PAX East 2013: Quadrilateral Cowboy plays off of my baby hacker childhood
When I was a kid my family was a little slow to jump onto the computer craze. While other nerds my age may have been reverse engineering their game collection and learning to make their own games, I was content to play on my Sega Genesis and go ride my bike. Except for that one time my Dad scooped up an old computer off the side of the road, complete with nothing but a DOS prompt even though we were well into Windows by then. I spent a long while trying to figure out what I could do with the thing, eventually unintentionally playing Infocom’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy text adventure. It was dumb in retrospect, but at the time I felt like I was digging into something really technical, I felt like a hacker wizard.
Quadrilateral Cowboy seems to be about recreating the feeling of being a baby hacker wizard. The game, developed by Blendo of 30 Flights of Loving and Gravity Bone fame, continues the tales of Citizen Abel and his spy/espionage themed antics. From what I played it’s a first-person puzzle game in which you interact with the world by plopping down a computer and typing into a Telnet prompt.
For example, in my demo I approached a camera and, since I was a spy hacker and wasn’t supposed to be in this building, I could only shut off the camera for three seconds. I set my computer down on a nearby desk and started typing away:
I scooped up my computer and ran through. Eventually I hit laser trip wires and groups of cameras, requiring me to string commands together in sequence. I remembered from my DOS days that I could use the arrow keys to scroll through my history of inputs and, lo and behold, I was able to do the same thing in Quadrilateral Cowboy. The hacking feels like the true experience in a way, while still being intuitive and simple.
The tagline of Twentieth-Century Cyberpunk is evocative. There’s nothing futuristic about the game. In fact, another bit of flavor text on Blendo’s website sets the scene: “When you have a top-of-the-line hacking deck armed with a 56.6k modem and a staggering 256k RAM, it means just one thing: you answer only to the highest bidder.” I don’t even think my computer off the side of the road had that, but then again I wasn’t a super spy like Citizen Abel.
One of the more interesting things to note about the game is just how much of a departure it is from 30 Flights of Loving. The aesthetics are similar, the surreal attention to detail is still wonderful, but where 30 Flights was closer to interactive fiction than a game, Quadrilateral Cowboy has clever puzzle solving gameplay. In the demo a lot of it came down to being observant. I get the impression, like with many of Blendo’s games, that designer Brendan Chung wants a patient and attentive audience. Quadrilateral Cowboy is the game for a certain kind of gamer, a more mature gamer, or simply someone who would like to think about their games a bit more than twitch reactions.
It’s also for those, who, like me, had that moment of tinkering with a computer for the first time. It might be a lot more typing than you’re used to doing in your games, but the results are as satisfying as that self-discovery I felt digging around that old computer as a kid.
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