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”. With Firefox beginning shipping to arcades in early February of 1984, Atari struts its stuff on March 15, 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 gameplay 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, the gameplay 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. A version for the 3DO game console is also released the same year, titled Kingdom: The Far Reaches. Here, the character names have been changed but the artwork and gameplay remain relatively the same. 1996 sees the release of Interplay’s DOS CD-ROM game called Kingdom: The Far Reaches Book One. 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 have 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 laser version of Dragon’s Lair to go with it. Although timelines such as ‘late in 1984′ and ‘beginning of 1985′ 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. “We’re trying to develop two-player games. We’re working on more branching, faster pacing, more sound and even better graphics,” says Gary Goldman. “As for more control over characters, that’s coming too – but slowly. We hope to develop games that will allow you to move a character in four directions, instead of the two now possible.” Image of Don Bluth sitting in front of NIMH characters, photo by David Strick.
Powell, David B. “Ask Enter.” Enter May 1984: 8. Print. By the beginning of 1985, Coleco plans to introduce a videodisc version of the game [Dragon's Lair] and their own videodisc player for the Adam system.
“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
Mace, Scott. “Can Atari Bounce Back?” InfoWorld 27 Feb. 1984: 100. Print. …Firefox, Atari’s first videodisc-based game, which started shipping to arcades early in February.
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