User avatar
Detroit, MI, USA

Posted Fri May 24, 2024 9:40 pm


Knights of the Sky
Amiga, 1991 (Original DOS 1990)
Microprose/Jeff Briggs

*Originally posted to my blog at the end of 2023, been awhile since I popped into AmigaLove to say hello and I thought it would somewhat relevant for Memorial Day reading considerations. Also as a thank you to Intric8 for gifting me a copy of this game still in its shrink wrap!

*My video review for Knights of the Sky
*Next article
*Previous article
*Alphabetical list of writings
*Discord for updates
*Game played/shown in its intended NTSC mode with 4:3 aspect ratio
*If pics show artifacting, zoom in/out (CRT effect)

Predating not only the first personal computers of the 1970's, NASA, mainframes, and even the Great War itself, the storied life of the flight simulator began in 1910. One half barrel on top of another, the Antoinette Barrel befitted its name. A potential pilot attempted to balance themselves by controlling pitch, roll, and rudder, while three instructors manipulated connecting rods. Primarily a tool for training, problem solving, and maintaining skills, through the passage of time no expense was spared to make simulators feel as realistic as possible. In the 1970's Evans & Sutherland took the simulator into the computer age, with graphics that wouldn't be seen on a consumer level until the Commodore Amiga in the mid 1980's.

Jay Miner made it no secret, a major goal in creating the Amiga was to bring the quality of those simulations to the home. In lesser forms there had been sprinklings of the genre going back to 1979, with Sub Logic's Flight Simulator for the Apple II. I suppose some would say that during these early stages in gaming the word simulation would be best left in quotes, but I've always thought of the genre as being on a scale. Even the 1983 arcade blaster Star Wars deserves a mention as a wire framed 3D game putting you into the vacuum of space. There it's focused on fun. No burdening the player with realistic thrust, just point in a direction and shoot, difficult enough to stay alive in a game thirsting for quarters. Flight Simulator II was the first to go in the opposite direction, where understanding how to fly in-game meant you'd have the upper hand in flight school.

16-bit computers and consoles saw an explosion in flight sims, with entire companies such as Microprose, Spectrum HoloByte, and Dynamix specializing in the genre. Most sims tended to fall somewhere on the middle of the scale, neither point and shoot nor necessitating the study of hundreds of pages of manual. Some, such as F-22 Interceptor or Strike Commander leaned toward arcade but contained no shortage of realistic characteristics. F/A 18 Interceptor, and most computer jet sims leaned toward simulation, but certainly contained elements to make the game accessible to the wider audience. Curiously absent from a genre which once had Ken Williams shouting (prior to his acquisition of Dynamix) "Are there any planes, tanks, or automobiles this industry hasn't done 50 times already?!", was the first World War. Besides Atari's Red Baron arcade cabinet and a mini-game inside of Flight Simulator II, there hadn't been much attention toward the dawn of flight until 1990. Then, seemingly out of nowhere came Wings, Blue Max, Sierra's Red Baron, and Knights of the Sky.
^Intro, setting up, taking off

Like many Microprose games, Knights of the Sky leans toward simulation, but you'd do best not to harbor illusions of grandeur while playing. Self described by Microprose as pure simulators, reviewers and players were happy to go along with it (perhaps knowing no better), so long as it made them feel like they could do it themselves. Alas, this game will guide none toward fame greater than the Red Baron, doubt you could even take off from the runway by treating these mechanics as gospel. There's a hundred pages of well written manual, a requirement for "serious" flight sims, but I didn't need to read a single page to play this game. If you can take off, let alone land without experiencing a series of hiccups or death, all while not having read the manual, you're probably not playing the most realistic simulator.

But there's nothing wrong with that, minimal pain combined with realism is what I would imagine the majority of gamers want in their sims. Still, keep the quick reference sheet handy because you'll need to turn on your engine, switch camera views, and drop the occasional bomb, but for the most part things are intuitive. Your aerodrome as well as the world as a whole are heavily scaled, making it quite difficult to land directly on a runway since they're short, but as long as you stop on the strip it's counted as a success. It's best to hover around 40 mph and pull up while you hit the ground, certainly both accurate to life. I tended to fly past the runway before turning back to land, as my elevation on direct approach was often too high and fast. When on the ground, heavy navigation could cause your wheels to break off and your mission score to be penalized. It's best to land prior to the runway, lest you overshoot it and break off your wheels while attempting to turn back. In the event you can't get the feel there's an auto-landing feature as well, an attempt to balance realism while allowing accessibility for others.

