Monday, January 4, 2016

Game 208: Tyrann (1984)

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
Japan would eventually rocket to the top in RPG quantity, but through the 1980s, the U.S. was the leader in the RPG market, with 233 games to Japan's 222 (this is based on my master list, including console games, but not games I've investigated and rejected). The UK comes in a distant third with 23.

In fourth place, you might be surprised to hear, is France, with 14 RPG titles between 1984 and 1989. The nation falls far down the list in the 1990s and 2000s, but for a brief period in the mid-1980s, there was a "golden age" of French RPGs. Tyrann is the first of these--the first of all French RPGs--and others we'll be investigating include Mandragore (1985), Faial (1986), Fer & Flamme (1986), Sapiens (1986), Les Templiers d'Orven (1986), and L'Anneau de Zengara (1987). We'll also be re-visiting Tera: La Cité des Crânes (1986) and Le Maître des Âmes (1987), neither of which I finished or even played long enough to rate on the GIMLET scale. (Fortunately, my French has improved since 2010.) Almost all of these games were released primarily or exclusively for the Amstrad CPC.

A party explores the dungeons of Tyrann.
Founded in 1968 in the UK, Amstrad initially produced televisions and stereos before entering the personal computer market in 1984, hoping to compete with Commodore and Sinclair (maker of the ZX Spectrum) in the UK and Europe. With a cheap price and an efficient operating system (AMSDOS), the CPC did well enough on the continent that Amstrad was able to purchase Sinclair in 1986. By 1990, the company had switched to MSDOS-based PCs, and the CPC slowly dwindled away. The last RPG released on the platform was HeroQuest, which I played just a few months ago. The last RPG released solely for the CPC was Saga, a bafflingly bad 1990 game that I played over a year ago. In any event, I had already learned the emulator (WinApe), so I didn't need to find ones for Tyrann's other platforms, the Tangerine Oric and the Thomson MO5.

As popular as it was, Wizardry never made it to these European PCs: as far as I can tell, it had no Spectrum, CPC, Oric, or Thomson release. Thus, the market was ripe for a Wizardry clone, just as it was for The Ring of Darkness (an Ultima clone) a couple years prior. Enter Tyrann, which plays less like a game that copies Wizardry's code and more like a game that someone wrote from scratch while looking at Wizardry screenshots. Like so many knock-offs, it manages to copy the letter of the original while lacking a certain spirit.
The basic outline we could recite now from memory: a party of 6 characters navigates a gridded wireframe dungeon, fights monsters, finds treasure, and slowly levels up. I guess there was an English version--at least, the Museum of Computer Adventure Game History has a manual in English--but I wasn't able to find it. The manual offers nothing for a backstory except that the game takes place in a labyrinth off the village of Golanur, and nothing about a main quest except that there is one and it somehow involves "the mystery of Tyrann."

The manual does show you how to map.
Classes are chosen from warrior, magician, thief, and druid. Creation is a quick process: after specifying a name and class, attributes of strength, intelligence, vitality, and agility are rolled randomly between 7 and 12. If the player wants to accept the first role, he can allocate 5 bonus points to any one attribute, but if he says "no," he never gets that option again on subsequent re-rolls.

The brief character creation process.
Once the party is created, you buy some basic gear at the store in Golanur and then head into the dungeon, where the difficulty curve is about the same as Wizardry: tough. You die a lot in the early levels while you navigate the dungeon and hope for the game to roll weak enemies. Tyrann doesn't have Wizardry's permadeath, but it requires you to save your progress on cassette tape, and you can only save in town. Reloading must have taken a few minutes when the game was new. Now, of course, save states make it instantaneous and remove a lot of the pain associated with death. I'd try harder to adhere to the intended difficulty but I can't get the tape to work. Individual character death is also a lot easier to deal with in Tyrann; resurrection is relatively cheap and there's no risk of the character turning to ash.
The party starts out in he Village of Golanur, standing in for Trebor's Castle.
We've seen the combat system a million times before. Enemies approach and you can evaluate their party and try to flee if you don't feel confident. Once combat is joined, each character selects an action--attack, parry, use an item, or cast a spell--and the actions execute all at once. Defeated enemies leave gold and experience points but not items (at least, not so far).

