700,000 lines of code, 20 years, and one developer: How Dwarf Fortress is built

Dwarf Fortress is one of those oddball passion projects that’s broken into Internet consciousness. It’s a free game where you play either an adventurer or a fortress full of dwarves in a randomly generated fantasy world. The simulation runs deep, with new games creating multiple civilizations with histories, mythologies, and artifacts.

It has become notorious, and rightly so. Individual dwarves have emotional states, favorite gems, and grudges. And it all takes place in an ASCII interface that looks imposing to newbies, but feels like the text crawl in The Matrix: craftsdwarf, river, legendary megabeast.

The entire game is product of one developer, Tarn Adams, aka Toady One, who has been working on Dwarf Fortress since 2002. For the first four years it was a part time project, but since 2006 it’s been full time. He writes all the code himself, although his brother helps out with design and creates stories based on the game. Up until now, he’s relied on donations to keep him going, but he’s currently working on a version with pixel graphics and a revamped UI that will be available for purchase on Steam.