The Tick-Tock Man
U.S. arcade operators face a slump heading into 1983. After a decade of wild expansion, there are 1,375,000 video game machines installed in locations, earning 87 percent of the coin-op industry’s total revenue of $8.9 billion. This seems good on the surface, but the influx of game makers is splitting up the pie, and average weekly takes by video games has plummeted 22 percent, down to $109 per machine. Operators are starting to tighten their belts and order fewer cabinets.
The apparent savior of the arcades grows up as a born gearhead. While just a kid in California, Rick Dyer invents a cuckoo clock that not only talks the time, it spouts a plethora of famous quotes. Later he rigs his car with a computer which asks his dates by name their preferences of radio stations. When he becomes the first non-degreed engineer at Hughes Electronics, a prototype he makes of an electronic horse racing game catches the eye of toy giant Mattel. The company hires him as soon as he graduates from California Polytechnic University in Pomona. While with the company, Dyer designs some of the popular hand-held games coming out of Mattel in the 1970′s, and he also works on the company’s home console unit Intellivision. On the side he also develops the AES system, which would use LCD screens in the back of airplane seats to entertain flyers. He then moves to Coleco, developing their arcade line of hand held versions of titles such as Pac-Man, Defender and Donkey Kong. He is also involved in the project that eventually becomes the ColecoVision. Forming his own company, Advanced Microcomputer Systems, in the late 70s he experiments with interactive movie concepts including a system using computer controlled filmstrips, and then moves to a cassette based set-up. Dyer ultimately turns to laserdisc technology as his storage medium, and in 1980 starts work on a system that will allow users to play games stored on disc, and will feature a keyboard for control along with understanding voice commands via a headset. Labeled Halcyon, after the ubiquitous HAL computer controlling the Discovery spaceship in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the game unit will also be able to talk to gamers via voice synthesis. The game he intends the machine to play is Shadoan, a sword and sorcery epic inspired by the J.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books and the original computer text game Adventure.
It’s one of those neat cosmic quirks that Don Bluth was born the same year as the release of Walt Disney’s ground breaking animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. When six year-old Don sees the film, he knows he has found his calling. Born in 1937 in El Paso, Texas, Bluth grows up on a farm in Payson, Utah, south of Salt Lake City. He is seldom seen without a sketch pad and pencil in his hands, riding his horse into town and sitting in the movie theatre enthralled watching the latest Disney film. Never taking an art lesson, Bluth uses his pad to copy Disney characters from books. The Bluth clan moves to Santa Monica, California, and when Don graduates from high school in 1955 he goes straight to Burbank and the Disney Studio with a portfolio under his arm. He starts at the company working under veteran Disney animator John Lounsberry on Sleeping Beauty as an “in-betweener”, someone who draws the frames between the key drawings made by the animator. He leaves to pursue a formal education at Brigham Young University as an English major, but continues working summers at Disney. Upon graduation in 1967 he goes to work for cut-rate animation house Filmation Studios as a layout artist, rapidly moving to head of the department and staying there for four years. In 1971 he returns to Disney, moving with unprecedented speed up the ranks from animator to director in three years. His work there includes Robin Hood (1973), The Rescuers (1977) and Pete’s Dragon (1977). As a reaction to what he determines as Disney’s steady abandonment of their classic animation style, he and fellow animators John Pomeroy and Gary Goldman start work in Bluth’s garage in early 1975 on a short film, intended to revel in the classical style. Called Banjo, the Woodpile Cat, they work on it nights and weekends for four and a half years, and their crew steadily grows as other animators at Disney show interest in working in the classical style. In 1979 Bluth uses the short to secure financing from a film investment company called Aurora Productions for a feature film idea, and on September 13 the trio leave Disney to start their own production company called Don Bluth Animation. Following them the next day are 11 other animators, dubbed “The Disney Defectors” by the press. The departure of Bluth and his team sets back the production of Disney’s The Fox and the Hound by six months. The 27 minute long Banjo is first shown in two movie theaters upon its completion in 1979, and it eventually airs as a TV special in 1980 on HBO, and again on ABC in 1982.
For the subject of their newly financed film they enlist Robert O’Brien’s seminal children’s novel Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, which had been rejected as a possible movie project by Disney. Under the new title of The Secret of NIMH and with a 7 million dollar budget, the film details the trials and tribulations of the brave widowed mouse Mrs. Brisby. Her character’s name is changed from the book to avoid possible litigation with the company Wham-O, sellers of the Frisbee. In order to save her family from the treacherous farm tractor, she throws in with a gang of rats who have been genetically altered to gain human-like intelligence. The movie is released in 1982, and while it is a study in wondrous animation and classic storytelling, it is crushed by Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial juggernaut of that year, only earning a disappointing $10,140,325 over the summer season. Aurora backs out of the financing deal for Bluth’s next planned feature East of the Sun, West of the Moon, and he is left looking for a new project.
Rick Dyer, meanwhile, has realized that his Halcyon home laserdisc system is tech a bit before its time, so he spins off the technology into the arcade game format. When Dyer, having seen NIMH, approaches the former Disney animator about doing the artwork in a new game for his laserdisc system, Bluth and company gratefully agree. While the project can’t really afford the animator’s high animation costs, Bluth accepts a deal where his company will gain 1/3 interest in a new company set up for the venture called Starcom, with Dyer owning another third. Cinematronics, pioneer of vector graphics technology in video games with their 1977 Space Wars, is looking to laser technology for a reprieve from their Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in November of 1982. They sign a deal to manufacture and market the new game while making up the final third of the partnership.
Exploring the Dragon’s Lair
In 1982, Gremlin/Sega previews the first video game to feature laserdisc technology, titled Astron Belt, first surfacing at the fall A.M.O.A. show in Chicago. It features live-action film footage rendered by a laserdisc, which the player interacts with by controlling a computer generated spaceship superimposed on the images. Seeing the game being test marketed at The Yellow Brick Road Arcade in San Diego, Dyer and his team know that the arcade is the best platform for their new laser system. They also agree with Sega’s billing of Astron Belt as the “laser disc video game of the future”; currently only at the early prototype stage. Sega itself admits that despite the game’s current success in Japan and Europe, gameplay isn’t quite up to snuff in comparison to current NA game releases. If Astron Belt gets a release in the West, according to Sega, it won’t be until “sometime in the next two years”. Hence Dyer and his team rush back to the lab with renewed vigour, now knowing that they have entered into a race with Sega to be the first to bring laserdisc video game technology to market. Meanwhile, the Bluth Group is busy completing the animation for what is now known as Dragon’s Lair. Spinning off a tale from its Shadoan roots, head writer and designer Victor Penman, along with Darlene Waddington and Marty Folger, pen a story to chronicle the struggles of the valiant, but rather clumsy, knight Dirk the Daring. His quest is to infiltrate a castle magically enchanted by evil wizard Mordread and rescue the fair Princess Daphne, guarded by fire-breathing dragon Singe. Reading the title, one wonders if perhaps the creators were also inspired by the 1981 fantasy film Dragonslayer, starring Peter MacNicol and Ralph Richardson.
