When I last talked to Tarn and Zach Adams, the brothers and co-creators of Dwarf Fortress were just wrapping their heads around a new reality: becoming millionaires. It's only been three months since then, but when I sat down with the brothers this week at the 2023 Game Developers Conference, I had to know: Were they treating themselves to a little well-earned luxury yet?
"I was gonna buy a guitar," said Tarn. "We went to a Guitar Center, and they had one that I tried, but it didn't speak to me. Alas."
That guitar trip was a rare moment of downtime for the Adams' in the last few months. Their 2023 has been a whirlwind: Along with publisher Kitfox, they've hired a programmer from the modding community to work on the game full-time, giving someone else access to the source code in Dwarf Fortress's two decade history. They've released a flurry of patches to fix little issues with the Steam release and added arena mode. Now, after so long surviving on donations, they've started to do a few things for themselves, too. Tarn has moved into a new apartment, while Zach and his wife have bought a new house.
I wanted to know more about that guitar, though. After selling hundreds of thousands of copies of Dwarf Fortress, Tarn's one extravagance was almost, but not actually, buying a guitar?
It turned out there was a story there.
"I'm just kind of spoiled by this experience I had in like, 2005, where I pulled this flamenco guitar off the wall that was way out of my price range at the time, and I was like, wow, I really get this thing where people want a guitar that's made out of wood and not plastic," Tarn said. He's looked for it again since, but no luck.
But surely with the power of internet crowdsourcing we can help find the creator of Dwarf Fortress the exact guitar of his dreams, right?
I asked for more details.
"A spruce flamenco guitar. How do you describe the action? It needs to be easy to play. That was the thing that really spoiled me—I have my guitar, but then I picked this thing up and it's so much easier to play. You can do so much more without thinking about it. Something about how the strings lay on the fret that makes them easier to press, you don't have to press as hard or deep."
"People who know about [guitars] more than I do, just hit me up," he said with a laugh.
Tarn's guitar playing is actually a small but important element of Dwarf Fortress's history. That's his guitar noodling on the original menu screen for Dwarf Fortress, which was used to inform the main theme on the fantastic new soundtrack by Dabu and Simon Swerwer.
For the good of Dwarf Fortress players everywhere, then—if you're an expert on flamenco guitars or know someone who is, leave a comment or send us and @Bay12Games a tweet. And keep an eye out for Noclip's upcoming Dwarf Fortress documentary, where you can see Tarn not buying a guitar.