Every plane handles differently, and there's a no shortage of real life models from both sides of the war. There are twenty planes in total, with eleven that you'll actually be flying for the Allies, and nine German fighters to face off against. A stand-alone free flight mode (generously described as "flight training") allows access to the German planes as well, but we're playing for the winners in this game. They're introduced and phased out in chronological order as the game runs its course, with only two available at the start. The Airco DH2 is nothing to look at, appearing like plywood borrowed straight off the Wright Brothers, the propeller actually mounted on its backside. The Nieuport 11 looks much nicer, it's the default, but personally I'd rather fly the plywood. None feel the same, and newer isn't necessarily better. If it seems like a new model isn't what it was cracked up to be, or if you simply can't get used to the changed feel, then go back to what you know.
^1st mission, balloon busting from the clouds

Sooner or later you might be forced to trade-in that well worn glove for something unproven, as newer German planes make it clear that what once worked must inevitably be put to pasture. Throughout most of the war the German's had the technical advantage, the Allies competing on sheer numbers with their efficient production lines. There was only a several month period somewhere past the halfway point when I felt my plane was completely outmaneuvering the competition. Unlike in real life where a squadron would conduct missions with ten or more planes, here it's primarily us against the world. Since we're not even competing with numbers on our side, we must outsmart an enemy which has multiple and sometimes unfair advantages over us.

Enemies spawn in a somewhat predictable but random fashion. I always knew when approaching the trenches that it was time to peer to my rear, and magically I'd find two to four planes bearing down on me. Even when they're miles behind you'll wonder how they got hold of afterburners, inevitably catching up with you rather unrealistically. When nearing an enemy base I again knew they'd be popping up soon, not from the base itself as you'd expect, but rather behind or to my side. In this game both the technology and the numbers are on their side, so you'll have to play to that. They go much faster than they should, so if they're tailing it's time to slow down, pull up, hopefully they'll overtake you. Perhaps you'll take a couple hits, but I preferred that to the inevitable "round 'n round" of turning. There's a feel for when you should play some chicken or circle around, but the smarter moves tended to be of a reactive nature.

The up close and personal aspect of this era of flight would never again be matched. It's great to be out there without radar, wondering where the enemy might pop up. The dynamics of flight are neither arcade nor sim. At full throttle you will find yourself slowly ascending as a plane should, but it's not too hard to stay relatively level at high speeds here. In real life you don't descend by simply pointing down, because planes fight their way back up unless you also reduce your speed. Flight is complicated, even at this early stage, yet many of those realities are left off the table, with the manual explaining it as limitations of the aircraft. A lie which would be better explained as a design choice. You will get rocked to the left and right, sometimes up or down, necessitating you keep your hands on the digital joystick for quick corrections. It almost gives you an analog feel through the digital control (Knights also supports analog joysticks). A randomness acting as wind, further dependent on the aircraft you're flying as well as its damage levels, never feeling the same. It's that middle ground, the marriage of arcade and sim done well which is the best quality of Knights of the Sky.
^Becoming an ace, hot on their tail

Another highlight is the animated introduction done in news reel style. It's in black and white, complete with scratches and skips to give the look of film. Certainly a first to do that, and I'd argue it as more effective than the fake film effects all over YouTube. It's really only a few seconds before the animation gives way to credits (still in a film style), but it remains a personal favorite and I often watch until it fades. The main menu provides a few options that I suppose could charitably be described as game modes. There's "flight training", which is nothing more than a free flight with the option of enemies and difficulty settings. There's no in-game tutorial, so calling this flight training is a stretch. You are able to fly any Allied or German fighters, select any allied base to start from, and freely explore a decently sized world which the main game doesn't show much of. For those wishing to explore sans threat of confrontation, this would be the easiest way.

In "Dogfight Encounters" you can pick any of the game's sixteen German aces to fight against. Perhaps you could use this for practice, or see a part of the game which would otherwise take time to reach, but as with the free flight option it's difficult to describe these as separate modes of play. You can also link other computers with Knights via modem or direct hookup, and there's even an option to join a lobby to connect with strangers. The lobby option in particular is noteworthy for the time, but even modem and direct hookup weren't incredible common. I attempted to connect my Amiga and DOS computers, but seemingly it only works Amiga to Amiga or DOS to DOS. While a novel option for the smallest of minorities, endless rounds of chicken against a human was niche at the time, and good luck finding anyone to play it with today. Reviewers of that era loved these "extras" though, probably because it let them have fun flying against their coworkers, or see what they would otherwise be unwilling to sink time into, deadlines and all.

