Dwarf Fortress, the legendary game about managing your dwindling sanity and frame rate, is coming to Steam and itch.io. But while the game's creator announced that the ASCII sim would be getting a graphical overhaul to go with its new platform, there was also an incredibly sombre reason behind the broader launch.
By itself, Dwarf Fortress is free. Fans have shown their gratitude towards Tarn and Zach Adams, the two brothers responsible for the game, through the official Patreon. And while that Patreon does fairly well financially, accruing just over $8750 a month, the brothers are in dire need of funds.
Why? It's because of healthcare, and more specifically, the cost of the American healthcare system. In a Patreon update, Tarn Adams explained that his brother recently survived a cancer scare. But if he were to undergo the same procedures, his savings would be completely wiped out.
On top of mounting healthcare costs with the rest of the family, and the fact that crowdfunding for Dwarf Fortress is his main source of income, the Dwarf Fortress creators needed to increase revenue somehow.
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. 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.
That said, crowdfunding is by far our main source of income and the reason we're still here. Your support is still crucial, as the Steam release may or may not bring us the added stability we're seeking now and it's some months away.
It's a sad, disheartening state of affairs, one that reminds you just how truly lucky Australians are to have the socialised system that we have. But it's also a reminder of just how all-in development, particularly indie games, can be. It wasn't that long ago that the Cuphead developers spoke about remortgaging their homes, and quitting their jobs, just so they could have the funds necessary to properly reboot the game's direction.
One of the biggest highlights of E3 was the re-emergence of Cuphead, a hand-drawn 2D platformer with a look like the cartoons of the 1920's and 1930's. But what you don't see in the trailers is the very, very real cost of game development.
"Your support is still crucial, as the Steam release may or may not bring us the added stability we're seeking now and it's some months away," Adams wrote.
The standard ASCII game will always be available for free, so the Steam/itch.io version shouldn't cause any disruption amongst current players. If anything, it's reasonable to expect that the more accessible tileset will open up Dwarf Fortress to a new audience. The game will probably need a UI overhaul for the general Steam populace, although the integration with Steam Workshop makes it likely that the community will quickly port over the most popular (and essential) mods.
Dwarf Fortress is due on Steam and itch.io later this year. Fingers crossed it opens the door to a brighter future for the family behind the game.