Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Game 210: Xyphus (1984)

The compass in the upper-left corner turns out to be somewhat ironic.

Between 1978 and 1983, computer RPGs slowly defined themselves. We saw a host of proto-RPGs plus a few landmark games like Ultima, Wizardry, and Ultima III that stood so much taller than other titles that they established the standards for the rest of the decade.

As we come to the end of 1984, it feels like a year that has keenly felt the influence of these giants but that doesn't yet understand what made them good. It is a year full of disastrous experiments that, at best, dumbed down the mechanics of the source games and that, at worst, made them almost completely unplayable. You can almost hear the developers' enthusiasm as they say, "Hey, why don't we make a game like Wizardry, but with ___________!" But whether they filled in that blank with "text commands!" (Shadowkeep), "cute portraits and the ability to remove helmets!" (The Black Onyx), "a big quiz at the end!" (The Standing Stones), or "and endgame that changes all the rules!" (Tyrann), the results were far worse than the original game. Questron is an almost-exception, making a mess of Ultima's mechanics but ultimately producing a better story. With the exception of the brief and unwelcome branch of gamebook adaptations, almost every game in 1984 has an obvious pre-1984 source game and, in all cases, under-performed those sources.

A typical Xyphus screen. My party--the people with brackets around them--is about to engage a giant slug. A hawkman awaits on a nearby peninsula. Below the slug is some kind of treasure. It's Aspida's turn to move, and the cluster of keys to the bottom-right shows her movement options.
   
Xyphus's obvious inspiration is Exodus: Ultima III, one of the first top-down RPGs to feature multiple characters and a tactical combat system in which characters move and act independently. (It may have been the first, but Galactic Adventures and Expedition Amazon came out the same year and had some of the same elements; it's hard to determine exact release order today.) As is the norm during the period, Xyphus simplifies many of its source's mechanics: three races instead of five; two classes instead of eleven; a simpler inventory system; no separate first-person dungeon system; no dialogue system; menu towns instead of explorable towns; and the combat system integrated into the same window as exploration.

But the developers had to fill in that blank somehow, and what they came up with was "hexagonal movement!" No simple NESW or arrow-key navigation for this game; instead, you get to master the venerable YHBVFT cluster, corresponding with the ability to move northeast, east, southeast, southwest, west, and northwest, but not north and south.

The party gets a hint. Crossing that bridge was a lot of messing about with individual characters.
   
Hex maps had been used for years in wargames and strategy board games and must have seemed like a good idea at the idea at the time. But five minutes with Xyphus demonstrates the superiority of the square for tile-based computer games. Hexes--and they aren't real hexes anyway, but offset rectangles--add absolutely nothing to the gameplay but to force the player to pause and think before doing something as simple as moving one square. I normally like to play a game with the same interface that the original players had, but the key cluster used for movement in this game is so non-intuitive that the camel's back broke and I installed AutoHotkey. I plan to learn it in time for my next session.

Xyphus's manual aspires to Ultima III's complexity when it comes to the backstory and the vivid descriptions of monsters and spells. Aspires but does not achieve, I should say; Penguin had nothing on Origin when it came to production values. But as a footnote that we'll explore in more detail next time, one of the co-authors of Xyphus, Dave Albert, would soon leave Penguin for Origin Systems, where among other things he would end up writing the Book of Mystic Wisdom for Ultima IV.

Decent illustrations accompany monster descriptions in the game manual.
   
Xyphus is Greek for "sword," and the game's backstory has echoes of Greek mythology. Ten thousand years ago, a demon lord named Xyphus was defeated when an archmage named Szhaalin ripped out his heart. Droplets of the demon's blood formed into various breeds of goblins and hellhounds, and pieces of his ruptured heart formed sword-shaped amulets "from whence all magic springs." The demon retreated to the caverns beneath the continent of Arroya to "languish in eternal pain." The continent became overwhelmed with beasts, poisonous creatures, and undead, and men learned to stay away.

Fast forward to the present day, and most of the world has been conquered by a warlord named Das, who has brought order and justice, "albeit with the edge of the sword and the purification of the torch." He has been unable to conquer Arroya, but prophecy holds that a band of humans, elves, and dwarves can conquer the continent and defeat the demon lord once and for all. Das has promised a kingdom to those who succeed.

You adventure with up to four characters from elf, dwarf, and human races and fighter or spellcaster classes. There are no attributes and no other options in character creation except the name. Apparently, you can go with fewer than four, but the game warns you during creation that you need at least one elf and one dwarf, so two is the minimum.

The totality of character creation.
   
Gameplay is organized into 6 "scenarios," each with an objective that you must complete before moving to the next one. The game warns you that it can take between 3 and 12 hours to complete each scenario, which I mentally halve based on improved loading speeds alone. Scenario One's goal is simply to reach a fortress on the far side of a multi-screen map.

A title card begins each scenario.
     
Characters move independently across the game map. Already difficult because of the hexagons, movement is further complicated by variable movement speeds between different races and classes, by the tendency of characters to run into each other, and by terrain (e.g., one-square bridges over water) that forces you to micromanage your characters into a particular formation. The game's one concession to ease is to allow you to move all characters in one direction at the same time by holding down the CTRL key (TAB in the VICE emulator).

Theoretically, I like the idea of allowing your party to split up and visit different corners of the map. Practically, you really need to keep the party together, at least in the first map. Combat is too hard to attempt independent exploration, and some enemies are immune to normal weapons, so you need a character with a magic weapon or spell handy.

Various artifact items, including weapons, spells, and "Xiphoid amulets," are scattered about the map, and it appears that you can always see them as long as they're on the same screen--that is, you don't have to walk over every tile. Monsters, on the other hand, are hidden until you approach their squares. There might be a bunch of them hidden within the same group of tiles, so you have to be careful about blundering about too quickly. Best to explore slowly and lure them to the party one-by-one.

The four characters surround and defeat a centaur. On a peninsula to the south, another enemy awaits next to a treasure.
  
Combat proceeds in turns, but characters don't have many options except to attack or flee. Spells are expensive and costly to endurance, so casting them is a pretty rare thing, at least in the first scenario. My attacks seem to hit about 50% of the time and do predictable damage depending on the type of weapon and type of enemy. For instance, maces always do 2 points of damage to most enemies and Xiphoid amulets (with both enable spellcasting and can be wielded like a dagger) do 1 to most enemies but 3 to hawkmen.

Characters start with 12 hit points each. Resting restores hit points quickly and costs you nothing, so it's easy to rest up between battles. Resting during battles is possible, but it takes the character out of commission for a few rounds and leaves him vulnerable to attacks. Characters have a fatigue meter in addition to hit points, and it depletes as you attack and cast spells but replenishes when you rest or walk. Death appears to be permanent, but you can save and reload the game on any square.

Time to reload!
     
Monsters are a mix of D&D standards (ghouls, hobgoblins, mimics) and original or semi-original creations (ice dragons, sand asps, toothpaws), including several different breeds of goblins and orcs. Many are immune to normal weapons. Since the first map doesn't have much in the way of magical weapons (Xiphoid amulets only do 1 hit point of damage at a time), you have to take care of some with spells. In particular, a pack of werewolves took my party apart until I found a city selling "Bendicca" spells, which kill them specifically. It appears that enemies don't re-spawn, meaning there's a fixed amount of experience and gold across all the scenarios. Successful parties probably explore each map exhaustively.
  
A party member finds an important artifact.
   
I do like the game's approach to distributing gold and experience after battles. Where most games either give them to the character who struck the killing blow (Ultima IV) or distribute them evenly among party members (the default), Xyphus adopts a hybrid: the character who actually killed the enemy gets twice what everyone else gets. Despite having amassed more than 1,200 experience points per character, I haven't leveled up yet, and I'm not even sure what leveling up does for you.

In the midst of battling a bunch of "toothpaws," Kranos kills one and gets more of the resulting experience.
   
The landscape is dotted with towns that sell weapons, armor, and spells. Armor progresses in a linear manner from shields to magic "veils" (each new item is supposed to augment, rather than supplant, the previous item). For weapons, you can have multiple in your inventory at a time and switch among them. There seems to be no way to trade items or gold among party members, so you have to be extra careful how you spend it.

A character looks over the armor selection in a shop.
   
I've barely scratched the spell system. The manual offers 6 attack spells, 3 hindrance spells, and 2 healing spells but says there might be more. Most of the spell names are simply their effects in (sometimes slightly modified) Spanish: Ciega blinds foes; piedra petrifies them; abeja ("bee") produces welts; matamosca ("fly swatter") is an attack spell.

