life and prospects for the future.

“I am completely satisfied with the current state of affairs,” he explains. “Having spent 13 years in development, you do not look like an idiot, talking about another 20 years. We are well aware that anything can happen in two decades. At this age, health problems can begin. The economy can go smashed. ”

“But I feel calm. When I was doing math, I never felt anything like it. I have never had such achievements. Although no one knows what will happen in the future. ”

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