Blendo On Quadrilateral Cowboy, Experimental Games

By Nathan Grayson on September 5th, 2012 at 8:00 pm.

“Twentieth Century Cyberpunk.” That’s Quadrilateral Cowboy’s elevator pitch, but “hacking that’s not just some awful minigame” would work just as well. I played Blendo’s latest during PAX, and my heart grew three sizes that day. Also, my brain turned into a copy of William Gibson’s “Neuromancer.” I quite like it, is what I’m saying. Afterward, I sat down stood in a deafeningly loud convention center corner with dev dynamo Brendon Chung, and we discussed Quadrilateral Cowboy, Thirty Flights Of Loving, how to tell a good game story, and the difficulties of integrating such things into, well, games. It’s all after the break. 

RPS: So this takes place in the same continuity as all your other games, right? Why take a sudden turn into cyberpunk, hacking, and stuff like that?

Chung: Yeah, I try to place all my games in the same universe. So Gravity Bone, Thirty Flights Of Loving, Flotilla, Atom Zombie Smasher, Air Forte – they’re all in the same timeline.

As for why I chose to make Quadrilateral Cowboy, a lot of games have hacking minigames where you match colors together or whatever. But I’ve always wanted to just type commands into a terminal. That’s a very risky and niche design choice, so it’s understandable why people don’t do that. But I figured that I can do what I want, so I might as well give it a shot.

Second reason is that I felt like there hasn’t really been a game that really, really deep dives into pure cyberpunk. I mean, you have Deus Ex with really strong cyberpunk themes and tones, but I wanted to make a game based completely on cyberpunk [activities].

RPS: I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I picked it up. I mean, I can’t code. Math books snarl aggressively when I’m nearby and attempt to assault me with vicious series of paper cuts. 

Chung: For me, I’m a self-taught programmer. I never really had any formal training. So I think that learning programming is not something only certain people can do. I think it’s something that anyone can do. You just need to present it to them in a clear and concise way.

RPS: So how close to actual programming language and methods would you say Quadrilateral Cowboy gets?

Chung: I grew up using DOS, so it’s kinda a mish-mash of programming languages. So it’ll give you some elements from programming. It won’t make you a programming genius, but it’ll give you some fundamental stuff.

RPS: I heard the phrase “Guitar Hero of programming” thrown around.

Chung: Yeah, I have a brother, and I described this game to him. And he said, “Oh, so it’s like Guitar Hero, but with typing on a keyboard.” And I said, “Yeaaah.”

RPS: Are you planning to have any consequences for failure beyond briefly triggering alarms, walking into lasers, or things of that nature? Are actual enemies or crazy chase scenes or anything like that in the cards? 

Chung: So the fiction is that you are hired by corporations to make plans to infiltrate buildings and steal documents. But you’re not the one actually running the plans. You’re just making them and giving them to people who are way more athletic than you are. So the idea is that you’re just a guy sitting in a chair wearing VR goggles.

RPS: Kind of like Neuromancer. 

Chung: Totally like Neuromancer! So the penalties are, you know, like a beeping noise. You can’t really die or anything like that.

I’m still working [on NPCs]. I mean, I’m kind of scared about doing NPCs – especially in a first-person shooter [style setting]. You have a lot of AI work and collision work going. But the good news is that I’m using the Doom 3 engine, and it already has a lot of that stuff in there. So I just need to figure it out.

RPS: Doom 3 went open source pretty recently. Are you generally a supporter of open source engines? 

Chung: Exactly. For other games, I used Quake 2, and now I’m using Doom 3, because there’s something I find very helpful about using engines that are completely open source. I have complete control over every single detail.

RPS: I can’t actually think of many professional projects that have used Doom 3 since it went open source, actually. 

Chung: Yeah, I agree. It’s kind of surprising to see, actually.

RPS: That’s pretty unfortunate. If more people used them, you’d figure that more people would release them.

Chung: Definitely.

RPS: How much complexity are you shooting for with the puzzles? I mean, most of what I played was about teaching me the basics. Once I have those down, though, will I be, like, jamming out a hundred lines of code right and left? 

Chung: [laughs] I mean, yeah, it’s a tough line to define. You want it to be challenging enough that it’s fun, but you don’t want it to be so tough that it’s tedious or feels like a job. It’s something I’m still trying to figure out.

RPS: Are you hoping to include any wild Gravity Bone or Thirty Flights Of Loving-style story flourishes in this one?

Chung: This is kind of a departure from Thirty Flights Of Loving and Gravity Bone. Those are narrative experiments. This is not a narrative experiment. It’s more just trying to make a game based on systems. It’s kind of the opposite of Thirty Flights and Gravity Bone.

But as for the story, I do think story’s a very important element of what I try to do. So for this one, I’m playing with the idea of adding some roguelike elements. So multiple missions take place in the same environment, but then the objectives are kind of randomized. So the objective might be in this room or that room, and the player might be here, there, or there. But we’ll see how that works out. It’s kind of overambitious, so we’ll see.

RPS: How are you going to convey the plot of this one. Will it mostly be environmental cues that the player has to seek out?

Chung: I try to avoid text and dialog in my games. The plan is to try to include story stuff integrated into the environment if possible.

RPS: So Quadrilateral is a pure “game,” and Thirty Flights and Gravity Bone are pure narrative experiments. Meanwhile, people criticize those two precisely because they’re not very game-y. Have you considered adding those types of story elements to something like Quadrilateral? Is that even possible? 