A fight against four enemies: two specters, a wolf, and a giant spider.
The spell system is different in a way that makes early-level spellcasters quite weak. Spellcasters have to purchase spellbooks for their respective classes from the shop before they can cast. They get one new spell per level, and as in Wizardry, each spell is given a nonsense name. My mage started with YPAFET ("Sleep") and got KADEO ("Find Location") on Level 2. My druid started with ASEKO ("Minor Healing") and progressed to OKOY ("Petrification") on Level 2 and ZINAK ("Turn Undead") at Level 3.

My druid's spellbook.
Curiously, spells don't have associated levels, so each spellcaster is allotted a certain number of castings for each spell rather than level-based slots or spell points. The number of castings is randomized each time the character sleeps; the roll seems to be 1D6. So my mage might have 3 YPAFET slots and 2 KADEO slots. He sleeps and suddenly he has 2 YPAFET slots and 4 KADEO slots. Very odd. In any event, resting restores at least some slots for each spell if you've run completely out.

Leveling is also a bit mysterious in the game. As soon as a character hits enough points to make the next level, the game automatically takes you to a "level up" screen where you can assign 2 or 3 points to any of the character's attributes. The problem is, the number of experience points needed to level seems at least partially randomized. My first character to hit Level 2 was Talbot, my druid, at 2600 experience points. My magician went next at around 3,500. My first warrior didn't reach Level 2 until he had around 4,000 points, and my third warrior still hasn't leveled despite having almost 7,500. (During this time, my druid has hit Level 3.) Once you level up, your experience rolls over to 0.

My druid levels up. I can put 3 points into any attribute.
Level 1 of the dungeon turned out to be 24 x 24 squares, although without shared walls. (I believe we're calling these "worm tunnels" now, as opposed to the "razor walls" of Wizardry.) I battled through a host of goblins, skeletons, specters, serpents, giant rats, jackals, sorcerers, orcs, and other assorted creatures and mapped the level in about 2 hours. There were a number of chests with gold and items at fixed points and two down staircases but no special encounters. I wish developers knocking off Wizardry games would realize the importance of the special encounters. There might only be one or two per level, but those occasional NPCs or messages on the walls impart a sense of progress and story that a plain gridded map simply can't convey.

The dungeon's first level.
Periodic returns to town are necessary since it's the only place you can rest (like Wizardry, you can "camp" in the dungeon to check on characters and cast spells, but you can't actually sleep). I've noticed that the selection of items available in the shop has been growing with each new visit, which is a nice change. An "alchemist" takes the place of Wizardry's temple and heals characters for a fee (at much more reasonable rates, I should add).

The alchemist restores you to maximum health for 4 gold pieces per character level.
As I said, the game has many of the mechanics of Wizardry but lacks most of the soul. You wouldn't think little touches like having to enter the tavern to inspect characters or choosing "Boltac's Trading Post" instead of just "Buy or sell" would make a difference, but in this early era of few NPCs and limited stories, it really does. Just some of the little ways that the game under-performs its parent:

  • You don't actually equip weapons and armor. The game assumes you're wielding whatever weapon and wearing whatever armor is in your inventory. This means you can only have one weapon and one piece of armor at a time; if you try to buy more, the game shouts "impossible!" Thus, I guarantee I won't be finding any weapons or armor in the dungeon.