In the first scenario, I fully explored the map, died and reloaded a lot, and killed a couple dozen pumas, centaurs, bandits, toothpaws, werefalcons, stone golems, and giant slugs. I found three Xiphoid amulets, a handful of spells not mentioned in the manual, and a long sword +2.

Reaching the end of the scenario.
    
Once I reached the outpost on the far side of the map, the scenario ended and I was taken to the second scenario, where  I received a mission to travel to a second fort and warn them about goblin raids. I haven't explored it very far yet. The first scenario took about 3 hours, so if that's average we're looking at an 18 hour game. I don't much want to do it, but it's tolerable if I have a TV show going in the background.

And on to scenario 2!
    
Xyphus isn't a bad game. It probably would have been a joy on my C64 when it was new and I only bought 3 or 4 games a year. It just doesn't stand up well in the modern era, when we have access to the entire historical catalog of RPGs and can choose from a host of titles from the same era that either are one of the best titles of the time or that, if they're clones of such games, at least clone them better.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Disciples of Steel: Conquering the Kingdom

The party slowly transitions to managing an empire.

As I've reported before, the 2014-2015 Winter from Hell in the Northeast caused so much water damage to my house that Irene and I had to move out while the entire place was gutted and reconstructed. We had to move all our stuff into temporary storage--and "temporary" turned into "permanent" last month when we decided it would be less effort to just sell the damned house than to keep trying to fix it. We are now living a semi-nomadic existence, having rented an oceanfront place for the winter. Who knows what will happen in the spring.

As much as I hated hauling all my stuff from my house to storage, then some of it to our first rental place, and then again to our second rental place, I think I'd actually rather do it again than have to set up another computer. I bought a Dell Precision 17 laptop on December 15 and figured it would take a couple of days to port over my programs and files from my old computer. It turns out I wasn't even finished with the process when I had to head back on the road a month later. Even now, I keep finding things that I've forgotten: DOSBox requires a special video codec, I forgot to deauthorize my copy of ArcGIS Spatial Analyst on my old computer, I need to re-map the default image capture location in about 16 emulators, and so on.

In case you find my story boring, here's a shot of the party taking on a dragon.
   
A few days ago, I was worried I'd have to repeat a lot of these efforts when, while unwisely trying to get some work done on a tiny table in a hotel bar, I spilled a Moscow Mule across my new laptop's keyboard. How it happened is complicated. It basically goes that I accidentally knocked my iPhone off the table, and in my panic to interrupt its fall with my left hand, I forgot I was holding a full copper mug in my right. Two-thirds of the cocktail poured smack in the middle of the keyboard and began seeping into the interior. Two seconds later, the screen froze, displayed something that I missed because I was desperately searching for a napkin, and went black.

Let's fast forward to the good news: despite all the liquid that entered (or could have entered) the computer's innards, it turns out I just fried a single RAM chip located beneath the keyboard. (I could have been using the laptop for the last week if I'd known that and just taken it out.) Thus, I am saved from having to reinstall 78 programs and transfer 700 GB worth of files for the second time in a month. However, the whole episode screwed up my momentum on Disciples of Steel and ensured that when I was finally able to blog about the game, it would no longer be fresh in my memory.

In this session, I started taking over kingdoms. Now I give the quests!
   
I am currently hoping--desperately hoping--that the final act of the game doesn't turn out to be really stupid, because right now, I love it. I've already gone into detail about the tactical combat, the character development the equipment system, and spells, all of which feature the types of statistical logistics that make up my kind of RPG. I equally enjoy the game's approach to plot and storytelling: open-world, competing factions, many quests of varying length and difficulty. It's lasted too long for this blog--two months since I played another 1991 game--but not too long for its content.

In some ways, it reminds me a lot of Might & Magic VI and VII. The mechanics are entirely different, but both games take place on a continent of reasonably complex politics, both involve uniting multiple regional lords to a common cause, and both are perfectly happy to let you explore dungeons and find quest items before you technically get the quests. You have to be careful about this. I lost a few hours of progress because I accidentally sold a corpse that I needed to solve a quest, before I discovered that it was even a quest item. I've learned to keep anything that sounds unique; fortunately, the game gives you a vault just for that purpose.

