Quadrilateral Cowboy preview: hack attack

Hacking is nothing new to video games. But Blendo Games takes a particularly novel approach with IndieCade selection Quadrilateral Cowboy.

"[Quadrilateral Cowboy] is a 1980s Cyberpunk hacking game where basically corporations hire you out to break into their rival buildings and sabotage their rivals," explains creator Brendon Chung. "Hacking is done through a typing interface. So basically, in order to hack into these buildings, you have to learn this new programming language."

The opening of the Quadrilateral Cowboy demo set the stage for some of the hacking action to come. I biked alongside a train and jumped onto one of the ends. There were outlets that let me plug in a hacking tool to turn out the lights and open the nearest door using the right mouse button. I made my way through the train and started learning some of the basics of hacking, namely that opening areas and clearing out traps only lasts a few seconds, so movement is essential.

After hijacking a few parts and exiting the way I began, the time came to upgrade my hacking computer. This is where I started to learn the finer points of hacking. In order to open doors and deactivate alarms, I'd have to actually learn the game's programming language and manually punch in commands, kind of like a DOS window. For example, to open a door, I had to find the designated label and punch in "door7.open(x)" with the variable "x" representing how many seconds the door would remain open.

This hacking idea extended into some of the puzzles I encountered. There was one instance in which I needed to get the combination to a locked door. To get it, I had to flip a switch and wait for the combination to shoot through a tube, but if the container crossed a laser, it would activate the alarm and disintegrate. To clear this area, I had to punch in the code to temporarily deactivate the alarm at the moment the combination was flying through. There were even a couple of points where I had to turn off more than one trap at once, meaning I had to throw semicolons into the code.

"There's something fun about learning," Chung added. "Often times, games stuff all the tutorial stuff into one giant level at the beginning and it makes learning a bit of a chore sometimes, but I wanted to make learning this fun thing that people want to do and want to learn this new language."

The idea of observing and following instructions while learning the game's hacking methods was definitely a novelty and a huge step up from the mini-game route that most of these types of games tend to take. My time with Quadrilateral Cowboy was brief, but I could see why it received the IndieCade Grand Jury award. I'm curious to see whether it runs longer than the all-too-short Thirty Flights of Loving, but we'll find out when the game ultimately hits PC, Mac, and Linux. Chung is targeting a 2013 release, but says that the game could slip into next year.