At any of the 800 decision points in the Dragon’s Lair storyline, the player must use either the joystick or the sword button to direct the on-screen Dirk to make a move. If it’s the correct one, the laserdisc continues with the scene. If it’s the wrong one, the laserdisc jumps to a new track, a death scene is displayed and the player loses a life. The gang at Bluth Group, with a staff of 70, logs hundred of unpaid hours of overtime to complete the animation, a process that takes six months. Nearly filling the 54,000 frame, 30 min capacity of a single-sided laserdisc, Dragon’s Lair consists of a total of 27 minutes of animation, or 50,000 drawings. Played straight through without making a mistake, playing time is a total of six minutes. Each second of screen time takes 24 hand-painted cells, a number higher than the industry standard, and the total animation budget comes out to 1.3 million dollars. Although there are 38 different rooms in Singe’s castle, the player only has to survive 18 of them to win. To keep the game from becoming too repetitive, the system cycles randomly through the pool of rooms. Keeping costs down rules out professional voice acting; talent is culled from the staff. Dirk himself is practically mute, save for his occasional grunts of effort, Homer Simpsonish yelps, or screams of anguish during the numerous and frequently gruesome death scenes. His exultations are provided by assistant editor Dan Molina, and clean-up animator Vera Lanpher is the breathy voice of Daphne. Her speech bears more than a passing resemblance to Marilyn Monroe, and her body shape and ‘assets’ are taken from the pages of Playboy. Chris Stone is responsible for the brief musical stings and bridges in the game.
A Fiery Reception
After four years of development, a prototype version is shown at the spring 1983 AOE show in Chicago, creating a large buzz around the game from operators. Gamers finally get their hands on it when Dragon’s Lair is released to arcades on July 1. Cinematronics manufactures and markets the game, and by doing so phase out the vector game division on which they built their fortune. Since the units cost on average an unprecedented 4,300 dollars each, twice the cost of a conventional cabinet, it becomes the first game set to cost 50 cents a play by arcade operators. It is NOT, however, the first game to be set to cost 50 cents per single play by the manufacturer. In 1980, Atari had set Missile Command to cost two quarters by default when shipped from the factory. Explaining the reasoning behind this price increase, at the time Director of Marketing Frank Ballouz said, “50 cent play has been needed by the industry for some time to help offset the rising cost of manufacturing and to help increase location revenues…” Operators, however, quickly realized they weren’t going to get away with charging that much at the time, and reverted the machines back to 25 cent play. On Dragon Lair’s release, I remember being incensed by the increase to 50 cents a play; in a decade or so, among games costing $1.00 or more, I’ll be thinking back to how good I had it at 50 cents.
The game is the first arcade system with filmed, animated action, but it is barely interactive. While the compelling attract mode lures passersby with the promise of the ability to “control the actions of a daring adventurer”, a player can merely decide when and where Dirk should move or use his sword. But despite the price hike and the lack of deep interaction, Dragon’s Lair causes a sensation in the arcades. No one can certainly complain about its rich, beautifully drawn images, harkening back to the classical animation days of yore. At its peak, Dragon’s Lair brings in on average around $1400 a week, compared to an average of about $100 or so per week for a conventional game at the time. After being installed in Bally’s Aladdin’s Castle arcade locations, in the first month the game increases general revenues by 33%. In the first eight months of its release to arcades generally, the game grosses 32 million dollars worth of sales. Cinematronics gets 2,000 units out the door initially, and then struggles to meet demand as orders head north of 8,000. They sell ten thousand cabinets within the first three months of release. In the arcades, huge crowds gather around the machines, causing operators to install additional monitors on top of them to appease the thronging masses of players vying for a look. Overall, the game is said to have increased arcade revenue across the board by 40 percent. Stardom eventually sells 43 million dollars worth of systems.
Dragon’s Lair also makes the biggest inroads into popular culture since the Pac-Man bonanza. Lunch boxes, board games, books, trading cards, and a moat-load of other merchandise hits the streets. Perhaps best cementing its status as an early 80′s icon, ABC’s cheese-fest human interest show That’s Incredible! features Dragon’s Lair in an on-air contest between champion players. It makes another TV appearance as a permanent prop on NBC’s popular sitcom Silver Spoons, debuting in September 1983. Featuring Ricky Schroder as a young kid who moves in with his rich father, seeing his Dragon’s Lair (along with Asteroids, Tempest and Gorf) sitting in the background unused drives me crazy with jealousy. The game goes on to receive the San Diego-based comic convention ComicCon’s Inkpot Award for the First Interactive Laser Disc Arcade Game, as well as an Arkie Award from Electronic Games magazine for Best Arcade Audio/Visuals. It’s also profiled in an all-Dragon’s Lair episode of the videogame TV show Starcade. The game also sparks a debate along the lines of “Why is the Mona Lisa smiling?”, as people wonder what Daphne whispers in Dirk’s ear to illicit such a reaction at the end of the game.
The Record Skips
But even as the game becomes a cultural phenomena it is apparent there are problems, both technical and conceptual. The first Dragon’s Lair games contain the Pioneer PR-7820, one of the first lines of laserdisc players, released in 1979. They are notoriously unreliable and unsuited for the rough-and-tumble environment of the video arcade. Pioneer produced 25,000 of the units, with a majority of them ending up in every GM auto dealership in the U.S., used for training mechanics and demonstrating their 1980 model lineup. 5,000 are purchased by Cinematronics, and another 5,000 used for parts since the 7820 has been discontinued by the company. The units had been gathering dust in their warehouses until Dragon’s Lair takes off, creating a huge demand for them. They are eventually replaced by LD-V1000 players from Pioneer, first introduced to market in 1983, which are more reliable but still skittish. The nature of Dragon’s Lair is inherently frustrating to players learning the ropes (literally and figuratively), relying on split-second timing and sometimes obscure on-screen clues on what to do. Therefore, when a player protests a seemingly correct move ending in one of many death scenes, a swift kick or jostle of the game easily knocks the disc player out of alignment, rendering the game inoperable until it is repaired. Thus, many Dragon’s Lair cabinets spend more time with “Out of Order” signs taped to their faces than actually working. When the game IS operating, it does suck up many a player’s quarters, but critics point out that its gameplay sucks as well. While it tends to happen between scenes and not in the middle of crucial moves, there is an annoying 2-second blackout while the scanning heads of the player find the next track, breaking the flow of the story. As well, the game is highly repetitive, extending the length of play by simply reversing the image of many rooms. Gameplay relies on rote memorization of the patterns and sheer reflexive movements of the joystick and button, keeping the player on a “rail” from which they cannot deviate. This also leads to the game’s problem with “coin drop”. Once someone knows all of the moves necessary to play, they can tie up the machine for all the time it takes to play through to the end. Thus is anyone else prevented from dropping in their two bits, limiting the amount of players and infuriating arcade owners.
