Sunday, June 25, 2017

Summer Update

I guess this month is shot, everyone. I'm finishing up a lot of work before taking the month of July off. Another week and I should have some new posts going.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Time Horn: Summary and Rating

Some of the missions involved defeating a "black master."
     
Time Horn: Il Corno del Tempo
Italy
Lindasoft (developer and publisher)
Released in 1991 for Amiga
Date Started:  1 June 2017
Date Ended: 10 June 2017
Total Hours: 9
Difficulty: Hard (4/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later)
    
This will be the first time that I wrap up a game based on the experiences of a commenter, but Zardas did such a good job filling in the next stages of the game that I feel like it would simply be a waste of time if I did it myself. He also cheated to give himself invincibility and unlimited movement, so it would have taken me 10 times as long just to arrive at the same conclusion.
      
I had the hardest time even getting this screen.
     
I did play a little more on my own, but I continued to have problems that even Zardas didn't seem to experience, including characters who "died exhausted" no matter how much food and water I gave them and an inability to get out of the mission even after achieving its goal and returning to the starting location to end my turn. Also, the documentation never turned up to explain exactly why we were on these various missions in the first place.

The primary reason, of course, for declining to experience the rest of the game myself is Zardas's report that the final mission crashes with an error message. I realize this sort of thing happens under certain circumstances that I might not have experienced, but I still wasn't going to risk wasting that kind of time on a game that I probably wouldn't be able to complete.
      
Not the kind of thing you want to see after completing 15 missions.
     
Based on what we know about the game so far, I give it:

  • 3 points for a short backstory that does an adequate job setting up the adventures to come. If the manual ever turns up, I may decide it deserves more here.
      
Mordred begins to make a name for himself. Funny how this is in English.
     
  • 2 points for character creation and development. There's no creation at all, and based on Zardas's reports, the max of 5 levels per class offers fairly limited development without much sense of growing really stronger, except perhaps in spells. This is faintly understandable, because there's a decent chance that Mordred will lose one or more allies per mission and have to recruit them anew at Level 1. So those Level 1 characters can't be entirely worthless, even late in the game.
  • 2 points for NPCs. There are no NPCs to talk to, but there are some who will join the party--up to 5 per mission, if you can afford it. There are various strengths and weaknesses among these characters.
  • 4 points for encounters and foes. There seem to be a large variety of monster types capable of various offensive attacks, ranged attacks, and magic, each requiring a slightly different strategy. The missions also offer some minor puzzles and traps. This category might get an extra point if it turns out the documentation describes each foe in detail.
      
Enemies crowd and paralyze our hero.
      
  • 3 points for magic and combat. I thought the combat system needed a few more options. The only real tactics for fighters are associated with the use of the environment and strategic use of movement points so you don't end up in a weak position. Both of these are complicated by the enemy's ability to see you before you can see him. Spellcasters have more options, including some impressive summoning and mass-damage spells.
  • 2 points for equipment. According to Zardas, there were no upgrades after the initial purchases.
  • 4 points for the economy. You need the money from the quests to re-hire slain NPCs, re-stock on food and water, and upgrade magic abilities. A player who scummed his way along and never lost an NPC would probably find himself overburdened with cash before the end.
      
Mordred is rewarded for completing a mission.
      
  • 3 points for the quests. You have to complete 15 missions before engaging in the final mission to overcome the Occult Master, and we don't know what that ending looks like. If it turns out there were choices or role-playing decisions, it might earn some more points. The individual missions follow a predictable pattern of 2 item fetches and 1 assault on a heavily-fortified stronghold to kill a key enemy.
      
Modred slays one of the sub-bosses and retrieves the "om key" needed to open the temple.
      
  • 4 points for graphics, sound, and interface. I find the graphics and sound to be very serviceable, but I had constant problems with the mostly-mouse interface. Simple tasks like switching between party members was harder than it should have been.
  • 2 points for gameplay. I suppose it has some nonlinearity in that you can approach the missions in any order. But I found the individual missions excruciatingly long and far too difficult, and I suspect the overall game would therefore rank low for those aspects.
       
