Knight Orc / Level 9
|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
|The Earth's Ozone Layer's Verdict:
my children, is atmosphere!
|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
|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.
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
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,
-- 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
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"
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.
|I consider it to be the fourth best video game ever
August 19th, 1999
|this game licks big hairy donkey balls robb.
September 21st, 1999
|The price is WRONG, bitch!
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