Saturday, January 9, 2016

Tyrann: Because It's on My List

The party faces a vampire, a sand man, and Cerberus.
In many ways, Tyrann is the perfect 1984 game, because 1984 was the last year that most RPG players would have tolerated it. The novelty of combat and leveling purely for its own sake was tapering off. Games that just offered square grids with lots of monsters and no plot--Tyrann, The Standing Stones, Shadowkeep, The Black Onyx, Maze Master, Dungeons of Magdarr--would soon be outclassed by a new breed of game that filled those grids with interesting content--The Bard's Tale and Might & Magic chief among them.

There are a lot of games from this early era that are still fun to play in 2015, even after other titles built on their example. I've returned to Wizardry several times since starting this blog and probably will again. Every time I play a game like Tyrann, I appreciate Wizardry more. Although they might seem similar in broad strokes, the developers of Wizardry did a much better job giving you a reason to map and explore its dungeons. Levels weren't full of clues and puzzles the way they became in The Bard's Tale and Might & Magic, but each level did lead to at least one scripted encounter. Not until you play a game without these encounters do you realize how vital a purpose they served, breaking up the monotony and propelling you forward to the next bout of mapping and fighting.

The developers of Tyrann didn't know they were creating a game that would soon be obsolete, and as I've pointed out, there wasn't much else available for the Amstrad CPC, Tangerine Oric, or Thomson MO5. There also wasn't much--anything, perhaps--available in French. In this sense, the authors ought to be lauded. Nonetheless, I've managed to develop a simmering anger towards them. I have 2,000 games ahead of me, many of them extremely interesting, and I have to stop and waste hours on this utter lodestone of a game--a game that offers nothing we haven't seen before, that has absolutely no raison d'etre--just because it exists. Before releasing an RPG, developers should seriously consider that some day, a crazy person might set a goal to play every RPG in existence, and your game might keep him from Might & Magic III.

It took me three hours to map Level 2 of the dungeon--more than it took me to map Level 1, because the combats got a lot more difficult and a lot longer. I would go into a combat with 4 creatures and all my characters at full health, then watch incredulously as all my attacks missed and the enemies mercilessly chipped away at my hit points. Lots of enemies were capable of poison or paralysis. Return trips to the town for healing and spell-recharging were frequent.

Like Level 1, Level 2 had no messages or special encounters--nothing to do but find all the treasure chests and clear up all the fixed combats. It had a single trap, unavoidable and announced by "une trappe!" when I walked into its square. Still no secret doors, spinners, teleporters, one-way doors, etc. I don't normally like such features, but they would have broken the monotony here.

I supposed there was one oddity worth commenting. For 95% of tile-based games, once you've identified the size of the first dungeon level, that same size will hold for every level in the game. Every Wizardry level is 20 x 20, for instance, and every Bard's Tale level is 22 x 22. The Gold Box games adopted a 16 x 16 convention, and even when they seem to defy the square grid, as in Secret of the Silver Blades, it turns out to be a series of regular 16 x 16s, broken apart and re-arranged.

Tyrann established a 24 x 24 grid on Level 1 and basically stuck to it on Level 2 except for two squares that bulge off the right side into column 25. Both squares had combats that were a bit harder than normal. I feel like this must have made the level more difficult to program, but I can't articulate exactly why.

In my explorations, my characters rose to between Levels 3 and 6. As I noted last time, there's a huge variance in experience levels despite the same number of experience points, and I can't see any other variable that accounts for this.

Nothing else to report but a bunch of miscellaneous things:

