originals\ Jun 19, 2012 at 11:27 pm

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

Dwarf Fortress - book image

We recently spoke with Peter Tyson, author of the new game guide Getting Started with Dwarf Fortress. Peter passionately detailed the roguelike’s history, talked about the creative process of writing the book, and recounted some spectacular adventures with dwarves and goblins. He also gave us more than a few good reasons to fall in love with the game.

Publisher O’Reilly Media has generously offered us two copies to give away to our readers. To enter, 1) take a moment to register with the site or sign in via your Facebook account and 2) leave a comment on this article. We'll randomly select two winners and notify you by email if you’ve won! Be ready to respond with your address if you’d like a print copy, or let us know if you prefer e-books.

Deadline for entries: Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Good luck!

GameZone: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Peter! Your book, Getting Started with Dwarf Fortress, just came out in May. Have you had any experience with book writing before? What inspired you to sit down and write?

Peter Tyson: I was actually contacted by O'Reilly, the publisher. An editor there thought O'Reilly should publish a guide on Dwarf Fortress — the whole concept being wonderfully funny. Yes, you need a publisher like O'Reilly and a 240-page technical manual to get to grips with Dwarf Fortress! I was approached by my editor, Shawn, because of the tutorials I had written for Dwarf Fortress on my site, After Action Reporter. These tutorials were now quite old and out-of-date but still very popular with players looking to learn this game.

Dwarf Fortress

GZ: Did you have any concerns or reservations about completing the book or seeing it through to publication? What have you learned during the process?

PT: I guess my biggest concern was getting the detail right so that it didn't mislead in any way (Dwarf Fortress is complex; a confusing mistake would be easy). I also wanted to see a book published that existing players of Dwarf Fortress might enjoy. I know how hardcore Dwarf Fortress fans can be, and I figured a lot of them would love to own something they could give to friends to explain their obsession. But if the book was just a guide (without the illustrations we've added), I worried it would in some way disappoint people who would love to have something physical about Dwarf Fortress to treasure.

The biggest lesson has been to keep talking to the community so they understand what the book aims to do. It is neither a rip of the wiki, nor a short book that gives people just enough to get started. It truly is designed to take players from knowing next to nothing about Dwarf Fortress to having a solid grasp of the game and some challenges to pursue. I think the community understands and appreciates what we've tried to achieve.

GZ: How long have you been playing Dwarf Fortress?

PT: Oh, since the game was 2D. I can't even remember when that was! At least five years, on and off, I'd guess?

Dwarf Fortress - 1

GZ: Can you outline the history of the game, and explain why you and your fellow players enjoy it so much?

PT: Dwarf Fortress was released in 2006 and has been in alpha ever since. The two developers, brothers Tarn and Zach Adams, think it will take another 20 years to reach a version 1.0! Tarn, the programmer behind Dwarf Fortress, survives entirely on community donations, which as it turns out isn't so hard to do when you've got a community like the Dwarf Fortress fans.

What players love about Dwarf Fortress varies. Some love modding; some love the stories that unfold as you play through the drives and desires of your dwarves mixed with the lethal nature of the world they live in. In the end, I think what unites Dwarf Fortress players is a love of Tarn's vision. He wants to make a fantasy world simulator. That you are playing as an adventurer (in Adventurer mode) or a fortress manager in Dwarf Fortress mode is entirely coincidental to his vision. Why it works is that Tarn is able to create an amazingly complex world simulation that leads to fantastic in-game events. Looking through the legends of a randomly generated world you join, it isn't uncommon to come across stories of occupied elf cities where the children grow up to be guards in the Dwarf military, and in the famous case of Cacame, the elf even became King of the Dwarfs, defeated a dragon, and later went on to join a player at his fortress!

GZ: The book’s description argues that Dwarf Fortress is “the most complex video game ever made.” How would you support that claim?

PT: Well, I am familiar with games that are close to the complexity of Dwarf Fortress — mostly in the strategy and simulation genre — but know of no other game that models some of the crazy detail that Dwarf Fortress does. For example, every dwarf has "thoughts" that determine his happiness, along with likes and dislikes that affect his mood. Every creature has its body modeled by the game — skin, flesh, tissue, and bones. A bash to the skull can cause death from skull fragments damaging the brain; individual fingers can be broken (and set by your medical team) or taken off entirely with a resulting impact on the dwarf's ability to work. Conversely, randomly generated creatures like fleshy balls of organs turn out to be remarkably easy to kill. All their vitals are easily bashed or stabbed!

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