Chung: Yeah. I mean, a lot of the feedback I get is that Gravity Bone is way better than Thirty Flights Of Loving because you have platforming and they use weapons and there’s objectives! That’s fine. I think that’s perfectly valid. But I think people look for different things in games. I made Thirty Flights Of Loving for a certain audience that just likes the story bits and doesn’t want to play the challenging game-y bits.

RPS: Have you given any thought as to how you’d fit those puzzle pieces together – how you’d integrate an experimental story such that it’s not at odds with everything else, ala Gravity Bone’s less-than-great platforming?

Chung: Ummm. I have not, because that is a hard problem [laughs]. But I mean, sure, I’ve thought about it, but I haven’t really chanced upon anything worth talking about.

RPS: I want to play more Quadrilateral Cowboy. My philosophically questionable cybersoul yearns for it. When can I do that?

Chung: We’ll see. I just release games when I feel like they’re finished. So maybe this year? Probably next year. I don’t know [just yet].

RPS: Thank you for your time.

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16 Comments »

  1. Hodge says:

    I’m massively looking forward to this one – it ticks all of my boxes, including ones I didn’t know I had.

  2. brau says:

    oooh… I have faith in Brendon! i am sure this game will be great as well.

  3. thristhart says:

    Gosh, it is simply the worst thing when RPS shows me a game that looks awesome that I haven’t heard of, and I can’t buy it because it’s not actually out yet.

    :(

  4. baby snot says:

    More games like this please. Also Spy Party.

  5. YogSo says:

    Chung: So the fiction is that you are hired by corporations to make plans to infiltrate buildings and steal documents. But you’re not the one actually running the plans. You’re just making them and giving them to people who are way more athletic than you are. So the idea is that you’re just a guy sitting in a chair wearing VR goggles.

    RPS: Kind of like Neuromancer.

    Chung: Totally like Neuromancer! So the penalties are, you know, like a beeping noise. You can’t really die or anything like that.

    I don’t remember the exact terminology used in the book, but there was this thing in Count Zero (Neuromancer sequel) about “doing a Wilson”? Or something with a similar name, when a nasty piece of black ICE fries a cowboy‘s brain. Maybe I’m misremembering, but I’m quite sure there was actual, physical (or at least neural) danger involved during hacking attempts.

    • TychoCelchuuu says:

      There was indeed physical danger in Neuromancer if you went up against really good ICE (it would fry you) but that was only if you were hacking a military target or some super mega corporation or something. “Normal” hackers were in about as much physical danger as real life hackers and even if there was physical danger in the form of getting hit by the ICE, it’s hardly the kind that would show up in Quadrilateral Cowboy if you were actually physically on the premises rather than in a VR sim.

    • lurkalisk says:

      Neuromancer featured a sort of vicarious system not entirely unlike what we have here (referring to the whole system set up between Case and Molly, whereby Case would just sit at one end, while Molly was actually in the field).

      …That part was cooler in Neuromancer…

  6. TychoCelchuuu says:

    Everything Blendo Games makes it gold. I haven’t played Air Forte actually so I can’t really say that, but every OTHER retail game, plus the free stuff, is wonderful. A tangible sense of authorship and a unique voice, wonderful stylized art… I can’t look forward to Quadrilateral Cowboy more than I already do.

  7. ChainsawCharlie says:

    Want

  8. GallonOfAlan says:

    Looks fantastic want want want etc.

    However – ‘math’ books? Tsk.

    Also here’s a list of games using iD Tech 4.

    Doom 3 (2004) – id Software
    Doom 3: Resurrection of Evil (2005) – Nerve Software
    Quake 4 (2005) – Raven Software
    Prey (2006) – Human Head Studios
    Enemy Territory: Quake Wars (2007) – Splash Damage
    Wolfenstein (2009) – Raven Software
    Brink (2011) – Splash Damage
    Prey 2 (TBA) – Human Head Studios[27]

  9. VelvetFistIronGlove says:

    RPS: I can’t actually think of many professional projects that have used Doom 3 since it went open source, actually.

    Chung: Yeah, I agree. It’s kind of surprising to see, actually.

    Pretty simple: id released the Quake 2, Quake 3, and Doom 3 engines under the GPL licence. The main requirement of the licence (in broad terms) is that any code you write using that engine must also be released as open source under the GPL licence—in this way anyone is free to build off your code just as you were free to build off id’s code.

    So while that’s fine for projects like The Dark Mod whose goal was never to release a standalone commercial product, it’s more problematic if you want to sell your software.

    Incidentally, it is possible that Thirty Flights of Loving is being distributed in violation of the GPL—it was not distributed with a copy of the licence, nor an offer of source code that it requires. It’s possible that Blendo has negotiated an alternative licence with id and the makers of KMQuake, but it seems unlikely to me. Does anyone know more?

    • Bobtree says:

      If he hasn’t modified the engine at all, and the game is entirely separate scripts and content, then his game may be ok to distribute closed source. You’re right that he still needs to include the GPL and offer source for the engine though. Even if he’s modified the engine, the game code may not be linked in (that is, if it’s “data” to the engine, and not part of it’s program), but then he still needs to distribute the modified engine source under GPL. I don’t know what his specific usage is.

    • Brendon Chung says:

      Thirty Flight’s source code is available at http://blendogames.com/thirtyflightsofloving/faq.htm

      You’re right in that I forgot to include a copy of the GPL license. The build has since been updated with it.

  10. Synesthesia says:

    “That’s a very risky and niche design choice, so it’s understandable why people don’t do that. But I figured that I can do what I want, so I might as well give it a shot.”

    Now those are the words i want to hear from game designers. Go blendo, ill keep buying as you keep producing. Thanks a bunch for the love!

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