Ace In the Hole
The animation for the follow-up is started even before Dragon’s Lair is released to the arcades. With an animation budget increased to 1.8 million, the new game is named Space Ace. Its story, written by Shannon Donnelly, details the exploits of the dashing, heroic title character who’s girlfriend Kimberly is kidnapped by the evil Commander Borf. Wielding the diabolical Infanto-ray, Borf zaps Ace into the nerdly Dexter and is threatening to turn everyone on Earth into squealing ankle-biters. Dexter must race to save the girl and the planet before Borf infantizes the universe. As well as a new story, the game also incorporates some new design concepts. There are three different skill levels available to players: Space Cadet, Space Captain or Space Ace. Playing Cadet level, gamers miss about half of the animation in the game, while playing Ace covers the whole story. In addition, while Dexter is the main hero, at certain points in the story the energizer button on the game’s control panel will flash, allowing the player to transform Dex into the muscle-bound Space Ace and complete the scene as him, turning back into Dexter at the end of the sequence. This branching option not only increases the total amount of animation to fourteen minutes, it also helps to give the player a sense that they have more control over what is happening in the game.
During the creation of the animation, actual models are built of Dexter’s space ship StarPac and Ace’s Space Cycle, which are then filmed using a periscope camera and then traced into the hand-drawn cells to be recoloured. This process, known as rotoscoping, is done to aid animators with aspects of prospective and depth. For the audio, again the voices are done by staff members, including the processed voice of Don Bluth as the nasty Borf. Space Ace has 35 separate tracks for sound effects, compared to only 14 in Dragon’s Lair, and Chris Stone returns to compose a complete musical score for the game. Gameplay is much more frenetic, placing more moves closer together during a scene. However, there are also more flashing light clues to alert the player to the required move. With Dyer’s company now known as RDI Video Systems, they refine the technology, allowing Space Ace to access information on the laserdisc 50% faster than its predecessor. But as in Dragon’s Lair, the action still offers only limited interaction for the player, as well as numerous scenes repeated in reverse mode. Hoping to defer the hefty cost of the Dragon’s Lair units, arcade owners had been assured that any sequels to the game would be available as upgrade kits, allowing them to avoid the cost of purchasing a whole new game. This turns out not to be the case, however, and Space Ace must be purchased as a new unit. By the time the game is released late in 1983 by a newly renamed Magicom following the final bankruptcy of Cinematronics, the laser game fad is already losing steam. Space Ace blasts off quickly with 1500 units sold in its first week of release, but the cabinet ultimately sells only $13 million worth across its short lifetime.
After its demonstrations at the A.M.O.A. in 1982, Sega decides that the technology in its revolutionary Astron Belt still needs work, and the game heads back to the drawing board even as its conception inspires a craze in laser games in the arcades. It is released in Japan and Europe mid-way through 1983, and when the U.S. division of Sega is bought by Bally/Midway the new owners keep fine-tuning the system. It is finally released in U.S. arcades late in the year. It offers more playability by letting the player freely control a computer generated spaceship from a chase view, superimposed on top of a filmed playfield. It must do battle against charging spaceships while soaring through space, across an alien landscape and through the tight metal corridors of a mother ship. While the attacking ships are on film, their laser fire is computer generated. A timer can be set by the operator to allow players between 40-60 seconds of indestructibility, past which they will start losing lives. The video is culled from a combination of films, primarily from the Japanese science fiction movie Message From Space from prolific Toei Studios, probably most famous for their campy Godzilla flicks. Released in 1978, Message features American actor Vic Morrow and is a thinly veiled ripoff of Star Wars, which hit theatres only a year earlier. Both Message and another movie whom Astron Belt borrows footage from, the low-budget Roger Corman SF quickie Battle Beyond the Stars, details the exploits of eight intergalactic mercenaries trying to defend a planet. The plot for both borrow liberally from Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, as did Star Wars. A TV series based on Message is produced by Toei, seen in America under the name Swords of the Space Ark. Yet even more footage is taken from the startling “Genesis Effect” CGI sequence in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. A nice bit of visual symmetry, as the Star Trek films are released by Paramount Pictures, sister company to Sega, all under the Gulf + Western banner. Additional images are also created specifically for the game. Absent are the nagging blackouts from other laser based games, but the refined technology comes at a cost: the game misses most of the Dragon’s Lair-fueled boom in the arcades. Using even more footage from Message From Space, along with some created for the game, Bally/Midway releases similar film-shooter Galaxy Ranger in 1984. It offers the innovation of allowing players to choose which path to fly at certain points in the action during the game. On the hardware front, the sit-down version of Astron Belt features the “vibraseat” force-feedback system.
Laser games rapidly split into two factions: limited decision animated stories, and video footage shooting games. Following the tradition of the later is M.A.C.H. 3 by Mylstar, formerly Gottlieb & Company, located in Northlake, illinois. Its play is similar to Astron Belt, but instead of cheesy movie visuals, MACH or Military Air Command Hunter features professionally shot aerial photography with the player’s computer generated jet aircraft superimposed. After inserting their 50 cents, gamers have the choice to face off against enemy planes and ground targets in Fighter Raid mode, or to fly at high altitude over aerial targets in Bombing Run. Using an elaborate flight stick, they can fire a machine gun at the targets as well as launch missiles as they infiltrate enemy areas. Targets to be destroyed are computer-generated icons surrounded by a yellow box, including ground positions that keep their place on the landscape as the player soars around it. The fighter sequences are generally low-flying affairs as the player must avoid the scenery while blowing up ground targets and shooting oncoming enemy planes and missiles. Taking the other choice, the bomber drops its payload on ground targets and destroys enemy fighters with its machine gun fire. Players are warned of approaching planes by a red warning signal at the top of the screen. Since the enemy country seems to have had some kind of nuclear mishap, the game later provides radioactive clouds for players to avoid. If they can survive till the end, the game takes 15 minutes to complete with a finale runway landing. All of the footage is filmed by a special aerobatic plane with cameras in its nose and belly. Available in a sit down cockpit and stand-up version, the game is a popular hit and is rated the #1 Player’s Choice in RePlay magazine.
“…to develop a laser game that would replicate the feel of a 1950′s martian movie.”