  • There were two staircases between Levels 1 and 2, and two between Levels 2 and 3.
  • The number of spells that mages and druids can cast seems to be equal to double their current level. Every time you sleep, that number of spell slots is distributed randomly among the character's known spells. You often have to rest several times to get a favorable distribution.
I don't think I'm going to need that many "Cure Paralysis" spells. Better rest again.
  • Parchemin (parchment) is an expensive item, but I have no idea what it does. I thought it might restore a spell slot while still in the dungeon, but it doesn't seem to have any effect on anything.
  • Mage spells progressed through "Sleep," "Locate," "Fireball," "Terror," and "Soft Metal" (I don't know what the last one does yet). Druid spells progressed through "Heal," "Paralyze," "Turn Undead," "Cure Poison," "Reinforce Armor," and "Cure Paralysis."  "Reinforce Armor" stacks, so if you cast it multiple times in a battle, you can become nigh-unhittable.
The weakened party faces a spirit and a werewolf with multiple castings of "Reinforce Armor" active.
  • In a feature unique to this game, accidentally walking into a wall (or accidentally walking into a door without using the special "open door" key) doesn't damage you, but it does occasionally cause you to drop a random item from your inventory. If you're not paying attention, you can end up without a weapon or spellbook.
Isn't "AIE" the perfect onomatopoetic representation of the Wilhelm Scream?
  • I was wrong that there are no random combats in the dungeon. They're just extremely rare. I've only encountered 3 or 4 in 5-6 hours of game time.
  • Parer (parry) works better here than in the typical RPG. If a low-hit point character chooses that for his round, there's a pretty good chance that enemies won't attack him.
I drafted most of this post several days ago, just after my first Tyrann post. I had toyed with wrapping it up with a GIMLET, but a few days ago, reader MobyDX came through with some level maps that might make it possible to quickly breeze through and document the endgame. (I'm not that optimistic, as I assume I'll have to slog through hundreds of encounters to survive on the final levels.) The maps also suggest perhaps a greater depth of gameplay on the lower levels, so I'll keep going for now and see if anything more interesting emerges.

Time so far: 7 hours
Reload count: 15


  1. I really enjoy entries such as this one.
    Thank you for that.

    And remember:

    It's about the journey not the destination.

    If you're waiting for something exceptionally long taste of that is much more intense.

    And finally:

    We also look forward to great titles ..

  2. The parry effectiveness observation is interesting. French swordsmen were historically known for using a more graceful and complicated form of swordsmanship that involved more parry, riposte, and counter-riposte. By contrast, British swordsmen used larger swords and heavier armor and relied more on powerful swings. Modern fencing derives, obviously, from the French school of swordsmanship.

  3. I understand that you feel like you are wasting your time with games like this, but understand this - there is only a limited number of games left you need to finish from era until 1990 and then I think, games get better (I mean they have at least some plot and they will mostly not bore you to death). So be patient, in a few months you will have all games until 1990 cleared and you will miss them at some point! :) U.

    1. Also, extra-long grinds should start to become rarer pretty soon, as should gamebreaking bugs.

      You still have a few years to go before the 6-hours-maingame-plus-forty-hours-of-filler formal RPG structure emerges, though.

  4. Did BT have many fixed encounters? I didn't get that impression. I guess the difference between none and a few here and there is probably quite significant in terms of motivation.

    1. I think at least BT had a sense of place - you were in X dungeon that you got to through the sewers, and you had a particular place to find or guy to kill.

    2. Bard's Tale had three types of encounters. The first was just random - any place, any collection of level-appropriate mix. The second was squares that always had a fight, but the enemies were still randomized. The third was a scripted fight with a specific foe every time. The third were usually plot points, but the location with 99 + 99 + 99 + 99 Berserkers seems to be infamous as a death trap when weak and for level-grinding when stronger.

    3. Sure. The Bard's Tale really started the era in which detailed map annotation becomes necessary. You had fixed-fixed and fixed-random encounters like Quirkz says, plus all kinds of atmospheric messages, magic mouths, messages scribbled on the walls, and the occasional NPC. Might & Magic took it to the next level, where around 1 in 8 squares has something to annotate.

    4. Hmm, that made me think:

      In 7 years CRPGs went from Ultima I to Ultima V. In the last 7 years though, they merely moved from Fallout 3 to Fallout 4.

  5. "It had a single trap, unavoidable and announced by "une trappe!" when I walked into its square."

    ... must resist Admiral Ackbar reference ...

    And once again I must admire your tenacity. At the moment I can't even work up the nerve to get into the - probably much more polished - mechanics of the Gold Box games.

  6. "I feel like this must have made the level more difficult to program, but I can't articulate exactly why."

    As someone who is actually working (in my *copious* spare time, of course :-P ) on a re-creation of the Gold Box engine, I can articulate why. :-)

    The map of a level is a defined data structure, with a particular way of encoding it, and a particular way for the game to read it. The sensible ways of writing such a thing, especially in the early 1980s, would have required a fixed-size data structure for the map. The most obvious sizes, from a developer's point of view, would be powers of two—in this case, likely 16x16, 32x32, or 64x64.

    Having a variable-sized dungeon requires a much less straightforward method of reading and writing the dungeon map data, and, consequently, most likely a somewhat larger data file, which in the days of 5.25" floppy disks and actual cassette tapes for storing digital data, would be something to avoid at all costs.

    Just based on what you've described here, my guess would be that Tyrann actually uses a fixed 32x32 map size internally, but has solid rock in a big chunk of it on the first level, so that it can expand as you go further down and become more impressive.

    1. Thanks for the detailed explanation. My mind was almost there but couldn't quite render it into language. The "powers of two" thing makes perfect sense.

    2. All the maps are 26 by 26. The first levels all have walls in "row"/"column" 1 and 26, "fencing in" the level, but some of the later do not, so I assume they "wrap around" to the opposite side.

    3. I wonder if they user a larger map and then had a bunch of smaller maps inside it?

  7. Your comments here an there about mapping gave me an idea: render some favorite or famous dungeons or towns from CRPGs in Minecraft.
    Are there any maps from any games you or even your readers would like to see in live 3D? I only play the XBox360 version but I could try to share them if anyone is interested.
    I rendered a map I made for pen an paper D&D and King Lorik's castle from Dragon Warrior on the NES. The D&D map was pretty good but the NES map was unimpressive.
    Any suggestions?

    1. How 'bout Phlan—the whole thing, laid out as contiguous blocks, rather than experienced as separate areas?

    2. Yeah, Phlan and Hillsfar are definitely on my list and now that you mention Phlan it's moved up even more.

    3. I've been thinking about it, but there aren't many dungeon layouts that I find so memorable that it makes sense to preserve or adapt them to another format. Phlan is a great suggestion. Another one that isn't as famous is The Dark Heart of Uukrul, which had a nice, unpredictable layout and some areas in which the geography was unique and memorable.

    4. Yeah. That Crossword Puzzle dungeon was bitchin' cool.

  8. Sorry for that but...

    "Blog Archive" does not work properly. "Selection Tree" does not open when you select the previous years. This makes it necessary to navigate through older posts by buttons "Newer Post" or "older post". It is very uncomfortable.

    I checked on my PC (Firefox and IE), my S.Galaxy and Kindle. Not working on all of devices.

    Thank you in advance.

    1. Forget about it. I am totaly Stupid. It works but I Have to click in to arrow opposit the date. Whata shame (Palm Face).

      Maybe because on galaxy and kindle is hard to hit the small arrow instead of the year.

      Sorry one more time. (maybe it is good idea to delete this comment..?)

    2. No, I'm going to go ahead and leave the comment. That way, whenever "Anonymous" posts, we'll know he's a bit slow.

  9. You call this a "lodestone of a game," but I'm not getting the impression that it's magnetic/pulling you in...

    1. I was thinking more of the D&D version, where once you pick it up, you can't get rid of it. But I guess they spell it "loadstone."

    2. I thought in D&D, they were called Ioun Stones or something?

    3. No, those were basically accessories, giving some attribute bonuses. Very few games implemented them though.

    4. Two different things, anyway. A "loadstone" is a cursed object that halves your movement and you can't get rid of it. Hence, the better metaphor for this game. If I ever play a game that makes me feel like it's spinning around my head all the time, I'll use the ioun stone one.

    5. There's also a saying, to have a "lodestone around your neck," meaning that you're carrying dead weight. It appears to be a corruption of "millstone around your neck," which makes a fair amount more sense, since the only person I can think of who wore a lodestone around their neck was Skywise, and that was actually helpful.

      Totally Useless Knowledge Fact for today!


I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters. I will delete comments containing profanity on a case-by-case basis.

3. NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. If you don't want to log in to Google to comment, either a) choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank, or b) sign your anonymous comment with a preferred user name in the text of the comment itself.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

5. Comments on my blog are not a place for slurs against any race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or mental or physical disability. I will delete these on a case-by-case basis depending on my interpretation of what constitutes a "slur."

Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.