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The cult indie hit Dwarf Fortress is unexpectedly coming to Steam.

Silverlake, Wash.-based designer Tarn Adams, the primary creator of Dwarf Fortress alongside his brother Zach, announced via the company’s Patreon page last week that the long-running game will arrive on both Steam and Itch.io in a new version that features actual graphics and “generally enhanced” audio. As the original Dwarf Fortress (see below) has been both freeware and made entirely of ASCII art since 2006, this marks a massive departure for the game in more ways than one.

The reason for the new version, according to Adams’ announcement, is related to financial concerns due to healthcare treatment costs.

“We don’t talk about this much, but for many years, Zach has been on expensive medication, which has fortunately been covered by his healthcare,” wrote Adams, co-founder of Bay 12 Games. “It’s a source of constant concern, as the plan has changed a few times and as the political environment has shifted. We have other family health risks, and as we get older, the precariousness of our situation increases; after Zach’s latest cancer scare, we determined that with my healthcare plan’s copay etc., I’d be wiped out if I had to undergo the same procedures.”

“The Steam release may or may not bring us the added stability we’re seeking now,” he added.

An illustrative screenshot of the original, “classic” Dwarf Fortress. (Official Bay 12 Games screenshot)

The current version of Dwarf Fortress is entirely funded through player donations, first through PayPal and currently via Patreon.

The Steam and Itch versions of Dwarf Fortress will be published by Montreal-based Kitfox Games, with graphics provided by Kitfox’s Tanya Short, and Mike Mayday and Meph, two longtime members of the Dwarf Fortress modding community.

The original freeware Dwarf Fortress, which will henceforth be known as Dwarf Fortress Classic, will continue to be made available alongside the graphical, paid version. Adams intends to continue updating both versions simultaneously for the foreseeable future.

If you pay any attention to PC gaming at all, you’ve probably at least heard of Dwarf Fortress, a freeware indie game that’s been in steady development since 2006, growing steadily more complex all the while. It’s an open-ended base-building simulator set in a randomly-generated fantasy world, where you try and usually fail to build a successful colony of dwarves despite all of them being eccentric maniacs with a collective death wish.

Like early dungeon-crawling games on the PC, such as Rogue and Nethack, Dwarf Fortress Classic eschews graphics entirely in favor of ASCII art. Unlike those games, thanks to years of constant updates, the game features systems on top of systems to simulate everything from damage to individual dwarves’ limbs to your settlement being randomly infiltrated by a vampire.

Dwarf Fortress is notoriously challenging, and has no actual win conditions, so a given game will only end in the inevitable destruction of the player’s colony. Its official motto has become “Losing is fun!” At the same time, the game generated enough of a following that it’s featured in New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Since the start, Dwarf Fortress has been developed by Tarn and Zach Adams, who founded Bay 12 Games in Silverdale, Wash. in 1996, to publish their own freeware games. In 2006, Tarn Adams, who holds a doctorate in mathematics from Stanford, gave up on his postdoctoral work and became a full-time games developer. He has been releasing regular updates for Dwarf Fortress ever since, with the most recent update coming out in July of last year.

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