By Mento 1 Comments
We bring this week of Atari ST games to a close with a game that I've always been curious about. I'll admit that I've only played a demo of this game previously, but it's one of those games that you swear is fake despite all evidence to the contrary. The sort of game that is regularly the subject of vague descriptions in the "Can't remember the name of this game" thread, followed by "...but I'm not even sure this game exists".
It's another dungeon crawler, and one where Dungeon Master and Captive is more prevalent a comparison than ever. Wish I'd brought up the Brief Jaunts I made for those two today instead of yesterday, but I never was one for timing. I guess that'll become clearer with all my awful 90s-reference goofs today.
I'd like to thank everyone who has been reading these, and would like some consumer input for this feature going forward: Would you like to see more weird Atari ST games/ports, as a mostly North American audience unused to this platform? If so, would you prefer I stuck to bizarre European games exclusive to the Amiga/ST, or keep showing off how funny-bad the Arcade ports were? Thanks for any feedback you might provide. I've certainly enjoyed dropping back into my childhood to see what my pre-teen self was playing, though I probably shouldn't make a habit out of it. Dwelling in nostalgia can do terrible things. (Like pledging money towards a Shaq Fu Kickstarter. For instance.)
This will require some lead-in. In the late 1980s and early 90s, a British TV show aired on CITV: a block on the ITV channel (our third, of (then) four, terrestrial channels in the UK). It featured a medieval fantasy theme and was built around challenging young people to think creatively by placing them in a D&D-like adventure where puzzle-solving and reflexes, rather than combat, were the keys to success. However, to effectively do this, one player would put on the vision-obscuring "Helmet of Justice" and be the designated "dungeoneer" - the person interacting with the world, talking to NPCs and using objects. The world, in this case, was a series of greenscreen rooms filled with actors in period costumes and props. The Dungeoneer's team of "advisors" remained back at the crystal ball (accompanied by Treguard, the cryptic dungeon master, played by Hugo Myatt going fully Shakespearean), directing the Dungeoneer and keeping track of hints and other bits of relevant information. For more on the show, check its Wikipedia article or search YouTube for some episodes. And yes, a long-running game show about LARPing and D&D(ish) existed.
To say this show, Knightmare, was on the surreal side would be an understatement, but it worked surprisingly well and many children of the era - myself included - were hooked. Especially as a decent team would continue to stay alive from one show to the next, sometimes even for weeks, and you'd get more and more invested in their success as they kept going.
As for the 1991 computer game adaptation, well, it's our old friends Mindscape creating another first-person dungeoncrawling RPG. It's the same genre as Dungeon Master or Captive (which is why I brought those two up again) or, as a couple of modern examples, Legend of Grimrock or Might and Magic X: Legacy. Mindscape previously developed Captive, which is why a lot of elements - especially visual, like fonts - are similar. They were also more heavily influenced by Dungeon Master in particular this time, borrowing the way that game's leveling system works: you go up levels in classes by using items/spells associated to that class over and over, such as swords for warriors and healing spells for priests. Any character can go up in any class if they have the right equipment, though you're usually best sticking with the class you assigned to them initially as they'll start off semi-proficient at it. The game's plot is concerned with finding four mystical items of rulership from four separate dungeons connected by an immense hub forest, in a nutshell. Let's try to make sense of this thing:
That's probably enough screenshots. Knightmare is a little weaker (and a lot uglier) than Captive, which had a great many more innovations as well as a more appealing setting. However, this has to be one of the most inexplicable games to ever exist in a legitimate fashion: a Dungeon Master clone loosely based on a TV show that featured kids in big viking helmets wandering around greenscreen fantasy worlds trying not to get eaten by wall monsters. It's fair to say that I wanted to end this feature on one of the many weird and wonderful games that made their way to the Atari ST over the years. (Also, I didn't even touch the eccentric output from France: I'll have to do a proper retrospective on Delphine, Silmarils, Loriciels or Coktel Vision one of these days.)
Thanks again for stopping by for this week's series of self-indulgent LPs (watch out for the next season!). The Atari ST will probably remain a big question mark outside of Europe for the foreseeable future, but if a self-avowed fan like myself wasn't going to celebrate its thirtieth birthday, who was? (Probably the hundreds of Atari ST fan forums I'm unaware of, I guess. I keep forgetting how big the internet is.)