If you don’t know what Dwarf Fortress is, it is an extremely in-depth colony building simulator that has been developed consistently by a group of brothers over the course of the last twelve years. Often touted as being very difficult to learn, the base game has a less-than-intuitive GUI and all of the graphics are done with ASCII characters, reminiscent of BBS games from the 80’s and 90’s. If Dwarf Fortress were a movie, it would almost certainly be defined as a cult classic.
(the “quick start” guide is a meme)
Despite the lack of graphics and steep learning curve, Dwarf Fortress has an active following, and has been the inspiration for many successful games, some of which, like Gnomoria, are almost exact replicas of Dwarf Fortress with a more intuitive GUI and graphics, others, like Rimworld, have taken creative liberties, but the core gameplay remains the same across the genre – you control a small group of characters, who you have limited control over – usually involving a work type priority system where you can tell your colony’s workers what to focus on. Other recurring themes are procedurally generated worlds, and random events, making these games part colony simulator, part strategy game, and part roguelike.
While some games, like the aforementioned Rimworld, have seen massive success, Dwarf Fortress remains very much a lesser-known indie title, but the developers, Tarn and Zach Adams, hope to change that.
While there are fan-made mods that replace the ASCII graphics with a tileset, the Adams brothers realize that the game requiring new players who aren’t accustomed to 80’s “graphics” find and download mod sets to replace them constitutes a rather large barrier to entry for today’s gamers, and also makes it difficult to market the game.
While they have survived almost entirely on donations alone, the Adams brothers have decided to release the game on Steam – with an official graphics set – for a nominal fee. While the classic version of the game will always be free to download, and the Adams brothers have confirmed that the original version will receive the same updates that the Steam version gets, it is expected that making the game available on Steam will greatly increase the number of people who get to experience Dwarf Fortress, and importantly, it will give Dwarf Fortress players and content creators access to the Steam Workshop, with the goal of having seamless mod integration in the future.
When asked why they have finally decided to sell the game, as they have declined past licensing deals,
they are quick to point out that while a graphical Steam release of Dwarf Fortress will surely expand the game’s audience, the true reason for their decision is that they aren’t getting any younger, and have fears that as they get older, they won’t be able to afford healthcare in old age with only donations to sustain them.
While there isn’t currently a concrete release date scheduled, you can follow their progress on their steam page. As someone who has spent a lot of time in similar games, but has never had the patience to sit down and learn Dwarf Fortress from scratch, I’m very excited to try out the steam version. If you’re interested, take a look at the official trailer below: