Friday, August 19, 2022

Game 468: Tygus Horx (1990)

No title screen for this game; it just launches right into the story.
Tygus Horx
Independently developed; Markt & Technik Verlag (publisher, via 64'er magazine)
Released in 1990 for Commodore 64
Date Started: 19 August 2022
Tygus Horx sounds like the scientific name for cat puke, but it is in fact a near-exact Bard's Tale clone written by one Rainer Sulzbach while he was getting his computer science degree at the Giessen-Friedberg University of Applied Sciences in Germany. It was published via a disk attached to a 1990 issue of 64'er magazine. I haven't had a lot of luck with German diskmag games; they almost always seem to include some kind of game-breaking bug (e.g., the two Dungeons of Avalon games). Unless I'm missing something, so does this one.
The author chose to write his game in English, often amusingly imperfect. Tygus Horx is a city that used to be peaceful, but it was unfortunately the landing spot of Malu-Krii, "the darkest creature that the universum has ever seen." The inhabitants tried to oppose him, but they lost, "and they are now close friends of him." He has amassed a "big legion" with the ultimate goal of ruling the whole galaxy. A resistance organization has formed.
Setting out to save the "whole universum."
Gameplay begins in the "hostel," taking the place of The Bard's Tale's guild. Here, you create characters for your party, only there's no "delete" command, so I guess once the disk gets full, you just throw it away. Races are human, dwarf, elf, hobbit, half-elf, half-orc, and gnome. Classes are paladin, warrior, rogue, magician, conjuror, and wizard--the last class has to be earned by advancing in one of the other spellcasting classes. (There is no hunter, monk, or bard.) There are some race restrictions on class. There are no sexes. Attributes are strength, IQ, dexterity, constitution, and luck.
What's the point of a half-orc with a strength of 8?
You'd better remember your character names as you create them because you have to type them to add them to the party, and there's no way to inspect the roster of existing characters to remember what names to type.
Once you leave the hostel, you're on the streets of Tygus Horx. The streets are filled with doors, most of them leading to empty buildings. Unlike The Bard's Tale, Horx does not have enemies attack you while you're in the buildings, only on the streets. The city is an unnecessarily large 25 x 25. Only seven doors have anything behind them, and six of them are all identifiable because they're 1-square buildings (with doors on all sides) surrounded by streets.
The city of Tygus Horx. The "review board" is in the central building.
The notable buildings are mostly the same as The Bard's Tale: a shop, a temple for healing, a place to pay to recharge spell points, a "hall" where you level up and get new spells, an entrance to a maze, and a place that shows the game credits. The shop curiously sells no items but does buy any excess items that you've acquired.
What kind of a shop only buys things?
There are three inaccessible areas when you start the game. One building, titled "Vlandar's," says "you need the key" when you enter. In the southwest and southeast of town, there are two ornate doors that don't respond to the usual kicks. 
There are two of these special doors that won't open.
Movement is with the IJKL cluster, and the rest of the commands are easily accessible with the keyboard, like C)ast, U)se, and hitting number keys to check character stats and inventory. One thing I appreciate is that you can save anywhere, not just in the hostel. The author also made one interface improvement by putting both current and maximum spell points on the screen, while The Bard's Tale only had the former.
I believe this is known as a "trash mob."
Combats come along quite frequently, with stock enemies like skeletons, orcs, goblins, magicians, gnomes, dwarves, bladesmen, and mercenaries. There are no monster graphics. Even though you start with no weapons and armor, survival in the early game is far easier than in The Bard's Tale, which is good because the encounter frequency is heavy. Escaping combat works about 95% of the time, so you can select your battles. The enemies themselves are just easier. Finally, your party always acts first in combat, always in reverse order of the roster. As in classic Interplay-style combat, you specify an action for each character and watch as the actions execute in a slow scroll.
Watching the combat messages scroll by.
There are six spell levels per spellcasting class. There are fewer total spells than in The Bard's Tale, but they have similar effects and similar four-letter abbreviations. COFL ("Conjuror's Flame") and BOFI ("Bolan's Fire") are first-level conjuror spells, while the first-level mage gets TEPL ("Tell Place," a locate spell), HEPO ("Help Power"), and ORHL ("Orla's Healing Power"). There is no equivalent of "Trap Zap" because the game has no traps, making the rogue a weird inclusion. There are no summoning spells.
At the end of combat, you find gold and occasionally items. Slowly, you build experience and an inventory of weapons and armor. There are some oddities here. Mages can wear leather armor (at least) and helms, and for some reason a paladin can't equip a dagger, though he has no problem with other bladed weapons. 
One of my warrior's inventories at the time I quit.
Once I had reached Level 2 (you get +1 to a random attribute on leveling up), I entered the maze from a building in the far northeast corner. The first level turned out to be 15 x 15 squares, arranged like a maze. Encounters were with the same sorts of enemies as in the town, but with more of them. As I entered the maze, a message read: "YOU ARE IN A MAZE WITH ITS COMMON WAYS. THEY SEEM ENDLESS, BUT THERE IS ALWAYS A TARGET."
There were three other squares in the maze that offered messages:
  • IT IS HOT.
I don't know if these were clues to the same riddle or separate riddles. I never found any riddles. 
It's going to hit above 90 in Maine this very week.
I spent some time earning enough experience points for Level 3 while mapping maze Level 1. At length, I decided to head down to Level 2. That's when I encountered a problem. Once I went "down," I found myself on a level with the exact layout as the first one, including the same messages. There were no "up" stairs at the location where I had descended, just another set of stairs asking if I wanted to go down. No matter how many times I hit the "Y" key in response, I always ended up on an identical level. The monsters, however, were noticeably harder the more times I hit "Y." The "up" stairs remained in the same place as they were when I first entered the dungeon on Level 1, and when they asked if I wanted to go back up, I had to hit "Y" as many times as I'd hit it to go down.
I originally captioned this "Level 1," but it turns out to be every level.
Is this a bug? A consequence of limited space and programming time? Is the first message I encountered a sign that there's something to find on one of these many duplicate levels? I don't know, but I explored down to Level 5 and didn't find anything different on any of the levels. That's all I'm willing to do on faith. [Ed. It was a bug. A later version that I tried did not have the problem, and I was able to map further dungeon levels.]

