Knight Orc / Level 9 (1987)

Armais, the Anti-Puzzle Gromit Boy's Verdict:
Attempting to get teamwork out of the random collection of pukes in the game can be horribly frustrating.
The Earth's Ozone Layer's Verdict:
Now this, my children, is atmosphere!
My Verdict:
Knight Orc provides sheer hatred for the various types of clowns we've all met a thousand times in life. It's a validating in-joke to anyone who ever felt alone because of their fascination with computer games instead of soccer and makeup.

Game Information

Game Type:
It uses what Level 9 called the "KAOS" system, or "Knight Orc Adventure System." Why was it called KAOS instead of KOAS? Er, well, that's a question for the Rainbird.
Author Info:
Check out the Level 9 Memorial :
Download Link:

Level 9 released Knight Orc in July of 1987 and soon thereafter changed what entertainment software could be. While Knight Orc admittedly falls slightly short of becoming a classic on the merits of pure art through this medium, (unlike, say, Sentinel or The Space Under The Window) it nonetheless  holds up years later due to its gameplay, the strength of its atmosphere, and the sheer indifference (hatred?) it shows to the player.

Knight Orc was one of the first games to give a voice to a villain. The player assumes the role of an orc named Grindleguts, abandoned by his buddies after a night of hard drinking. Even the most Vulcan of geekdom can relate to what a miserable experience drunken abandonment can be. The orcs, caught in an inebriated stupor by a pack of foppish human knights, arrange for a "Contest of Champions" to take place in the morning. Which is all well and good, as they have no plans on sticking around for it. The orcs tie Grindleguts (completely passed out and in no position to argue) to a horse and give him a lance. The knights, bound by their code of honor, can do nothing but watch as the roving evil horde skulks off into the darkness. Much like the Baltimore Colts leaving for Indianapolis, really. The orcs then destroy the bridge and make good on their escape.

(The back story is related in a novella that accompanies the game entitled The Sign of the Orc by Peter McBride. It may possibly be the finest piece of authorized fiction ever to accompany a game. Spawning this story is copy-protection's finest moment.   It's very clever and funny and somehow manages to convey warmth and stunning brutality all within paragraphs of one another.)

The interface to Knight Orc is user dependent -- an option exists for pure text or text & graphics. The graphics were designed without real regard for how they would be displayed upon the screen, as an outside artist conceived them for digitization. Consequently, ugly "pillars" fill in the space to the left and right of the art. The process had questionable results on the PC -- it seems that the paintings were originally a type of fresco. Regardless, they do not look particularly pretty.    While the PC version did not allow manipulation of the image size, much more text is present than on the default settings for the Magnetic Scrolls games. Knight Orc's parser is excellent -- objects can be located using a FIND command -- regardless of whether or not you have seen them (this does not work for special items you will learn about, and the command will not do any problem solving for you). It will understand virtually anything you throw at it, or give you helpful reasons why it doesn't. Unlike some later Level 9 games, Knight Orc does understand the word "at." Cheers, eh?

So, then. You're an orc trapped in human country. While attempting to pick up some rope to cross the river you will encounter the first bit of magic the game has to offer: the characters. I have never witnessed a greater collection of  thugs, losers, egomaniacs and self-important motos than I have in this game. The descriptions offered by the parser as to the wandering characters are cruel --

    The gripper: "he is a squinty, rat-like youth, with an orcish squint."

    Kris the ant-warrior: "she is a muscle-bound champion, armoured with plates of giant ant cuticle and wearing a strange ant-head helm. She looks a lot like an ogre-sized fried roach."

    Denzyl: "he is a right gullible and stupid-looking person."

    Fungus the boggit-man: "he is a lanky, twitchy-fingered, nicotine-addict."

-- but a total riot. Effing genius.

Furthermore, there are plenty of hapless denizens just waiting to have horrible things happen to them. The following story is offered as to why this game works so well: During one stretch on the first episode I was being identified as an orc rather easily. (When a character recognizes an orc, her or she will attack.) While getting thumped by the Green Knight (arguably the most powerful character in the episode till you solve his puzzle), a do-nothing slacker named "Sam the Grey Earl" jumps into the fray for a bit. After dying, the game was restored. A different navigational route is taken, and Sam follows for a little bit when reaching the cemetery. For whatever reason, Sam continues lapping along like a well-trained puppy. After entering the tomb for the first time the Vampire spies the still-following Sam and consumes him. He offers a spell for his treat and Sam is sucked down for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Due to his inability to leave the player character he gets his. Just desserts, so to speak.

Such an event is completely impossible to specifically reproduce. The denizens in the game seem to have some "goals," like picking up treasure and killing orcs, but while Sam never followed that path again, it can not be said that the characters in the game really move in completely random patterns. Somehow, Level 9 were able to create an environment filled with rich characters leading their own lives, all while not creating an impression of headless chickens running around in a maze.

The last two episodes of Knight Orc are interchangeable -- without giving away too much, the end game involves a story of revenge and escape against those that tormented you -- and yet, reading the novella and playing the first episode does not begin to prepare you for the outcome. (I should note that it ties into Level 9's earlier "Silicon Dreams" trilogy. Very, very nice.)

The puzzles, jokes, characters and parser are all up to par with the best that Infocom had to offer. I suspect that this game did not receive the props that it should have due to its subject manner -- playing the "bad guy" didn't really become in style until Syndicate. While Grindleguts is a greedy, violent, angry little pit he is also a character worthy of our respect. Especially among the piles of spods he's running around with. I suspect that the background characters in Knight Orc are set to mirror the kind of individuals we (the gaming community) can't -- in theory -- stand or relate to in real life. Jocks, girls, urchins, soldiers... when that lot are in our world (a game) they should, naturally,  be considered the outsiders. Knight Orc describes them with as much distaste as we normally get in "their" environments. Fabulous.

If you take the time to enjoy this game -- to smell the roses -- Knight Orc will return your attention with an incredible amount of pleasure.  It's the best text adventure written under Reagan's term of power.

Simple Rating

I consider it to be the fourth best video game ever made. 






Puzzle Quality

Parser Responsiveness


Reader Comments:

Bob Barker
August 19th, 1999

this game licks big hairy donkey balls robb.  heheh

September 21st, 1999

The price is WRONG, bitch!

Add Your Comments:

Your Name or Handle

Your Comments:

Reviews From Trotting Krips