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When something, having built up progress, having become unwieldy and ultimately unstable, ends up shattering under its own weight. That’s a cataclysm, and the term applies both to the events of the survival roguelike Cataclysm and its own history of development. Both hold out hope from the ashes, however, and luckily for us both are open to experience ourselves.

Cataclysm was originally conceived by an indie dev known as Whales, who wished to make a roguelike game around the themes of apocalyptic endings of society rather than dungeoncrawling sword-and-spell fantasy. To that end, Whales programmed the original Cataclysm as a freeroaming survival sim based around tropes from horror movies, manga, and well known games. The setting is a mashup of interdimensional invasion, zombie infections, nuclear devastation, and post-apocalyptic wasteland savagery. True to roguelike form, the player builds themselves a character and is dropped into a proceedurally generated ASCII world of ruined cityscapes and desolate forests. Left on their own, the protagonist struggles to survive against the alien monsters, zombified humans, and violent looters that inhabit the remains of our society.

Cataclysm traits

But even the Cataclysm could not last forever. Citing a loss of interest in the setting, Whales stopped development on Cataclysm and retired to Twitter, leaving former players to pick up the pieces. While some bits of code had been contributed before this, it now wholly fell to the users to continue work on the game. Under the title Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead a group of coders led by programmer Kevin Granade began development of a new branch of the Cataclysm code. Maintaining the development access model that Whales had always used, the group now releases periodic updates to the game from their site and accept code donations from others through Github. It retains a substantial following on its official forums, which give advice and take suggestions for improving the game.


Dark Days Ahead is distinctly of the hardcore mindset, with most characters not surviving even a few days. And when the Cataclysm finally does take you, the game saves over your progress while appending your character info to a graveyard file, to be found by later characters in the same world much in the way the original Rogue did. But if you do manage to navigate the hazards of the apocalypse by looting buildings, fighting monsters, fleeing into the woods, or building an overpowered character after cranking up your initial build points, then the new world opens up before you. Cataclysm features a custom vehicle building feature, a mutation system for both intentional scientific experiments and accidental radiation exposure, and the all-important crafting system with everything from pointy sticks to makeshift flamethrowers to cowboy hats. A construction menu lets you build your own base in the safety of the forest, or fortify a grocery store with spiked pits and boarded windows to keep out the horde. If you’re willing to risk some experimental code, then NPCs will populate the world too; some hostile, some bearing quests, and some fleeing at the very sight of you. Should you choose to stay in one area you can clear out all the monsters and loot, then begin farming or fishing to sustain yourself. If you hit the road, you can cruise through endless new cities in an RV with spikes welded to the front while exploring for new opportunities.


Although in perpetual development for over two teams and several years, Cataclysm is an excellent game for fans of difficult, survival-based gameplay. The interface and graphics are all text-based, and it can sometimes be difficult to know what you are able to do or how to go about doing it if you have no prior experience with such games. Some tilesets are available to replace the existing graphics, and have recently been bundled with the normal game download, although classicists can disable them through the settings. Forums and an IRC channel exist where new players can get advice and guides to help ease them into to trickier bits of the interface, and a help menu bound to ‘?’ offers a degree of in-game orientation. There’s even a brief tutorial going over several basics, but it does not yet cover many newer features and control schemes.

Though the text based graphics and steep difficulty curve could be a put-off for some users, fans of the oldschool roguelike genre or survival sims should get a lot of enjoyment out of CDDA. The vibrant community of programmers and tester/players is continually adding more content and refining the game, and development shows no sign of stopping soon. Meanwhile, Whales has returned to programming and has stated that he has begun work on a distinct game entitled Cataclysm 2, but he acknowledges that it is very distinct from Dark Days Ahead, which continues independent development with his blessings.


The latest build of CDDA is available for Windows, Linux, and Mac, and can be downloaded here, while the official forums are here.



Gene Marsh

Gene is a student of biology and philosophy, who enjoys PC games, technical advancements, applied science, and the internet. Pester & harass him @GeneMildest