Toady: “It was supposed to take two months.”

Short angry men surviving solely on alcohol. But enough about Alec - here's some dwarf stuff.

Gamasutra have just ran a long and illuminating interview with Tarn “Toady” Adams of Dwarf Fortress fame. Across ten pages, we deal with everything from the origins of the god Armok’s name (It comes from a variable, Arm_ok, in an earlier game which kept track of your limbs), why they’re doing this epic fantasy game anyway (A love of priests named Aaaa, obv) and its nonlinear playpen as a storytelling device. And that’s just from the first four pages. I’d paraphrase the rest, but RPS-towers internet is having one of its momentary spaz outs when I can’t. Still – good to hear that Tarn now survives solely from donations into his tip-jar, allowing him to do it full time. For the love of dark gods named after amusing variables, go read the bloody thing.

(You haven’t got around to that Dwarf Fortress For Idiots Post yet, have you – RPS Subconscious)

Shut up, you.


  1. twb says:

    We need more postmortems with detailed discussions about algorithmic implementations. And possibly more games developed by obsessive-compulsive economists.

  2. faelnor says:

    Every time I read an article about Dwarf Fortress it reminds me how awesome that game is, and every time you can be sure I can’t resist the temptation to spend the next 4 hours on a new fortress.

    Postmortem ?

  3. twb says:

    Since DF is evidently *never* going to end development, I’m don’t know what the right term is for a discussion about it. If it were gold, this would be a postmortem. Intervivem, maybe?

  4. Chris Delay says:

    Can you imagine if someone was able to connect together the Dungeon Keeper graphics engine with the Dwarf Fortress game. Would that not be the most awesome thing in the world.

  5. Cigol says:

    The interface is awful. I don’t care if it cures cancer, I can’t bring myself to use it AND decipher it at the same time. Not that I don’t envy those who are able.

  6. Homunculus says:

    Yeah. I keep hearing how great it is, and all of the underlying nested systems sound exactly like the sort of thing I can usually forgive an ugly mush for, but, well, to my discredit, I can’t get past the lack of interface. If only some philanthropic games-loving rich geek would fund the development of something a little like this for it.

  7. alco75 says:

    If the thing’s programmed ‘properly’, changing from the askey view to a sprite view would involve minimal programming. It should be a relatively simple case of swapping one View for another. The biggest effort would probably be in the production of the sprites themselves. Still, someone’s gotta be up for it though, right? ‘Til then, I can’t bring myself to play it; I wasted way too many hours on UMoria (a Roguealike) as a teenager.

  8. Lacero says:

    I saw some people trying to work out the pressure algorithm on the wiki a while back so they’ll be happy with this.

    The problem with the interface is a bit deeper than throwing isometric tiles at it. Isometric games often have trouble working out what you’ve clicked on, for example in the example picture does clicking on the top of a tree select the tile with the tree or the tile the tree is covering? The character on that tile? The building on that tile? The items on that tile?

    Pretty graphics would be great, but they can only be a small part of fixing the interface. What it really needs is a tutorial level, but until the game is stable a tutorial will need working on everytime he updates and the game will never be stable.

  9. Sum0 says:

    You have to just grin and bear it. Once you get past it, you’ll be glad. Trust me. All my friends were into DF, and I was all “but it’s so confusing”, but I tried and persevered and then I was all “this is so worth it.” Because it is.

  10. Cyren says:

    I found having a good graphics set makes the game much easier to pick up. I used this one because it replaces a lot of the ASCII and it comes prepackaged: link to

    I don’t think I could have picked up the game without it, learning the ASCII graphics and the interface at the same time would have been too overwhelming for me.

  11. John H says:

    (1) It’s not ASCII. It’s the DOS character set. There’s no hearts or spades or line-building characters in ASCII.

    (2) Output is only half the interface. I can tolerate character mode output (if there was a key, that would be even better). The other half is input. I can’t get my head around the keyboard interface (and I’m a vi virtuoso).

  12. Robin says:

    “What it really needs is a tutorial level”

    Tutorial levels are a dubious solution at the best of times, but it would be completely inappropriate for Dwarf Fortress to have one. Players shouldn’t be indoctrinated with a ‘right’ way to approach the game. Experimenting and looking things up in the Wiki when you get stuck is already a good solution.

  13. Nick says:

    if it ever gets a decent input interface I’ll play it again.

