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(c) 2000 James Burrows

   
 
   
  Preview by
Steve Cooke
(The White Wizard)
   
 
   
  Review by
Nik Wild
(The Harlequin)
   

 

 
Welcome to Game of the Week! Each week there will be a new featured game on this page. The game may be good, average or diabolically bad, it really doesn't matter! Just look at the pics, read the text and enjoy the nostalgia! :-) Game of the Week! is open to contributions so if you would like to contribute a game article for this page you're more than welcome to! Every article we receive will be considered!

Knight Orc
1987 Rainbird/Level 9
By Pete Austin

 
Most text of the present article comes from the preview published in the twenty ninenth issue of the British C64 magazine ZZAP!64 (street date: August 9th, 1987), the sneak peak published in the thirtieth issue (street date: September 10th, 1987), and the review published in the thirty third issue (street date: December 10th, 1987).
 
 

ADVENTURE PREVIEW!
KNIGHT ORC

Level 9/Rainbird, 19.95

 

he Wiz has yet to play a 64 version of this game so this is a preview rather than a proper review. However, as Knight Orc is a crucial release for Level 9, I'm bringing you my impressions of the game as played on the Atari ST. The days are passed when the Austins were the only people to take the adventure market seriously -- and as a result were the only people taken seriously by adventurers. Level 9 were kings of the cassette market, but nowadays disc drives are becoming more common -- as are machines with more memory and better graphics facilities. Level 9 made their name with text compression and test-only games -- but can they survive in the new era?


The game comes with a chunky booklet including full instructions for play and a short 'novella' detailing the exploits of Grok Grindleguts and other orcs. It's quite readable stuff, incorporating a gay dragon, a hoard of treasure, a tavern and a sense of humour. The novella sets the scene for the game itself, which falls into three sections -- Loosed Orc, A Kind of Magic and Hordes of the Mountain King. However, you don't have to read the novella to get on in the game.

Apart from an upgraded parser (see below), the real difference between Knight Orc and previous Level 9 games is the inclusion of interactive characters. As Pete Austin remarked recently 'The range of puzzles you can have that involve picking up and using objects has been thoroughly explored -- introducing characters has to be the next step.' No sooner said than done it seems.


[the original preview contained the Atari ST version of this screenshot]

In Knight Orc, as you control the actions of orcine Grindleguts you can FOLLOW another character, address another character using the NAME MESSAGE format, and even WAIT FOR another character to arrive. Much of the game's challenge lies in recruiting allies, so you'll find yourself doing quite a bit of communication.

One of the best aspects of this interaction is the ability to 'queue' commands to other characters. The manual gives this typical example . . .

TROLL, WAIT 2, IN, KILL VAMPIRE
MOUSE, WAIT 1, IN, KILL VAMPIRE
IN, KILL VAMPIRE

Entering the above three commands in sequence outside the vampire's lair brings all three of you into the lair for a simultaneous attack on the blood-sucker.

The fact is however that Level 9 still have a lot to learn when it comes to actually programming interactive characters. There are occasional gaffs as in . . .

DENZYL WHO ARE YOU

To which Denzyl replies 'I'll get onto it at once.' Hmmm . . .

Denzyl and other characters also suffer from the program's rather unconvincing technique of printing little messages about them at intervals -- as if to persuade us that the characters really do have lives of their own. So as you hang around Denzyl, the program will suddenly come up with 'He mumbles quietly' or something similar. This is a bit like The Hobbit where Thorin 'starts singing about gold'. I can understand the designer's intention behind such messages, but after a while they become jarring and unconvincing. Magnetic Scrolls' characters (and Infocom's) don't advertise their presence quite so obviously -- and are more effective as a result.

Like all of Level 9's recent games, Knight Orc comes complete with graphics. As I said, I've only seen the ST version, but this was enough to persuade me that the company have taken heed of previous criticism on the piccy front. The graphics are quite unlike those on their earlier games, and I expect that people will either love or hate them. I've included an ST screenshot so you can see what I mean. The effect is slightly like one of watercolour, and I found them a very effective contrast to the usual approach of trying for an almost photographic realism (as in Guild of Thieves).

The company have also taken a leaf out of Magnetic Scrolls' book by making the graphics scrollable -- you can scroll them up and down the screen as required. Unfortunately the effect is rather jerky, but perhaps they'll fix this in the production versions. I certainly hope so -- if you're going to borrow other people's ideas you've got to equal them at least, otherwise you run the risk of appearing naff.