The only actual game on offer is the World War One campaign. The manual gives us a great introduction for both the war itself, as well a rookie pilot thrust into the midst of everything. It's May of 1916, the war is nearly two years old at this point, and our goal is to survive until it ends in a little over two and a half years. When creating a pilot you'll be randomly assigned to one of numerous allied airfields where you shall remain until your promotion to captain. There might be some minor benefits to being at one over another, such as being nearer to the front or enemy aces, but generally you get similar missions regardless of location. Personally I felt stuck in one area for too long, the same scenery with the same missions. That's not to say any one area isn't a sight to behold, as Knights gets top marks for the amount of scenery available. I just wish I could have been seeing more of it sooner.
^Death, landing

My general sense is that the missions are random, though generated from a seemingly small pool. You'll be assigned to several flight sim staples, such as defense, patrol, strikes, escorting, and one unique to WW1, balloon busting. Exactly where you're sent to strike or patrol is rarely exactly the same, but it often comes off as such. You're never sent too far from your current home base, so there's no going edge to edge or deep into enemy territory, at least not by orders. A number of friendly cities populate the areas around your base, one or several of these will probably be a waypoint. Fly beyond enemy lines to one of their cities, bases, etc. I once got three escorting missions in a row, so there wouldn't appear to be a limit on the randomness either.

Good luck with the escorting missions, which find you babysitting a two seat bomber sent to either photograph or strike enemy locations. They go in and do their thing while you attempt to keep spawning enemies (who go faster than you) from tearing them apart. It would help to gain altitude in order to keep an encompassing view of your escort and any enemies. Thankfully you go faster than your friend, so in the event you get caught in a dogfight it's not too hard to catch up. Enemies can spawn from miles around but love spawning on top of you, so keep them busy and away from the bomber, breaking off if you see them too far ahead. Patrols, balloon busting, and escorting were the flight categories I played most often, but I only succeeded with one escort mission. The bombers occasionally fulfilled their end, but it's a long way home, sooner or later they tended to get taken down.

The friendlies in Knights aren't particularly smart or plentiful. There's no going in with a squadron at your side, not even a single wingman. For me that's okay, it's a simple design choice of us against everything, which can be fun. Allied fighters do spawn, but tend to be found miles away. When in the vicinity of enemies your friends will engage, and it's possible some of the bad guys following you could pull away in favor of them. There's no radar with helpful red and blue dots, so as tempting as it is to fire at anything in your sights, they're not all trying to kill you. The more friends you see the easier it is to get a feel for their behavior over your foes, and getting close reveals their colors to you. As a sim/arcade mix there are helpful tools, pressing F2 gives a wonderful view of successive aircraft in relation to you, in addition to identifying them as friend or foe. It's not an actual radar, but it's close enough.
^A crash, promotion, external views

Balloon busting was the only group of missions where despite their repetition, I never grew tired of them. Planes are moving targets in the air and you must anticipate where they're going to be, as opposed to firing where they are. That's not easy, but ripping apart a floating balloon is completely foreign to anyone used to leading a plane. The balloon doesn't move, should be easy enough, right? No, you come to it a lot faster than you'd think, dumbfounded as a stream of bullets find themselves too high or low. Now you've got to turn around but not too quickly, as you might continually circle the target. Aware of your presence, the balloon now attempts to lower itself to the ground. Coming around it's clear that you're quickly running out of time, and all the while German planes are slowly chipping away at your sides. I never got tired of a balloon filling up my cockpit view, watching as they exploded into a ball of flames.

There's other fun missions, but for whatever reason I didn't get to fly them much. The most common of the rare variety were strikes against enemy aerodromes. These represent the deepest you'll penetrate into German territory, unless you choose to go sight seeing. Your plane could be falling apart before you ever reach your target, surely by the time you slip back into allied territory. There's no target locking, no missiles, just you reaching out of your cockpit and pitching a bomb below. You could fly high, dangerously pointing your nose directly on top of a target in a full dive. This is guaranteed to hit where you're pointed, but necessitates a quick escape at high speeds prior to a crash. Usually I got down low, factoring my speed and altitude together to best time a bombs release. It's easier in there's less risk of your death, yet harder in that you may not even see the target, it's all about the feel for where the bomb will land. The bombing runs are a great example of where the game leans away from arcade and towards sim.

My favorite missions, though rare, were probably bombing German truck convoys. You need to be strafing the ground on top of roads which curve, and their trucks are not stationary. At one point I was told to bomb the front lines themselves, taking out AA guns, maintenance yards, and other buildings. That was a blast, even though the otherwise decent framerate started chugging a bit here. Upon switching to a different pilot I was told to bomb some German HQ buildings deep into their territory, on the first mission! Fun, though perplexingly I didn't get that once in my 70+ mission main playthrough. Sometimes you're asked to defend your base, frustratingly common in the later game where simply flipping through menus cause the dice to roll on surprise attacks. Patrols were okay and could be more fun, if you weren't seeing them so often. They're the easiest as you don't have to score a single kill, just hit your designated patrol locations and you're victorious.
^Up close and personal, medals, shooting down an ace