I could recount all the different quests done for the different lords since the last post, but such a litany would be pretty boring to read even if it was fun to play. Suffice to say that I was beginning to wonder if I would ever reach the end of a questline when suddenly I did. Queen Valencia of Demata had asked me to explore the Lost City of Terine to retrieve the Cross of Thydra. (A quest I had also received from the king of Farnus. Farnus took the cross permanently but the queen didn't, meaning I had to turn in the quest to Demata first and Farnus second. I had to learn this lesson the hard way and reload.) The temple was huge, and I never actually completed it because there was some business with a hermit who wanted a "magic word" that I couldn't identify. Without it, he wouldn't let me pass, and for role-playing reasons I didn't want to just kill him.

This wasn't it.
  
But whatever I missed in that section, at least I found the cross. When I returned it, she then wanted the corrupted corpse of her late father, who I had slain as a lich. Thankfully, I had kept it. Her next quest had me raid a bandit camp for a stolen shield, and the one after that was to retrieve a "Gru Root" from nearby swamps to cure a case of poison.

I don't mind fetch-and-carry quests when they're interspersed with more complex ones.
 
At this point, I expected yet another quest, but suddenly Valencia said it was time for her to marry, pointed at Octavianus, my blacksmith, and announced that she'd chosen him. In seconds, the ceremony was completed, and the game informed me that "now the Disciples of Steel rule this land."
   
Good luck, Octavianus. She looks like she's into some weird stuff.
  
Rulership opened a whole new set of game dynamics that I have not yet begun to master: setting taxation rates, recruiting and equipping armies, and garrisoning and defending cities. It turns out that raising armies is expensive, and I had long ago stopped worrying about the game's economy except to make enough money to buy mushrooms. I'm now back to loading up on looted equipment after combat and selling it.

Recruiting an army is expensive.
  
Later, I ended three more questlines: Teal's, Farnus's, and Tobruk's. Teal's took me the longest. Wiping out the thieves' guild took almost 8 hours by itself. The dungeon was huge, had multiple secret doors, and featured dozens of hard combats, each capable of wiping out stocks of hundreds of mushrooms. But the rest of the Pirate King's quests were simple: slay the Death Knight wandering around the island ("Power Word: Stun" took care of him, like it does all single enemies) and grab some Mangi Root from a swamp to cure a plague.

The party surrounds and pummels the frozen Death Knight.

When I brought back the plague cure, Rathbone said it was too late for him and prompty died after designating my party as his heirs. I got the same kingdom-ruling options that I had received in Demata, but I didn't do anything but set a small tax rate of 5%. Hopefully, that won't be enough to make the populace revolt.

Rathbone wills me his kingdom before his death.

After I returned the cross, King Krassus of Farnus had me clear out an outpost of Rathadon spies, then destroy a Rathadon fortress north of Tobruk. When I returned from the ninth quest, he told me that his son and heir had been killed to an evil warrior named Jax, and he asked me to kill him. I had to wander around a forest for a while before Jax attacked, but once he did, the battle wasn't very difficult. After I returned Jax's body, Farnus turned over his kingdom.


I don't remember why I focused on the dwarves of Tobruk next, but the dwarf king had me explore some mines where a bunch of dwarves had been turned to stone by a demon (a quest that also has an echo in Might & Magic VII--did the New World developers play this game?), kill the demon, find some magic mushrooms to heal the dwarves, and explore a dungeon accessible from within the city to kill a cross between a beholder and the Thing. I also had to return a broken blade and...I don't know...something else. There were like three quests in a row that I solved just by completing a single dungeon.

"But he stops when he realizes you're not laughing, too. You stare at each other in silence for a few seconds. It's awkward, really."

I expected Firbin Redforge's questline to end with some excuse for my taking over his city, just as with the others, but it didn't. He simply said that he'd be "at my side" when the final battles started with Rathadon. This is the first time that it's been clear that Rathadon will be the ultimate enemy, making me wonder what happens if I a) finish Rathadon's questline; or b) assassinate the leader of Rathadon before the endgame starts.

