Community heroes: Tarn Adams, for Dwarf Fortress
This week, we're still interviewing some of PC gaming's greatest heroes - the pillars of the community who have devoted huge chunks of time and love to make the PC a better place to game. Today, we've got an interview with Tarn Adams - one of the two brothers behind Dwarf Fortress, the ASCII Dwarf civilisation simulator that still produces some of the most amazing stories in gaming.
PC Gamer: When did you first start developing Dwarf Fortress? Was your brother on board from the start?
Tarn Adams: My brother and I have been making games together for as long as I can remember. Dwarf Fortress is now our main fantasy game, but it original started in October 2002 as a smaller project that we were hoping to finish in a few months while we continued work on our previous game Slaves to Armok: God of Blood. Armok was encumbered by worse programming than DF's and cludgy 3D graphics, and DF kept sucking features away from it like a black hole next to a star or something, until Armok was scuttled and only DF remained.
PC Gamer: You rely on donations from the community to fund ongoing development. When did you reach the tipping point where you knew you could do that? How did that feel?
Tarn Adams: It was the summer after the first year of my math postdoc in 2006 when I decided I needed to focus on DF full-time, but we didn't really have hope for donations at that time. DF hadn't even been released yet. I was just thinking I'd burn off my savings for a year and then get a job. When the game was released in August, we were making around a thousand dollars a month, and that was enough to build some hope, and the average kept going up. There wasn't really a tipping point... or if there is, I still don't feel like I've reached it. This year has been good so far, but there was the unusual 19-month delayed release in April which led to a large bump. Now we're stabilizing back down around treading water again. It's good though, since I'm able to work on the game full-time as it stands, and that's satisfying.
PC Gamer: What attracts you to this deeply complex and realism-focused style of game? Why aren't you making, say, accessible platformers for Wiiware?
Tarn Adams: We made a lot of smaller games, mostly in the days before Bay 12 existed as a website, and that's fun as well. It would be cool to do it again. There's just not enough time, and we like our ambitious projects the most. One of the main reasons we started writing games was so that we'd be able to play the games we wanted to play, and having games with unpredictable and complicated behavior is one way to ensure replayability for the developer.
PC Gamer: Why did you decide to ditch the 3D graphics you had going in God of Blood? Do you feel like you save development time by keeping the visuals concise?
Tarn Adams: He he he, first of all, it looked horrible. But yeah, development is faster and the possibilities are less restrained when you don't have to worry about rendering everything in 3D.
PC Gamer: You seem to take a very structured approach to your work – you've got an exhaustive list of features, you do regular updates on your progress, and you work for set periods of time on a rolling schedule. How do you manage to be so organised, and why do you feel the need to be?
Tarn Adams: My past is littered with the graves of half-finished projects, and I think it's safer to try to be as organized as possible. On the other hand, I recently took down part of the development list, since many of the items were languishing for far too long and becoming outdated. There just isn't enough time to keep it all maintained properly.