A Cute Angle: Triangle Wizard

By Kieron Gillen on February 25th, 2009 at 11:27 pm.

Wizbit was a triangle wizard. Yes.

This is straight out of the “I would have blogged about it weeks ago, but I haven’t had a chance to play it until now” file – and thanks to all those who mailed me about it in the time it took me to do so. Triangle Wizard is usually described as Nethack meets Geometry Wars – though really it means “Geometry Wars’ Aesthetics”. It’s more of a Nethacky-Gauntlet with Introversion’s graphical style (But not the sonics, alas). Either way, along with Spelunky, that makes two games that have merged action games with Nethack’s systemic/random-generation design – which is more than enough for me to start thinking of a movement-name to tar it with. While I’m doing that, here’s some impressions of my first few goes…

Honestly, this is a smart-genre mash-up. It’s basically a rogue-like played as an action game. You create your character, choosing both race and class. The latter decides which bunch of spells you start with – which are also the ones which recharge by themselves, meaning you don’t need to worry about scavenging any more. The Race gives bonuses and invulnerability – the fast but slow character and the strong but weak and the average but… oh, this running joke never caught on anywhere we tried to start it, and we’ve been trying to start it for a decade now. I’ll keep it in the RPS chatroom for now.

Where was I?

Like Nethack, it’s also more systemic in approach than most games. For example, cold-generating fields can freeze water, allowing people to walk on it. Okay, maybe that’s all is in it, but the way they introduce it – and the way that the developer clearly loves Nethack in the way most people save for people they fancy (or Thief games) – strongly implies there’s a load more stuff like that under the hood. Other Nethack hold-overs include the fact all the characters in the game other than the eponymous Triangle Wizard are represented by letters. Like Nethack, it means that the game can go to town on the number of enemies without worrying about having to create an elaborate visual display for them. Also, being a mouse-lead game (with you trundling around and selecting spells on keys, while aiming with Mr Mouse) if you aim the pointer at anything its stats pop up, easing identification.

The action is a little sleight, but the actual variety offered by its Nethack model is wondrous. Take my first two characters – the character only had one spell, but it summoned hefty heroes, of which I was allowed six. So I tried to stay alive while my pets pile on anyone nearby. Next time, the major twist was provided by playing a Vampire – many handy abilities, but at the cost of constantly draining health unless I’m killing people. It’s really quite unique, and a good example for people who make the “Everything’s derivative” argument. Yes, but occasionally the thing which is created from abstractly derivative components is totally its own unprecedented thing. Which Triangle Wizard is from head to toe. It’s worth playing if only to be inspired by it.

Now that I’ve been very nice, I’ll close with a bit of a kicking. There’s no sound in the game – which is fine. I’ll have shrugged it off. In the same way that Dwarf Fortress would be better with a clearer UI, but Tarn Adams has explained that while a fancier UI would be nice, it’d be wasted effort when he has the rest of the game to work on. If he did a UI now, he’d only have to do it again later. He didn’t say that a better UI was useless.

So, from the About Triangle Wizard Page…

It also doesn’t contain any sounds or music. This has been done on purpose to stay true to NetHack, and because I think most sounds are nothing more than a distraction. Furthermore since the monsters are represented by ASCII characters you are basically imagining a kobold when you see a green k anyway so why not imagine it growling and attacking too?

Which is a somewhat naive attitude to sound in games, to be polite.

“Staying True” to Nethack is a terrible reason to avoid sound-effects. If you wanted to be true to Nethack, you’d have remade Nethack. By setting it in real time, you’ve already been untrue. To make it the best possible game it could be, you have to accept that change dictates further changes in the design. Nethack works without sound because it is about turn-based minimalism. There’s always enough time to make sure you understand a situation. All the information is presented to you, with all the time for you to consider it, and the appropriate action.