When you're on the ground during the campaign there isn't a whole lot to do. You can select your current plane, check the killboard, and study the information you've collected on enemy aces. The bulk of your time on the ground is spent reading through a few nicely drawn (some animated) cut scenes, which inform you about where the best German pilots have been spotted, what plane they're using, and what color it is. Sipping champaign at a dinner party, downing beers in the rec room, or dropping in on your mechanic, these scenes are an example of the game being so close to great, yet falling short. Knights is really begging for dialogue, some kind of a story either fictional or based in reality. Complaints about the random but similar missions could have been negated by simply giving the player a reason to want to be on the ground. Real or fictional, some kind of a story could have easily accomplished this.

Initially upon landing you're given a short summery of the success or failure of your last mission. Newspapers represent the paltry story on offer, with single sentence headlines declaring "France gain headway near Verdun", or "Over 1 Million Americans now in France!" If that can be called a story, it's one leaving much to be desired. If one sentence isn't enough, there's propaganda on aces spotted or downed, which could reach as much as three sentences. Any number of changes could have turned a decent game for the time into one for the ages. 80 missions of pointlessness shortened to 20 or 30, more variety to the randomness, cultivated missions through scripting, or simply a better story. Promotion or medals are a sign of overall success, but Knights could have gone further there as well. Perhaps a ceremony ala Wing Commander? Even the hundred page manual's sole mention of medals is only two sentences long, declaring that receiving one increases your prestige tremendously. Umm, how about pictures? Names? Descriptions? What's the real life history behind them, and how do I get them in the game?

That perfectly describes the manual, a hundred enjoyable pages that mindbogglingly help little with playing. I could have been reading a history book, which I enjoy, but how does it apply to the game? Perhaps the essential manual accompanying many computer games didn't die because gamers didn't want to read, or companies became cheap, rather that people wised up to those using manuals as an excuse to justify their games costing $60. They're providing you with such "value" after all, six types of random missions churning out over seventy, add in a one-hundred page research paper on World War One and it feels like flight sims offered a licence to print money. It's almost a punishment for those paying full price because no matter how good it reads, there's nothing which adds to the actual game which a paying customer could hold over the head of a pirate. It's great, but it's useless.
^The front lines have moved, bombing those lines

Well, there is a large fold-out map of the world I suppose, the sole redeeming "must have" in terms of documentation. Even this is lessened to a degree, because there's also an in-game map with the location of you, cities, your objective, and even geography like lakes pointed out clearly. I'm definitely using it if it's there, and it would clearly be a positive to a larger audience, but as wonderful as the map inside of the game is I wonder if there isn't a missed opportunity in requiring the "feelie" map for everything. This said, as the first quarter of the game passes and you finally achieve the rank of captain, the fold-out map becomes essential to the true heart of the game, hunting down German aces.

I was getting tired of the game prior to my promotion, and as much as I've talked about the various missions thus far, the aces represent half of your time playing. The ace portfolio includes a real life photo of an actual German ace, their plane type, color, the last three locations they were spotted, and the occurring dates. Unfold your beautiful glossy paper map and resign that Lothar von Richthofen being spotted near Villers, Moreuil, and Noyon represents too large of a search area. He's been moving around and the trenches have also shifted, it's best to wait for more information. Bruno Loerzer was found near Perrone on August 21st, Bapaume on the same day, this puts him nearby two enemy aerodromes. A month later it's Perrone again, now I'm ready to move myself to the closest friendly base for attack. Should he not show near Perrone I could turn northwest and try the base at Ervillers, which is near the spot he was seen a month ago. That's not too much of a diversion if Perrone is proved wrong, risks I'm willing to take. Issue the challenge!

This was an absolute blast. The idea of one pilot taking it upon themselves to track and kill 16 of the most famous German aces is such a ridiculous concept, but I loved it! The sheer terror that would arise knowing that should you cross the threshold of five kills you'd basically be signing your death warrant. Outrageously wonderful! Colonel Shot Retro is on the case, referring back and forth from my computer screen to the map, fighter pilot doubling as detective. It's only a matter of time before you're found, before your rein of terror ends. Excitedly sitting down to the Amiga for nights on end, whatever negative thoughts I harbored dissipated, at least until I killed the Red Baron. It was some time before he appeared, entering at a historically appropriate date. I figured I'd save him for last, so a good year passed while I took care of others. Once he was gone there were no celebrations, no medal, another year and several more aces still left to go. As Knights had done earlier through its repetitious missions, it was starting to drag again. Now I had to go back to those random missions, continuing the ace chase whenever they popped up.
^Look who makes an appearance, convoy strike

