Dwarf Fortress New Release, Interview

By: Derek Yu

On: July 23rd, 2008

Dwarf Fortress

39d was released today, bringing with it a host of nice, shiny improvements. There’s also a really good three-part interview with Tarn up on kwanzoo (part 3 goes up tomorrow). The interviewer is Matt Boyd of Three Panel Soul.

Matt: I don’t want to tell you how to do your job, but it seems like a friendlier interface might help you by getting a lot more people into the game. It’s pretty daunting.

Tarn: Oh sure, it’s just something I’m going to have to slowly do myself, and I have many dev items along those lines. It’s just not something that I currently think is a good idea to do in a moddable fashion.

One thing I was a bit saddened to hear was that Tarn’s making less from donations now than he was before (EDIT: Tarn meant before, when he was a mathematician). But hell, I want the guy to live comfortably, given how much enjoyment he’s brought me and the internets over the years. If you’re a fan, consider giving a little to toast the new release. And I don’t know how well-known this is, but as a reward for donating you can get some awesome presents: either a short story that’s illustrated with a single line of ASCII art, or a crayon drawing.

And for those of you that are tired of hearing about DF, well, tough plump helmets! But seriously, I imagine this will be the last release for this particular arc. See ya!

  • trav

    Yay tarn! three cheers for the toad!

  • http://www.puppybuckets.blogspot.com/ Alehkhs


  • PoV

    I’m going to sound like an ass because of this, but the UI and heavy keyboard interface is exactly why I, and I’m sure many don’t bother with the game. I don’t know where his priorities lie with the project, but if donations are down, you kinda want to bring in more players to counter that. Hence, putting time in to the general usability.

    And hey, if what’s holding that back is a lack of a “slick” modable way to do it, big deal. There’s so much love of this game, your hardcore fans can live through some UI headaches as that evolves. And modders simply be aware that the UI is evolving, so stick to the pre-new-ui versions if need be.

  • player2

    Personally, I think mods would be a mess for several reasons. I do agree, however, that the game could use an easier interface. But that’s going to take some seriously creative brainstorming, because any game this complex ends up being difficult to learn. It’s not like Rogue and Nethack and Incursion etc. decided to make effed up controls for the hell of it. But I also don’t put it past Tarn to develop an ass-kicking UI if he put enough time into it.

  • Fikodrazes

    http://www.bay12games.com/dwarves/dev_v1.html – Consider the amount of features yet to be implemented into DF, it’ll probably be a long while before we see polished UI implementation i.e. whenever Tarn gets around to working on the Presentation Arc.

  • Gr.Viper

    How moddable can simple mouse support be? Mouse cursor can even remain ASCII like they were in old DOS file managers.

  • Patrick

    If he did a contex-sensitive system where verbs and nouns matched modularly, it would be easy to encapsulate all the complexity of the game in single-button clicks.

  • Exoduster

    I’d donate for a poster that lists the controls.

  • Magnulus

    Between the mind boggling complexity of the game and the absolutely atrocious UI, I stopped playing the game a long time ago. It becomes and exercise in tediousness and spending your time figuring out controls rather than figuring out how best to use them.

    My favourite games are easy to learn but difficult to master. Some that I like are actually difficult to learn but once you know how to work them, they’re easy. DF is… just difficult.

    I don’t need a moddable interface, I just want him to make an interface that makes sense. Granted, I’m not in the game making business, but it seems logical to me to make a consistent interface that’s “upgradeable” without too much fuss before the clean-up job becomes too great. At this pace, I don’t expect UI to ever become a priority. I mean, he can’t even order the options alphabetically or have identical-looking menus work the same way?

    Player2 mentioned Nethack’s controls, which in my opinion suck. I never got into Nethack until I tried the first variant that came to the GP2X. It had contextual menus and all kinds of goodness. Suddenly, I was playing Nethack for hours a day.

    I don’t care what the hard core elite gamers would have you think, a good UI DOES make your game better.

  • Cock Rings

    All you love is a lie.

    All will burn.

    Your fragile world will collide with reality.

    Thus ends the fellowship of the cock rings.

  • Dave

    I don’t think the controls are as bad as most people make them out to be. I haven’t played Dwarf Fortress long enough to be familiar with the economy or military, but the controls have been relatively easy to learn. In my opinion, the problem is that most computer users, gamers included, really like mouse control. I, for one, am partial to keyboard shortcuts. I would rather hit F2 to rename than slow double click or use the context menu. I would rather hit windows key + e, alt + d than click on an icon, and drag my mouse over the location bar to select the text.

