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Dwarf Fortress, a famously ugly game, is getting a dramatic facelift

The new world map is very pretty

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Dwarf Fortress mining Image: Tarn Adams/Bay 12 Games

A little over a year ago, the developer of Dwarf Fortress, the intricate colony simulation game, announced it would be building a new version of the game for Steam. Among other improvements, the game will finally be getting graphics, and the latest batch of new screenshots shows that it’s going to be quite the upgrade.

Dwarf Fortress — formally titled Slaves to Armok: God of Blood Chapter 2: Dwarf Fortress — has been in development since 2003. Instead of designing placeholder graphics, developers Tarn and Zach Adams at Bay 12 Games instead make due with an elaborate set of color-coded ASCII characters, making something as simple as reading the world map feel like learning a foreign language.

A large collection of ASCII characters, color-coded to represent ice, oceans, and green pastures.
A sample of a world map in the current build of Dwarf Fortress.
Image: Bay 12 Games

Of course, that hasn’t stopped the game from developing a cult following of dedicated players, or from being included in the collection at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. But it has, by the team’s own admission, severely limited the game’s sales. So now Bay 12 has teamed up with Kitfox Games, a Montreal-based independent studio, to give the new Steam version a serious facelift. The results so far are remarkable.

A pastel world map. Without clouds in the sky the land below looks quaint and cartoony.
The same landmass as above, but rendered with Kitfox’s new graphics.
Image: Bay 12 Games/Kitfox Games

The oddly narrow format of the original map is gone. So to are the eyestrain-inducing patterns and textures created by the sinewy, low-resolution characters layered onto the screen. In their place is something that looks straight out of a Mario Bros. game.

Kitfox has a whole series of blog posts discussing its in-development assets for Dwarf Fortress. You can find them linked on Steam, where they’ve also been showing off shots of area maps, monsters, interior spaces, and more. Rest assured that the original game — in all its ASCII glory — is still in development.

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