The cult indie hit is unexpectedly coming to Steam. Silverlake, Wash.-based designer Tarn Adams, the primary creator of Dwarf Fortress alongside his brother Zach, announced last week that the long-running game will arrive on both and in a new version that features actual graphics and “generally enhanced” audio. As the original Dwarf Fortress (see below) has been both freeware and made entirely of ASCII art since 2006, this marks a massive departure for the game in more ways than one. The reason for the new version, according to Adams’ announcement, is related to financial concerns due to healthcare treatment costs. “We don’t talk about this much, but for many years, Zach has been on expensive medication, which has fortunately been covered by his healthcare,” wrote Adams, co-founder of . “It’s a source of constant concern, as the plan has changed a few times and as the political environment has shifted. We have other family health risks, and as we get older, the precariousness of our situation increases; after Zach’s latest cancer scare, we determined that with my healthcare plan’s copay etc., I’d be wiped out if I had to undergo the same procedures.” “The Steam release may or may not bring us the added stability we’re seeking now,” he added. An illustrative screenshot of the original, “classic” Dwarf Fortress. (Official Bay 12 Games screenshot) The current version of Dwarf Fortress is entirely funded through player donations, first through PayPal and currently via Patreon. The Steam and Itch versions of Dwarf Fortress will be published by Montreal-based , with graphics provided by Kitfox’s Tanya Short, and Mike Mayday and Meph, two longtime members of the Dwarf Fortress modding community. The original freeware Dwarf Fortress, which will henceforth be known as Dwarf Fortress Classic, will continue to be made available alongside the graphical, paid version. Adams intends to continue updating both versions simultaneously for the foreseeable future. If you pay any attention to PC gaming at all, you’ve probably at least heard of Dwarf Fortress, a indie game that’s been in steady development since 2006, growing steadily more complex all the while. It’s an open-ended base-building simulator set in a randomly-generated fantasy world, where you try and usually fail to build a successful colony of dwarves despite all of them being eccentric maniacs with a collective death wish. Like early dungeon-crawling games on the PC, such as Rogue and Nethack, Dwarf Fortress Classic eschews graphics entirely in favor of ASCII art. Unlike those games, thanks to years of constant updates, the game features systems on top of systems to simulate everything from damage to individual dwarves’ limbs to your settlement being randomly infiltrated by a vampire. Dwarf Fortress is notoriously challenging, and has no actual win conditions, so a given game will only end in the inevitable destruction of the player’s colony. Its official motto has become “Losing is fun!” At the same time, the game generated enough of a following that it’s . Since the start, Dwarf Fortress has been developed by Tarn and Zach Adams, who founded Bay 12 Games in Silverdale, Wash. in 1996, to publish their own freeware games. In 2006, Tarn Adams, who holds a doctorate in mathematics from Stanford, gave up on his postdoctoral work and became a full-time games developer. He has been releasing regular updates for Dwarf Fortress ever since, with the most recent update coming out in July of last year.
Among the growing field of indie games, one truly stands alone: . The unbelievably rich and complex and legendarily user-unfriendly title has been a free staple of awe and frustration for years. But the developers, in a huge shift to the status quo, have announced that the game will not only soon have a paid version on Steam — it’ll have… graphics. It may be hard for anyone who isn’t already familiar with the game and community to understand how momentous this is. In the decade and a half this game has been in active, continuous development, perhaps the only thing that hasn’t changed about the game is that it is a maze for the eyes, a mess of alphanumerics and ASCII-based art approximating barrels, dwarves, goblins, and dozens of kinds of stone. You know in The Matrix where they show how the world is made up of a bunch of essentially text characters? It’s basically that, except way more confusing. But you get a feel for it after a few years. So when developers Tarn and Zach Adams announced on their Patreon account that they were planning on ditching the ASCII for actual sprites in a paid premium version of the game to be and indie marketplace .. minds were blown. Of all the changes Dwarf Fortress has undergone, this is likely the most surprising. Here are a few screenshots compared with the old ASCII graphics: [gallery ids="1796812,1796815,1796811,1796818,1796814,1796819,1796816,1796817"] Not that you couldn’t get graphics in other ways — gamers aren’t that masochistic. There are “tile packs” available in a variety of sizes and styles that any player can apply to the game to make it easier to follow; in fact, the creators of two popular tilesets, and , were tapped to help make the “official” one, which by the way looks nice. (maker of the lovely ) is helping out as well. There are plenty of other little mods and improvements made by dedicated players. Many of those will likely be ported over to Workshop and made a cinch to install — another bonus for paying players. Now, I should note that I in no way find this bothersome. I support Tarn and Zach in whatever they choose to do, and at any rate the original ASCII version will always be free. But what does disturb me is the reason they are doing this. : We don’t talk about this much, but for many years, Zach has been on expensive medication, which has fortunately been covered by his healthcare. It’s a source of constant concern, as the plan has changed a few times and as the political environment has shifted. We have other family health risks, and as we get older, the precariousness of our situation increases; after Zach’s latest cancer scare, we determined that with my healthcare plan’s copay etc., I’d be wiped out if I had to undergo the same procedures. That said, crowdfunding is by far our main source of income and the reason we’re still here. Your support is still crucial, as the Steam release may or may not bring us the added stability we’re seeking now and it’s some months away. It’s sad as hell to hear that a pair of developers whose game is as well-loved as this, and who are making a modest sum via Patreon can still be frightened of sudden bankruptcy on account of a chronic medical condition. This isn’t the place for a political debate, but one would hope that the creators of what amounts to a successful small business like this would not have to worry about such things in the richest country in the world. That said, they seem comfortable with the move to real graphics and the addition of a more traditional income stream, so the community (myself included) will no doubt see the sunny side of this and continue to support the game in its new form.