That gives us a final score of 29, pretty low for 1991, but again subject to review if we ever find a manual and/or a version that we can complete.

I really do like the idea of "mission-based" RPGs, featuring a central hub where you can rest, restore, and advance, then head of on a variety of individual, independent missions in any order. They remind me of that old Airborne Ranger for the Commodore 64. But all the ones we've seen--Time Horn, Paladin, Knights of Legend, Sorcerian--have introduced issues that blunt my enjoyment of what could otherwise be an enjoyable dynamic.

It was fun to try a rare Italian RPG. Unless one surfaces before then, we won't see another one until Alfa Romeo Racing Italiano (2005), which stands a strong chance of being rejected. 2006's Etrom: The Astral Essence sounds more promising.

Returning to the field in front of us, it seems like we'll be on a Deathlord/Conan combo for at least a few entries.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Game 253: Conan: The Cimmerian (1991)

A gruesome opening screen foretells an equally-gruesome campaign setting.
        
Until just recently, I was familiar with the character of Conan primarily through the Arnold Schwarzenegger films, where I was 100% certain he was described as a "Sumerian." Thus, the moment I saw the subtitle to this game, I said, "Where the hell was 'Cimmeria'?" and embarked on a flurry of Googling that filled in some major gaps in my pop-culture knowledge.

The character was created by pulp fiction author Robert E. Howard in 1932 for a story called "The Phoenix on the Sword," published in Weird Tales magazine (1923-1954). Howard ultimately published 17 stories featuring the titular barbarian before committing suicide in 1936 at the age of 30. Afterwards, ownership of the character passed through several hands and resulted in numerous magazine stories, books, comic books, films, television series, role-playing games, and of course video games. Today, the character is half-in, half-out of public domain depending on when and how various stories were published, and in what countries, and who you ask. In any event, it's clear from my research that we owe Howard credit for dozens of sword-and-sorcery tropes that I've always just taken for granted, or mistakenly ascribed to other authors like Tolkien. A strong argument could be made for Howard as the grandfather of all modern heroic fantasy.
      
The original version of Conan had some body-building to do.
     
Uninterested in historical research, and limited by the availability of decent libraries near his home in rural central Texas, Howard set his tales in the "Hyborian Age," which follows the destruction of Atlantis and pre-dates the rise of known historical civilizations. Various authors have given the dates of the age from 33,000 BCE to 10,000 BCE. "Cimmeria" is meant to be the ancient British Isles, before they were isles, although confusingly the word is known to history as an early name for Crimea.

(As an aside, I find this time period extremely compelling. Modern homo sapiens emerged around 100,000 years ago, and yet the first civilizations from which we have historical records emerged only about 12,000 years ago. Imagine the countless generations within those 88,000 years--people with minds as developed as yours and mine--whose thoughts and deeds have been lost to history. Imagine all the heroes and villains, geniuses and leaders, who must have existed during that time. Imagine all the societies and cities that must have risen and collapsed, the inventions tried and abandoned, the science discovered and lost, the songs and poems composed and forgotten.)
      
A fantastic manual illustration evokes the art from the 1930s pulp magazines.
     
I don't know if I'll ultimately come to like Conan, but it was clearly created by people who loved the original legends, principally Robert Clardy, whose early works--Dungeon Campaign (1978), Wilderness Campaign (1979), Odyssey: The Compleat Apventure (1980), and Apventure to Atlantis (1982) were set at the dawn of the Hyborian Age. Clardy must have been thrilled to get the rights to make a Conan RPG. In programming it, Synergistic modified the game engine that goes back to War in Middle Earth (1989) and was used in Spirit of Excalibur (1990) and Vengeance of Excalibur (1991). I didn't love those games, but I recognize Clardy's and Synergistic's attention to historical and literary detail in creating them, as well as the production values they added to their documentation.