As for the subject matter, well . . . the Wiz isn't quite so sure about this. The Pawn may have been 'way out', and Guild of Thieves may be more successful because of its traditional structure, but I can't help feeling that Knight Orc carries things a little too far backwards. Okay, so treasure, magic and battles are great topics for an adventure, but do we have to stick to Middle Earth-type scenarios? Aren't we all just a teensy-weensy bit sick of Orcs? Can't we think of a new way to introduce special effects into a game rather than relying on the old CAST SPELL command? Apparently not . . .

So what's good about Knight Orc apart from the characters? The parser has been improved and you can now GO TO or RUN TO another location. You can also FIND an object and use the words EVERYTHING and EVERYBODY. The use of EXCEPT is also allowed. I don't think that anybody's going to have cause to complain about the interaction.

Secondly, the game (like all Level 9 releases) doesn't shrink from occasionally taking a pot-shot at the real world. Whether this appeals to you or not depends on your own views of society. For example, if the idea that a dubious member of the clergy might in fact be a 'sweaty paedophile' appeals to you, then you're sure to enjoy Knight Orc's social 'observations'.

Finally there's the usual Level 9 sense of humour throughout. Sometimes it gets a bit 'cliquey' -- anyone who's never played MUD in particular will find the first few minutes quite baffling. The Wiz (who's renowned for his lack of sense of humour when it comes to adventures) did actually laugh occasionally, as certain male voices cried out in the distance.

The nitty-gritty is that nowadays we are seeing an increasing involvement of more accomplished games designers in adventure writing. Scott Adams and Adventureland have been replaced by Douglas Adams and Hitchhikers, and powerful game generators like the system used by Magnetic Scrolls are being made available to more writers. More importantly though, adventurers have come to expect a bit more than the old 'fur between the toes' magic spells and fire-breathing dragons.

With Knight Orc, Level 9 look set to demonstrate that in matters of programming techniques the company are going to maintain a strong position in the market. The question of game design is less easy to answer, but then that problem can be solved at a stroke by bringing in better outside authors. In the meantime, the final verdict on Knight Orc must wait until we extensively play-test the Commodore version.

 
 

ADVENTURE PREVIEW!
KNIGHT ORC REVEALED!

 

The Wiz is proud to present a sneak preview of Knight Orc's C64 graphics. Although these are not quite finished, it looks as though the quality will be rather better than Level 9's past efforts.

 
 

A CHEQUERED HISTORY
Harlequin Examines Backwards

 

ne could hardly say that 1987 has been an inspiring year for adventure games. There has been a steady trickle of Infocom games, hardly a spark for those without a disk drive however. Ballyhoo and Nord And Bert may not be among Infocom's best, but it is good to have at least one company which is adventure dedicated. Lurking Horror and Plundered Hearts are two which I'm sure will rate as classics.


I realise now that I've probably upset Magnetic Scrolls and Level 9 but let's count how many adventures they have released this year. . . Magnetic Scrolls one (not counting Jinxter winch I haven't played yet), Level 9 three (and that includes Silicon Dreams which is a redraft of the Snowball trilogy). Not very impressive really, not when you consider that Infocom can generally yield both quality and quantity. Having said that, the Austins and Anita Sinclair's company do create very good games . . . even if they are few and far between, and they are promising many more releases for 1988.

US Gold coupled with Adventuresoft have produced quite a nice selection throughout the year. February saw the release of Kayleth (a personal favourite of mine as it accurately predicts what will happen on Zyron in the very near future!) which was subsequently followed by Masters Of The Universe in April and Temple Of Terror in August, both enjoyable games which I feel deserved somewhat higher marks than those awarded by my predecessor. They all included attractive graphics (which did add something to the game atmosphere), more than adequate parsers and plenty to do and see. They provided adventurers with a challenge even if the gameplay itself was sometimes a touch iffy.

1987 has been the year of the GAC, good old Incentive's creation which has allowed so called adventure authors to input away GETTING ALL, EXAMINEing 'it' and scribbling infantile pictures. The finished product may then be sold, usually for extortionate prices, via established software houses, to the unsuspecting public. This is not GAC's fault by any means, it's simply the authors' lack of thought, effort and imagination put into the adventures in the first place.

March gave us the first release on Incentive's Medallion label, Apache Gold and Winter Wonderland (7.95 each!!), which, to be fair, were not dire by any means, although they tried very hard to be. Zodiac coupled with The Secret Of Life came my way in December; these two were also fairly bad, consisting of all those elements which do not a good adventure make: sudden deaths, extremely sparse descriptions and poor pictures. I refuse to drone on but I must just add that I cannot see the point of including puny graphics in a game when the memory available is only just sufficient to create a decent text-only adventure.

