University students always have time for pranks. In Adelaide, the three main colleges take turns stealing a bathtub, its weathered porcelain shape often turning up keeled over in a rival dorm’s courtyard after a night of partying. For the young people of Glasgow, perching a traffic cone on top of the Duke of Wellington has been a rite of passage since the 1980s. No one is sure who started the tradition, but the locals quickly took a shine to the practice, the bright cone a whimsical contrast to the Duke’s serious stare. An increasingly miffed local council planned to double the height of the statue to deter cone throwers, as removing the cones is surprisingly expensive, but public backlash to the plans ensured the tradition was here to stay. The Cone Game, created by developer Darkroom Games, is a celebration of this custom, challenging the player to scatter traffic cones across a monochromatic Glasgow.
The initial goal of The Cone Game is simple — place a cone on top of the statue’s head. As one fumbles over the controls, however, it becomes clear that the task is not quite as easy as it seems. Players move the cone directly, able to hop, roll around, and grab with either the base or the tip of the orange pyramid. The cone’s grip is weak and its jump tiny, making scaling any object a colossal effort. Still, with persistence, the Duke’s head is mounted, and the rest of Glasgow is opened up for exploration. Other players’ cones tumble across the landscape, competing for the trickiest and strangest places to occupy. Defeating an opponent’s cone by sitting next to it earns the player more cones to spread across the map. Once a cone is placed, the player can write a short message for other players to see.
The Cone Game offers a varied world to explore, with bridges, scaffolding, playground equipment, and architectural landmarks to clamber over. The map certainly does not cover all of Glasgow, but the game’s dense city block provides more than enough challenge. The inherent difficulty in the controls makes scaling any wall impressive, let alone climbing a tower. Any errant windowsill or curve to the building is enough to send a cone tumbling down. It took me nearly 20 minutes of concerted effort to scale up the side of a modestly sized building, and an orange-yellow cluster of cones at the top showed I was by no means the first to get there.
Playing for the challenge is only a small part of The Cone Game‘s appeal. Giving every user the ability to write a text message, knowing the internet, seems like a terrible idea. However, the players I encountered seemed to be a friendly bunch. Clustered around the base of the Duke’s statue were a group trying to get as close to the spawn point as possible, egging each other on with each message. Others worked together to create a perfect square, a difficult feat with the bouncy physics. A pair of cones claimed to be keepers of the bridge, asking for a toll. From silly memes to cheering for successes, the output of the players was astoundingly positive. The creativity of the users pushed me to play on, wanting to find out what the cone impossibly balanced on top of the swing set had to say.
The Cone Game has a stark, minimalist style, with the whole environment rendered blindingly white. The orange of an undefeated traffic cone stands out like a beacon, and the mass of yellow conquered cones softens the harshness of the white. The effect is striking, constantly changing as time progresses. The simplicity of the visuals means the game runs smoothly, too, even when skipping over hundreds of messages.
Apart from the tutorial, which has a friendly, bouncy background tune, the game is mostly silent but for the scrapes of the cone bouncing around. A few notes do kick in when the cone is sailing through the air, but such flight is quite a rare event, with careful wall scaling a much more common activity. Considering the playful nature of the game, matching music would help set the mood and soften the blow when the player falls from a precarious perch.
The Cone Game is a fitting tribute to a beloved tradition. The surprisingly tricky movement controls reflect the skill in throwing a cone so accurately, and the message system lets players leave their own mark on the world. Some aspects of the game could use tightening — the awkwardness of the controls will put some players off and the camera is a mess — but no other game captures quite so perfectly the spirit of a harmless prank.
Next week we will be playing Nocturne: Prelude, a traditional RPG that uses rhythm game mechanics for combat. It can be downloaded from Steam. If you would like to share your thoughts, discussions will be happening in the Discord server.