The game opens with an overhead view of Irskuld, the village in which Conan works peacefully as a blacksmith (his father's trade) and lives with his wife. Except one day, the hordes of Thoth Amon, high priest of the snake god, Set, override the village, slay Conan's wife, and knock Conan unconscious. When he comes to, he sets out on a mission of vengeance against the evil high priest.
     
The horde arrives...
A pretty cool animated scene shows the riders thundering into the city.
Thoth-Amon lightning-bolts my wife for no reason.
     
War in Middle Earth and the two Excalibur games transitioned the player from the map (campaign) level to the individual scene level. Conan intersperses between these two a "city" level in which Conan wanders around buildings an NPCs from a quasi-oblique angle. Entering buildings or engaging in combat transitions to the "scene" level of the previous games, often with individual objects to interact with. I rather like the addition of the "city" view; it's absence in the previous games created laughably small cities of only a single screen and a single NPC.
      
Map view. Apparently, more stuff will fill in as I discover it.
      
The interface has also been considerably simplified for Conan. You could play almost the entire game with a mouse, although (thankfully) there are also redundant keyboard commands. Almost anything interactable, you simply click on. Sub-menus appear when necessary.

Combat has never been a strength of this engine, and here it is relatively pathetic. You have three attack styles with your sword: thrust, swing (or side-swipe), and overhand (or chop). Each enemy has a weakness for a particular style, which you must figure out through trial and error. You start the game with no skill in anything but "swing," so a key early goal is to find a weapon master to train you in the other styles. But aside from the three choices, there are no tactics at all in combat. You just click on the enemy and keep swinging until someone is dead. Enemies don't seem to drop any loot, and so far my skill hasn't increased from fighting them, and there's no experience meter in the game, so I'm not sure there's any point to combat if you don't absolutely have to fight.
     
In combat, Conan looks appropriately barbarianish.
    
The VGA graphics at the "scene" level are very well-composed. Unfortunately, there's no sound except music, which offers syncopated rhythms that make it feel almost jazzy. (You can hear it in this video). It varies from location to location, almost mirroring Quest for Glory in the use of leitmotifs for various character types. But alas,  I don't like constant game music even when it's good and have thus been playing in silence.
    
Conan's starting attributes.
     
Conan starts with 30 stamina, 50 defense, 50 "swing" skill, 60 stealth, a sword, and 30 bezants, standing on the world map just outside the city of Shadizar, for which the game box helpfully supplies a map.
     
Supposedly the largest city in the kingdom. Almost all of those buildings can be entered.
     
There are dozens of houses to enter and steal from, and I found that every successful theft raises my "stealth" skill by 1 point. Some of the buildings are locked; keys to these locks can apparently be found or purchased.
     
Conan is, canonically, a thief.
    
There are several stores buying and selling things like jewels, maps, keys, magic items, scrolls, and adventuring goods. I purchased a rope, flint and steel, and a torch, all of which sound like they will eventually be necessary. Inns sell rooms for the night for 20 bezants.
    
Stocking up on adventuring staples.
   
NPCs wander the map and tell you things about the city, Thoth Amon, or other topics, or occasionally just attack you.
      
An NPC fails to really "represent" his city.
    
Prompted by a hint in the manual, I searched the thieves' quarter until I found Master Quan Yo. He wanted 150 bezants for each training session, far less than I had, so I headed out to commit some thievery. There were times I found thieves already plundering the houses I entered, and they invariably attacked me. If I wasn't lucky enough to face a thief who responded to "swing," I invariably died.
      
Moments later, his head was next to his body.
     
The major chapters of the game are narrated by an old guy sitting around a campfire, and whenever Conan dies, there's a funny screen of him saying, "Wait, that can't be right...." before the game reloads from the last save. Sometimes these screens offer some hint as to why you died and how could survive next time ("Surely, Conan would have known to thrust against that enemy").
      