A year before M.A.C.H. 3 comes out in 1983, Gottlieb enjoyed a big hit with its “conventional” arcade game Q*bert, featuring a furry, big-nosed creature jumping through a M.C. Escher inspired playfield turning tiles different colours while being chased by a coiled snake. The lead designer of the game is Warren Davis, and he is tapped early on for a project to produce a MACH sequel that will be available as a conversion kit for the original. It is the idea of Dennis Nordman, who goes on to Williams/Bally/Midway to design pinball games (Blackwater 1000, Party Zone, Whitewater, Indy 500, Dr. Dude, Demolition Man, Elvira and Elvira: Scared Stiff), to develop a laser game that would replicate the feel of a 1950′s martian movie. He writes a script around the premise with Gottlieb art director Rich Tracy and with the project titled Us Vs. Them the team begins to put together the footage. The story deals, as one can surmise from the title, with aliens attacking Earth. From a central command, military leaders send out pilots to fight the invaders from multiple points around the world. Utilizing the unique process of showing multiple views during a battle, the skirmishes take place in such locations as over the skyline of Chicago (home of Gottleib), a desert, a forest, and a final showdown in the alien Mothership. The hook in this laser game is that players are subjected to four different views of the action, including a profile view as well as a chase camera behind their fighter.
A production company shoots all of the outdoor photography excluding the Chicago footage, using planes and helicopters. Nordman and Davis personally supervise the Chicago shoot, with a steadicam operator hanging out of a helicopter during a brisk, -26F degree Chicago day. They also are present during a shoot in a forest in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Inspired by the Endor forest scenes in Return of the Jedi, the footage is taken as the steadicam operator moves through the dense trees. Sets are built in Chicago for between-wave cinematics taking place inside the control room and in the fighter cockpits, with Davis acting as co-director. A music soundtrack is composed by Gottlieb’s in-house sound designer Dave Zabriskie, who conducts an orchestra for the score. Davis programs the game, as well as edits the footage together. Jeff Lee creates the computer overlay graphics of the player’s fighter and enemy ships, and Dave Thiel does the sound; both had worked with Davis on Q*bert. While the game does wonders with the laserdisc shooter genre, by the time Us. Vs. Them is released, the laser game market is beginning to tarnish. Orders for M.A.C.H. 3 dwindle, reducing the market for its sequel, and Gottlieb enters into a lawsuit against its distributors. Us Vs. Them is eventually released in 1984, but never has a chance to succeed. Due to these big-budget laserdisc failures, Mylstar closes its doors at the end of September, 1984.
Warren Davis goes on to create another unusual game, published by the company that had purchased the remains of Mylstar, Premiere Technology. Titled Exterminator, it is released in 1989. Concerning a bug exterminator trying to rid houses of pesky insects and the like, it is the first game that incorporates digitized images for all of the game graphics. The only part of the exterminator shown is his disembodied hand, as he tries to shake, slap, and pound the critters, along with shooting lethal purple bug juice from his finger. The game might feature an inscrutable control scheme, but it certainly does ooze originality and creativity. Unfortunately, it also bombs, with only 250 units produced for the arcades.
One of the many animated laser game contenders is Cliff Hanger, licensed by Stern Electronics from Taito in 1983 and released in North America in early October. It tells the story of Cliff Hanger, master cat burglar. In a resoundingly familiar plotline, Princess Clarissa is kidnapped by the evil Count Drago, and our hero must blah blah blah…. But wait! Our “hero” is actually using an alias! His real name is Lupin III, star of an immensely popular anime movie and TV series in Japan. Starting as a manga comic series in the late 60s by Katou Kazuhiko a.k.a. Monkey Punch, it is then developed into a TV series by Tokyo Movie Shinsha Co in 1971. Lupin’s first appearance as a video game comes with Taito’s Lupin III, released in Japan in 1980. He also makes a rather abstract appearance in Data East’s 1981 game Lock ‘n’ Chase. In his laser incarnation he is accompanied by his longtime companions: Jigen, Goeman, and Fujiko. The animation for Cliff Hanger comes mainly from 1979 Lupin film The Castle of Cagliostro, with additional footage from 1978′s The Mystery of Mamo. The dialog for the game is changed in the English dubbing, turning Lupin into the daring Cliff. While it may not have a particularly original storyline, it does offer a new way of playing: the control panel contains a joystick and two buttons. One to control Lup…er, I mean CLIFF’s hands, and the other his legs. When the action onscreen requires it, players must hit the correct button to perform the needed move. The graphics may not be quite on par with Dragon’s Lair, but this is still a nice indoctrination into Japanese Anime which at the time of the game’s release is rare to find in America. Available to operators is a dip switch inside the cabinet to allow on-screen textual advice on the correct move (You should have gone right) given when players make a mistake. And there is also another alteration made available for the game soon after its release. If the player fails in his mission and loses a life, a scene is shown of Cliff being hanged from a gallows. Cliff. Hanged. Cliff Hanger. Funny, no? Watchdog groups are not amused and a dip-switch setting is made available to skip the neck-stretching. Another child safeguard is designed into the game, although this one probably inadvertently: a scene with Cliff fighting a band of Ninjas is so incredibly difficult, with a rash of moves jumbled on top of each other in rapid-fire sequence, it prevents most kids from making it to the end and seeing what has to be one of the most gruesome finales in video game history. Only 550 machines are sold by Stern, and the game quickly drops off arcade radar screens. This helps to make Cliff Hanger one of the most sought-after and highly priced arcade game collectible in later years.
