A Candid Look Inside the Weird and Wonderful Minds Behind Dwarf Fortress

Illustration for article titled A Candid Look Inside the Weird and Wonderful Minds Behind Dwarf Fortress

In a small two-bedroom apartment 20 in a strip mall of a town outside of Seattle, two brothers are hard at work crafting one of the most complex, convoluted, and difficult games ever created. Sometimes they code ASCII graphics. Other times they break out the crayons.


Writer Jonah Weiner spent five days with Tarn and Zach Adams, the brothers responsible for the freeware PC sensation Dwarf Fortress, one of the key inspirations behind the wildly successful Minecraft. The result of this visitation is the New York Times' "Where Do Dwarf-Eating Carp Come From?", a fascinating exploration of the life and times of this unique game development team.

The core focus of the article is Tarn, the younger of the two siblings, responsible for the programming of the game that balances its simple ASCII graphics with behind-the-screen computing horsepower easily equal to that of today's most demanding engineering software.

In the article we learn of Tarn's early life as a mostly solitary child, skimming around the edges of geek culture but never fully immersing himself. We explore his college years, during which the promising mathematician came to the realization that he wasn't happy with the direction his life was going, preferring game development to straight mathematics.

For Tarn, making games "scratches all the same itches" as math: "At the end of a math problem, you have a paper and maybe you publish it, and the paper can be a building block for the edifice of mathematics, but to me that's not so important. But working on a problem and having a game when you're done? That's pretty damn cool."

We're given insight into the programming process, how Tarn spends most of his time in the sparse spare bedroom of his apartment, building what he feels will be his life's work, gaining insight into the organic process that's helped shape Dwarf Fortress into the expansive virtual playground it is today. Weiner relates an amusing tale of a late-night intruder into the game's newly-created sewer system.

At about 1:30 a.m., a family of hippos, represented by light gray H's, swam into the tunnels from a nearby river. Their arrival was an unintended development born entirely of the game's internal logic. Tarn was pleased. "The hippos like the sewers!" he said. He took a celebratory swig of Dr. Pepper and rocked back and forth.


Living in a mostly empty apartment with his cat, drinking soda instead of water to fuel his creative process, and spending nearly every waking hour working towards perfecting his game, Tarn Adams is an almost manically focused mind. In his 30's, he's not too concerned about women. Funded by donations, he's not worried about money, as long as he can avoid rent, some food, and a bit of money for his brother Zach, who spends his time coming up with new ideas for Tarn to implement.

It's the story of what happens when a game developer foregoes everything else in order to create one amazing game, that may or may not one day be perfect in his eyes. His dedication to Dwarf Fortress shines through in every colorful ASCIII character that flashes across the screen.


Check out the New York Times article below to read more of Jonah Weiner's in-depth exploration of the world of the brothers Adams, and be sure to check out the latest episode of Boing Boing's Gweek podcast to hear Weiner talk about his experience researching the story.

Illustration for article titled A Candid Look Inside the Weird and Wonderful Minds Behind Dwarf Fortress

Where Do Dwarf-Eating Carp Come From? [The New York Times]


I cannot play this game without a tileset...

I don't know how anyone can make sense of the convoluted UI and the ASCII graphics at the same time.