My inept playing confuses the framing storyteller.
     
Occasionally, guards catch you burglarizing a house (your sneak skill must have something to do with this), and you don't even get an option to fight. You just spend 3 months in jail and lose all your money. I'll suck that up later in the game, but at this point, when I'm trying to learn things, I'm reloading.
    
Don't do the crime if you can't reload an infinite number of times.
     
I wasted a lot of time in houses "finding" gold in urns and such, not realizing that you separately have to pick up items after you find them. Houses also occasionally delivered gems that I could sell at the gem shop.
     
Conan pawns his way to victory.
    
A few houses had rugs that, when activated, slid aside to reveal ladders going down to some tunnels beneath the city. I suspect these tunnels are key to accessing a section of the city called "Snake Alley" that appears on the map but seems to have no street access.
     
That must be a hell of a thick rug.
    
I didn't last very long in the tunnels, though. They're patrolled by some kind of lion whose weakness is definitely not "swing."
      
This encounter ended poorly for Conan.
     
At one point, a thief NPC told me to see his friend Jambal at the Shadizar Inn. Jambal might have a job for me. Unfortunately, when I visited Jambal, he just seemed insulted by my chosen sobriquet.
     
I suppose I could stand to put on some clothes.
    
Eventually, I amassed 300 bezants, returned to Master Quan Yo, and developed 50 points in both "thrust" and "chop." Now what I really need to do is systematically explore the map, particularly the labeled buildings like the Temple of Crom (my god), the Temple of Set (my enemy), and the Governor's Palace.
      
Conan engages in some of the game's limited character development.
    
Also, apparently a Master Thief wants to meet me:
    
     
So far, the game has a pleasantly simple feeling. The two Excalibur titles always had some army bearing down on you or some other kind of time limit, plus a baffling array of possibilities when it came to interacting with NPCs and the environment. Conan makes me feel like I have a lot more freedom to explore, and makes me less fearful that I'm missing something. On the other hand, I can already tell that this simplicity--particularly in combat--is going to hurt my assessment of the game as it wears on. This will be a fun 12-hour game. It will be an infuriating 40-hour game. By next entry, I should have a sense of which is shaping up to be more likely.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

Game 252: Deathlord (1987)

          
By 1987, computer role-playing games were showing real promise, but it was still too early in the genre's history for a game that's epically long. Up to and including 1987, the longest non-roguelike game I played was Might & Magic (1987) at 50 hours. (Roguelikes get a pass in this analysis because their difficulty imparts a "length" that has nothing to do with the scope of the game world.) It was a great game, but it wouldn't have been great with the size of Skyrim's game world. Ultima IV delighted me at 36 hours, but it knew when to quit. 

So when Deathlord promises to fill "a few hundred hours" of time, I can't help but groan. Using my standard assumptions (-40% for publisher hyperbole, cut the remainder in half for today's better efficiency, subtract another third given my experience), we might still only be looking at a 60-hour title, but even that's too long. I suppose there was no way for a developer to know this in 1987, but they hadn't come far enough in terms of content, mechanics, and world-building to justify this kind of scope. You need depth with breadth.

This is doubly true given the fact that Deathlord's authors didn't come up with anything original in the interface or game mechanics. The game is an Ultima III clone that uses Wizardry's character, combat, and permadeath systems and a Dungeons & Dragons rule backbone. Its only "originality" is to put a Japanese skin on everything. A game that truly explored Asian mythology and philosophy would be a breath of fresh air in this era, but the developers simply took the standard set of Dungeons & Dragons races, classes, and spells and either literally translated them to Japanese, created nonsense words, or didn't bother to translate them at all. As we'll later see, this hackneyed attempt at an "eastern" theme wasn't the developers' fault, but I have to play the game that was created, not the one intended.
 