I suppose if I were poor and couldn't afford another major commercial release for a while, this might have passed the time, but it really serves to illustrate what happens when you take a game and drain it of its blood. Things like street names, monster portraits, bard tunes, trapped treasure chests, and navigational obstacles in dungeons might seem superfluous when you have them, but their presence is what makes Skara Brae come to life and fire the imagination. Tygux Horx feels more like a bunch of numbers and a framing story. We'll see if it improves.
Time so far: 4 hours


  1. Interesting brief! Never heard of this one.

    Do the characters show up as separate files on the disk? That way, you could delete them and list them, just inconveniently - not within the game itself.

  2. Oh man, the way the backstory's written really diminishes the impact it (I assume) tried to make. "Some guys", "some people"...

    1. They're just these guys, you know?

  3. Cool that you played this one I mentioned here some time ago. Your problem is most likely a bug, because the C64 Wiki at least has some riddle answers in its hint section. [Url][/Url]

    1. It also mentions that you should be able to remove characters.

    2. I browsed through the the site, there is nothing that hints at the dungeon layout. But I too think it's a bug, besides the riddles you should obtain items like a "small key" somewhere.

  4. That's the tiniest action window I've every seen! I'm sure the C64 can do much better than that, especially on a turn-based game.

    1. It might be written in BASIC, or BASIC with a few custom assembly routines. Many of the diskmag games were. That was slow enough that a tiny action panel might be all it could draw at a reasonable speed, even in turn-based mode.

      It was a definite selling point when diskmags had games written in assembler, to the point that they'd sometimes announce that on the cover.

  5. There definitely seems to be something screwy going on with the version of the game you're using. It's been over two decades since I last encountered that game (Christ, I'm getting old), but I remember it being solvable, and the third dungeon (or was it dungeon level?) being a right pain! So either you have a somewhat broken version of the game, or there's an emulator issue where the emulator keeps grabbing the same file info over and over.

    1. Programmers and fans have been developing and testing C64 emulators for decades now; it is HIGHLY unlikely that this is an emulator issue.

    2. Never underestimate the possibility of some obscure game doing something the emulator devs didn't plan for. After all, such emulators are still technically being developed and people rarely report about such titles.
      Although in this case since it has a filled out page on one of the wikis, its probably just a bad rip, or somehow Chet played it in a way that caused it to glitch out. Which is another thing that happens with the more obscure titles.

    3. Come now, a program written in BASIC doing something as elementary as a file operation? That's obviously not an obscure corner case that an emulator can't handle after decades.

    4. It's not written in BASIC. Can't list the files on the disc and there's scrolling text that looks too fast for BASIC. According to the wiki, it was developed with the Action Replay Cartridge Monitor.

    5. I don't know where you take the idea from that this game was written in Basic, Anonymous. It was released on disk (with the magazine, but still), it wasn't a type-in - and even if it was, by 1990 most type-ins for 64er magazine were written in C64 machine code.

