I bought Caves of Qud in 2017, installed it, and then recoiled as though from as asp. An asp with chlamydia.
Is everyone looking at their Steam Library these days? Running a metal detector over it rhythmically, nodding as they note the chirps? I think a lot of people expected to be playing other games here at the end of the year, and have instead poured themselves into previously set aside vessels - Gabe is all the way into Immortals: Fenyx Rising, whose extraneous and legally necessary "y" I resent more than is strictly necessary. He pushed through until he found what it was actually about, past the gumbo of inspirations that seemed to represent its only virtues.
Gabriel only started playing games on PC because I made him; I came up on the C64 and Amiga, while he traversed an island chain of Sega hardware. So the way Caves of Qud looks doesn't even parse for him - it looks precisely as it does in the strip, whenever it doesn't look like a game whose graphics are fashioned from a custom font. He has no positive associations with this kind of shit. That's why I didn't tell him! I push stuff on him all the time, as he suggests in the strip and also suggested in real life when we were writing said strip. This time, I was like, "It's been a bad year. He doesn't need this right now."
It reminds me of Minecraft in a specific way - the combination of very simple visuals with rich and sophisticated ambient audio and music. The mood delivered by the combination is intoxicating; it's filling in the space that visuals would have, establishing the fear and alien grandeur of their bizarre sci-fantasy… thing. I swear to God one of these "instruments" is a fucking hard drive.
It's got Roguelikey, permadeath shit in there, but it also has a lot of handmade stuff folded in, so as a practical matter it just kinda feels like an old school, PC RPG. That... makes itself while you play it? That has mechanical heft even at character creation I initially found horrifying and now find not only manageable but nuanced and even tastefully constrained? And if you don't feel like being subjected utterly to the genre's cruelties, you have some recourse? I feel like I fell down into it, into midnight water, and instead of dying I developed gills. It has a pretty light touch, tutorial-wise; you can use the mouse sometimes but not all the time, and there are many keys to learn especially if you have a truncated t3h g4m3z0rz keyboard like I have with no numpad. If you are in search of gills yourself, let me recommend the Qud Survival Guide mod in the Steam Workshop.
I play it with our Technomancer Mike Buland, in the way I would have played a game like this long ago - seated at one of two chairs in front of an implacable device. We have modernized some aspects of it, just as the game itself has: he streams his screen to me via Discord, and we take turns being delighted. This is the co-op I crave, the kind of co-op this site was founded on and that this virus has stolen from us. If we tried to play an old game this way, it wouldn't have the same payload. This game evokes the era without being yoked to it. One is allowed to eat one's cake while also retaining said cake.
The cake remains.
The only two times this year probably that I've been able to relax at all have been playing Monster Train (just hit Game Pass) or Caves of Qud (currently on Steam sale). There is a constant whine synonymous with consciousness I'm generally trying to medicate; complex systems that still allow for creative interpretation are the only reliable salve for this condition and perhaps even this Satanic age.