Even the backstory is as minimalist as possible, leaving me only with the hope that it will gain some more depth as the game progresses. An "outcast wizard" has raised monstrous forces, attacked the kingdom of Kodan, and destroyed one of its cities. Monsters are even amassing in the catacombs beneath the emperor's very own castle. The emperor is offering enormous rewards of gold and land to anyone who can defeat the Deathlord. The Deathlord, meanwhile, taunts the party in the game manual, hinting that "seven words, six items, and your ineptitude prevent us from meeting."
    
A sign in town summons the party to the main quest.
     
The player creates up to 6 party members to join the expedition. These are drawn from 8 races, mostly taken from D&D: human, toshi (elf), nintoshi (half-elf), kobito (dwarf), gnome, obake (halfling), troll, and ogre. I can't find any evidence that toshi and nintoshi come from any Japanese words with related meanings, but kobito is a literal translation of "dwarf" (according to Google translate, it can also mean "child"); and obake is a monster in Japanese folklore. Only the manual's description of the race shows the latter's clear origin in halflings.

The list of classes is similar but shows little more originality. Among them, we see senshi (fighter), kishi (paladin), ryoshi (ranger), yabajin (barbarian), yakuza (thief), ansatsusha (assassin), shisai (priest), shizen (druid), genkai (illusionist), and mahotsukai (wizard). Some of these, like mahotsukai and shisai, are quite literal translations. Other times, the game bends D&D tropes to traditional Japanese mythological classes, like ninja, samurai, and ronin.

The game uses Wizardry's character creation system in which the attributes are rolled first, and the player can then select among the classes that meet the minimum attribute requirements. Attributes are strength, constitution, intelligence, dexterity, charisma, size, and power. All but "size" follow the standard D&D mold in which 3-18 is the basic limit for humans and some non-human races might get another point or two in particular attributes. In one unique twist, if a character doesn't have high enough attribute rolls to be anything, you can make him a kosaku (peasant), who would be a challenging character to play.
     
This guy can be just about anything.
    
Character creation finishes off with a name and alignment (if the class doesn't already force a particular alignment). As with Wizardry, good and evil characters can't join the same party here. You can't have a kishi (paladin) with a ninja.

I created a "good" party consisting of:

  • Kyuboru, a male human kishi (human paladin)
  • Kebukai, a male ogre samurai
  • Poniteru,  female obake yakuza (halfling thief)
  • Natsu, a female nintoshi ryoshi (half-elf ranger)
     
Natsu's starting attributes.
    
  • Kuriboshi, a male toshi mahotsukai (elf wizard)
  • Megan, a female kobito shisai (dwarf priest)
      
If I'd known that the group's name would appear constantly on the game window, I would have put some more thought into it.
    
The game starts the party on a tiled landscape somewhere in Kodan. The outdoor window displays prominently the time and the positions of the sun and moon. It uses the old Ultima tradition of disallowing visibility through mountains or dense forests. I learned quite early that there is a terrain type--I guess maybe swamp?--that you don't want to walk on, as it deals damage to the party with every step.
    
The opening moments.
   
If you're already used to Ultima, it takes a while to learn the interface. Movement is via the IJKL cluster; I keep accidentally hitting "M" to move south and finding myself in the "light torch" dialogue. Other commands, like (A)ttack, (B)oard, and (C)ast are similar, but I get tripped up a lot when I go to talk to an NPC and accidentally hit "T" (which is "give" in this game) instead of (O)rate. One interesting addition here is the ability to assign common sequences of commands to macros.

My characters started naked, so a key priority was finding a town and getting some equipment. Within a few screens, I came to a city and entered. (If there's any way to figure out the city names, I haven't discovered it.)  You have to (O)rate with shopkeepers and then hit (B)uy. The game follows rules similar to D&D in terms of who can wield what, but you have to learn Japanese names, like tanto (dagger), harame-do (studded leather armor), and masakari (battle axe). You can apparently possess only one weapon and armor type at a time--picking up a new one replaces the old one--which must significantly limit the utility of the (S)ell command.
    