      And every once in a while, even Vice stumbles across an incompatibility, e.g. when a game does something unexpected with the 64s memory, or some specific emulator configuration is needed.

      That being said, however, I also think it's more likely that Chet used a bad game dump. Better get a different copy from somewhere else and try again - you've definitely played worse games on this blog. 😉 I wouldn't rule out the emulator entirely, though.

    6. Largely because, just comment thread up, someone suggested that this game should be excused from having SUCH a tiny graphics window because it could have been written in the poorly-performing BASIC language.

      Anyway, we do seem to be in agreement that this repeating dungeon is HIGHLY unlikely to be an emulator issue.

    7. Emulator issues are most often cases of the programmer exploiting unspecified or incorrect behavior of the original hardware - places where the specification says "don't do this". But a clever programmer figured out that something useful happened if you did it anyway. As such, a pure basic program, beong a few more steps removed from the hardware (and those steps being done by the well-documented built in basic interpreter) would be much less likely to be able to exploit such edge cases. Not impossible, but unlikely. But a transcription error mangling a few tokens in your copy is pretty likely

  6. "Tygus Horx sounds like the scientific name for cat puke"

    Tygus Horx sounds like a forgotten 70s hair metal band...

    1. They're not forgotten man, they headlined Tallahassee Scream Fest just last year!

    2. Or a Michael Moorcock character

    3. Or a special screwdriver bit...

    4. "Or a Michael Moorcock character"

      Which makes it a perfect band name!

    5. "Cat Puke" is the name of my Tygus Horx tribute band.

    6. "Tygus Horx" are two teams in the Australian Football League who go head to head once or twice each season (Tigers Hawks)...

  7. Thanks to everyone making suggestions. I'm on the road for the week and won't be able to give them a try (or respond to comments) for a while, but I'll look it all over when I get back.

  8. I wasn't personally a fan of the original Bard's Quest, although I did appreciate the idea, and some of the atmosphere. The game itself felt poorly tuned.
    You explored by opening doors in town, behind which (with level 1 characters) you might find 5-8 berserkers that would wipe the floor with you. It was impossible - or rarely successful - to try to escape. There were no healing spells available until level 3, and the temple charged so much for healing that injured characters had to stay that way, and would die in the next combat.
    The only way I was able to play the game at all was by creating multiple "mule" characters, transferring their gold, and deleting them. That took me completely out of the game fiction.

    1. So cute you called it "Bard's Quest!"

      A popular strategy that isn't quite so cheezy is to create fodder adventurers that die, but you train up your characters in the back. Eventually, you end up with some higher level characters that can win combats together. This actually seems appropriate for the genre, though a bit gruesome. Survival of the fittest!

      It's still a meta-strategy that's not in line with expectations. I don't know if that was intentional or just poor balance.

  9. "Here, you create characters for your party, only there's no "delete" command, so I guess once the disk gets full, you just throw it away." - The bone dry delivery of this really made me chuckle.

  10. Maybe it's possible to get a cheat win if yo just spam y on the stairs down until a final boss or win screen appears, do anybody know the win condition for this one?

    1. Just spamming until you reach the final floor won't cut it. Gurer ner sbhe chmmyrf lbh arrq gb fbyir orsber lbh pna snpr gur svany rapbhagre. Also, I don't recall the exact number, but the game has a surprisingly high amount of dungeon levels for a Single-Disk C64 release.

    2. A high amount of levels in a game this basic and bareboned sounds tedious.

  11. Your willingness to tackle yet another inferior clone of a game / series you already found tiresome is once more admirable. Though I think you'd have good grounds to leave it at that. To quote what you wrote two and a half years ago in your summary on 'The Seventh Link' after - quite understandably - giving up on that game:

    "I couldn't--I can't--play a game that's just a few dozen 20 x 20 dungeon levels full of combats. The Bard's Tale and its derivatives drained that battery.
    This is the 90s, and gamers are demanding more interesting content in their game worlds. We want NPCs, special encounters, puzzles, and other features in those dungeons, at regular intervals."

    1. PS correction: it was even already three and a half years ago.

      Anyway, in case you still consider getting in touch with the developer to try to solve the issue (or for anything else), I guess that's him:

    2. The game actually had quite a few fans among the German C64 CRPG crowd, if you can believe it. Though the German CRPG scene always had a soft spot for The Bard's Tale and its clones for some reason.

  12. I'm a little sad, that Chester removed the game from his currently playing list. The disk rip from homecomputerworld seems to be perfectly playable. Okay, better luck next time.


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