How cats get drunk in Dwarf Fortress, and why its creators haven't figured out time travel (yet)

Dwarf Fortress Jollybscreen2

I recently had the rare opportunity to interview Tarn Adams, the designer and programmer of Dwarf Fortress. For those who aren't familiar, Dwarf Fortress is an incredibly complex simulation, and in a wide-ranging interview Adams talked about his quest to eventually simulate much of existence in Dwarf Fortress, right down to the density of cactus. During our talk, a couple fun anecdotes stood out—like the fact that Dwarf Fortress's planned feature list (which sits at about 2,600 items) once included time travel.

"You eventually decide, ‘Well, you know, not gonna be able to do time travel,’ or something," Adams said. "Even though there are time-travel fantasy stories. It’s just a hard problem. Even if we thought of some silly way to kind of do it, it’s gone."

"It's just a hard problem" is probably the understatement of the year. Adams gave me another great story: an explanation of why cats started getting drunk and puking in the latest version of Dwarf Fortress.

"I added taverns to fortress mode, so the dwarves will go to a proper establishment, get mugs, and make orders, and they’ll drink in the mug," Adams said. "And, you know, things happen, mugs get spilled, there’s some alcohol on the ground.

"Now, the cats would walk into the taverns, right, and because of the old blood footprint code from, like, eight years ago or something, they would get alcohol on their feet. It was originally so people could pad blood around, but now any liquid, right, so they get alcohol on their feet. And then I wanted to add cleaning stuff so when people were bathing, or I even made eyelids work for no reason, because I do random things sometimes. So cats will lick and clean themselves, and on a lark, when I made them clean themselves I’m like, ‘Well, it’s a cat. When you do lick cleaning, you actually ingest the thing that you’re cleaning off, right? They make hairballs, so they must swallow something, right?' And so the cats, when they cleaned the alcohol off their feet, they all got drunk. Because they were drinking.

But the numbers were off on that. I had never thought about, you know, activating inebriation syndromes back when I was adding the cleaning stuff. I was just like, ‘Well, they ingest it and they get a full dose,’ but a full dose is a whole mug of alcohol for a cat-sized creature, and it does all the blood alcohol size-based calculations, so the cats would get sick and vomit all over the tavern."

Dwarf Fortress: just like real life.

Check out my interview with Tarn Adams about Dwarf Fortress, his views on the games industry, and his upcoming myth generation system, right here.

Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).