At last, a game in which bo-staffs and jo-sticks are viable choices.
     
An equipment store sold lock picks, torches, and holy water, and a cafeteria sold food. My characters all started with 99 food (the maximum) and it seems to deplete fairly slowly--maybe 4 units per day, and a game day lasts more than 90 minutes real-time.

The first town also introduced me to the game's approach to NPCs, which is somewhere in between Ultima III and IV. After hitting (O)rate, you have options to chat, talk, inquire, offer gold, offer an item, buy, or sell. Most NPCs respond only to "chat" and deliver a one-line comment. "Talk" is supposed to provide a more in-depth conversation with certain key NPCs; "inquire" allows you to type your own keyword, but of course you have to have learned something to ask from another NPC first. So far, with "chat" and "talk," I've learned that demons are deadly, ships get stolen, ruins are rich, there are caverns under the palace, I should "look to the North" and "find the words," and "things are tough all over."
     
A bit of obvious advice.
     
The town had a ton of locked doors. There's no "open" command in the game; either doors are already ajar or they need to be picked or forced. I didn't exhaustively explore them yet, but at least one of them took me into a sub-area where I found a bunch of treasure chests (a la Ultima III) and a vampire capable of killing my party members in one hit. I don't know if there's any alignment penalty for opening treasure chests found in secret areas.
    
Ultima IV taught me to be wary of situations like this.
     
Enemies are few and far between in the wilderness, not swarming incessantly like in Ultima I-III. The basic approach to combat is similar to Wizardry. In battle, each character acts in turn and can attack, cast a spell, use an item, flee, or try to negotiate for peace. When it comes to spellcasting, characters have a pool of magic points to spend on spells of different levels. The spells are mostly copied from D&D; for instance, mages have clear analogues to "Magic Missile" and "Sleep" at first level and "Lightning Bolt" and "Haste" at third level. Ryoshi (rangers) have shizen (druid) spells, which include clear analogues of "Entangle" and "Faerie Fire." Of course, they're all in Japanese, and as in Wizardry, you have to type the full spell name: kusamotsu for "Entangle," todo for "Magic Missile," akari for "Light," and so forth. Until I have everything memorized, the manual section with the spell names will have to be a constant companion.
    
In combat, my ranger successfully casts "Entangle" on some brigands.
     
Wandering some more in the outdoors, I found the king's castle and (without exploring it at all), marched to his throne room.
     
Could you maybe be more specific?
     
Elsewhere, I discovered a cave that briefly gave me my first experience with dungeons. They maintain the top-down interface instead of switching to first-person like Ultima. Unfortunately, the first monster that attacked me killed one of my characters instantly, so I probably need to save it for later. It's going to be tough to grind, though--I simply don't find many monsters in the outdoor environment. This makes it easier than most Ultima clones to rest and heal after battle, since both hit points and spell points recharge from just waiting or moving around.
    
Entering a dungeon. The terrain tot he south and west of me is poisonous swamp.
     
The key difficulty in Deathlord comes from its permadeath system. In that, it is much like Wizardry. The game saves continually, as you transition areas, and as you enter and exit combat. A character's death is almost instantly recorded in the save file, forcing you to explore resurrection options. If the entire party dies, you can--again, just like Wizardry--call up another party to retrieve their bodies and possessions. The manual suggests that you can backup your party disk occasionally but calls this option "not the most honorable."
    
I didn't hesitate to reload a save state when my priest was killed instantly by a vampire.
    
The permadeath is easily avoided with emulator save states, of course, and I've decided to allow myself the luxury to use these while I figure out the game. Otherwise, I'll just be re-rolling a bunch of Level 1 characters the way I did in Wizardry. Once I actually find a temple to resurrect slain characters, I'll try to adhere more to the game's intended difficulty.