Further Into the Lair
When the Space Ace animation is completed, Bluth Group starts right in on the Dragon’s Lair sequel, Dragon’s Lair II: Time Warp. Sporting an animation budget of 2.3 million, the story has Dirk and Daphne married with 13 kids, and Daph is unsurprisingly kidnapped by Dirk’s old nemesis Mordred. This requires our man in tights to use a time machine and chase the old crone through famous periods in time. Highlighted are even more graphic death scenes than the original. But as the market for the game collapses Cinematronics pulls the plug with a heartbreaking 80% of the animation work finished. Determined to see the game’s release, Bluth continues to work on the project. After meeting Morris Sullivan, a dealer in classical animation, they form Sullivan Bluth Interactive Media, and under that development label the game is eventually released to arcades by Leland Corporation, the company that ends up purchasing the remains of Cinematronics, in 1992. Also released is a conversion kit to put the new game into Space Ace cabinets, but the laser days are long gone and the game sinks amid a myriad of Street Fighter clones. In 1984 Bluth gets the rights to make a Dragon’s Lair movie, and a prequel script is written to chronicle the events of how a teenaged Dirk and Daphne meet. Called Dragon’s Lair: The Legend, the subject matter is much darker than the game, and this combined with the fact that studios are skittish about the rapid demise of the laser market creates an acute lack of financing for Bluth and company. The creative team themselves are split as to whether the best medium for a DL movie is live-action or animation. Both Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace do make it out of game cabinets and into living rooms in TV cartoon versions done by cut-rate animation house Ruby Spears. Dragon’s Lair lasts one season on ABC between 1984-85, featuring Dirk’s repeated rescuing of Daphne from the clawed clutches of Cinge (note the name change). Aping the game on which it is based, the show pauses the action occasionally, offering the audience a chance to make a hypothetical decision on what Dirk should do next. The various possible ramifications are then played out (usually after a commercial break), some of which lead to the hero’s demise. In true Wyle E. Coyote fashion, however, Dirk would soon appear unmolested as the correct choice is portrayed. The cartoon Space Ace airs as part of CBS’s Saturday morning toon show Saturday Supercade in 1984, with Ace’s segment replacing Pitfall Harry who apparently falls into the blackened pit of the home video game crash. Kimberly is voiced by Nancy Cartright, who also does voices for NBC toon shows Snorks and Pound Puppies before ending up as the voice of Bart on the long-running The Simpsons on Fox. Saturday Supercade itself gets zapped off the air in August of 1985. Sea Beast and Barnacle Bill is another laser game concept created by Bluth Group, in 1984. The new IP ends up shelved along with Legend, after Bluth and company accept Steven Spielberg’s offer to do the animation for the film An American Tail, released in 1986.
While Bluth and company move out of videogames, Dyer and RDI remain, producing another arcade animated laser game called Thayer’s Quest in 1984, offered as a conversion kit for Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace cabinets. Utilizing a version of Dyer’s Halcyon home laserdisc game project, the game mechanics are truly unlike anything seen in the arcades before. Instead of a joystick and buttons, the game features a membrane keyboard for players to input their actions. It is the first realization of Dyer’s long obsession with the Shadoan project that spun off Dragon’s Lair. Taking place 1000 years in the past, the five kingdoms of Weigard, Illes, Iscar, the Far Reaches and Shadoan live in peace under the auspices of the benevolent Elder leaders. But throwing in with the dark forces of Shadoan is the evil wizard Sorsabal, who overruns the five kingdoms and destroys the Elders. Realizing their approaching demise, the Elders preserve their power by breaking up the Hand of Quoid (pronounced kwode), a powerful amulet that is the source of all magic in the kingdom. Each of the five amulet relics are hidden in each land. The player assumes the role of Thayer Alconred, last in the bloodline of the Elders, in his quest to reunite both the amulet and his fallen homeland. The game, however, contains only three of the five lands: Weigard, Illes and Iscar. Thayer’s Quest is a remarkable attempt at recreating the feel of a role playing game in arcade game form. During his travels, Thayer finds various magic items that are all listed on the keyboard, and players must realize where and when to use each item. When gamers first start the game, they are given an opportunity to enter their first and last name on the keyboard. When they are finished a voice synthesizer says their name, and if people are unhappy with the pronunciation they are allowed to try another spelling to improve how it sounds. The player is then called by name throughout the game. The various items retrieved by Thayer are stored on his person, and players can look at them through an inventory review system. Other features include such innovations in the laser game field as multiple points in the game where Thayer can heal himself, and even a save game system. When players lose one of their lives, they are resurrected at a point near when they died. When they lose their last life, the game ends and saves their game. With the game’s ability to save up to ten games, the player is able to continue if he is one of the last ten people to play. If they make it to the end, the game promises that the story will continue on a second disc, which unfortunately never materializes.
Dyer’s moonshot home laserdisc video game console Halcyon is eventually declared ready for primetime. As well as a game machine, Dyer promises that like its namesake Halcyon will eventually have the ability run an entire household through various modules to be released. Not only will the unit be revolutionary in its laserdisc technology, it will also be controlled by voice-recognition technology. After the user dons a headset and orients their voice with the unit, they can call out commands and items during the game to input their actions. Halcyon also has a vocabulary of over 1000 synthesized words. Nearly $2 million in R&D costs has been sunk into the system’s development. The console is to be bundled with a home version of Thayer’s Quest, a double sided disc as opposed to its arcade counterpart’s single sided platter, containing much more animation than the original. It also sports a musical soundtrack provided by The Turtles, aka Flo and Eddie, aka Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan. They hit it big with the smash single Happy Together in 1967. Their music for Thayer is recorded with a 360 Systems Digital Synthesizer, which allows real musical instruments to be loaded and played on the keyboard. The other game readied for Halcyon’s release is called NFL Football, utilizing footage from a Dallas/Redskins game.
Premiering at the 1984 Summer CES in Chicago, units are finally shipped in very limited quantities early in 1985. Due to the high-technology on display, Halcyon carries the daunting retail price of US$ 2500. Some amazing new laserdisc games are demonstrated along with the system, including the mythical Greek tale of Orpheus, SF story Shadow of the Stars, creepy live-action horror game Spirit of Whittier Mansion, and the 17th century adventure game Voyage to the New World. Unfortunately, the high sticker price and sagging market sink this promising system along with the planned games.
And so it goes with every entry into the laser game sweepstakes of the 80s. What started as the future of arcading is rapidly buried by lack of interaction, technical problems, and the inherent failure of full-motion video to provide a singularly compelling videogaming experience. Other attempts include Konami/Centuri’s Badlands (1984), Data East’s Bega’s Battle (1983) and Cobra Command (1984), Simutrek’s Cube Quest (1984), Stern Electronics’ Goal to Go (1983), Taito’s Laser-Grand Prix (1983), Universal’s Super Don Quixote (1984), and Williams’ Star Rider (1984).
Crazy Like a Fox
Industry leader Atari gives the genre a go with Firefox, a tie-in with the 1982 Clint Eastwood action movie of the same name, made by Warner Bros. The game charges players to steal an advanced supersonic fighter jet from the Russians and bring it home to Mother One base in the Arctic. Along with edited movie footage, the game features 28 digitized dialog phrases from Eastwood and a specially created music soundtrack, all presented in stereo sound. Similar to M.A.C.H. 3, Firefox has players swooping over filmed landscapes while shooting at computer generated targets, although Atari’s game adds the ability to change altitude at certain points, taking to the open skies to conserve fuel and shake off radar detection, or stay low to the ground for better cover. In the harder escape paths available to players during the level selection screen offering four different routes, day turns to night and pilots must rely on their display to control the craft. A new laser disc player co-designed by North American Philips and Atari provides quick access to the data on the disc, eliminating the “blanking” that has plagued other games of the genre. Dubbed a LASERVIDEO product, Firefox misses its planned debut at the 1983 AMOA show in New Orleans, due to what VP of Marketing Don Osborne explains as “technical difficulties”. Atari does get to strut its Laservision stuff on March 15 of 1984, holding a press conference introducing the game. Covered by major press outlets, present at the gathering are co-designers Mike Hally and Moe Shore, who explain the technology behind their creation. Then Firefox movie star Clint Eastwood takes the stage and puts the game through its paces.
