Quadrilateral Cowboy wants to scratch that retro cyberpunk itch

The latest game from the creator of Gravity Bone and Thirty Flights of Loving leverages an 80s tech thriller vibe to trick you into learning how to code.

Four and a half years in the making, Blendo Games' Quadrilateral Cowboy describes itself as a "twentieth-century cyberpunk" adventure, combining retro aesthetics with an easy-to-pick up coding language. It won't teach you how to actually hack anything, but you'll definitely feel as though you are.

"It's not meant to be like what you would actually do to break into a telephone company. It's more like the feeling of learning a system," says lead designer Brendon Chung, in an interview with Gamasutra. "What [Quadrilateral Cowboy tries to achieve] is the feeling of getting a mastery of the syntax and learning this really light language that you use to do scripting stuff. It is kind of a mishmash of different programming concepts and ideals and languages that I've used previously. So people do definitely get that visceral feeling of working with systems and programming."

Much of Quadrilateral Cowboy plays out as a conventional first-person spy/stealth game, with its hacking systems gradually introduced over time. Chung cites Looking Glass's genre-defining classic Thief as an important design reference point.

"Thief changed how I looked at games in a lot of ways. Prior to that the stuff I'd played was like you are the hero of the universe. You are the person that carries a billion guns and is indestructible," says Chung. "And in Thief there was this really huge change where you are a tiny, scrawny thief person and guards will destroy you if they look at you the wrong way. It was really refreshing to be put in this new role and kind of roleplay as a character who is very fragile. Instead of brute forcing everywhere you have to learn how the system works and then subvert it to your own purposes. So for Quadrilateral Cowboy I tried to riff off of that. To make you a person that has to use these tools in interesting ways to get through these buildings."

The game has gone through countless iterations across its four year development cycle, touring games festivals and tweaking its gameplay based on resulting feedback. It represents a much longer development process than Chung's previous games, and the level of polish shows in the careful balance of its systems.

Quadrilateral Cowboy is out today on Windows PC, through its website or on Steam. Linux and Mac versions are forthcoming. Above, you can see the official release trailer from Blendo Games.

Disclosure: Quadrilateral Cowboy was a featured game at 2013's Indiecade Festival, at which it won a grand jury award. While I was an IndieCade juror during that time, I was not assigned to Quadrilateral Cowboy nor at any point voted on its inclusion or award status.