I hate to start a game on a negative tone, but it feels like we've already been here a dozen times, so I'm starting Deathlord already a little tired of it. I've read online that the game's approach to its emerging story and dungeon design are highlights, so I hope to feel better about it next time.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Game 251: Time Horn: Il Corno del Tempo (1991)

Nothing about this game is in English except the title, and even that is repeated in Italian.
     
It's never a good sign when you're role-playing a "hero" named Mordred, but that's where we find ourselves in the curiously redundant Time Horn: Il Corno del Tempo from Lindasoft. It is the first RPG on my list from Italy (and one of only three on the list at all), raising the question of whether other efforts have simply not been catalogued or whether the Italians, having sent America its best food and singers for 100 years, decided to be a good sport and import for a change.

I have not been able to find documentation for the game (which seems to exist only for the Amiga), but fortunately an introductory screen offers the basic plot: In the world of Soldoro, a knight named Mordred struggles to save his kingdom from an invasion by the Occult Master. He has sold an artifact called the Globe of Falibar to get the 4,500 gold coins needed to hire other adventurers and outfit his party. His ultimate goal is to find the Time Horn, kept in the Temple of Soldoro, and use it to destroy the Occult Master.
      
The only documentation I have for this game.
     
The game begins on a  map with five cities (Knheim, Yoras, Darjor, Argat, and Filbrim), some kind of ruined city or castle in the middle, and a temple in the northeast. When you click on each city, it brings up a screen indicating whether you've completed the city's three "missions," so my best guess is that you have to complete all 15 missions before you can do anything with the ruined city or temple.
     
The game world.
     
You don't actually move on the map; you just click from location to location and indicate whether you want to go there, a process that advances the game calendar several days. I'm not sure if there's any real penalty to this or if there's a time limit to the game.

Each of the cities offers the same menu of services: a castello (castle) where you can take missions, a locanda (inn), where you can enlist other adventurers to your cause, an emporio for buying food and drink, an armeria for weapons and armor, an orefice (goldsmith) for uncertain purpose, and a gilda dei maghi for learning new spells.
     
Buying items in the armory.
    
Mordred begins with 30 strength, 15 wisdom, 20 dexterity, 30 resistance, 19 weight, 12 mobility, and no protection. The armory sells a typical set of D&D-derived equipment, translated to Italian, including mazze (maces), pugnali (daggers), and spade (swords). Mordred comes with a sword, a large shield, and something abbreviated "arm. legg." which I suspect is armatura leggera (light armor), which seems to be halfway between armatura cuoio (leather armor) and armatura di ferro (iron armor). As he equips items in missions, his protection goes up but so does his weight. There aren't any expensive or magic items in the armory's list to save for.
     
Checking out Mordred's statistics on the main "town" screen.
    
Characters recruited at inns include a mage, an Amazon, a paladin, a barbarian, and a dwarf. Each costs between 500 (barbarian) and 2000 (mage) gold pieces per mission. The mage starts with a few spells like "Arrow," "Heal," "Poison," and "Cure Poison."
     
The selection of NPCs waiting in the inn.
    
Until I experienced (and lost) a couple of missions, I didn't realize the importance of stocking up on water and food. The characters need to eat and drink frequently during missions (perhaps influenced by the weight carried), and food and water are rarely found during the mission.
     
A sign announces the setting of this city's first mission.
     
Accepting a mission takes you to a mission map, where you encounter monsters, find items, and solve small puzzles. The overall structure feels something like Paladin or HeroQuest, or perhaps a light version of Knights of Legend. Unfortunately, there's no in-game text indicating what your quest or objective is. I don't know if this information accompanied the manual.

During the missions, each character has a certain number of movement points to get around the map. He or she can also go into the inventory to equip and un-equip items, eat, and drink; examine objects and signs; cast spells; and attack enemies. Characters (or, at least, characters at the opening levels) can only attack or cast once per round. When dealing with enemies, there thus aren't many tactics except not to blunder into them, ensuring that they get the first attack. This is hard, because clearly they can sense you from well off-screen (and even use missile weapons from off-screen), but you have no way of seeing them until you're only 6 squares away.
       