While Dragon’s Lair is a massive hit, gamers rapidly tire of the limited game play offered by it and the influx of laser games following in its wake. Players vacate the arcades, and coin-op video game sales drop from one billion in sales the previous year to $500 million in 1983. All these laser games and more have dropped off player’s radar by 1985. At the height of the craze, both Atari and Coleco plan to release laserdisc add-ons to their systems, which never make it off the drawing boards. The genre enjoys a brief renaissance in the arcades during the early 90s with new laser shooting games, created by a company called American Laser Games, founded in the late 80′s by Robert Grebe. It is spun off from original company I.C.A.T., makers of situational trainers for police officers. The Last Bounty Hunter, Crime Patrol, Crime Patrol 2: The Drug Wars, Fast Draw, Gallagher’s Gallery, Mad Dog McCree, Mad Dog McCree II: The Lost Gold, Space Pirates, and Who Shot Johnny Rock? are all produced by the company. The system revolves around an Amiga 500 computer, providing for easy superimposition of video graphics like scores and hit squibs. The success of ALG is short-lived, however, and the company eventually disappears.
Rick Dyer himself comes back to the technology in 1991 with Sega’s release of “holographic” arcade game Time Traveler. Players control the actions of old-west Marshal Graham in his quest to…do you see it coming?…rescue a princess kidnapped by some evil timelord. All of the action takes place on a surreal, sparsely decorated set with a black background. The images are transmitted by a monitor and reflect off a black concave mirror inside the cabinet, and appear in psuedo-3D on a stage above the mirror. If someone holds down both the player one and player two select buttons and presses down on the joystick, they can watch Dyer cavorting around the stage with his young son on his shoulders. While Time Traveler certainly offers an interesting visual effect, game play is still “on a rail” and the sets and acting certainly leave a lot to be desired. It does, however, offer the innovation of letting players actually travel back in time: when the player dies, at the cost of a token one can immediately activate a Time Reversal Cube and rewind things to before their mistake, and try again. Sega’s Time Traveler eventually pulls in $18 million in sales.
Beyond Dragon’s Lair
Both Rick Dyer and Don Bluth move on after their laser efforts, with Bluth directing such films as An American Tale and The Land Before Time, executive produced by Steven Spielberg, along with All Dogs Go to Heaven, Rock-A-Doodle, A Troll in Central Park, Thumbelina, The Pebble and the Penguin, Anastasia, and Titan A.E.. In 1992, Rick Dyer founds Virtual Image Productions. His Thayer’s Quest goes through a remarkably serpentine comeback process, surfacing first in 1995 as a game on Philips’ CD-i platform, called Kingdom. A sequel is planned, but falls through along with the CD-i technology. 1996 sees the release of Interplay’s DOS CD-ROM game called Kingdom: The Far Reaches Book One, which changes the characters’ names and continues to omit parts of the five kingdoms. But Dyer is finally able to fully realize his Tolkien fueled obsession with the 1998 release of the definitive Kingdom computer games. The first is Shadoan, produced with a budget of 3 million dollars, putting it in the top ten of the most expensive games at the time. The plot and characters from Thayer’s Quest are redesigned in this sequel, with a team of 300 animators working non-stop for nine months creating 700,000 hand-painted cells for 70 minutes of animation. In this version, players control Lathan Kandor in his quest for the last three missing amulet parts to defeat the evil wizard Torloc. As well as the top-flight animation, Shadoan is the first game to be mixed in 5.1 six-channel DTS sound, and boasts 30 original music tracks created by Martin Erskin and Andy Brick, along with Doug and Brian Bestermanthe, the musical team behind Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and Pocahontas. Also featured are multiple solutions and, in keeping with Dyer’s newly-formed crusade against videogame violence, a Parental Guidance Mode is available so kids aren’t subjected to intense fighting scenes. The game is a refinement of the same type of play as Thayer, with players choosing paths and actions and the ramifications of such played out. The game makes history as the first computer product to spawn a hit song, Where Do We Go From Here?. Known as Calace’s Song in the game, the ballad is sung by Julie Eisenhower. The second game is a prequel to Shadoan titled Reaches, chronicling Lathan’s quest for the first three amulet relics and utilizing footage from Thayer’s Quest. Both games go on to win numerous awards and accolades from game reviewers, including Shadoan receiving the Best of Show award at the 1998 MacWorld.
Even though laserdisc games succumb to a thousand Dirk-like deaths, Dragon’s Lair lives on. 14 years after the original is released, it ends up as one of only three videogames in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C., alongside trendsetters PONG and Pac-Man. The various incarnations of Dragon’s Lair product has generated hundreds of millions of dollars over the years. There are at least 30 translations of the game to such platforms as the Commodore 64 and Amiga, Atari ST and Jaguar, Apple IIGS and Macintosh, 3D0, CD-i, Nintendo NES and SNES, Sega CD and IBM PC DOS, CD-ROM and DVD. In April of 1983, in a startling move, Coleco licenses the home video game rights to Dragon’s Lair for 2 million dollars, although this deal also includes first options on further Bluth and Co. video games. There are reports that Coleco plans to develop a laserdisc add-on for their ADAM computer, to be sold at a price of $150 or less, and a version of Dragon’s Lair to go with it. Although timelines such as ‘late in 1984′ are touted for its release, this add-on never materializes, although Dragon’s Lair does make it to the ADAM and ColecoVision in conventional graphics form.
Further games based on the material are released by Readysoft Incorporated for computer platforms of the time, starting with Dragon’s Lair: Escape from Singe’s Castle, developed by Sullivan Bluth Interactive Media, Inc. and released in 1990. The game contains the levels that were left out of the original Readysoft computer version of Dragon’s Lair due to space constraints. Following this is the computer game Dragon’s Lair III: The Curse of Mordread, developed by Don Bluth Multimedia, Inc., appearing in 1992. Even a Color Gameboy version is announced by Dyer, developed under the Dragon’s Lair LLC banner in partnership with Digital Eclipse. Practically every scene is rendered for the portable device, and the game is scheduled for release by the end of the year 2000. The aborted Dragon’s Lair movie is occasionally taken off the shelf and dusted off, as rumours begin surfacing at the end of the millennium of its development. And Bluth and Dyer create game production house Dragonstone Software to create a new generation of games, including new 3D remakes of both Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace. Their first is called, unsurprisingly, Dragon’s Lair 3D, released in 2002. The game is distributed by Blue Byte Software, best known as the makers of the Settlers series. It features state-of-the-art graphics and finally offers players what they’ve been waiting 18 years for: full, free-roaming control of bumbling Dirk the Daring in his eternal struggle through the castle to reach his purloined princess. Dirk and company also grace the pages of a 6-issue comic book series, published by Arcana Comics in 2008. Presenting a story that fleshes out the events of Daphne’s capture and Dirk’s battle to rescue her from Singe, they feature a plot by Andy Mangles and art by Fabio Languna… although Don Bluth lends a hand, drawing the cover for issue #1.
