I'm telling you, with a straight face, that this is the biggest PC gaming news of 2019: Dwarf Fortress is coming to Steam, with graphics and Workshop mod support. Dwarf Fortress is as famous for its ASCII graphics as it is for its unparalleled depth as a procedurally generated simulation of existence. And while it's always been moddable, the new Steam (and Itch.io) release, coming this year, will make an infamously complex game just a little bit easier to get into.
Kitfox Games, makers of Moon Hunters and the upcoming Boyfriend Dungeon, are handling publishing and working with artists and a composer for the new release. The new 32×32 pixel graphics tileset is being created as a collaboration between two long-time Dwarf Fortress modders. Under the surface, Dwarf Fortress will otherwise be the same game. The free version will remain available and be updated same as the version available on Steam, which will cost $20.
I asked creator Tarn Adams for some more details about the new version. Here's what I learned.
PC Gamer: What's the scale of the sprites? 32×32?
Tarn Adams: Yeah, the sprites are 32×32, but some of the creatures like elephants or dragons can be larger, spreading out into neighboring tiles a bit. Importantly, the text won't be the same size as the sprites (Dwarf Fortress to this point has had the ability for modders to add creature graphics, but the creature and text sprites had to be the same size, which was awkward and led to some pretty ingenious work from modders to overcome the limitation.) It's still possible to zoom out to get a larger view of your fortress, but we decided that 32×32 would give Mike and Meph enough room to be expressive and tackle some of the more complicated workshops and items.
Did you have any input or requests or desires for the new graphics style, or did you leave that up to Kitfox and the artists to decide?
We interact with them frequently, almost daily. Sometimes there are long conversations preceding the first pass on a set of tiles, especially when some code/tech decisions have to be made, and sometimes a pig or loom appears suddenly in a thread and we're like, wow, cool! Though we have the final decision on every tile, and we have input and preferences, sure, we're often delighted with the art they come up with. Since both of the artists have been around DF for so long, many of the needs of the project are understood without requiring our input.
It sounds like underneath the new graphics and sound, Dwarf Fortress is essentially unchanged. But in putting the game in front of a wider audience, are you now thinking about bigger changes? Controls, UI, that sort of thing?
We've been talking about this, yeah, and by necessity, just due to the 32×32 tiles, some elements of the UI are going to change and we'll take advantage of that to make things a little easier on people. We're hopeful that we can do accessibility work beyond the addition of graphics and ease of installation that'll come with the Steam/itch version. It's still too early in the process of hashing out interface designs etc. to have specific information, but we've been having these discussions.
Do you have a release day or window?
A: Not yet! The main issue is that I'm in the middle of adding villains! There'll be a Dwarf Fortress release on Bay 12 before the graphical version, and it'll have all of the stuff I've been talking about on the dev log with villains and player parties of adventurers and monasteries and mercenary companies and everything else. This'll happen some months from now. We didn't want the villain features to interfere with the Steam/itch release (since new DF releases with lots of systems can be rough at first!) but we also wanted to get the villain release up first so that people wouldn't be confused about all the villain dev logs I've been doing.
The artists will be working while I finish villains, as they have been to this point, and I'll probably also be coding up some graphical features for them to aid their work, but the main code work begins after the villains release is stabilized. I can't estimate how long that will take yet; as you can see from the trailer, we already have some of the new tile support in-game, but there's still a lot of work to do.
The first Steam/itch release will also be accompanied by a release of the free version (available from the Bay 12 site or through Steam); all versions will have quite a bit of new modding capability due to the code updates. Steam Workshop integration is also planned for the first release as well.