Doing it in real time, you need more routes to the gamers’ mind. The prime of sound in games isn’t to actually entertain. It’s to impart information. Hell, one of the best games of last year’s original incarnation reseted entirely on the idea that you could subtract visual information and play solely through sonic cues. Triangle Wizard desperately needs some minimalist sound effects for that purpose alone – in fact, its systemic sort of design actually means you could generalise them and use for all instances of the various things you need to know (“You are burning” “You are being hurt”) immediately. My deaths in the game have felt terribly cheap in a “I didn’t even know I was being hurt” way.

Maybe that’ll change as I play some more – but from first principles, it’s a ill-considered piece of design which appears to have been implemented for unsupportable reasons. Generally speaking, this is worth keeping at least one eye on. It’s being regularly updated by its developer, so there’s a mass of passion there, and speak of its modding potential is also splendid.

And here it is in action.

No genre-movement name yet. It’ll come, eventually.


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  1. Benjamin_Barker says:

    Yesterday evening I was staring at this game’s page and read that extreme quote about the lack of sound. I didn’t download it right then and that was one reason. Now since I read this here post, I can articulate why (besides “seems more boring”). Cool.

    Regarding this nacent genre-movement: you should check out the comments in this column about Spelunky: http://www.gamesetwatch.com/2009/02/column_play_spelunk_spelunk.php They are just calling it ‘ the roguelike approach’ which is good enough for me, as a working title for not-quite-a-movement, anyway. I love ADOM myself– that is a game I played happily, if masochistically, for 5 years before I beat it. So I’d be quite excited if this actually gained traction as a trend; gimme procedural generation and a constant death which you learn from, and you’ve got my favorite kind of game: one that laaaaasts.

  2. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    Running jokes don’t catch on if you don’t tell them.

  3. WarpRattler says:

    I downloaded this when Play This Thing! featured it a while back. The lack of sound doesn’t really affect me, but what does is how aggravating it is trying to find a spell other than one of the beginning summoner spells (haven’t tried any other class yet).

    For the genre, how about just abbreviating procedurally-generated to “proc-gen” or something?

  4. malkav11 says:

    Personally I’m giving these new “action roguelikes” (or whatever) a miss. The harsher aspects of roguelikes and the random generation work for me in large part because the games are turn-based and thus it is almost always entirely my own stupidity that kills me. Make it fast-paced and actiony, and one twitch-failure later I’m paste permanently. No thanks.

  5. Rongonathon Magnuskavang says:

    Heck. It ’tis a good game. The developer is really keen about adding user suggestions and there is a decent update ~once a week since I heard about it nearly a month ago.
    I admit that it appears like it should have sound, but I would hardly think it is the games most pressing issue.

    @WarpRattler: It is designed so that you have an increasing chance of finding spells you have(or pick up), I believe this holds true to the spells you start with as well.

    @Malkav11:It actually has the option to turn permadeath off, with no penalty that I am aware of, which I haven’t yet myself 1294698726 deaths later.

  6. Skree says:

    That is a truly shocking pun Kieran :P

    You should be ashamed.

  7. WarpRattler says:

    Whoops…I didn’t mean finding the spells in-game (never a problem), I meant finding them on the keyboard. With as many spells as the game has, and with multiple spells mapped to the same key in most cases, it can be a serious pain trying to find which key I need to press to switch to a spell I’ve just picked up that I can actually use (unlike the ten or so before it). I know I can just look at the in-game docs, but when I only have a limited amount of time to kill and need to get to the next floor right away…

    Apparently the next version will allow you to change the key bindings for spells, so I won’t have this problem for much longer.

  8. Logo says:

    It’s a fun game but I also agree on the whole spell issue, and that’s with a version letting me swap spells around.

    I enjoy the game but it needs to be fine tuned to be clearer. Right now I just generally spam a bread and butter spell, spam summon, and/or melee and hope for the best. It’s a little too difficult to tell what you’re facing (since it’s real-time) and what they’re throwing at you. In nethack you see a D and if you don’t know what it is you can hover over and find out. In this game when 10 Ds come at you you don’t really have that luxury. Likewise when some spell caster starts spam hitting you with spells you can end up having no clue what’s going on and some of the spells can drop you fast.