  14. Theory says:

    If you have trouble playing, use the wiki. If you still have trouble playing, you just aren’t hardcore enough. ;-)

  15. Feet says:

    link to

    Wiki tutorial. I found it pretty helpful.

    I also knocked up a post on the very basic how-to’s of the interface here,

    link to

    It explains the logic of the interface (oh yes there’s a logic to it alright) and the kinda stuff you’ll need at the start to last a while.

  16. PleasingFungus says:

    Yeah, the interface is pretty painful – part of it is information overload, there’s a lot of that, but even when/if you get used to it (as I did), the lack of a mass-build option (so that you can build walls en-masse) is painful. (Also, some aspects of the job-assignment system.)

    STILL FREAKIN’ AWESOME, though. Excellent link. I’d actually never run into Boatmurder before, so that was a bonus.

  17. Feet says:

    Yeah I’ll probably spend most of tomorrow reading through that Boatmurder story now.

  18. Nick says:

    I’ve played an older version through winter successfully and all that, I have no problem with various roguelikes. I just fucking hate the convoluted control system as it gets in the way of the fun.

  19. LSTAR says:

    I love Dwarf Fortress with a vengeance. What I can’t understand, however, is why people have issues with the interface… They can read can’t they? And they have memories?
    Stick with it guys! It’s more than worth it!

  20. unclebulgaria says:

    Just finished the SA Boatmurdered saga. Classic!

  21. Cibbuano says:

    In fact, I think I love the simple graphics that DF uses… if the developers had put in some crude graphics, it’d turn me off, but this way, the game provides all the details, and your mind fills in all the rest.

    For example, I had a craftdwarf refuse to work because he was sad that his dog got killed by a rogue elephant. He just sat glumly outside, near the garbage pit. He’d shuffle around every now and then – and I swear, though he was represented by a simple happy face – I swear it felt like he was moping…

  22. Redd says:

    Interface or idiot filter?

    It’s simply (*gasp*) text instead of pretty icons. And who doesn’t mouse over a interface’s icons once or twice and remember the tool-tipped keyboard command in all their games anyway? If you’re wasting time clicking icons all the time you’re not going to get anywhere. That’s analogous to the key-looking twits back in the day; playing Quake with the cursor keys instead of the mouse. Adapt people.

    I hope — HOPE — that people are actually getting past the interface and are simply realising they don’t have a fucking clue about how to implement the concepts and systems that are at the heart of the game, and are throwing their hands up and blaming the interface instead. That would at least give me some comfort. And if they’re not, then I guess they’d have no chance of getting enjoyment from the game anyway.

    GG key-lookers.

  23. Cigol says:

    I’d just like to add that I don’t envy the elitists who enjoy the obtuseness of the interface and its barrier to gameplay.

  24. Hunty says:

    Seconded. I really like Dwarf Fortress in a lot of ways (Boatmurdered is the tip of the iceberg, funny stories-wise), and that includes the graphics – plenty is left to the imagination, and I think that’s pretty effective.

    What I don’t think is effective is having to lay a road in 8×8 increments across a 750×750 map. Or press four different hot keys to change a dwarf’s work assignments, and do that individually for every dwarf. Or, whilst we’re on the subject of keylooking, not being able to use my mouse, ever. All of which is not to say that I don’t enjoy it, or think it’s brilliantly ambitious – just to say that angry internet man #86 proclaiming that my not wanting to spend the rest of my natural life laying a wall down around my fortress makes me an idiot perhaps needs to examine his attitude a touch.

  25. Stromko says:

    There might be a better interface at some point, the game just has too far to go in development for Toady to bother with it now. Why figure out a more ‘modern’ interface when it has to get scrapped if it turns out unsuitable for controlling armies or multiple adventurers? Those are two things that aren’t in the game right now, but are definitely planned.

    I’m not totally happy with the interface myself, but I can’t see any easy fixes. It was always worth it to me though because I really want the gameplay it offers.

    If it’s not totally worth it for you to put up with the interface and get used to it, then you don’t have to play it. Not everyone in the world is going to think it’s the best game ever made, so be it.

    (edit) Oh yeah, constructions in general do need to be easier to do. I’m quite sure it’s planned to be fixed.

    I like the graphics myself, I’ve tried a few tile sets but they always ended up just being confusing. I like being able to look at a pool and know exactly how deep it is (even if it’s constantly flickering 6’s and 7’s — I find it oddly hypnotic), and to be able to tell the difference between a wall and a bridge, details that are often spoiled by tilesets.