All of the aces felt very distinct in style, challenging, more so as the game went on. Despite my expectation of the game ending with the Red Baron's demise and feeling that return of repetition, it wasn't as bad as it had been earlier. Moving from base to base I experienced numerous and needed changes to the scenery. Knights looks beautiful for its time, and I loved seeing the world from so many camera angles and elevations. I've never seen clouds like this on the Amiga, with numerous shades of grey and even a thickness layer to them. You can go through the clouds only to temporarily lose visibility until you escape them. Whether you're soaring above it all or bombing ground targets, polygons never looked so good! Various 3D models for the planes are made up of a number of colors, even country flags. Buildings, trees, mountains, even vehicle traffic all in 3D make the world feel alive. There's a fantastic network of rivers and roads, just a wonderful world where the only complaint is in not seeing more. You're never sent east of an enemy airbase or west of yours. There's a lot more out there including the biggest city in the game, Brussels, but no mission ever sends you anywhere close to it.

The cockpits of the various planes are all the same, with the sole variation being the machine guns. Some planes have one gun mounted above the pilot on a wing, while others have one or two directly in front of the pilot on the hood. Each style feels quite differently, I'd get used to one only for an upgraded plane to use the other and cause me hiccups again. It took awhile for the engineers to figure out how to synchronize the guns to the rotation of propellers, hence guns being mounted above the pilot, or in some cases the propeller being on the backside of the plane. I kind of preferred the guns above on the wings, holding on to a couple older planes until the German tech forced me to reconsider.

There are various gauges present, many of which aren't too useful in terms of the game. Knights does keep track of fuel, although the only time that got down to even a quarter of the tank was when I made sightseeing tours to Brussels. If you do get low you can always land at any friendly aerodrome to not only top off but get all of your damage repaired before taking off again. In theory you could stay out forever and rack up incredible kill scores due to the respawning nature of the enemies. There's an oil gauge and a temperature gauge that don't work. There's an ammunition gauge, and like the fuel can be topped off by landing. RPMs are there but it's not like we're shifting gears so it means little to us, the compass can be useful but negated to a degree because of the in-game map. A slip indicator shows which way you're currently drifting or turning so that you can counter to stay on course, but the two most useful gauges may unfortunately be broken in the moment you need them most. The altimeter and speedometer are extraordinarily useful when landing, but by the time you do that there's a pretty good chance they will have been shot up by gunfire.
^Nice views, more medals, the Red Baron

Knights has quite the extensive damage model. Through its wonderful sound effects you hear the bullets breaching your plane only to see a new hole on the dash. It feels as if every time the plane gets hit it starts to handle a little differently. Control systems can suffer multiple levels of damage. The elevators causing your plane to struggle pulling up. A slight annoyance at first, it eventually turns into you struggling with all your might to keep the plane level, even resign to crash gracefully. Damaged rudders cause issues with turning, a constant drift to one side, perhaps the entire plane going out of control. It's a rush like few others in gaming when you're in enemy territory while falling apart, the front in the distance, puttering your way toward relative safety. Eventually your array of gauges are full of holes and you'll likely be landing by feel for where you're at in the air and how fast you're going.

Beyond the sounds of bullets breaching your hull, the sound effects in a flight sim need to be good while never drawing attention. Even a good engine sound can become quite annoying repeated endlessly, but it doesn't do that here. While editing my video review there were times I forgot the machine guns made noise, because they blend so well with the engine. It sounds like a machine gun but it's never annoying. Bullets ripping through wood on the other hand is not subtle, but it's rare and important feedback while sounding good. There's a nice crash sound, satisfying explosions for dropped bombs, and I love the sound of the engine misfiring with the added smoke plumes from all sides. There's a few period styled musical ditty's, done in honkytonk piano style, and they sound great here. As wonderful as the intro film looks, the music is just as important in making it memorable.

Knights is a difficult game despite its multiple settings of difficulty. Of the five levels I figured I'd start at three. Dying three out of four times I reduced things to level two. Death found me plenty of times there as well, and I even tried out level one just to see, it really wasn't much easier. Half the game I played at the second level of difficulty, and it was no picnic. As I've said the Germans have the advantage not just in terms of the reality of technology, but in unfair ways because their ten mile per hour advantage acts like afterburners. The allies had a technical advantage for a brief sweet spot where things did start to ease up, but I suppose I enjoy the punishment, deciding to go back to level three for the second half. You've got to be on the edge of your seat, constantly looking around for the standard German pilots as well the well crafted aces who just get better and better. The Red Baron? A picnic compared to his brother! But it was a difficult war so it feels right to be hard.
^Buildings, another Richthofen, great camera angles

