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: 23
Ranking at Time of Posting: 73/206 (35%)
       
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.


24 comments:

  1. Concerning rossignol meaning both nightingale and skeleton key, the french wiktionary editors seem to only be guessing. Their "explanation" is, that a fitting key "sings well" and that maybe this meaning was popularized by the cryptologist Antoine Rossignol.

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    1. ”One story about Rossignol should be deflated, however. This is that his solutions were made 'in a fashion so marvelous to his contemporaries that the device with which a lock is opened when the key has been lost is still called in French a rossignol'. While the fact of the current usage is true, its implied origin is false. Unfortunately, for so charming an etymology, this particular use of the term rossignol appears as a criminal argot in police documents as early as 1406 – almost two centuries before the cryptologist was born. Since the word also means 'nightingale', it may be possible that the thieves adopted it as a slang for a picklock because its nighttime solos of clicks and rasps were music to their ears.” - David Kahn: ”The Codebreakers”.

      Delete
    2. This turned out to be a more interesting linguistic puzzle than I had anticipated.

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  2. " It feels like European developers were prizing originality for its own sake"

    American developers probably come from DnD-like games, with strict rules and procedures. I'd guess the European developers' background mostly comes from traditional folklore and Grimm's fairy tales. These value original settings and stories higher than the rules by which their worlds work. I'm not saying that this makes them better CRPGs, though.

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    1. Or rather the americans were in it for business first while Europeans were for fun and profit.
      In many games of the era you can see that american made games rarely diverge from the pattern because it's generally bad for business to sway too far from the mainstream while europeans have no such worries hence their games tend to be rather odd or even unpolished.

      Also one part of the business like mind set is that american games were always heavy on the hardware because they had little desire to tweak their games to run as smoothly as possible (mainly because it costs money) while european games usually ran pretty smoothly even with better graphics.

      You can actually see the trend even today.

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    2. Or maybe it's just that we got so used to american CRPGs that we perceive them as the baseline. It's not that hard to imagine an alternative scenario where euro-RPGs become mainstream and the US ones are viewed as a historical peculiarity.

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    3. Or a 3rd alternative which is a little bit of both.

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  3. http://everygamegoing.com/landing/publishers/norsoft.html

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    1. There's a more complete list here: http://www.uvlist.net/companies/info/1833

      A rather sad collection. A few arcade, adventure and strategy games, all by different authors.

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  4. I love how these old cRPGs are weird and you can never tell what to expect.

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  5. On link from anon my Microsoft Security Softwer detects Trojan: JS/Redirector.NL know as

    W32/Iframe.AO (Fortinet), Mal/Iframe-AO (Sophos), JS.IFrame.568 (Dr.Web)..

    Alert level: Severe

    So be cerful to check this website.

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  6. Switching to an entirely different mechanic for the endgame is a rare trope, but we've seen it before in a few games

    Not that anyone knows but me for sure, but this happens in a sense in Braminar also.

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    1. Not much for CRPGs but this happens a lot in AD&D. High-leveled campaigns usually turns into a Civilization/Fantasy Empires/Warhammer strategy board game.

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    2. You're really not going to be satisfied until I revisit Braminar, are you?

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  7. Wow, that final level sounds brutal. I admire your determination.

    At first I thought Tyrann was a random fantasy name, but it really is the German word for "tyrant". So your quest is to free the imprisoned tyrant? Weird.

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  8. Respect. Everyone who plays CRPGs has to expect some hardcore grinding now and then, but I would have given up with the technical problems you faced. And then pushing forward even when all the rules changed on the final level. Good stuff! Now aren't you glad I begged/shamed/encouraged you to keep going? You're not? Oh, sorry.

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    1. I'm always glad when I win a game, no matter what effort it took to get there. What I hate is spending that much effort and then not being able to win (cf., Dungeons of Avalon).

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  9. Congratulations!
    Well, at least it was interesting at the end. Who knows, without the technical problems the game might have scored very, very slightly better.

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  10. The system of needing to save and reload your game is equivalent to saving characters from one game (e.g. Wizardry or Quest for Glory) to import into the next game.

    What Tyrann seems to have done was to include the "sequels" with the original game. That was most likely a memory consideration - they couldn't fit all of the text and dungeon mechanics for the entire game into memory at one time, so players must reload to get the next set of levels.

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    1. That makes sense. What's too bad is that by constantly adjusting the "ceiling," so to speak, the game eliminates much of the tension associated with, say, Wizardry, where you constantly wonder whether to explore further or go back. When every level can become "Level 1" with just a quick save and reload, there's no incentive not to pop back to the town after every few battles.

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    2. Indeed, Tyrann's "side B" aka "last level", is an entirely different program (and different game, too) which merely uses the characters' data. Each program uses up almost the entirety of an Oric's RAM, so it simply would not have been possible to load both into memory at the same time. And unlike disks, cassettes (Tyrann's original media) don't allow for random access, so moving between side A and side B would have required reloading a program each time (probably 10-15 minutes).

      Unlike Wizardry II which, while marketed as a game, was the same program with different levels and (some) different monsters and items, Tyrann is essentially two different games disguised as one.

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  11. Oookay... All along, I thought "Marmite" was just Bovril's poorer cousin. Learn something new everyday.

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  12. I am actually playing Tyrann on my Android phone. Am I a masochist? No. Why am I doing it? Well, since Chet mentioned the remake/reboot by the original developer and since it's so easy to install an app from the store (free, too) - I have decided to give it a shot out of curiosity.

    Sidenote: I have tried Fallout 4 and it didn't captivate me right from the start. However, I have enjoyed playing the Fallout easter egg retro-RPG "Grognak the Barbarian" on Pip-Boy phone app. I really enjoyed the simplicity and the straight-forwardness of its gameplay. I find, as I get older I prefer shorter and simpler games as opposed to those boasting "hundreds of hours of gameplay". For that reason I prefer the original PC Hack to the more developed and polished NetHack (but that is a topic for another post that I hope to make in the future). Anyhow, back on topic.

    So, Tyrann - the Adnroid version looked pretty slick - with modern graphics and even neat music and sound effects. The touch interface was intuitive, if a bit clumsy due to retro mechanics. The game drew me in. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of flaws and grievances. I almost uninstalled the app right away due to bugs and crashes when you try touch an on-screen items that you're not supposed to. Most of the item and skill descriptions remain in French that I can only vaguely understand. Even English translations are often wrong, for instance, "Jellyfish" instead of "Medusa".

    Regardless, once you know how to avoid the bugs and learn a few "quality of life" tricks, the game is fairly enjoyable for being what it is - an 80's game port with a little face lift.

    I am about halfway through the game (Dungeon Level 7). I was thinking about making a longer post, sort of an addition to Chester's review, but not sure anyone will be visiting this page by the time I finish the game and find time to write an article (I hope I do).

    For those who might want to try the app version but afraid of bugs or horrible gameplay - don't be - try it. Once again, I'll try to post some Androind-specific tips that make the gameplay more enjoyable, or tolerable I should say :)

    If there's a slightest interest, I will write more.

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    1. I can't speak for everyone, but I'd be interested. I'm particularly curious how the rules and mechanics compare to the original game as I've described it here. Did they just update the original weird gameplay with new graphics, or is there more meat to the game?

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