In 2013, voxel exploration game Cube World blew up, amassing millions of views on YouTube and video game sites. Despite the hype, Cube World's creators became infamous for going radio silent, while the paid alpha for the game hasn't updated since July 2013. Many fans have probably asked themselves, "What happened to Cube World?" And yet, some still hold on to hope.
Image source: Rivet Head
Every so often, Cube World developer Wolfram von Funck will tease an upcoming feature or tweak on social media: New music, improved questing, new terrain, what have you. The gaps between social media mentions can be excruciating, with fans sometimes waiting up to five months before hearing about minor things like new shaders or map functions. Funck has spoken to Kotaku multiple times now, always reminding us that Cube World has a very small development team who are working at their own pace. Just because Cube World doesn't have a constant marketing drip feed doesn't mean the creators have given up on it. It's the opposite, actually: Cube World is their baby, so it will be ready when it's damn ready.
— Wolfram von Funck (@wol_lay) April 1, 2017
Still, you wouldn't blame anyone for losing interest in Cube World, if not forgetting about it altogether. The height of Cube World's popularity was nearly four years ago. You can't even buy the alpha any more. Worse, other franchises have capitalised on the hunger for voxel exploration games. And yet, Cube World is still alive in 2017. On the game's subreddit, people regularly post screenshots and gameplay experiences. Recently, one Redditor boasted about their level 200 character, though the most common type of post marvels that people still give a shit after all this time. And while Cube World is not publicly available, players continue to disseminate it via piracy. A 2017 comment on a torrent assures people, "Multiplayer works just fine, played with 2 other friends."
Some people, like Matt Armour, are still playing Cube World nearly every day.
"For me the game is exactly what I enjoy about gaming — an open-world sandbox that is beautiful to explore and open to let your imagination do the work," Armour said over email. Armour uploads Cube World adventures to his YouTube channel, where the game serves as a backdrop to vlogging. In some ways, Cube World's barebones alpha is actually a boon, because the YouTuber can focus on speaking to his audience.
Still, Armour does have to find ways to keep Cube World novel. For that, he often changes up his character's loadouts, does some roleplaying, and makes sure to matchmake with friends. Keeping the game alive on YouTube also means Armour has to deal with the hate surrounding Cube World's perpetual stasis, however.
"Playing the game for so long, you hear it all in the comments 'Wollay took the money and ran,' and 'Game's dead' but for me, and I believe for Wollay too, it's still fun even in this state," Armour said.
Armour often plays with Rivet Head, another YouTuber who still enjoys Cube World nearly every day.
"Initially, I was drawn to the simple graphics and game-play, but shortly after getting into it, I found it to be one of the most complete gaming experiences I have had in years," Rivet Head told Kotaku via email. According to Rivet Head, even though he plays the game religiously, he's still discovering new stuff in 2017.
"Recently I found out that if you initiate a dodge while falling from a great height, you can usually land without taking damage," Rivet Head said.
Like Armour, Rivet Head spends a lot of time with Cube World's multiplayer, because it's an easy way to keep things entertaining. Sometimes, though, he has to get creative.
"A few months ago a friend of mine (DreamACH2) decided to create some skin mods for the game... I can honestly say that riding around in the game on a steak or a taco is one of the most surreal and fun things I have done in ages," Rivet Head said.
One fan I spoke to, Slash7530159, said they were planning on hitting level 500 within Cube World, eventually working their way up to some of the best weapons in the game. While I did see some remarkable displays of dedication, most players I spoke to explore Cube World's blocky biomes every so often, dipping in and out of it whenever it happens to cross their mind.
Rafael Encarnacion told me that he recently picked Cube World back up for the fifth time in a few years. Usually, he deletes his character and starts over again, wanting to "try and recreate the initial feeling of when I first played it," he said. Even in an alpha state, Cube World sparked the imagination, in some ways acting like a digital Rorschach test for players who want to get lost in its procedurally generated worlds.
— Wolfram von Funck (@wol_lay) April 1, 2017
"I'm 23 but when I play it, it just makes me feel like a kid, not a care in the world but the fun I'm about to have and nothing else," Encarnacion said. "That feeling of losing track of time without noticing."
"To keep it fresh, I attempt to just leave it alone for a while, like months or even a year, [but then I] come back to it and drop it again, with great sadness," Encarnacion said. "Playing Cube World in 2017, still in alpha, feels like one of those game that hit early access and remain in that state for ever. It's a heavy feeling of disappointment and unfortunately, I am genuinely afraid the game will soon leave my interest, although I love it very much."
Based on conversations I had with players, to love Cube World in 2017 is to embody a paradox of optimism and resignation.
"Now the hype has faded and I still look forward to [a Cube World update] but I don't think about it everyday," Armour said.
"For almost 4 years we have been waiting to see more of what [Funck's] vision is," Rivet Head said. "All of the details he has released over the last year and a half look amazing and I personally can't wait to play it with the new content. I would just like to know a maybe date so I have something to look forward to instead of guessing every day if the update is coming out."
"If this experience has taught me anything, it is to have high hopes and low expectations," Slash7530159 said. "If the Alpha alone is all I will ever get to experience, then it will have been worth it... even in its unfinished state, it pulls your mind out of reality and lets you experience endless hours of fun... I will never give up on it."