  
Equipment advancement has been pretty steady, with +5 and +10 items giving way to +25 and +30. A small number of items have improved my skills by 10 or 20 points. Towards the end of this session, I started finding potions that raised my attributes. It took some thinking to determine how best to allocate them. In some games, I might try to raise the attributes of my lowest characters, but in this game I think it makes more sense to augment existing strengths than to take the edge off weaknesses.

My party leader's backpack has some decent stuff.
   
Lots of miscellaneous notes:

  • I talked last time about magic, but it didn't occur to me to mention one of the major differences from the Gold Box titles: the lack of buffing spells, and in particular the lack of buffing spells that you can cast before combat. There are a couple of them related to protection and speed, but you already have to be in combat to cast them.
  • "Power Word: Stun" is so useful that I ended up giving every character 100 points in "Power" so they can cast illusion magic. That's enough to freeze two foes for two or three rounds each. If I'm luck with initiative, I can freeze up to a dozen enemies in the first round of combat--which is good because I'm routinely fighting groups of 30 or more foes these days.

The party is swarmed by thieves in the thieves' guild.
 
  • The option to parley and then "be amicable" has never once worked.
  • I've invested over 200 points in my ranger's "track" skill, and I have no idea what it does.
  • In one dungeon, I found a "divining rod," but I'm not sure what its use is, or even what the message is telling me when I try to use it.


  • Similarly, the "search" command has never once turned up anything that I haven't found just walking around.
  • Potions of healing heal 100% of damage, but they're very rare.
  • The priest's "Teleport" spell turns out to be pretty useful, instantly whisking you up to 62 squares in any direction on the overland map. That's enough to get to the islands without having to sail a ship.

After completing a quest, Fanatica teleports the party back to town.
  
  • I don't think I've covered it before, but the game has amusing descriptions when you walk past random buildings in the cities.
      
  
  • I still think menu towns would have been a better approach, but I only recently discovered that you can instantly (L)eave any city that you're in.
  • Here are a couple of interesting monster portraits from various dungeons:

 
 
The programmer failed to communicate with the graphic artist on this one.

  • And I want to again express my appreciation for the textual dungeon descriptions which are both more frequent than those in the Gold Box games:


The game remains hard. Even with many of my skills approaching 300, I occasionally encounter foes so difficult that I die in the first round (especially if they surprise me). But I enjoy the challenge, and even having passed 60 hours, I haven't gotten sick of the combat. I keep catching myself having the kind of fun I had when I was a kid, imagining the characters working as a team and shouting orders and encouragement to each other: "Didymus, see if you can stun the one in the back!"; "I'll take the ogre!"; "Nialphe, fireball that corner of the room!"
The ending must be coming up soon, and I'm actually quite apprehensive about it. I assume it will involve wealth and kingdoms and armies, but I don't know how many resources I'll need. I don't know if I need to finish every questline to win the game, and I don't know exactly when I'll run out of time. Yet, somehow this uncertainty doesn't bother me, and even the prospect of having to play it again (later in my 1991 list, of course), now that I know what I'm doing in the early acts, fills me with more excitement than dread.

I don't want to give the impression that the game is perfect. Above, I covered several things that just don't work. There is also a notable lack of role-playing choices, including dialogue options and encounter options. But unless it completely tanks in its final moments, I can't imagine that Disciples of Steel won't GIMLET in the top five.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Tyrann: Won! (with Final Rating)

You know it's the endgame text because it has lots of exclamation points.
   
Tyrann
Norsoft (developer); No Man's Land (publisher)
Released 1984 for Tangerine Oric, Thomson MO5, and Amstrad CPC (some of these platforms may have seen a 1985 release instead)
Date Started: 4 January 2016
Date Ended: 18 January 2016
Total Hours: 19
Reload Count: >100
Difficulty: Moderate-Hard (3.5/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later) 
       
Well. Tyrann certainly had some surprises in store before the end. I'm still not sure it's a good game, but it at least became a much more interesting game.

Everything I've been posting so far turned out to be the first half of the game. For nine dungeon levels, the party fights monsters, earns gold, buys equipment, and levels up. Once the average character level hits 11--and, as in the last post--the player saves and reloads the game--something interesting happens: the game tells you that you can now explore the tenth level. It gives you the choice as to whether to go to this level, which transfers the saved game to an entirely different program, or keep exploring the first nine.