Buying weapons. I'm not sure why a double axe is worth so much more than a two-handed sword. A "fleau d'armes" is a flail, I think.
  • There is no item identification system.
  • There are no random encounters in the dungeon (at least, not on Level 1). The composition of the encounters is random, but they all occur at fixed encounter points, and once you clear them they remain clear. This means there's no way to grind.
  • There do not appear to be any secret doors. I may encounter them later, but Level 1 had no navigation obstacles--no spinners, one-way doors, teleporters, and so forth.
  • Sometimes chests are trapped but there's only one trap type. There's no examination/disarming system; the thief just opens the chest and either succeeds or fails.
My thief opens a coffer.
  • There are no alignments or sexes.
  • There are no images for the monsters.
  • There is no consideration of "combat ranks"; all characters fight in melee range and can be hit by enemies.
The game isn't entirely lacking innovations. It arguably has a better economy than Wizardry since healing isn't so crazy expensive and the shop actually seems to offer things worth saving up for. Although I haven't really explored them yet, there seems to be a wider variety of usable items, including powder barrels and several animals like combat dogs and baby dragons. A couple of them are mysteries; what do I do with a souris blanche (white mouse)?
Some of the more interesting items in the store. It'll be a long time before I can afford that baby dragon.
Play is hampered by a number of interface issues. Too many commands, like casting a spell outside of combat, require tunneling through several menu trees. In combat, you have to specify what creature you want to attack by its number. The problems is the number doesn't change even when other enemies die. You might start with enemies numbered 1, 2, 3, and 4, and after you kill a couple, they're numbered 2 and 4. You have to make sure to specify those numbers--not 1 and 2--or your characters will attack air. You have to specify the number even when there's only one enemy remaining.
My magician tries to put two sorcerers, a wolf, and a goblin to sleep.
In general, Norsoft came up with an adequate early-era RPG that scratches a basic itch to explore, map, fight, and improve, but it's all mechanics and--at least, so far--no plot. As with The Standing Stones, I'm motivated to try to reach the end just to be the only documented person online to have done so, but it's hard to justify spending the time it would take. And in this case, I can't find any fan sites with maps to help me out.

How long will it take to reach the end naturally? At the end of the manual (which is simply awful; it hardly documents anything), it says that "when your team has attained an average of 11 levels of experience, you will be able to load Side B." Now, the manual is for a double-sided tape version of the game, and I have a disk version, so I don't know if the same level restriction applies to anything here. Assuming it does, it took me about 3 hours of play to get one of my characters to Level 3; say 4 hours until my average character is Level 3. That suggests that even with linear progression, I'm looking at about 15 hours to hit Level 11, at which point the game is half over? That really doesn't sound like it's in the cards.
I thought I'd also share this weird illustration from the manual.
What I've described is a competent but banal RPG that only existed because better ones hadn't made it to European PCs by the mid-1980s. Once personal computers started to standardize on DOS and Windows and more games became available for everyone, there would have been no reason in the world to play Tyrann. But thousands of 1980s teenagers were exposed to Tyrann when it was the only RPG available to them, and naturally it holds a place of fondness in their hearts. This is the only reason I can offer that someone would have bothered, just a few months ago, to publish an Android version of Tyrann.
The town and dungeon in the updated mobile version.
Based on the scattered facts I can find in online descriptions, at least one of the original authors--Rémy Gosselin--is behind the effort, and the company, Norsoft, has been resurrected for this title. I have not seen evidence that the other listed author, Matthias Wystrach, is involved. I also can't find the two tied to any other RPGs save Tyrann's obscure sequel, Le Fer d'Amnukor (1986), which appears to have been published only for the Oric.

I'll map another level or two to see if anything changes--any NPCs, navigation obstacles, story elements, and so forth--but after that, we'll probably see an early GIMLET unless someone has more luck than me finding maps*. Just two more games to 1984!

Time so far: 3 hours
Reload count: 11 

*To avoid anybody wasting their time, I did find a message board in which someone had extracted the maps and offered them in Oirc tape format. I tried to get the tape to run on an Oric emulator but was unsuccessful.


Sorry for the sudden switch between this game and Sword of Kadash. I have a post ready to go for Kadash but I managed to make a belated contact with the author, and I'm waiting for him to respond to some questions before I finalize the post.


  1. "Now, of course, save states make it instantaneous and remove a lot of the pain associated with death."

    This sounds like poetry, for the kind of person who loves the progress possible through science. A nice one.

    1. It'll be nice when we have these in real life. Capture a save state in the morning, and if the day doesn't go well, just reload.

    2. Or, commit whatever terrible but pleasurable atrocities you want before getting captured/killed, then reload.

  2. In the JRPG-like game Undertale, the ability of the player character to save and reload becomes part of the narrative. It's brilliant.

  3. Maybe the necessary points to level up depend on a character stat?
    With that white mouse you might be able to catch a cat?

