In this episode we interview game developer Tarn Adams of Bay 12 Games who is working on Dwarf Fortress, a procedurally generated fantasy world game with an exceptionally long development cycle. For those who are unfamiliar Dwarf Fortress has been written about by The New York Times, installed in the MoMA and called “The Most Inscrutable Video Game of All Time” by Ars Technica.
From the New York Times Profile by Jonah Weiner:
This bare-bones aesthetic allows Tarn to focus resources not on graphics but on mechanics, which he values much more. 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. Beneath the game’s rudimentary facade is a dizzying array of moving parts, algorithms that model everything from dwarves’ personalities (some are depressive; many appreciate art) to the climate and economic patterns of the simulated world. The story of a fortress’s rise and fall isn’t scripted beforehand — in most games narratives progress along an essentially set path — but, rather, generated on the fly by a multitude of variables. The brothers themselves are often startled by what their game spits out. “We didn’t know that carp were going to eat dwarves,” Zach says. “But we’d written them as carnivorous and roughly the same size as dwarves, so that just happened, and it was great.”
Dwarf Fortress may not look real, but once you’re hooked, it feels vast, enveloping, alive. To control your world, you toggle between multiple menus of text commands; seemingly simple acts like planting crops and forging weapons require involved choices about soil and season and smelting and ores. A micromanager’s dream, the game gleefully blurs the distinction between painstaking labor and creative thrill.
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To learn more about Tarn Adams and Dwarf Fortress, and to download the game for free head over to Bay 12 Games. Thanks again to Tarn for taking some time to talk and thanks to you for checking out the blog and show!