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Contest and interview: Win a copy of Peter Tyson's Getting Started with Dwarf Fortress

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GZ: The book focuses mainly on the game’s simulation mode. What other modes are available? Would you considering writing other books on them as well, or is one good enough?

PT: The two other modes are Legends and Adventurer. Legends mode is basically a long history book describing all major historical figures, gods, creatures, events, locations, artifacts, and so on. There are actually some people making tools to make Legends more accessible — providing a tool to view the history text, maps to see where places and events are located, that sort of thing.

Although I'm sure many people don’t ever bother with Legends, it can be amusing to look back at your dwarf civilization and discover who the current ruler is and his history. Often it turns out you're being led by a vampire, although sometimes it can even be a demon in disguise.

The final mode is Adventurer mode, which is like a more traditional roguelike in the mode of Nethack or Angband. It essentially allows you to explore the worlds you've created as an individual out for adventure and loot. Right now it has its followers, but it is much less of a "game" experience than Fortress mode or other roguelikes. That's not to say that Tarn isn't working on that. He's currently developing systems whereby groups of bandits will pursue goals, menace towns, threaten the player, and perhaps surrender or run away if confronted with deadly force. This is a great example of the way Tarn develops. He won't create arbitrary quest "content”; rather, he just layers on more depth, more simulation, and lets the game and stories emerge from within.

If I were ever to do a book on another Dwarf Fortress mode, it would probably be Adventurer, but I've got no plans for that right now. A kids book, on the other hand, does tickle my fancy ...

Credit: Tim Denee

GZ: Tell me about Tim Denee’s role in the making of the book. How did you two meet, how did he become involved, and what made you decide to include visual representations of other players’ stories from the forums? Who came up with that idea?

PT: I mailed Tim a few years ago, when his famous “Oilfurnace” and “Bronzemurder” comics were published, to say how much I liked them. Turns out we both live in the same city (Wellington, New Zealand), and so it seemed natural to approach him about the book. I had this big idea early on that I would love to see some illustrations in the book, and where else to get the stories behind the illustrations than from Dwarf Fortress players? To this end I started a thread on the forum and simply invited players to submit their stories from playing the game. A number of these were turned into full-page illustrations by Tim for the book. They have been really warmly received, which makes it worth the effort to get them in.

GZ: Tarn Adams is the developer and co-designer on the game, and your book contains a foreword by him. How did you get him on board? Has he had a chance to flip through the book himself?

PT: He was in contact with my editor early on in the piece, when Shawn first had the idea for the book. He followed it throughout the writing phase, provided some useful feedback, and graciously agreed to write the foreword. As for whether he's read it yet, I haven't asked! Thanks for reminding me!

GZ: Getting Started with Dwarf Fortress is supposed to make the learning curve easier for new players. What was it like for you when you first discovered the game, and, looking back on that experience, what do you think are its most challenging aspects?

PT: In a way I had it easy when I picked up the game. It was 2D and fairly linear — one simply dug into a hillside and kept digging across underground rivers, pits, and then magma, building your fortress rooms and workshops as you went. I believe I learned from forums and a couple of friends. These days Dwarf Fortress is a lot more complex, with your fortress able to exist on multiple levels and the complexity of the industry and military systems greatly increased. There are some great resources out there to help you learn Dwarf Fortress, but sometimes just sitting down with a book and following along with its guidance makes everything just that little bit easier.

As for what is most challenging? All of it! The fact that it's almost entirely driven by keystrokes is, initially, the greatest hurdle new players have to clear, but the challenges don't stop there! Losing your first few fortresses exceptionally rapidly is quite common.

Credit: Tim Denee - Oilfurnace comic

GZ: Some of our readers might not be familiar with Dwarf Fortress, although its gameplay helped inspire other popular releases like Minecraft. What makes Dwarf Fortress so fascinating and enjoyable, and what would you tell others to convince them to give it a chance?

PT: The sandbox nature of it is quite charming and engaging, despite all the other complexities. Do you wish to make a massive fortress in the clouds on top of a pillar of solid obsidian? Sure, you can do that. Do you want to construct your fortress entirely out of ice blocks? Yes, it's possible! But watch out for the dragons. Can you conceive of an automated defense system using computer logic and highly pressurized magma? Chances are you can build it in Dwarf Fortress. The player has a great deal of control over the physical world of Dwarf Fortress, and this is interestingly contrasted with your control over your dwarves, which is quite indirect. It isn't uncommon to lose a fortress to an "emo death spiral," whereby emotionally upset dwarves throw tantrums and attack each other, causing more tantrums. The player has few controls to stop a tantrum spiral once it starts, but lots of ways to reduce the chance of one before it begins. This makes for an interesting and tense game where if you dream it, you can build it, so long as your miner hasn't gone berserk and driven his pick through a popular and well-loved dwarf's skull.

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