An Estival ST Festival: Knightmare

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.)

Knightmare

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:

Haha I completely forgot that the studio that created Knightmare was called Broadsword Television. Why aren't they behind Game of Thrones?
Haha I completely forgot that the studio that created Knightmare was called Broadsword Television. Why aren't they behind Game of Thrones?
Before we begin, we have to
Before we begin, we have to "define team". It's the basic create-a-character system.
Can you believe the OJ trial was twenty years ago? AV Club's been writing a few articles about it. (If you're wondering why there's samurais in this medieval fantasy game, there might be a few Wizardry influences too.)
Can you believe the OJ trial was twenty years ago? AV Club's been writing a few articles about it. (If you're wondering why there's samurais in this medieval fantasy game, there might be a few Wizardry influences too.)
This guy had the perfect title, but just needed a more relevant first name.
This guy had the perfect title, but just needed a more relevant first name.
No Caption Provided
No idea what sort of class
No idea what sort of class "genie" is, besides probably a magic-user, but we're going to Shantae this game up regardless.
You know, I remember thinking at the time how realistic this game looked. Turns out it was because of its dull brown and grey color scheme. I guess the AAA industry really did have it right last-gen.
You know, I remember thinking at the time how realistic this game looked. Turns out it was because of its dull brown and grey color scheme. I guess the AAA industry really did have it right last-gen.
This is actually Treguard from the TV show. In this game, he serves as some sort of elaborate hint master. In Dungeon Master (and most every game ever), your hints were usually written on walls or in scrolls, so this is extra fancy.
This is actually Treguard from the TV show. In this game, he serves as some sort of elaborate hint master. In Dungeon Master (and most every game ever), your hints were usually written on walls or in scrolls, so this is extra fancy.
The game saw fit to give us balls. These actually look like baseballs, what the heck?
The game saw fit to give us balls. These actually look like baseballs, what the heck?
For whatever reason, the next thing you do in this game is take a minecart ride to the other side of the forest.
For whatever reason, the next thing you do in this game is take a minecart ride to the other side of the forest.
Well isn't this humiliating. Our first opponent is a rabbit and its kicking our ass. Actually, these little guys don't pose much of a threat and are the earliest and most reliable source of food. That's if you can catch them; they tend to run away from you a lot. Like real rabbits, then.
Well isn't this humiliating. Our first opponent is a rabbit and its kicking our ass. Actually, these little guys don't pose much of a threat and are the earliest and most reliable source of food. That's if you can catch them; they tend to run away from you a lot. Like real rabbits, then.
These little elf guys, however, mean business. Despite what his unfortunate sartorial choices might suggest.
These little elf guys, however, mean business. Despite what his unfortunate sartorial choices might suggest.
I also found this thing near a pile of clothes. I have no idea what it is, but it seems to be really enjoying punching my samurai in the face.
I also found this thing near a pile of clothes. I have no idea what it is, but it seems to be really enjoying punching my samurai in the face.
I have lost my breakfast. Why would someone design a creature this hideous? Despite being high-octane nightmare fuel, these guys are friendly enough and practically invincible: they guard the entrances to the various dungeons, and you need to solve their riddle to get past them.
I have lost my breakfast. Why would someone design a creature this hideous? Despite being high-octane nightmare fuel, these guys are friendly enough and practically invincible: they guard the entrances to the various dungeons, and you need to solve their riddle to get past them.
Some more mechanics stuff: the character screen lets you equip armor, store items you don't need right this moment and let you see how their stats are doing in numerical form. Health and magic are self-explanatory, but stamina is a separate stat that drops whenever the character is being active. By standing still or sleeping, it will recover quickly (it also helps not to overdo the encumbrance).
Some more mechanics stuff: the character screen lets you equip armor, store items you don't need right this moment and let you see how their stats are doing in numerical form. Health and magic are self-explanatory, but stamina is a separate stat that drops whenever the character is being active. By standing still or sleeping, it will recover quickly (it also helps not to overdo the encumbrance).
Now this is a neat addition that's lacking in most games of this type: you can
Now this is a neat addition that's lacking in most games of this type: you can "assign" a type of attack to one of your hands, and then when you use that hand it'll automatically use whatever you assigned without pulling you back into this menu each time (and you can always reset it). It makes the combat far more expedient. A hand with an assigned action has those little red triangles under them.
I found a door after wandering for minutes in this dense forest. I don't have the key to it though, naturally. I guess I'll keep searching... (It'd be nice if this game had a map. That's a way later innovation for this genre, however.)
I found a door after wandering for minutes in this dense forest. I don't have the key to it though, naturally. I guess I'll keep searching... (It'd be nice if this game had a map. That's a way later innovation for this genre, however.)
What the flying fu-
What the flying fu-
Ah, finally. The twig I was swinging around was the solution to one of the tree-beast riddles (
Ah, finally. The twig I was swinging around was the solution to one of the tree-beast riddles ("I have lost my children") and now we enter the first dungeon of the game. I swear I didn't look anything up. (I really didn't this time.) (The internet knows fuck all about this game, so don't think I didn't check.)
The ragdolls aren't wearing tasteful tubetops; rather, this blue/purple gauge tells you how hungry you are. It's easy to overlook (at least there's no thirst meter too). I wondered why I kept finding rabbit pies.
The ragdolls aren't wearing tasteful tubetops; rather, this blue/purple gauge tells you how hungry you are. It's easy to overlook (at least there's no thirst meter too). I wondered why I kept finding rabbit pies.
This is the sprig of life. Yeah, I thought it was a monster at first too. I mean, it's actually moving (well, not in this image). Throwing a deceased character's remains into the sprig resurrects that person. Handy!
This is the sprig of life. Yeah, I thought it was a monster at first too. I mean, it's actually moving (well, not in this image). Throwing a deceased character's remains into the sprig resurrects that person. Handy!
He's not kidding. There's a lever right next to this hint porthole that summons a fireball that wipes out your whole party. So... save regularly? Because this game was made by jerks?
He's not kidding. There's a lever right next to this hint porthole that summons a fireball that wipes out your whole party. So... save regularly? Because this game was made by jerks?
The Dungeon Master comparisons continue: I can totally trap this guy in a door, doing constant damage. In fact, added to Space Crusade from a couple days ago, I think I spent a lot of time as a kid squishing monsters in doors. Probably not healthy.
The Dungeon Master comparisons continue: I can totally trap this guy in a door, doing constant damage. In fact, added to Space Crusade from a couple days ago, I think I spent a lot of time as a kid squishing monsters in doors. Probably not healthy.
Take my penknife, my good man. How am I supposed to kill a dragon with a boxcutter?
Take my penknife, my good man. How am I supposed to kill a dragon with a boxcutter?
If you walk over this grate it makes a different sound. It's nice bit of attention to detail. You know what else would've been some good attention to detail? A goddamn map. I'm so lost.
If you walk over this grate it makes a different sound. It's nice bit of attention to detail. You know what else would've been some good attention to detail? A goddamn map. I'm so lost.
And I keep getting popped by Snap and Crackle here, too. I'm sure they never gave penknives to kids and directed them to slash at little people in Keebler Elf costumes. I'm calling into question the accuracy of this game as a tie-in.
And I keep getting popped by Snap and Crackle here, too. I'm sure they never gave penknives to kids and directed them to slash at little people in Keebler Elf costumes. I'm calling into question the accuracy of this game as a tie-in.

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.)

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