    1. Perhaps there are elephants in the dungeon which can be repelled with the mice?

  4. I still can't get over how many virtually identical wizardry-type games there were. Was there really THAT much of a market for them? Like, why would I ever play this game if I already have a better one? Many of these games consistently lack any and all unique flavor (the starting enemies in Tyrann are goblins and sorcerers. Again), so there is barely any room for differentiation. How many virtually identical first-person dungeon crawlers does a person really need? Tyrann, at least, came out when many CRPGs couldn't run on European computers, but there are tons of other games that don't have that excuse.

    Then again, these were the days before reviews and gameplay details could just be easily googled up on the web. People probably just had to take risks and hope that the game would end up being better or different than other games in some way. Sometimes you'd strike gold, and sometimes you'd get Tyrann. Unless there was some other way to find out about good games - this was all well before my time, so I don't really know.

    1. That pretty much summarizes my argument. In a free RPG market, this wouldn't really happen, but as you point out, there were all kinds of considerations of platforms, limited access to the games in the first place, and lack of a good comprehensive source. There weren't even a lot of gaming magazines yet; CGW was just getting its legs in 1984. You basically had to take what your local computer store offered and based your decision on the box art.

    2. I dunno...I seem to recall there being several magazines for the ZX Spectrum at the time. But then it was pretty big in the UK, and moderately big in Norway (enough that several different magazines were available).
      So for me as a Speccy owner I didn't feel that I didn't have enough info. Looking back the reviews for Spectrum games also tended to be good (as in objective) while the Amiga mags some years later were rempant fanboyism.

      But maybe it was different if you had computers with lesser market shares, like the Amstrad, the Oric and the Dragon.
      But many (most, naybe?) UK 8 bit games were cross platform, so even if you had a rather obscure machine, you could probably find reviews for Speccy or C64 version of the same games just by browsing the magazines at the magazine vendor.
      Incidentally the C64 versions always had better sound (but then it had a designated sound chip), but (at least from the screenshots) bland and colourless graphics, while for some reason the Speccy usually scored higher on Playability than C64 versions.

      This was an exciting time, with so many new and different home computers appearing, but only a few (C64, Speccy, Amstrad CPC) succeeding. Some are still remembered, like the Oric and the Dragon, but who now still remember the Lazer and the Elan Enterprise?

    3. I'm guessing the lack of originality in the CRPG market was due to people's limited exposure to RPGs besides D&D.

    4. @PetrusOctavianus, it seems like the magazines had limited audiences, such as the audience for a particular computer. You would look for a magazine that was targeted to others who had your same machine, not a general "all games" magazine. And even if such a magazine existed, I think it would have reflected the games and systems in the national market they grew out of. So there was little occasion for the same reviewer to compare games from different systems.

    5. I'd say the big reason why Europe produced so few CRPGS in the day (and why the Spectrum had so few) was mostly down to storage medium. Over here (the UK), disk drives were incredibly expensive. The Spectrum didn't really have a proper disk format. I was lucky enough to have a C64 with a drive, but virtually nowhere sold disk based games. When they did, it was usually just flight sims or the same games which were sold on tape -- very few RPGs were offered for sale here.

      CRPGs are games which really need the ability for random access due to their nature. Both in having a vast and interesting world/dungeons, and to easily store the party details. Tapes really just aren't ideal.

    6. Sounds awful, you have my condolences. Here in the US it was mandatory to receive a couple shoebox full of bootlegged games whenever you bought a second hand C64.

    7. @Glitzy: "Over here (the UK), disk drives were incredibly expensive."

      I hate to undercut what seems to be a well-reasoned line of argument, but it was exactly the same in the US. Floppy drives weren't particularly affordable until the mid-late 1980s - the one "exception" were the C64 drives, which were absolutely unholy terrible, broke all the time, slow as molasses when they did work, and were still about $350 or so.

      It's more due to the deficiencies of the popular hardware (the U.K. patriotically (and, to be fair, economically, since it was made locally) went for the Sinclair Spectrum, which was never a particularly beefy computer even by early-1980s standards), as well as some cultural differences (plenty more space for weird isolated loners in the geographically-broad world of America and the culturally-rigid world of Japan).