A lot of the time when you crash it isn't as bad as you'd think. It happened to the Red Baron the first time he flied, crashing was an oddly survivable reality so long as your body wasn't full of lead. Parachutes existed at this time, but their use was thought of as cowardly, and to provide them might cause a pilot to abandon a machine which may have otherwise gotten home. Money over lives, how little the world changes. Generally a crash, even one in German territory is not your demise, but rather causes an unseen mission score to be penalized which effects things like promotions and medals. Landing is better than crashing, doing so at your homebase is better than a different friendly base, which is better than landing on a field, and finally in enemy territory. If downed on the wrong side of the lines you're told of your daring slip through no man's land. Dying will cause a game which otherwise never saves itself to autosave, which is awful. That said you could reset before this happens or elect to resurrect yourself later. While a difficult game there's ease built into it as well, that balance of simulation and arcade.

I look at the ending as a letdown, especially considering the polish of the game's introduction. This is not SimCity, you're not flying a sim for never ending gameplay, you're flying toward a goal. If it's like F/A 18 with its handful of missions you'd give it a pass, because they're well crafted and leave you wanting more. Knights can last over 70 missions and not too many are unique. There's pilots raising and lowering their beer mugs while discussing ace sightings, mechanics that scold you for your damaged craft, and dinner parties with the higher ups. Hunting down real life pilots, including the Red Baron himself, you're wanting it to lead you somewhere. Shot Retro is declared the hero of the war, and a lackluster animated screen declares you the ace of aces, the end. Don't blow your load on the intro if you're not going to provide a satisfying end after a months worth of gameplay.

Knights of the Sky was released in time for Christmas sales of 1990 for MS-DOS. It was developed and published by Microprose, with head design from Jeff Briggs. It was ported to the Amiga, the Atari ST-e, and the Japanese PC-98. The Amiga version I played appears to have been released in the late fall of 1991, a little less than a year after the original, and this was no straight port. From gameplay to graphics and features a strong case can be made for the Amiga besting the PC even in this VGA era. The intro being one of my personal favorites of all time? Yeah, that's not on DOS. There's more scenery on Amiga, better coverall color to the fields, better sound and music. Vehicle traffic is absent on DOS, there's no mountains or explosions (just a glowing effect), and the trees are not even in 3D. I wouldn't call the menu art bad on DOS, but the Amiga menus are mostly different. They seemed to be going for a propaganda art style on DOS with a more realistic look for the Amiga. What you prefer in the menus would be subjective, but clearly they spent more time on the Amiga version.
^Germany surrenders, close up dogifghting

Whatever complaints the magazines had about the original DOS release were corrected for the Amiga. Paragraphs were devoted to either criticizing or justifying one shot deaths. Back and forths with Microprose saying we don't know what you're doing, but you're doing it wrong. There's a damage model we tell you! Okay, maybe we could have done a better job of making that clear... Or maybe they were just trying to cover their butts and pass blame, either way the Amiga has extensive and clear damage modeling through its sounds, text, handling changes, cockpit as well as 3D model changes. The DOS version I tried was a later release with some fixes such as text announcing you've been hit, but most changes were saved for the Amiga. Even in the 256 color VGA era the Amiga was nothing to dismiss, place them side by side and you'd be a fool to think that DOS was actually utilizing all of those colors. The DOS version actually feels as if it may have been designed for 16 color EGA graphics originally, many games were because of how different PC configurations could be.

That said they both still look good, and differences can be a good thing. I enjoyed playing the DOS version, where the feel is quite different actually. Things are less scaled on DOS, meaning it takes more time to reach the trenches, the runways are longer, etc. Enemies spawn, but on DOS I found they could be a mile behind you for the entire length of the mission. Everything is slower paced on DOS, there were certainly times I would have preferred that to the near constant fighting on the Amiga. But that was a complaint that the magazines had, that it took too long for anything to happen, thus is was corrected for the Amiga. At some point you might want to stand your ground a little and take a stand for your creation, but Microprose was all too happy to take some time and perhaps make the Amiga version a little better.

Many magazines of the era made the all too common (especially for flight sims) reviewer sin of reviewing multiple different games together. Linked in this case by World War One, Knights was pitted against Blue Max and Red Baron, sometimes Wings, winner takes all. I mean, none of these games were said to be bad, but really why would you ever want to buy more than one? It's shameful, lazy, and a disservice to both gamers as well as the publishers. Suffice it to say Red Baron and Wings are both looked at among the best of all time. While I've made it clear that I don't think Knights quite deserves those honors, I will say I question the reasoning of others choosing Red Baron over this. Can't say for sure until I play that one through, which is a respect I sure do wish the reviewers back then would have afforded these games. I actually thought much more of Knights before I beat it, because going through the entire challenge means something. While that hurt my opinion of Knights, I do wonder if it wouldn't hurt my thoughts of Red Baron even more, and that's why it's a good idea to beat the games you're discussing.
^Two for one

