Caves of QUD Title Screen

Client: Freehold Games

Role: UX Consultant

Project Status: Incomplete

Challenge: To design a mobile interface for Caves of Qud, a retro-styled rogue-like role playing game originally created for desktop computers, which extensively uses the keyboard for game commands.


I saw Brian Bucklew tweeting about the difficulty of designing a mobile interface for Caves of Qud. Although he is himself an accomplished user experience designer, Brian found the task challenging both because of Cave of Qud’s complexity and because of his closeness to it as the developer. As I am both a fan of roguelike games and a UX designer I offered myself as an additional UX brain, to which he agreed.

Caves of QUD screenshot

Roguelike is a subgenre of role-playing video games characterized by a dungeon crawl through procedurally generated game levels, turn-based gameplay, tile-based graphics, and permanent death of the player-character.

I decided to begin by playing Caves of Qud and becoming familiar with the needs of players in the game. I also played similar mobile games like Terraria and Sproggiwood for ideas and reference. Caves of Qud is still in Early Access, which means that the game is not yet complete but is available for purchase while it is being completed. Roguelikes in general and Caves of Qud (COQ) in particular have a not entirely undeserved reputation of being punishing to first time players. I gave COQ a few tries without any context or foreknowledge. At the time, the desktop version did not support the use of a mouse, and all the commands were done with the keyboard. Because the player’s character is extremely customizable (with mutant powers and spells and such), many of the actions require the player to specify a custom key binding. With some difficulty I figured out how to configure the keyboard for my Macbook, and then swiftly died. After conferring with Brian about how to play in the early game and access debug commands, I began to play the game more successfully. Although I still died a lot, I quickly fell in love with the vibe and began to get a feel for what was important to a player in the game. I took notes on what information I most referenced on the user interface, and what commands I used the most often. From discussions with Brian and checking the extensive key binding menu, I created a hierarchy chart of all the relevant commands, menus, and how they are accessed.

Once I had a prioritized list of actions, I made my first mockup. Usually I would start with the smallest screen size that is intended to be supported (IE: a phone) but COQ had so many items to consider for possible screen real estate that I decided it would be best to start with a tablet and narrow things down before attempting a phone layout.

Caves of QUD Tablet User Interface Mock Up

I discussed the concepts shown in the mock up with Brian and took his feedback into consideration when designing the next version, which I designed as a phone layout that could be expanded responsively to a tablet sized screen.

Caves of Qud Phone User Interface Mockup

After some further discussion & prototyping, Brian was able to implement a working interface:

Caves of Qud Mobile interface

Caves of Qud on iPad

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