I had barely touched Level 8 when I got this message and hadn't explored Level 9 at all. It's possible that the rest of my game would have been easier if I'd kept exploring a bit, leveling up, increasing my stats, and paying a couple more visits to the mysterious WAKAHN'YORL to boost my characters' attributes. But I wasn't eager to prolong the game, so I accepted the offer. The game had me create a new save file which then transferred to the new program.
A message accompanied the transition. I do my best to translate, trying to adhere more to the spirit than the letter (corrections welcome):
   
Courageous men! You who have endured a phase of relentless combats and paid the price of blood and injuries: I salute you!

Once upon a time, Queen TYRANN was condemned. Her sin was an inability to choose between two princes of the winds, both greedy for wealth and power. Now, they are her guardians. TYRANN rests in a crystal sarcophagus in the depths of a maze, protected by strange spells. Woe to those who enter this temple without having what they need! Honor and glory to the brave chosen ones! Go now, and peace be with you! -- WAKHAHN'YORL
    
A little exposition here that you'd normally find in the manual. This is the first time that the title of the game has been explained! That was a rather unfortunate name choice on her parents' part. I can almost hear them telling their friends, "'Tyrann' if it's a girl, and 'Despot' if it's a boy."
   
Note that although the game is written in French, the text lacks accent marks.
   
I figured I was almost done at this point--how long could it take to complete a single level? Well, it turns out it took almost as long as it did to complete the previous nine. Although it looks similar, Tyrann becomes a fundamentally different game on the last level, with a host of new rules that you have to learn by trial and error:
     
  • Your inventory disappears in the transition, although you retain the armor class of whatever you were wearing. Armor doesn't exist on the final level, so your AC never improves after the transition.
  • All characters move to Level 10 but retain their attributes. There are no experience points or leveling on the final level.
  • Some of the spells disppear, including the most powerful, like KERR ("Death"), YEEI ("Lightning Bolt"), and MOKHAR ("Friends"). Some of the spells that are retained work differently. Mysterious new spells appear, but your spellbook no longer gives you clues as to what they do.
  • Each spellcaster has exactly 2 castings for each spell.
  • There's no "town level." Instead, you have a camp. You lose all equipment every time you enter the camp, but it resets your spell slots.
  • A host of confusing new inventory items appear (more on this below).
  • You can no longer transfer items or gold between characters.
  • There are a couple of ways to get equipment: you can cast a GOLAM spell (one of the new ones), which scatters a variety of items among the party members, though somewhat randomly; there are shops scattered throughout the dungeon where you can trade gold or even hit points for items; and you find some items on slain creatures.
  • There is no longer an "attack" command in combat; instead you (U)se a weapon from your inventory.
  • Gold and items are now awarded to the character who makes the kill, not distributed among all party members.
       
Finally, a new host of monsters appear, sounding terrifyingly hard: black dragons, evil gods, colossi, titans, white knights, green giants, and the deadly "strange animals" (drôle d'animal). In truth, they aren't as bad as they sound, and I was able to cleave through them the same way I dealt with enemies on the previous levels: OKOY ("Paralyze") for the corporeal creatures and ZINAK ("Turn Undead") for the non-corporeal ones. The occasional magic-immune creature fell to my weapons.
   
Oh, I forgot to mention Cthulhu.
    
The harder part of the level was figuring out the logistics and how to make it to the endgame. First, you have to figure out what the inventory items do. There are a bunch of weapons whose use is obvious: arc (bow), epee anti-spirits (a sword that only strikes incorporeal creatures), lance, hache de borreau (executioner's axe), poingard (dagger), and so forth. There are also a bunch of items that duplicate spells or otherwise have some magical effect in combat. These include the crosse (staff), which damages all evil creatures, and the baton magique (magic wand).
   
Chestre decides what item to use in a battle against a demon, a horror, a living vine, and an evil god.
    
There's a weird potion-crafting component that I didn't really get to work. One of the items you can find is a marmite (cooking pot), and you're supposed to use it with several ingredients--os (bone), mygale (tarantula), soufre (sulfur), and so on--to make both offensive and defensive potions. The problems is that, since you can't transfer items between characters, it's hard to get both the cooking pot and the ingredients into the hands of the same character at the same time. In any event, it's hardly necessary to win the game.
   