  9. PleasingFungus says:

    Argh. The way to descend the stairs is infuriatingly hard to find. Was it mentioned in the tutorial?

    (Also, just cast an empowered Great Hail on myself by mistake and died. It was funny, so I don’t mind that.)

    Just ticked off about the stairs thing.

    (It’s alt, apparently.)

  10. Stromko says:

    Yes this needs a pause-and-plan method, just being able to pause the action so you can mouse over and see what you’re fighting would go a long way to making it more Rogue-like.

    A slimmer front-end would also make it more like a Rogue-like IMO, it’s slow going to get in and out of the game. Even a game with a complicated pre-play planning like Incursion (3.5-ish D&D character gen) or Dwarf Fortress (deciding what to bring on the wagons) is still easier to start playing on a whim because of the crisp text menus.

  11. Tei says:

    I can soo hardcore that I can play this game withouth reading the manual. And with play, I mean summon a serie of letters around me, and particles, and move randomly, till I get bored, and press ESC ESC ESC to exit. Fortunally enough this work.
    I have archived this game in the “Impenetrable Games Folder”.
    About the no-sound thing. Having no sound is ok-ish to me, but why not some background music?.

  12. Okami says:

    So it’s like Diablo, but with letters instead of sprites?

  13. Freggle says:

    In the newest version you can hit F2 to pauze the game and examine creatures at your leisure!

  14. Dizet Sma says:

    Had a few games while waiting for the Quake counter to drop from 23000.

    Too many things wrong with it, mostly covered by the comments above. Will delete it later, I think.

  15. dammskog says:

    played it for ten seconds, then swiftly uninstalled it

    p.o.s. game have no place on my computer

  16. Markoff Chaney says:

    Nice WIP game. I completely agree about the sound. So much can be gleaned from sounds…. Glad to see more roguelikes making it out there and, even more, extending randomly generated level creation and exploration to other genres.

  17. Cooper says:

    On that note about sound as imparting information in games, gamastura did an interview with someone a while back on that, which was really interesting. I would find a link, but I can’t. You’ll have to take my word for it.

  18. apa says:

    This was on my pc for almost 5 minutes, including download, installing and uninstalling. It’s a nice idea, realtime nethack, but this one didn’t get it right.

  19. alset says:

    This game is brutal. While I got quite far on my first runthroughs of ZangbandTK, ToMe and Nethack, I haven’t actually reached level 3 yet in Triangle wizard.
    The visuals are soooo pretty, that’s the only reason I keep trying.

  20. Oarfish says:

    The Chronicles Of Doryen looks promising, though nothing other than the engine library has shipped yet. It looks to be more of a traditional roguelike, but more textmode NextGen.

    Demo video here.

  21. Arathain says:

    Spell design seems really interesting. I think I may give this more time, to try and get past the initial confusion and spell selection interface.

  22. MadTinkerer says:

    “Either way, along with Spelunky, that makes two games that have merged action games with Nethack’s systemic/random-generation design – which is more than enough for me to start thinking of a movement-name to tar it with.”

    It’s called “Procedural Content”. It’s not a genre so much as a way of creating content for games. The game’s content is “procedurally generated”.

    The term applies to a wide variety of things, from the algorithms for creating worlds in Civ I-IV to the random encounter tables of D&D. The placement of zombies in Left 4 Dead at the start of each map is procedurally determined and the AI Director has procedures for determining when to send mobs of zombies at you. The cities of Subversion are procedurally created. Shuffling, then dealing cards is a procedure for randomly giving everyone at the table a different hand of cards.

  23. P7uen says:

    Has nobody mentioned Transcendence?

    If not, why not?

  24. Andrew Doull says:

    The new genre is already coined: Roguelike-likes…

  25. surlyben says:

    P7uen, I don’t know why not. In fact, after wasting all afternoon playing it, I dug up this old comment thread just to mention it, only to find that you got there before me… It looks like I can still provide a link, though: http://neurohack.com/transcendence/

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