PAX2012: Quadrilateral Cowboy

07 Sep 2012

I spent a large amount of time wandering the indie game section of PAX, checking out the widely varied games and chatting to developers. One that especially caught my eye was Brendon Chung’s new title, Quadrilateral Cowboy. I’d heard about it via the Idle Thumbs panel earlier that day, and had played a couple of his previous titles; Atom Zombie Smasher and Thirty Flights of Loving most recently, so I was eager to play, and was not disappointed.

The game involves breaking-and-entering high security locations with the aid of various technical devices. A player may approach a door, place a computer on the ground, and type commands on a virtual DOS prompt; telnetting into the door to open it briefly, allowing the player to slip through. Eventually the player will be writing small scripts commandeering a sequence of security systems, redirecting a camera for a few seconds, opening a door, and then disabling a laser triggered alarm.

I often lack patience with stealth games in this vein, but Quadrilateral Cowboy handles failure well. In the in-game world, you’re actually walking through an abstract simulator of the target building, and so mistiming a camera disable just means walking out of its radius and trying again - essentially you are providing instructions (and scripts) for a theoretical agent who would actually be stealing the documents or whatever you are tasked with.

The ‘simulator’ narrative also provides a sensible explanation for the wild visual style. Chung’s previous games have always exhibited an abstract style that I find difficult to draw comparisons to - usually games that don’t aim for a realistic art style are easily described with an analogy; XIII looks like a comic, Team Fortress 2 looks like a cartoon, etc. Brendon explained to me this is his interpretation of a lo-fi, low-poly 3D world, and though he spoke self-deprecatingly about his artistic talent I think it’s a great example of how a simple unique art style can be so effective.

It was great to play the game in such an early state, and despite having to receive a significant bit of help as I stumbled through the simulator I’m eagerly awaiting the final release, which hopefully we’ll be able to play next year.


Yesterday I attended my second gamejam, an eight hour event where teams form to work on small games together around some loose themes, which this time were Black & White, Rockets, and Masks.


It’s early to say this, and maybe a little crazy, but I can’t help but put Twenty, a simple game from Stephen French, in the same category as Tetris. Not just in the way it plays - though it shares that methodical feeling of clearing a space that transitions to crowded panic - but in how it takes just a single mechanic and a simple interface to create something truly elegant and timeless. Twenty deserves to be played for decades to come, just like Tetris.