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Developer's Health Problems Sparked a New Age in Dwarf Fortress

GameRant 4 days ago Matti Robinson
© Provided by GameRant

Brothers Tarn and Zach Adams of Bay 12 Games have been developing Dwarf Fortress for over two decades, but a recent life-changing event sparked a new stage in the game's development. Dwarf Fortress has always been a text-based game that relied on the addictive and complex simulation underneath the hood. However, now after decades of development, the two-man crew has decided to make the leap into providing a graphical user interface in the new Steam release of Dwarf Fortress.

The development of Dwarf Fortress started as early as 2002, under a project name Mutant Miner. An arcade game featuring a mutagen canister-seeking miner soon became a complex world simulation that took years to release. Even after the release, the project was far from complete. The team continued working on the free-to-play game and expanded the features of the game month by month, year by year. The team never thought of adding graphics, perhaps due to bad experiences with Dwarf Fortress' predecessor, the company's only 3D venture. However, this would change after health issues. Game Rant spoke to Tarn and Zach Adams about their journey after Zach got sick.

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Health Emergency Required a New Perspective for Dwarf Fortress

Bay 12 Games had never created games for money. Just to keep the development alive, they took contributions from the community, but Dwarf Fortress was always free to play. While Tarn and Zach didn't plan on asking for money to play the game, a new reality struck as Zach encountered problems with his health.

Zach got sick after the team had spent nearly their entire adult lives developing the free-to-play game. The healthcare costs were significant, but fortunately, the costs were covered with the help of his wife's insurance, acquired through her work. However, this wouldn't be the case if it had been Tarn that got sick. The reality was that the brothers had to make some changes. If Tarn required medical attention that would cost as much, Bay 12 Games and the development of Dwarf Fortress would be in jeopardy.

"If the same thing happened to my brother, we'd be wiped out, Bay 12 would not exist."

This wasn't necessarily a cry for help, Dwarf Fortress had done immensely well considering not one copy of the game had ever been sold. It had garnered worldwide attention to the scale that the Museum of Modern Art in New York City had not only acquired it to its collection but had the game files in its server archives. It was just a fact of how the healthcare system worked, or in this case, didn't work, and that even fun-loving independent developers need an income.

Dwarf Fortress' Change Was a Blessing In Disguise

Bay 12 Games had an immense task ahead of it. The programmer of the two, Tarn, needed to make the game's framework function with a completely new interface. This new UI used graphical blocks instead of ASCII characters. Zach took upon the massive task of thousands of hours of testing before the game would be even close to ready for a Steam release. At the same time, they managed to improve the game by adding a new end game and labor system, among other incremental changes. Much of the work was in balancing and making the game's simulations tighter.

The publisher Kitfox has been a huge help in not only promoting the game and dealing with core publisher things but also in helping find talent to create graphics and an entirely new soundscape. The original title had Tarn's homemade looping acoustic guitar track, which Dwarf Fortress fans no doubt became fond of. Now it has been an inspiration for musicians that have created a brand-new soundtrack with dozens of songs, tracks, and ambiances.

"It's so much easier now than before. I would never go back."

Most importantly, though, Tarn and Zach came to realize that this was an amazing development in the decades-long journey of Dwarf Fortress. They wouldn't change it for the world, and they love how the game is coming together in a new more graphical form. It's not only a new, better way of playing the game, but it will also attract a lot of new people to enjoy Dwarf Fortress. They believe that now that the base-building genre is much bigger than it was in 2006 when Dwarf Fortress originally launched, it's much easier for people to pick up and play. This trend combined with the fact that the Steam version has extensive tutorials and guides will make it more newbie-friendly. Even those that enjoy the free-to-play original are pleased to hear that it too will get all the updates in the future.

Dwarf Fortress releases on Steam on December 6.

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