Parchemin stops being an offensive object and instead restores spell levels to the mage; a tablette gravee does the same thing for the druid. If you're willing to do a little save-state-scumming, you can get yourself into the following rhythm: Once your spells run out, use the engraved table to restore your druid's spells. Ensure that at least one of these spells is a GOLAM. Cast the GOLAM to re-seed equipment among your party members. Ensure that during this process, the druid gets at least one engraved tablet. Back-and-forth between GOLAM and the tablet, you can keep both your inventory and spells at capacity.
       
A casting of GOLAM scatters new items among my party members.
   
The new spells also take some experimentation. GOHO whisks you back to camp if you get stuck (at the cost of all your inventory).  LIRAM is a mass-damage spell. MADEK creates a kind of "radar" that warns you of encounters ahead (though since you can't avoid most of them, the warning has questionable utility). KALAM deciphers runes (more on that below). XOLUK now heals the entire party to maximum rather than just one character. I was never able to figure out exactly what SEGOY did, nor its related object, the statuette. It said something about creating a circle on the ground and begging the gods for favor, but I never saw any difference.

I mapped the final level myself, partly because it felt less like cheating, and partly because the one extracted from the Oric tapes is inaccurate (perhaps the Oric version is different). The level consists of 23 x 23 used squares, but with a three-square ring of one-square rooms around the edges (those aren't reflected in the map below). It wraps around on itself, making navigation difficult without frequent uses of the KADEO spell to get your bearings. You have to approach many of the sections from the "outside."
   
My map of the final level.
    
The map does some weird stuff with its doors that's hard to explain. In general, the game uses a "worm tunnel" approach to its mapping, without shared walls between the passages. Passing through doors jumps you forward two squares so you never actually stand in the doorway. But by allowing you to approach doorway squares from multiple angles, and by putting multiple doorways adjacent to each other, the game occasionally puts you in the middle of a doorway or even the space between walls--in the latter case, moving out of the space and into an adjacent room or passageway almost always closes the wall behind you. It was tough to map.

The dungeon is scattered with runes that you need the KALAM spell to decipher. They give you hints about how to accomplish the endgame. One of them says that Queen Tyrann is "the source of all evil," which puts a different spin on the backstory, and others said that I'd need the Sceptre of Peace to complete the game. 
    
Translating some runes with the "KALAM" spell.
   
I don't know exactly what sequence of events brought me to the endgame. There are two alcoves in the dungeon that you need a thief with a rossignol to open. Perhaps some French-speaking reader can explain how rossignol can mean both "nightingale" and "skeleton key" (is there a metaphor at work?). Each imparts a hint--one told me about using KALAM to decipher the runes--but I don't know if they're actually necessary to win.

In the center of the dungeon, you come across the Guardian of the North and the Guardian of the West in their respective niches. They ask for money, but both times they told me I didn't have enough, and I had to engage in combat instead. Only your lead character can fight in the combat. No matter what weapon I used, I did 21 points of damage each round (if I hit) and they did 11 points of damage each round (if they hit), so it was just a matter of luck and whose hit points ran out first. I won both combats with just a few hit points to spare.
   
Encountering one of the guardians.
      
I'm not sure if it's necessary to defeat both, as only the Guardian of the West teleports you to a corridor where you find the Sceptre of Peace. Only my thief could take it--it says the light is too bright for everyone else--but I don't know if that's an artifact of opening one of the alcoves or just a class-specific requirement.

To get to the final area, you have to pass through a square that teleports you back if you're carrying any weapons. You have to drop them all--as well as anything else that does damage, like barrels of powder--before it will let you go forward. There are two fixed combats in between this point and Tyrann, and you have to face both without any melee weapons, thus putting all the burden on your spellcasters and their magic items. (If you cast GOLAM after passing this point and re-equip your fighters, they die the moment they use a weapon in combat, and you lose the Sceptre of Peace.) This is particularly difficult because there aren't many spells that do damage to creatures (stunning or sleeping them hardly does any good if you can't then damage them) and some creatures are immune to magic entirely. Thus, it boils down to the random composition of the enemy parties that you encounter. Again, a little save-state-scumming helps if you don't want to have to flee and return multiple times.

