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A programmer sits in front of a laptop, controlled by a programmer in front of a desktop, controlled by a real-world person playing a game, nested like a Matryoshka doll of high-tech abstraction.
Brendon Chung, creator of Gravity Bone, Thirty Flights of Loving, and Atom Zombie Smasher, has never shied away from making unique, experimental forays into unexplored territory in gaming in a truly independent development process. His crowdfunded Thirty Flights of Loving was remarkable for being a story-focused game with no dialogue that could be completed in about 15 minutes. Chung’s upcoming title Quadrilateral Cowboy, which mashes up first-person stealth with DOS-prompt puzzles, is already shaping up to be a fascinating departure from the overwhelming number of indie pixel art platformers.
Blendo Games’ Quadrilateral Cowboy is a “20th century cyberpunk game,” wherein players perform acts of electronic espionage armed with period appropriate hacking equipment, including all the speed and processing power of a laptop with 256k of RAM and a dial-up Internet connection.
Heists are done by bringing along a laptop that you periodically plop open and punch text into to help you complete the task at hand. This means learning the logic of the game’s internal coding language, entering instructions into your computer’s command prompt like “grate.open” and “cam.off” to temporarily disable a building’s security measures as you sneak inside.
Though it employs a similar visual style and takes place in the same universe, as Gravity Bone and Thirty Flights of Loving, Quadrilateral Cowboy, appears to be more focused on mastering mechanics.
“Whereas Thirty Flights of Loving was very story-focused, Quadrilateral Cowboy leans more toward gameplay mechanics and systems,” Chung said.
Some of the best practiced missions have the potential to turn into a well-synchronized dance through the security systems, like something out of Hudson Hawk.
The unique blend of first person stealth and text-based logic puzzles makes Quadrilateral Cowboy stand out amongst its peers, but Chung says the tutorials will gradually ease players into the unconventional action.
“The tutorial guides the player along a gentle learning curve. I’m trying to ensure the command console isn’t intimidating to newcomers,” Chung said.
Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the premise of Quadrilateral Cowboy is the fact that the main stealth gameplay seems to take place as a program within a different computer, with the player running a simulation of the actual heist.
Chung says this added layer of narrative will actually also factor into the gameplay. “The virtual recreation of the heist lets the player manipulate parts of the world, such as where the mission begins and ends, and even the ability to ignore collision and float through walls.”
Though Chung said he has no plans to make one at this time, an Oculus Rift-enabled version of Quadrilateral Cowboy could add a further layer of abstraction by actually putting players in a virtual first-person view of the computer running the simulation of the heist where the player is in turn entering commands on another virtual computer. However Chung said he plans to release the game with its source code so ambitious fans could theoretically code their own Oculus support into the game.
Blendo Games is planning to release Quadrilateral Cowboy on Steam sometime in 2014.
Photos courtesy of Blendo Games.