My dwarf has just finished attacking the goblin. He then stood aside so my Valkyrie could finish off the goblin with an arrow.
      
Enemies drop weapons when they die, but I suspect the sale value of the items is outweighed by the encumbrance issues.

I attempted the first mission in Knheim twice, the first time with just the mage NPC, the second time with the paladin and barbarian. Both times were miserable failures. In my first attempt, I didn't know enough about how the food and water system worked and didn't bring enough. Both my characters "died exhausted" before the enemies killed them.
     
The paladin is hungry. But his fatigue meter--under his name--depletes whether I feed him or not.
      
The second time, though, the same thing happened, even though I packed plenty of sundries. I did make it a lot further into the level. It starts in a small forest patrolled by "gollums." You have to find a lever to open the gate to a small fortress, where you fight goblins and gnomes. A stairway goes down into a dungeon from there, and multiple rooms and corridors eventually lead to yet another level. The "gnome lords" that inhabit the dungeon were too tough for my characters and ultimately killed them.
     
Somewhere during the mission, I had to find a key that opens a door.
     
Reasoning that without the manual, I needed an advantage for the first mission, just to understand it, I allowed myself to resurrect by save-state-scumming (you otherwise can't save during the missions). But even with this cheat--even reloading after every successful hit by the enemy--I couldn't win. The dungeon just seems to keep going on forever, and my characters have some kind of "fatigue" meter that depletes regardless of whether I have them eat or drink regularly. They kept "dying exhausted." Ultimately, even reloading in those cases, I blundered into a large room with about 5 gnome lords capable of killing each character in a single successful attack. No amount of reloading save states ensured that they missed 5 times in a row. I had to give up.
      
I lose my barbarian during the "monster movement" phase.
    
For my third attempt, I went to a different city, splurged on the Valkyrie, paladin, and dwarf, and tried the first mission there. It started me next to a large farm with several buildings to enter and a large number of goblins swarming the area. After clearing the goblins in the outdoor area, I adopted hit-and-run tactics for those inside: assembling outside the doors, charging through at the beginning of the turn, attacking, and then retreating back outside where the monsters couldn't easily retaliate.
      
My paladin kills a goblin, then prepares to rush back out the southern door so the other goblins can't retaliate during their turns.
      
Once cleared, some of the buildings had chests with gold, jewelry, food, and water.
      
These chests held riches, and ultimately the object of the mission.
      
During the combats, as in the previous scenarios, several of my characters leveled up. This causes each of the characters' attributes to increase between 2 and 6 points. You get experience from successful hits as well as kills, which is nice.
     
The paladin levels up after killing a gnome.
     
Finally, in one of the chests, I found a map. Picking it up gave me the message "missione terminata"--but nothing else happened, and my characters remained in the mission. No new menu option appeared. I hunted around for some kind of exit or extraction point but found nothing.

This therefore seems like another one in which I won't be able to progress unless someone is able to turn up the documentation. I expect that it includes the objective for each mission, instructions on how to get out of the missions, and better information about the fatigue meters. I'll leave this one open for a while and see if anyone shows up with the manual.
    
Just another shot of my characters fighting gnomes and gnome lords in a small dungeon room.
    
I haven't been able to find much on Lindasoft except that it was active from around 1986 to 1992. Time Horn seems to have been an odd lark for the company; its other offerings are sports games like Holo Squash (1992) and Franco Giardelli Hockey (1990). The authors of Time Horn are given in-game as Ignazio Corrao, Sergio Zimmerhofer, and Marco Zimmerhofer. Of the three, Corrao is the only one with a MobyGames profile; he has credits for graphics on a number of European games through 2012.

1991 continues with Synergistic's take on Conan!