    8. About the lack of magazines, that's not the case in France. "Tilt" appeared as early as 1982, and covered computer games as well as arcade or console ones.
      "Jeux & Stratégie" (1980) covered all kind of games, including computer ones.
      "Casus Belli", also 1980, was very useful reading about RPG and wargames, and they started covering computer ones early on, as well.
      As for "was there a market for those games?", well Wizardry was very popular, and the Oric, which was the single best selling home computer in France in 1983, did not have Wizardry. So it would have been surprising to NOT have "Wizardry for the Oric".
      And it was a good game for the time, if only because of the challenge. I guess it would be boring with save states and maps, though.

  5. France produced a lot of memorable games for the Atari ST - my chosen platform at the time - though only a handful were RPGs that I'm able to recall. Mostly whatever Silmarils was putting out, like the Arborea/Ishar games. Infogrames's Drakkhen too, of course. Whether they were RPGs or not, I always appreciated the distinctive weirdness of French-developed games.

    (It's the Germans I more readily identify as RPG developers: the various Dark Eye/Realms of Arkania games, Ambermoon/star, Gothic and oddities like Albion.)

    1. So, I show 9 RPGs produced by French developers by the Atari ST: Sapiens, B.A.T., Drakkhen, Crystals of Arboea, Ishar 1-3, Koshan Conspiracy, and Robinson's Requiem. If that's what you meant by "a lot," we're good. Otherwise, my list might be incomplete in this area.

    2. Sounds about right. At least half of those are from Silmarils as well. They seem to be the late-80s/early-90s equivalent of Tyrann's developers, cornering what was presumably a far more niche market in France. Most of the French games I'm better acquainted with from that period are adventure games, like Coktel's Gobliins and Delphine's Another World/Flashback.

      Sapiens is the only one on your blog's initial list that I'm familiar with. It's definitely a curiosity, but I'm not sure it'll qualify as an RPG under your rules. I seem to recall many dull hours sculpting arrowheads...

  6. Yet another thorough review. I'm afraid I depart from you Addict, on liking to grind. The clearing of fixed encounter points seems to be a way of impacting the game world and giving a sense of progress, which is something you look for in a CRPG, and adding random encounters for the heck of it would seem to increase tedium on an otherwise bare map. I'm okay with the ability to clear out a map, so long as it gives me enough XP to advance my characters to face the greater challenges ahead.

    Always looking forward to your reviews! :)

    1. It's not so much that I "like to grind" as it is that I like having grinding as an option if parts of the game get too difficult. The ability to control the pace of your own leveling is, to me, the hallmark of a good RPG. If everyone levels at the exact same rate and reaches each plot point with the exact same strengths and weaknesses, you feel more like the game is playing you than vice versa. I want to be able to rush headlong into danger if I feel like it, or spend hours fighting rats so that the boss battle at the end of the level is a bit easier if I feel like that.

    2. If progress is static, it's basically just fake-progress. Random encounters, side-quests and grinding are essential for me to feel like I am in control. Also you don't really feel the power of your heroes if you can't go back and slaughter some lowlevel mobs which used to a serious obstacle.

      For me, grinding feels like a bonus, an opportunity to get extra power. I can remember splitting green slimes in Baldur's Gate for hours, after removing the experience-cap of course. Then I one-hitted Drizzt because I could.

    3. Well, I'm in agreement with you both here on having a sandbox. If that's what you mean by referring to grind, then I'm on board.

      When I think of grinding, I think of having to endure hours of random combats in Bard's Tale II to progress in the dungeons. *shudder*

      Perhaps we then agree on the extreme case, where a game forces you to grind because that is the only way you can make *any* further progress in the game world?

  7. Nice review ;-)
    you can get informations here:,en,112,14.html
    It's the Oric version
    the 2d opus is better and fans have made a 3rd opus in 2015

  8. I have extracted the maps from the Oric tape-file and put them in a spreadsheet with some formatting:
    The legend is the same for all levels except 10 (which also looks rather strange, so it may not be correct)

    1. Heh. I just got the tape running in the "Euphoric" emulator. Here are the screenshots:

      (Euphoric is an old-fashioned DOS based emulator. I first tried Oriculator, which is much more user-friendly, but I couldn't get it to work there.)

    2. I couldn't get Euphoric to work on my 64-bit Windows 7 installation. I tried other Oric emulators but didn't have any luck.