Compute, covering all except Wings called Knights more complete and realistic than Blue Max. Curiously liking the "training mode", but that the game really shines through its campaign and side attractions between missions. Now, despite Knights having the better campaign, which is the actual game, "Red Baron comes out on top..." Computer Gaming World touted Knights realism in a lackluster way, invoking quotes from Top Gun, i.e. look elsewhere for your speed needs, but that Knights gives you the feeling of really flying a WW1 fighter. "The planes feel realistic... graphics are polygon filled and nicely rendered..." In slap your face lunacy the reviewer, who clearly did not win this game, lamented that death was not the end of your pilot, "Death, where is thy sting?... Our recommendation is that you bite the bullet and resolve to let dead pilots stay dead." But summed it all up with "...a must for WW1 fans and flight simulation fans." It was the runner up for 1991's best simulation of the year from CGW, Red Baron winning.

Video Games and Computer Entertainment covered the Amiga version, loving its speed and return to a time before heat sinking missiles. Declaring once in the air there's never a dull moment, "come to think of it, there aren't many dull moments on the ground, either." They gave it a score of 8 in most categories while saying that Knights "...may just be THE Amiga World War One flight simulator." Despite not reviewing the game Amiga World listed Knights as the 3rd best game of 1992, calling it "...simply brilliant." Strategy Plus, covering Blue Max and Knights said "The real winner has to be the gamer". In Europe CU Amiga called the charm the games low-tech-ness, "Don't shoot till you see the whites of their eyes... Jam packed with action... a must buy for flight sim fans", an overall score was given of 88%. Amiga Computing, clearly struggling to reach a word count said it was "...most of all fun. Fun with a capital F. And while we're about it it's got a capital U and N as well. Yes, it's fun. In fact, make that fun with flashing neon bits and tinsel." The magazine gave it a score of 92%. Amiga Power gave it 87% and in 1992 named it as the 9th best Amiga game of all time. Amiga Format said it was clear with the excellent 3D and static graphics that "...this is THE Amiga biplane sim." They gave it an 87%.

I've looked back on Knights of the Sky as a personal classic. Such a fun game to watch my father play. While I played a fair share myself the nature of flight sims and children meant I didn't get too far. But those memories of fun never escaped, and I've long looked forward to returning to it properly. It's a good game, though it drags on. While noteworthy for its time, it is also a product of that time. Repetition gives way to fun only to make itself repetitious again, and all for the sake of perceived value. The boring moments weren't too bad since I was still flying cool planes and gazing upon impressive scenery. I loved challenging myself against the best of the best. Yet it upsets me because it's not as great as I could see it being. It's that disappointment with what could have been that feels the most painful. Perhaps it's unfair to criticize a good game which isn't better, but it's so damn close to being hall of fame worthy in my opinion, and I wish I could say it was. It's among the first serious WW1 sims and it will always deserve historical mention for that. There's great graphics, challenging opponents, it's a fantastic concept. Knights of the Sky remains a good though flawed personal favorite of mine that I can still recommend for Amiga as well as DOS fans, flight sim fans, and World War One fans as well.

I hope you'll check out my video review, where besides seeing it all in action I'll show off the hundred page manual, comparisons with DOS and other versions, and I'll review the reviewers from the magazines mentioned above. Despite them generally liking the game I had a significant amount of criticism to throw their way. I also would like to give a nod to Sharka, watching her play Knights is what made me excited to cover it myself. Readers of this article may enjoy my looks at F/A 18 Interceptor (Amiga), or Flight Simulator II (Amiga).

User avatar
Seattle, WA, USA

Posted Sun May 26, 2024 8:30 am

This is almost more a research paper or thesis. The only things missing are the footnotes! As usual, Shot, your level of detail and devotion to the game and the era it was published is awe inspiring. Full stop.

I'm not a huge flight sim guy (my god, my son is - modern Microsoft Flight Sim to be specific, with Boeing-branded yoke, etc. - he wants to be a commercial pilot) but I do have a deep respect for them. However, in my shallow experience I seem to migrate towards the water-based sims. To me they can almost be like a day of fishing at the lake. Most of the time I spend sitting around focusing on the technical, my mind wandering off from time to time wondering if I'll ever see any action. I'll often wonder if the biggest stress is simply learning how to operate the damned engine room. And then, out of the blue, an enemy will emerge and the tension can be one of the most gripping video game experiences possible. If you die right then and there it can be enough to make one walk away and never return after all the waiting around. But if you win, and have a chance to go deeper, that feeling is something special. You feel like you've won even though you know deep down you'll still likely die. There very rarely is a lot of "winning" in these games.