Although the arcade laserdisc has met a permanent demise, Dirk, Daphne and the rest of the gang continue as some of the most enduring characters in video game history. Lead on, adventurers…your quest awaits!
Sources (Click to view; inert links kept for historical purposes)
Mehren, Elizabeth. “Beyond the ‘Dragon’s Lair’” Enter Apr. 1984: 42-47. Enter Magazine Number 06. Internet Archive. Web. 10 Mar. 2016. Image of Don Bluth sitting in front of NIMH characters, photo by David Strick.
“Hotline: Don’t Count Out Arcades.” Editorial. Electronic Games May 1984: 8. Electronic Games – Volume 02 Number 12 (1984-05)(Reese Communications)(US). Internet Archive. Web. 09 Feb. 2016. Dragon’s Lair not only rewrote the record book for dollar-earners in the pay-for-play world, but its traffic-building presence in the fun parlours is said to have boosted revenues as much as 40% across the board.Horowitz, Pam. “Compuzine: Coming Attractions in Video.” Editorial. K-Power May 1984: 6. K-Power Magazine Issue 4. Internet Archive. Web. 05 Feb. 2016. Rick Dyer, the genius behind Dragon’s Lair, is president of RDI and has been working with interactive discs since 1978.Coleco purchased the rights to the game [Dragon's Lair] for a whopping $2 million, and already has released a computer-generated graphics version.St. Games, ne: Softline, “Infomania, The Laser Connection”, by Roe Adams, pg. 48, Mar/Apr 1984. “Although the games sold for a very high $4,300 each, ten thousand of the machines were sold in the first three months.” “Coleco signed an estimated $2-million deal with Bluth for the computer rights to Dragon’s Lair, as well as future options on all of Bluth’s laser disk games.” Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Softline collection, Nov 2 2015.
Videogaming and Computergaming Illustrated, “Close Up: Laserdisc!” by Bernhardt J. Hurwood, pgs. 25-27, 52-53, Nov 1983. “The home distribution rights to Dragon’s Lair have already been bought by Coleco for two million dollars…” Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Videogaming Illustrated collection, Sep 18 2015.
Bally/Midway Monitor, “Special Report: 1983 AMOA” pg. 1, Dec 1983. “Generating excitement for the second year at AMOA was Astron Belt, Bally Midway’s new laser disc odyssey, which had been shown at last year’s AMOA in an early prototype stage…” Retrieved from Pinball Pirate, Bally/Midway Monitor archive, Sep 17 2015.
Atari Coin Connection, “Introducing Missile Command”, pgs. 1-2, Jul 1980. “…Missile Command is the first production video game designed for both street and arcade locations to be set for 50 cent single play as it is shipped from the factory.” “In making the announcement, Frank Ballouz, Atari’s Director of Marketing said, ’50 cent play has been need [sic] by the industry for some time…” Retrieved from Pirate Pinball, Atari Coin Connection archive, Sep 16 2015.
Uston, Ken. “Will Laser Discs Save the Coin-Op Industry?” Creative Computing Feb. 1984: 111-24. Creative Computing Magazine (February 1984) Volume 10 Number 02. Internet Archive. Web. 29 Feb. 2016. …signs prepared by Stern suddenly appeared notifying us that the cadaver-hanging scene could be omitted, if desired, through some kind of dip switch adjustment.Electronic Fun With Computers and Games, “Top Secret” by The Fly, pg. 98, July 1983. “…Coleco bought the rights to Dragon’s Lair all the back in April…”. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, EGWCG collection, Sep 9, 2015.
MicroTimes, “Edit Mode: Atari’s new ‘Firefox’”, by Don Hamilton, Sept/Oct 1984
MicroTimes, “Sweet Savage Byte: HAL Comes Home” by Jina Bacarr, Nov 1984. Both this and the above article retrieved from the Internet Archive, MicroTimes newsletter collection.
Electronic Games, “Electronic Games Hotline: Sega Showcases Laser Game”, pg. 18, May 1983. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Electronic Games magazine collection
The Dragon’s Lair Project – www.dragons-lair-project.com“Micronotes.” Editorial. K-Power July 1984: 32. K-Power Magazine Issue 6. Internet Archive. Web. 06 Feb. 2016. The Turtles (alias Flo and Eddie, or Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan) have recorded the soundtrack for the first animated home videodisk fantasy game, called Thayer’s Quest. The Turtles recorded it on a 360 system – a brand-new music synthesizer that records instrument sounds on computer chips. Nearly $2 million has gone into research and development for the videodisk system. Syd Bolton’s Dragon’s Lair HomePage – www.pixelpower.on.ca/dl Blam Entertainment Group – www.blamld.com Don Bluth – www.donbluth.com Digital Leisure – www.digitalleisure.com JoyStik, “Dragon’s Lair”, by Joe Menosky, pg. 32, Vol. 2 Num. 2, Nov. 1983 Dragon’s Lair Collectables – www.dragonslairfans.com/collectibles/collectibles.htm Shadoan – www.thecomputershow.com/computershow/reviews/shadoan.htm AGH Coin-Op Special: The Rise and Fall of Laserdisc Arcade Games – www.atarihq.com/coinops/laser/index.html The Arcade Flyer Archive – flyers.arcade-museum.com/?page=home Hero Envy: Dragon’s Lair, The Quest for a Perfect Video Game – hero-envy.blogspot.ca/2011/08/dragons-lair-quest-for-perfect-video.html Starcade – www.jmpc.com/Starcade/starframe.htm Cartoon Depot – www.cartoondepot.com retroland.com – www.retroland.com/retroblog/ YouTube video – Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace Inventor Rick Dyer – wn.com/john_dyer_(inventor) Digital Press Interviews… Don Bluth – www.digitpress.com/library/interviews/interview_don_bluth.html
Ahoy!, “Playing the Light Fantastic” by Richard Herring, pgs. 41-48,79, April 1984
Image of Clint Eastwood and Firefox game, as well as other information from Atari Coin Connection, by Debbie Note, pg. 2, Spring 1984. “Assuming center stage is nothing new to Eastwood, except he wasn’t filming at the time but lending his presence and video game playing skill to a major media press conference, held March 15 at The Burbank Studios in southern California.” Retrieved from Pinball Pirate, Atari Coin Connection archive, Sep 17 2015.