      MobyDX, I don't know how you did it, but I sure appreciate it. It makes it more likely that I'll make it to check out the end.

    3. so, looking at map images...

      Why on level 5 the traps have a layout that says "Son ris"?

      Is it some name from the game?

    4. My French is imperfect, but I believe that could mean (his/her) "reef", "thymus", or "laughter". (I hope that's not a spoiler for a puzzle in the game.)

    5. You're misreading it, it doesn't say "son ris". But I fear we're in spoiler territory...

    6. Oh, quite right! But then my guess is that it's a second-person imperative verb, and just a small joke (like drawing a smiley face on the map), not a spoiler. The other, noun meaning is possible, but...

  9. Hi Chet, it's me again--you know, that guy who always whines every time you threaten to stop playing a game before beating it? How dare you provide me with hours of free reading entertainment and not bow to my every whim? I'm seriously really curious to see what happens in this game. So no quitting, no walkthroughs, no map downloading. Are you the CRPG Addict or the CRPGTFP (Computer Role Playing Game That are Fun to Play) Addict? Besides, if you don't finish it, some day, when you die, your heirs will surely inscribe on your tombstone "Here lies Chet, he who never finished Tyrann."

    1. The problem is that the endless succession of combats is just too unrewarding. If I finish it, I can't promise "no map downloading."

      But thanks for the pep talk.

  10. Wait a goddamn minute. There's a Voyuer class in this game?! Is Exeter equipped with a spycam?

    1. That's Voleur, not Voyeur. Voleur means Thief, or more accurate, Robber.

      While we're at it, I can confirm that Fléau d'armes is a Flail (literally a weapon-grade flail)

      On the other hand, we have Sorcière translated as Sorcerer. Sorcière is female however, so it would be a Sorceress, or a Witch

    2. I think you mean "Rogue". Then again, a Voyeur is as Roguish as they come.

  11. I am French and I know what your names refer. You are a dick.

    1. A bit uncalled for. Henry VI part 1 by Shakespeare is not an anti-French manifesto as far as I know.

    2. To emphasise, the English are the losers here. I guess you could argue a lot about the patriotism in the play, but that's the bottom line and no escaping it.

      A long time lurker, I just had to pipe in to defend The Bard.
      Chet, thank you for the blog!

    3. It is not Henry VI. But for his own name (Chestre), he refers to the St. Crispin's Day speech in Henry V, before the battle of Agincourt. It is the one battle the English won against the French and they do not like to let us forget.

    4. To use those names for a French game is a intentional snub and is tasteless.

    5. Oh, stop trolling. If you were really French, you would call it "Azincourt," not "Agincourt," and even the most fierce French patriot wouldn't be upset at a kidding reference to a 600-year-old battle.

      And even the most fierce French patriot would probably still recognize Waterloo as an English victory.

    6. Well, all right if you see it so. In the speech itself Henry is named Harry, though.

    7. Chestre as much confirmed that it was from that speech. I was not "trolling." I am writing on an English blog, so I use the English version.

      The point is that you played a French game for the first time and you could have used French names like kings or the peers of Charlemagne but instead you use names of English nobles who fought and defeated the French. It is as I say tasteless.

    8. Hah! This really is going nowhere. And to think that these very same bloodlines will get their buttocks whopped in the sequel...
      As to the names of characters, I thought it a nice touch to name them after the Henry VI nobles precisely because of the lost war.

      Chet, I'm sorry for encouraging this. I really like your writing and I'll keep on reading as long as you'll write this blog.


    9. You know, it just never occurred to me that the names I give party members could provoke so much controversy. Chevalier, I don't know if you're sincere, trolling, or just a random lunatic, but I promise that if a SECOND French person writes that he's upset with the names I chose, I'll apologize.

    10. Yeah, make St. Joan of Arc the leader of the party in the next French game... and then have Chevalier get up in your grill that you're implying they need a teen girl to fight their battles for them and then ceremoniously get their asses handed to them after she was burnt on a stake by a traitorous Bishop (a French one, no less).

      Seriously, every country has their own shameful shite and there's no escapin' them. Just accept it like a man, Chevalier!

  12. That answer was to Chevalier, not Chet.


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