    I think that the mouse is definitely a good control scheme for simplicity and ease of use, but for efficiency in an inherently non-spatial task such as giving abstract commands (rather than moving your point of view in an FPS or clicking on links), the keyboard trumps the mouse easily.

    I agree that some of the user interface needs work. There could be a customizable key repeat speed, so that scrolling through menus between the resolution of your page up/down will be quicker. The job assignment list could work much better. But generally, the UI works well enough for me.

  • AmnEn

    I’m a roguelike addict so I normally have no quarrel with complexity and atrocious control layouts. On top of that I’m a notebook user so that adds a lot of frustration resistance, given the Notebook Numpad situation and the fact that 98% of all roguelikes make extended use of the Numpad.
    But still, I can’t get myself to play DF simply because of its controls. They’re just too random, too much of a hay wire. Or in short: They just make no bloody sense.

    I think no one wants him to make a perfect UI right off the bat. But why can’t it grow like the rest of the game does? All the aspects of the game are improved upon, again and again. Just the UI is completely ignored.
    For starters, a logical menu structure and context sensitive menus would already go a very long, long way to improve the UI. A mouse is not even needed.
    But really, menus that make sense… that’s not too much to ask, especially given all the neat stuff that gets implemented into DF.

  • Radix

    I think those of us that don’t bitch and moan constantly about the evil interface find that it works well enough, but nevertheless there’s plenty of room for improvement. I understand where’s he’s coming from on his position on graphics and modability and respect that point of view, but there are a few little possible improvements that would be a nice make-do for the interim but have been ignored for what seems like far too long. And while I’ll always side on principle with the guy that gives free shit to the internet, I still can’t help feel that even bitchy moany people should have access to great games if only to make them shut up.

  • AmnEn

    Radix, you really should look up “opinion” in the dictionary because you’ve got it all wrong. I’m sorry but disagreeing with you does not default to moaning and bitching. Well and before you even ask, no it does not include whining and crying either.
    So really, look it up so you can learn to stand the opinions of other people without having to resort to semi insults. Plus you get to wield the power of the “Glowing Great Sword of Argument”.

  • Exoduster


    So essentially what you’re saying is, we’re right, but because we disagree with you, we’re bitching and moaning.


  • Radix

    Did that make sense in your head?

  • Exoduster

    Considering that I haven’t slept in two days, yes.

    Makes more sense than Dwarf Fortress, anyway.

  • J. Prevost

    It works well enough, yes. I know it now, I can get by, and have fun.

    But the current UI is still not just bad, but GODAWFUL.

  • Skyleak

    If you can read you can figure out the game. I’ve never seen so many people angry at a game that’s only (as we’ve read) 28% complete. It states on the screen what button does what; it takes all of a couple hours to realize what each menu has in it and what it is good for. The only complicated part is that it let’s you do everything from the start, people can build stuff that will be nothing more than a waste of space, you can end up with 20 work shops and yet only seven “dorfs” that can operate maybe 10 of them. With absolutely not even ONE of the resources you need to produce something.

    My only other nag is that there needs to be a clear set of scrolling controls. Some menus you scroll with up and down and make selections with enter. Others you scroll with + and – and use a letter to make a selection some you scroll with up and down select with a letter then confirm your actions with space. some there is no scrolling but you just select a letter. WHAT?!?! It’s like trying to verbally explain driving manual transmission. You end up answering questions with “Because you just do it like that”

    I like the game and all I just feel every time I pick what looks to be a nice location I find that I am completely wrong. So now I just figure that if it has trees, plants, animals, and granite I’ll be okay. Halp?

  • lumpi

    Hi, just found your blog! Great stuff!

    The thing about Dwarf Fortress is, that I doubt what Tarn Adams brings up is a rational conclusion but rather comes from his disappointment with the tedious, boring work of getting a graphics engine done (Dwarf Fortress is a sequel to a 3D game!!!.

    Out of this grew an experimental and pretty stylish ASCII aesthetic, which he fell in love with and which also kept people who aren’t willing to invest a lot of time into this kind of gameplay out of the play. And I admit it _does_ look pretty stylish.

    There aren’t enough obscure characters in the ASCII code, however, to have a clear interface. A strategy game as detailed as this without (proper) mouse support doesn’t make sense.

    And while he puts back the “interface improvements” to the lowest spots on his priority list, things like “making coffins for pets” is up there in the “pets and wildbirds Arc” (made up for sarcasm).