Eventually, I got a favorable combination, defeated the monsters with a combination of spells and magic wands, and moved forward to the endgame square. This was the message. Exeter, my thief, is named in the text because he was carrying the Sceptre of Peace:

Exeter advances, uncomfortably, to the crystal sarcophagus in which lies Tyrann. The tormented spirit watches as he goes forward, step by step. He places the sceptre on the pedestal. The whole party waits...

It would take too long to tell you the end of this story, because it lasts forever...

Exeter marries Tyrann and rules at her side in peace. His five companions become uncontested masters of their castles, and a rumor circulates that they hope to begin another adventure! Who knows? Perhaps this fantastic saga will continue!
    
In storytelling quality, this is one step up from, "There was a brave knight....yada yada yada....they lived happily ever after." But whatever. It's over. I got the last message at the top of the screen, congratulating my "famous party" and inviting me to play the sequel, Le Fer d'Amnukor ("The Fire of Amunkor").

Did I miss something here? How did we go from rescuing her to marrying her?
    
Switching to an entirely different mechanic for the endgame is a rare trope, but we've seen it before in a few games, including Robert Clardy's Wilderness Campaign and Odyssey: The Compleat Apventure and recently in The Standing Stones. I generally think it's a bad idea, but in this case the ending half was a lot more interesting than the beginning half. I still didn't really like it--it abandoned too many traditional RPG mechanics, like character development--but it wasn't boring.

In a GIMLET, I give Tyrann:
      
  • 1 point for the game world. The story makes very little sense and never really engages the player.
  • 3 points for character creation and development. For the first half of the game, leveling is reasonably rapid and imparts tangible benefits. Arguably the best part of the game.
  • 1 point for NPC interaction. I reluctantly give this to the rare appearances of WAKHAN'YORL in the dungeon segment.
  • 2 points for encounters and foes--a relatively standard selection of fantasy monsters with predictable strengths and weaknesses.
  • 3 points for magic and combat. It's a fairly boring Wizardry-derived system, but there are some minor tactics associated with spellcasting, spell conservation, and item use.
  • 3 points for equipment. It gets more interesting towards the end of the game with all of the usable items that you have to puzzle out.
    
Buying items during the first half of the game.
   
  • 3 points for economy. During the first half of the game (despite initial impressions), there's not much to buy. In the second half, the economy becomes more important as you attempt to stock your inventory at the scattered stores.
  • 2 points for a main quest.
  • 3 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The lack of graphics is notable, but the controls are easy enough and there are some scattered sound effects.
  • 2 points for gameplay. A little too long, boring, and linear, with some very odd mechanical choices, such as requiring the player to save and reload to progress.

That gives us a final score of 23, about what I expected. Tyrann might have been the best game available for the Oric or Amstrad CPC in 1984, but looking at it today, in comparison to games available for other platforms, it just seems horribly bland. When it does go off in its own direction, particularly in the second half of the game, its choices are more "weird" than "fun." I've said a similar thing about German games of the era. It feels like European developers were prizing originality for its own sake--like the wacky chef who garnishes a tenderloin with grape jelly--without stopping to consider that their innovations were at best strange and at worst completely inedible.
   
I guess if I'd thought about it more, I would have wondered who the woman on the cover was.
    
But, as I noted in the first post, enough people remembered Tyrann fondly that Norsoft re-booted last year and produced a version of Tyrann for the Android. "You're not dreaming," the summary begins, and I'm glad the authors cleared that up because I was just sitting here pinching myself. Based on the description, the updated version keeps the "two halves" approach. Reviews are mixed; a lot of people seem to be complaining about bugs.

Tyrann's sequel, Le Fer d'Amnukor, is on my list for 1986. It seems to have been released only for the Oric, meaning at some point I'll have to learn another emulator. 
   
I can't find any evidence that the authors, Rémy Gosselin and Matthias Wystrach, have any games to their credit besides Tyrann and is sequel. Similarly, Norsoft seems to have only been around for these titles. But I haven't plumbed the entirety of the French Web, so if any French-speaking readers want to see if they can dig up additional information, your contributions are welcome.

This marks the first non-English RPG that I've actually finished, which is a nice change after a streak of German RPGs that I abandoned. We'll next put my French skills to the test with 1985's Mandragore, and there will be a host of RPGs from the country during the 1986-1990 "golden age." For now, we need only two more games to wrap up 1984.