Your post here came at a serendipitous moment. Just last weekend my son and I were down in Vancouver, Washington (it's right across the Columbia river from Portland, OR.). While there I decided we should pop over to the Pearson Air Museum, which I'd only just heard about. This place had originally been the site of the very first air strip in Washington state a long time ago. It later became a small base and today is a state park of sorts. Inside a large hangar are several small planes - mostly from the time period (or before) of World War I. There are even some made only of thin wooden planks and wire cabling. The level of craftsmanship is extraordinary. And the idea of sitting in one of those things can make one pause. Fly this over the river? No thank you, sir.

I used to be in the Air Force back in the bronze age. Funny thing is I suffer from a severe form of vertigo which has gotten worse with each passing decade. I have no issue being in planes or walking across a bridge or anything like that. But certain events or even concepts can trigger it. I have to think it's a lot like people with motion sickness on boats. They have no control over it - it just happens. Same for me. And I can even trigger it by looking at an image or video. For example, whenever you're in an IMAX theatre they almost always want to start the show in a stupid helicopter or something similar. Even watching a football game on TV and an aerial shot from a blimp down into city skyscrapers can trigger it to where I have to look away. It's horrible. Painting the top of the Space Needle is one of my most recurring nightmares.

Anyway, watching you play that game and thinking back to the airplanes I walked around last weekend, you had to be a certain level of special breed to step inside those airplanes - with no covered cockpits - to sit directly behind an enormous and loud radial engine while twisting and turning through the sky trying to shoot someone else down or be shot. Maybe all you have is a thin leather cap and some goggles to hold your face together. Lord knows you couldn't hear a damn thing up there except the bullets striking your wing.

To all the men and women who fought in wars for whichever side they were destined to be born and raised to protect. Happy Memorial Day, Shot.

User avatar
Detroit, MI, USA

Posted Sun May 26, 2024 12:54 pm

Happy Memorial Day. I actually have two cousins who were (one still is) in the Air Force. The older one flew during the Persian Gulf War (F-15s), and is now an airline pilot. I don't believe the younger cousin has been in any major operations, he married a female pilot. Pretty sure he's said multiple times she's better than him. They have their own small Cessna. I grew up wanting to be a pilot, but my dad killed that one off by reminding me that him and my mother both wear glasses, and this was before surgery to correct that. But I always felt like I had the reflexes to do the job.

You made me think of some water based sims, on the Amiga I loved Carrier Command. I think it's set in a near future with some science fiction elements as well. I'd watch my dad play that one and I'd play it as well, although I never knew what I was doing. I was happy whenever I got the carrier to move or launched one of the boats/aircraft. The goal was to capture islands from an enemy, who also controlled their own carrier. There was 688 Attack Sub from EA, and I REALLY never knew what was going on in that one! Both games I hope to get back to someday.

I get "careful" in certain height based scenarios, but it's not a fear of heights so much as just being careful and mindful of a given situation. If I can't die I'm fine, say a roof of a high-rise with walls or a window, etc. Go on a house roof and it's only a ranch, no problem, get to two stories and I walk a little more carefully, if it's higher than that than I start crawling because I'm not letting myself fall! Painting the top of the Space Needle, yeah, wouldn't want that one. There's a building in Detroit, Penobscott, it used to have this huge neon light on the top (still does, but it's LED now). And I remember reading about the guy who had the job of going up there and replacing the lights... eeek.

Awesome that your son is into the new Flight Simulator, special joysticks and all! Got it hooked up to VR? At his age I might have been playing Flight Simulator 95 or 98, and just getting one of those airliners in the air was a task, let alone the following of orders from ACT and landing. I loved the smaller planes though, which at that time weren't all too dissimilar from the best WW1 fighters, except now with windshield and retractable gears, and radio aids. Now there's the GPS, which I fight back on, makes it too easy!

User avatar

Posted Tue May 28, 2024 1:13 pm

What an impressive review that finally deserves the description of „ in depth“.

Unfortunately, I am not a native speaker so I am not appropriately able to express how amazed I am by your work.

Not only go you in detail about the game itself. You also put it in context - with the times, other games, other platforms (DOS).

I’d readily give an award if I could.

Reading such a contribution to the understand of gaming back then was more than enjoyable for me.


User avatar
Detroit, MI, USA

Posted Tue May 28, 2024 2:01 pm

The unjustified and overuse of the term "in-depth" has always been an inspiring factor in me attempting to do it right. Thanks.

User avatar
Zippy Zapp

Posted Thu May 30, 2024 8:41 pm

I really love your reviews. I will watch the video as I have yet to. Reading your reviews you can feel the passion and it is very contagious. Thanks for all the effort and time you put into this, it shows and they are in a league way on their own.

Return to “Games”