    God, DF is adorable and I enjoyed playing it for a week or so, but the interface, contrary to what the most die hard DF fans will tell you (and Tarn) does _not_ get better the more you’re used to it. In fact I found more flaws in it, the more I played. It’s cluttered, illogical. The typical kind of interface a programmer creates to test his creations, but which takes a life to understand for anyone else.

    Now that he’s living off donations, I don’t think it’s rude to criticize this aspect of DF. In fact I think it’s the opposite.

    What a pity.

  • Gang Green

    I spent most of my life playing JRPGs and I was able to pick up DF and become comfortable with it in no time. Sounds to me like the lot of people who don’t like the game just don’t have the patience or willpower to see this great game through.

  • fartron

    Holy shit.. *Find Desired Location* in embark screen!

  • Prio



  • Paul Eres

    I think DF is playable for anyone into roguelikes. But it kinds of assumes a familiarity with roguelikes (like most roguelikes do and like most games of any genre do) — so people who never played the genre before have understandable difficulty figuring it out.

    It’d be like someone who never played an RTS before being thrust in front of Starcraft, or someone who never played a text adventure before being just put in front of Trinity. Some games are approachable by people who have never played its genre before, and DF isn’t one of them.

  • john

    Does “find desired location” work for anyone? I set it to find magma and it never works.

  • Derek

    Well, I can’t say for sure, but you guys’s arguing back and forth about the interface might have actually had some influence on the development:

    “Bug fixes, *usability/interface improvements* and minor/incidental changes will be happening throughout the entire process and aren’t listed below.”

    From the latest Future of the Fortress!

  • Exoduster

    Hooray! We made a difference!

  • IndieJoJo

    Hello Tarn,

    If you are reading this, allow me to introduce myself.

    I’m a fairly ‘casual’ enthusiast of independent games. I also enjoy games of Chess, Go, and Diplomacy with friends and co-workers.

    Each of these games are exceptionally complex, but certainly easy enough to get into.

    I have tried to play Dwarf Fortress, and gave up in frustration.

    If you tweak the interface so it’s more accessible and palatable to busy people like myself, I am more than willing to donate money and assist you financially.

    The best part is…

    …there are tons of other people out there just like me who want to enjoy your game and support your efforts.

    Work on the interface, for god’s sake.

  • ABCD

    @Paul Eres: I don’t know about that. I’d never played any computer games before DF. At all. Ever. I didn’t think the interface was very hard to learn.

  • Magnulus

    I love how some of the “You’re all bitchy and whiny! The game is perfect!” posts eventually started listing faults in the UI. ^_^

    To clarify my post, I think the game is fantastic and beautiful and stylish and awesome… All except the UI. For my inferior intellect, it’s just too much to take care of both the complexity of the game and the inconsistencies of the UI without getting a head ache. If the game gets a unified interface that gives relevant information where it’s expected, I would be more than happy to donate money for the game.

    Personally, I could also do without mouse support, but mouse support would give a few very nice bonuses. For example: Hovering the mouse over a choice before building could give you information on whether you have enough resources to actually build it… If you have a stockmaster (or whatever they were called) of course.

    That could also be done with keyboard controls, now I think of it, as long as you can highlight things by arrow-key navigation in the menus.

    You could also have the hover info over dwarves, though. Being able to mouse over the various dwarves to see important information would be VERY nice.

    One more thing: It looks stylish and all, but does the playing window HAVE to be that small? Wouldn’t it be just as retro with variable resolutions?

  • BoboDaHobo

    While I’ve got nothing but respect for Tarn and DF, I simply can’t manage to enjoy playing it myself until there’s an interface in place that doesn’t feel oddly similar to smashing your head into a granite wall…

    Still, I see why Tarn wants to wait on an interface. Look at all the stuff he wants to add to the game! Creating an interface before those are even in place would just be preventing him from adding more detail later (though, certainly, a little more consistency in the current UI would be nice). In any case, I just hope he doesn’t get wrapped up in pet-coffins forever and forget about all the important game stuff that needs to be put in place for a really playable experience.

  • Magnulus

    Bobo: It’s not all that hard to create a menu that is expandable for later additions.

  • TowerofProstitutes

    After reading the Future of the Fortress, all I have to say is that the wound handling thing sounds awesome.

  • ludomancer

    If he makes a more usable interface, I’ll drop $1000 into his donation box immediately.