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A Cute Angle: Triangle Wizard

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.

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

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Kieron Gillen


Kieron Gillen is robo-crazy.