Nearly everything in DF, from the history and storytelling to the appearance and personalities of your dwarves is procedurally generated, governed by behavioral and physical properties rather than scripted interaction or set rules. This gives the player and amount of freedom and choice that makes Gary’s mod look like Papers, Please. We’re not talking about choice in the narrative sense, either, where the player is made to feel like they’re making a difference when all of their actions will cumulatively result in an explosion that looks a bit different when they beat the game. We’re talking, raw, unadulterated, unbound decision making. Naturally, the more creative players have taken advantage of this freedom to weaponize, well, just about everything. Catapulting large animals into hordes of invading goblins? Check. Auto-firing super weapons that hurl dozens of spears downrange? No problem. The medieval equivalent of a high pressure firehose? You got it, boss. There are even players that start chemical and biological weapons programs that would make the Albert Wesker Blush. You want to build a monster trap using nothing but high quality furniture and some structural engineering? You bet you can. Ultraviolence not your thing? You can also engineer mechanical and structural marvels, or follow your Dwarves’ day-to- days and interpersonal relationships with a level of detail so granular you’d have to dumb it down an order of magnitude before it could be compared to the Sims.
The beauty of all of this is that none of it is planned. there’s no “craft elaborate, Rube-Goldberg death trap” button. It’s just things that the game allows through simulation of it’s own little reality. The player is in effect, god of his own pocket universe where the main intelligent form of life are squat alcoholic socipaths. As you can imagine, this kind of power attracts a vibrant and diverse cult following, still highly active to date despite a ten year plus beta dev cycle.
You may not have heard of Dwarf Fortress, but if any of this sounds even vaguely familiar, it’s because it’s been a powerful influence on the gaming industry during it’s quiet decade of development, spawning industry titans like Minecraft, and pioneering procedural game development as we know it today. Despite the massive scope of the game and long development cycle, The Adams Brothers (Tarn and Zach) responsible for both say the game is less than halfway done.
Last month marked the ten-year anniversary of full-time development on DF for Bay 12 Games, the Brothers’ dev house, of which they are the sole employees. We sat down with them to discuss what that decade has been like, and how they plan on handling the long road ahead. Here’s the meat of that conversation:
I'm not even sure it works anymore, since tears seem to stay in the eyes. It's funny, similar code for cats cleaning themselves was what was causing all this alcohol poisoning in the tavern release, since they'd lick it off their paws and there was a bug with how much it affected them.The Adams Brothers
Ten years of development on the most complex game in existence, working on donations, and it’s about two-fifths done in the eyes of the creator. Whether you appreciate the game itself or the guiding influence it’s had on the industry, you have to wonder what the 57% of the game still in the minds of Zach and Tarn looks like. I for one look forward to revisiting Dwarf Fortress in 2030 for its 1.0 release, and all the extra fun that will entail.