This would be a good time to mention Rod Pike and his adventure Frankenstein (released via CRL). This was written using GAC and it shows what can be done when a little effort goes into the creation or adaptation of a story. I realise that the boffins at CRL added the graphics and sound, but the basic adventure was still as it would have appeared without any adjustments. It was well though out, beautifully atmospheric and a pleasure to play. Rod shows the way for all potential and existing adventure authors who need to use a utility. Look out for his next game which includes more than a touch of lycanthropy (an upmarket word for turning into a wolf).

GAC is a marvellous utility and I personally cannot wait for GAC Plus to materialise from Mr Ian Andrew's Incentive Software. Let's hope it inspires deeper plots with more intricate puzzles rather than just a rehash of the old and familiar.

Before I leave I must just depress you a little more by mentioning The Shadows Of Mordor! How many of you were weaned on The Hobbit? Who among you could not wait for Melbourne House to thrill us again with their adaptation of Tolkien's Lord Of The Rings? How many of you were disappointed . . . yes, so was I. Then in July of this year came Part 2, The Shadows Of Mordor. Surely this had to be a great improvement on Part 1; there is no way that Melbourne House could let this one reach the shops without ensuring its gameplay and content were at least on a par with The Hobbit. We all rushed out and bought a copy (yes I did!), eagerly loaded the thing and away we went . . . perhaps Part 3 will be good!

Next year must be better. There will probably not be any more-adventure houses around than there are now but the productivity of each one will be greater than on 1987. Level 9 have now completed their Kaos writing system and have many games in the pipeline. Anita (Magnetic Scrolls) has promised more releases in 1988 and I'm sure Infocom will at least maintain their present output. All in all, there may not be many more authors next year, but at least we shall be getting the best that's available from the people who are masters of their art.

 
 

KNIGHT ORC
Level 9 , disk 14.95, cassette 9.95

 

have been programmed to believe that all Orcs are nasty, vile creatures, so the opportunity to take the role of one and find out for myself seemed interesting to say the least.


The particular creature that Level 9's Knight Orc allows the player to become is apparently two mugs down the ladder from a tape worm and answers to the name Grindleguts. His basic task in this three-part game is to survive. He begins his uncomfortable journey tied to a horse in the midst of a jousting contest (apparently he volunteered to be the Orcs' champion whilst in a drunken stupor and is now paying the price). Obviously his very first task is get out of this contest and make it back to Orc Mountain in one piece. Actually finding a way across a broken viaduct is the main aim of part one; hardly a difficult quest, it's designed to get the player used to how the game works and what actions are possible within it. Parts two and three are much more involved and require the utilisation of everything learned in part one if the player is to get anywhere at all.

Using their Kaos writing system, Level 9 have provided the facility for the player to use 'High Level Commands' such as FOLLOW, GO TO, WAIT FOR, and the ability to communicate with -- and even recruit -- the many other characters inhabiting the game. In fact, bribing people to do your bidding is a very important skill which has to be mastered if any progress is to be made. The parser is very impressive and can quite easily handle phrases like DENZYL, FIND THE MAT AND THE KEY, FIND ME, GIVE EVERYTHING TO ME THEN RUN TO THE CASTLE, and while the player amuses himself doing other things in the game Denzyl will troll off and do as asked (if he's feeling generous toward you!).

The graphics are quite nice to look at first time around, but gameplay is faster without them and the game loses no atmosphere due to their absence.

The overall feeling I got with Knight Orc was one of slight confusion. Once successfully within part two the player discovers that he is wearing a visor, removal of which reveals the landscape and characters around him to be not what they seemed at first. This little quirk made me wonder if it was worth carrying on, as I presumed I was no longer playing the part of Grindleguts nor was I in a land of mystery and magic . . . was it all an illusion? Maybe if I had been able to play it more extensively all would have become clear. As it was, time being against me, I did not get as far as I would have liked; however, what I did see impressed me and I shall certainly try hard to find the time to continue with Knight Orc. Level 9 once again prove themselves to be masters of the single-load adventure, and with their other recent release, Gnome Ranger getting rave reviews everywhere, it looks like the Austins will be having a very nice Christmas thank you very much.

 
Atmosphere 79%
Interaction 84%
Challenge 81%

Overall

81%
 


If you want a walkthrough, visit
Jacob Gunness
' Classic Adventures Solution Archive or
Martin Brunner's C64 Adventure Game Solutions Site

The tape text-only version (above screenshot) contained a lot more text in descriptions etc, since there was no need to reserve memory for graphics.

Knight Orc Complete Artwork Gallery!

Total Pictures Count: [25]

Htmlized by Dimitris Kiminas (4 Feb 2006)
There were no screenshots in the original review.

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