    I think the whole thing is showing a trend towards being more and more moddable, so it’s going to look better and control better eventually even if Toady never gets around to it. There’s already been user utilities like Dwarf Foreman, though most utilities aren’t version-independent right now and so most aren’t available on the newest version. I personally couldn’t live without the Regional Prospector, which works on all versions thus far.

  26. Pete says:

    I’ve played and enjoyed nethack, and I couldn’t get into DF because it offers a complete blank cliff of a learning curve. There is basically no in-game advice at all on what to press and I couldn’t be bothered with exhaustive search.

    The elitists have also put me off bothering to try it again.

  27. Elos says:

    1. Play DF windowed

    2. Open up df wiki in the browser

    3. Switch between them for awesome wiki help. Beats every possible ingame help hands down.

    4. ???

    5. PROFIT!

  28. Kieron Gillen says:

    Toady talks about the interface and graphics issues in the interview, if people want to read. He describes the game as a storyboard, and the storyboard has to be complete before they move onto anything else.

    (i.e. The game has to be complete before they can concentrate on trying to make a better interface or graphics, because they know that if they did the latter any earlier, it would all have to be thrown into the bin when the later features arrived. Until it’s finished, it’s wasted work which would have to be duplicated.)


  29. Stromko says:

    Something that should be pointed out about most ‘elitists’ is when they were getting used to DF it was a hell of a lot simpler. Used to be, every mountain-side was essentially the same, they all had the necessary resources and features to be a full and playable fortress. Didn’t used to have a Z-axis either, which adds both complexity and technical issues to grapple with. It’s easier than ever to get a lagtastic fort with little to no options to survive and thrive and have no idea why, and I could see that putting most people off on the game.

    About the key-bindings. You can hit the Tab button and choose to have the screen divided up so that it shows the keys at all times. I’ve been playing DF for years and I still have to do this sometimes, there’s just too many keys and submenus for them to be the least bit intuitive.

    Even when the game was still 2D and still chose fort sites for you, I was only able to get used to it by having the wiki open at all times ready to look up whatever question I had. It is essentially the instruction manual, and if you aren’t looking at it, well, you might have problems figuring out how to work it.

    DF is most likely going to become easier to learn, somehow, at some point. Perhaps there’ll be a truly kickass tile-set that is both usable and easy to learn. Maybe some key systems will get a better interface (job management for one).

    If the gameplay on offer doesn’t seem compelling enough for you to put up with learning it as it is, well, there’s no rush. It’s only going to get better over time, whether or not it ever gets easier.

  30. Heartless_ says:

    All great game designers have hit a wall when it comes to translating a great game design into a friendly UI. Actually, a lot of great games have suffered from lack of a decent UI and have suffered commercially because of it. However, Dwarf Fortress really is not a commercial entity… yet, so they are 100% genius to ignore the constant cries for UI improvements.

    If (when?) they ever finish the underlying engine they want, the UI is a stone’s throw away with the right team working on it. With the plethora of freely available graphic sets, it could actually start well before hand, but just not by the two guys focusing on the guts of the game.

    Personally, I’ve been waiting some time to see a DF UI project take off and parallel development with the DF twosome, in hopes that they arrive at the final product at the same time.

    Lol.. I said final product while referring to Dwarf Fortress…

  31. KingMob says:

    I’d like to see the DF developers using or working with the tools Spore is supposed to bring to the table, in terms of procedural generation and sharing user-created assets.

    Maybe down the road when Spore is finished and the sharing tools are available for license the DF guys will decide to have other people’s fortresses show up in your game, or vice versa.

  32. yutt says:

    If Will Wright had made an independent studio, like Valve, Tarn and Zach would be employed and have expert mentorship and professional tools at their disposal.

    Unfortunately there aren’t enough Valves in the world.

  33. Jon says:

    I am going to try DF once again, just because of the comments above.

    The interface looks so crazy to start with though :(

  34. Jon says:

    Sorry, can’t do it. The interface hurts my eyes and is far too busy.

  35. K-k says:

    Interface problems? If you want pretty icons, go play pretty games. :P This game is about being in depth to the max, not pretty interface. The interface is very easy to operate with less than an hour of doing things.

  36. DFa4 anon says:

    Russians are coming soon.