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.
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]
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.
of the best aspects of this interaction is the ability
to 'queue' commands to other characters. The manual
gives this typical example . . .
WAIT 2, IN, KILL VAMPIRE
MOUSE, WAIT 1, IN, KILL VAMPIRE
IN, KILL VAMPIRE
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.
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 . . .
WHO ARE YOU
which Denzyl replies 'I'll get onto it at once.' Hmmm
. . .
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.
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).
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.
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 . . .
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.
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'.
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.
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.
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.