Image of the Halcycon laserdisc system with Thayer’s Quest keyboard template installed taken at the Videogame History Museum display, CGE 2014 in Las Vegas
Electronic Games, “Games on Disc” by Les Paul Robley and Bill Kunkel, pgs. 40-46, Jan 1984. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Electronic Games magazine collection
Starlog, “The Big Box Office $weepstakes”, by Robert Greenberger, pgs. 58-60, Jan 1983
Revista Games – Top 10 – Os piores video games da história! – revistagames.wordpress.com/2009/08/07/top-10-os-piores-videogames-da-historia/ arcarc.xmission.com/Web%20Archives/Jeff%20Andersen%20(Sep%2027%202003)/flyers/default.htm Dragon’s Lair On-line – www.fortunecity.com/underworld/doom/147/index.html FYIowa – Q&A: Rick Dyer – vgames.webpoint.com/vid/fyiowa/q_and_a/0,1363,30,00.html Compute!, “Nonviolent Games” by Kathy Yakal, pg. 40-48, Oct 1983
Uston, Ken. “Will Laser Discs Save the Coin-Op Industry?” Creative Computing Feb. 1984: 111-24. Creative Computing Magazine (February 1984) Volume 10 Number 02. Internet Archive. Web. 29 Feb. 2016. The coin-op business has been in serious trouble during the past year or so. According to The Los Angeles Times, annual sales of new coin-op games have dropped from one billion dollars to $500 million… American Laser Games by David Fikers – www.geocities.com/TimesSquare/Cauldron/7168 Kunkel, Bill. “The New Coin-Ops.” Electronic Games May 1984: 70-73. Electronic Games – Volume 02 Number 12 (1984-05)(Reese Communications)(US). Internet Archive. Web. 09 Feb. 2016. “Hotline: Goodbye Q*bert – Mylstar Ceases Operation.” Electronic Games Jan. 1985: 14. Electronic Games – Volume 03 Number 01 (1985-01)(Reese Communications)(US). Internet Archive. Web. 09 Feb. 2016. Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. closed the doors of Mylstar Electronics (formerly Gottlieb & Co.) at the end of September…Astron Belt was first selectively showcased to members of the industry and press at a November, 1982 trade expo by a company then known as Gremlin/Sega… Even Sega was being cloudy on hard data – “sometime in the next two years” was about as close as anyone came to actual specifics… Cliff Hanger/Lupin III – lonestar.rcclub.org/%7Ecggraham/Title.html
Arcana comics website – www.arcana.com
Lupin III FAQ – www.ccs.neu.edu/home/cruzl/lupin/faq/index.html M.A.C.H. 3 – members.home.net/e40/mach3 Williams Electronics, Inc. TAFA Original. N.p.: Williams Electronics, n.d. Star Rider. The Arcade Flyer Archive. Web. 29 Feb. 2016. Image of front page of flyer for Williams’ Star Rider“Newspeak: Videodisc Games to Hit the Arcades This Summer.” Softtalk Aug. 1983: 268+. Softalk V3n12 Aug 1983. Internet Archive. Web. 18 Feb. 2016. The Yellow Brick Road Arcade in San Diego, California is currently previewing the Sega/Paramount laserdisc game Astron Belt…the game is doing ‘extremely well’, having already scored a major success in Japanese and European arcades.;According to Brenda Mutchnick of Sega Games, ‘We hope to release a few new games of this type by the end of the year. We don’t know if Astron Belt will be one of them…when we got a look at the game here we didn’t feel the game play was as good as that of current home computer games. We are now redesigning the cabinet itself…’;Additional games are already under development at Don Bluth Productions. A space game, tentatively titled Space Ace…;A home version of Dragon’s Lair is under way at Coleco, tying the game into a home laser-disc player. It should be ready by next year. Cineposters – www.cineposters.com/site/index.html Persons, Dan. “Laser’s Last Stand.” Electronic Games Jan. 1985: 78-81. Electronic Games – Volume 03 Number 01 (1985-01)(Reese Communications)(US). Internet Archive. Web. 10 Feb. 2016. He’s [Rick Dyer] understandably quite excited about the system’s [Halcyon] prospects: “…Dragon’s Lair was spun out of the Halcyon technology. Halcyon’s been under development now for five years. We were prepared two years ago to introduce Halcyon into the home. The problem we had was that market research showed that it was premature… so we decided to introduce Dragon’s Lair.” Van Eaton Galleries – www.vegalleries.com/index.htm Harrisonburg Daily News Record (N.Y. Times News Service), “Laser-Disk Game Scoring Big”, by Aljean Harmetz, pg. 14, August 3 1983 Time Magazine, “Video Games Go Crunch!”, by Charles P. Alexander, Oct. 17 1983 Wisconsin State Journal (Knight-Ridder News Service), “Dragon’s Lair: Hot animation”, by Steven X. Rea, Section 7, pg. 1,6 Aug. 14 1983 Don Bluth Shrine – www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Cinema/7100
Omni, “Video Worlds”, by Phil Wiswell, pgs. 54 – 58, 99 – 100, Jan 1984
Image of Firefox games and pilot, as well as other information from Atari Coin Connection, “Atari Firefox Sets New Standard in Laser Disc Entertainment” by Debbie Note, Pgs. 1,4, Jan/Feb 1984. “Firefox utilizes a new technically superior laser disc player co-designed with North American Philips to Atari specifications for industrial/commercial application. Designed for high reliability, the system gives extremely rapid access to “interleaved” video segments, creating continuous action and no ‘dead spots’”. Retrieved from Pinball Pirate, Atari Coin Connection archive, Sep 17 2015.
Dragonstone Software – www.dragonstone.com Pioneer LD-V1000 manualHunter, David. “Newsbits: Ace of Space.” Softtalk Apr. 1984: 198. Softalk V4n08 Apr 1984. Internet Archive. Web. 27 Feb. 2016. The game [Space Ace] features fourteen minutes of animation…The animation for Space Ace cost 1.8 million to create, up from the $1.3 million it cost to make the twelve animated minutes of Dragon’s Lair. Bluth and his studio are currently working on Dragon’s Lair II, which has an animation budget of $2.3 million. Dragon’s Lair has grossed more than $32 million and has spawned a home version (due out soon from Coleco). …Space Ace, which sold fifteen hundred arcade machines in its first week on the market. To date, Dragon’s Lair has sold more than eight thousand units. Various game technical manuals Various publications: Creative Computing Video & Arcade Games, Fall 1983, Page 21, Top Ten Games at the AOE ’83 by Steve Arrants Electronic Games, November 1983, Newsmakers: Dragon’s Lair article “Don Bluth Builds a Dragon’s Lair”, pgs. 22-24 Video Games Starburst Plus email interviews with: Warren Davis Shannon Donnelly