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

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GZ: Can you tease some of the book’s contents? What parts did you like writing the most?

PT: The first half of the book can be said to focus on taking a new player's hand and getting him up and running with his first fortress. The later chapters round out the player's knowledge of more complex Dwarf Fortress topics (the military and engineering, for example) in a way that allows the player to go back and improve his working fortress.

It has been a lot of fun to write, and perhaps the most fun has been slipping in little anecdotes from my own playthroughs of the game. Everyone has a Dwarf Fortress story (or three!) they can't resist sharing at length with anyone who shows even the mildest interest.

GZ: Readers who buy the DRM-free e-book version through O’Reilly will receive free access to your “Real Time” updates for the book. What made you decide to take it one step further and continuously support the book in this way, with no-cost updates?

PT: This is a new feature of O'Reilly books, and I think it's a really great idea. O'Reilly provides a simple pipeline for us authors to update our books, and then it’s just a matter of existing owners picking up a new copy once a new release comes out. The idea is that with a little work to maintain a book's relevance, the pay-off will be in ongoing relevance and therefore sales of Real Time books beyond what they might otherwise enjoy.

I think if O'Reilly hadn't proposed that Getting Started with Dwarf Fortress be a Real Time book, I wouldn't have wanted to write it. Tarn updates Dwarf Fortress in fairly significant ways at least every year, and putting in all the work required to write the book to have its usefulness expire a few months later would have been depressing. Oh, I should note that people who have bought the e-book through other vendors can receive the updates if they wish. They simply need to go to O', register, and pay $5 to update their copy to a Real Time copy.

Dwarf Fortress - 2

GZ: What’s the craziest moment you’ve had playing Dwarf Fortress?

PT: One moment, which happened to me when I was writing the book, really stuck in my memory: I had created a long causeway to my fortress entrance over a deep, spike-lined pit. The causeway was interlaced with bridges so that when I had a dwarf pull a lever, the bridges would go up, leaving a winding path behind it that lead to slow, trap-filled progress for any invading army. Above this causeway, an aqueduct filled with magma from a nearby volcano acted as an emergency defense system should any enemies not fall into my pit or find themselves cut in two by giant trap blades.

But during an invasion, after their first waves were wiped out, a dozen invaders stood at the foot of my causeway, refusing to go through my trap maze. I tried dropping magma on them, but other than burning down all the trees and turning the ground to an ash-covered wasteland, most of it didn't fall in the right place to get the invaders (it did fill the pit, however). The only answer to clearing out these cowardly goblins was to send in the military.

I sent in my elite force, and as they neared the end of the causeway they started taking crossbow fire. My elite military were superb dodgers, and so two dodged goblin arrows and fell into the magma almost immediately; two more died to arrows that met their mark, while the remainder reached their target. Except for one dwarf. Let's call him Urist. Urist dodged off the causeway and into the magma — but very close to the edge. He got out of the magma without dying, but his wounds page indicated he was burned all over with the fat melting off his body. He then ran about trailing fire, and I couldn't work out why. Looking at his inventory, I noted that his leather flask of alcohol (dwarves need booze to make it through the day) had caught fire and was finishing the job the magma had started.

He collapsed in a messy heap in the middle of the fight, leaving his brothers to finish the melee. That's the kind of detail that Dwarf Fortress offers!

GZ: Has gaming been a lifelong passion for you? How did you get into it, and what have been some of your favorite titles — aside from Dwarf Fortress, of course?

PT: Oh, yes, I love my games. Right now I'm working through Mass Effect 2 (yes, I'm late, I know), but previously I've loved Eve Online, League of Legends, strategy games of various kinds, and shooters. Oh, and of course, the “DayZ” mod for Armed Assault 2 by fellow [New Zealander] Dean "Rocket" Hall!

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