Category Archives: laser

Still from Astron Belt, an arcade laserdisc game by Sega 1983

Astron Belted: Losing the Race to the Arcades

Something about the laserdisc video game craze of the early 80′s was and is fascinating to me.  From little pixellated images and 3 octave repeating tunes, we leapt into professional quality live-action or animated games with orchestrated scores. It seemed that arcade games had suddenly jumped into the future.  

Sega previewed their first video game to feature laserdisc technology, Astron Belt, in the fall of 1982 at the A.M.O.A. or Amusement & Music Operators Association trade show in Chicago. It wasn’t the first commercial interactive game with video footage: horse racing game Quarter Horse by Electro-Sport was shown at the 1981 A.M.O.A., and most likely released to the public that same year.

Laserdisc game Quarter Horse

Quarter Horse arcade laserdisc game, by Electro Sports

 

Even so, Quarter Horse was merely a betting menu accompanied by video footage of horse races. Sega’s machine allowed players to control a computer generated spaceship superimposed over movie footage. Players flew through space and over alien planetary landscapes, shooting enemy craft spewing laser fire and avoiding the tight confines of rocky canyons. It was a real game.

It was also real late. Shown at the 1982 AMOA, the game still needed refinement, and as it was being worked on the U.S. coin-op division of Sega was sold to Bally/Midway, prompting further delays. By the time Astron Belt reached U.S. arcades in late 1983, the  laserdisc video game craze had already been created earlier in the year by the animated extravaganza Dragon’s Lair, from Rick Dyer and Don Bluth, and was subsequently exhausted by a rush of carpetbaggers.

Hobbled by a lack of interactivity for players, along with nagging technical issues for arcade operators, these games were ultimately shown to be a brief respite for the slumping arcade market. The popularity of laserdisc games had begun faltering, and Astron Belt did little to improve this situation.

For more information on Astron Belt and the 80′s laserdisc craze, consult your local Dot Eaters Bitstory.

Image source: Quarter Horse flyer, The Arcade Flyer Archive

1983 ad for Astron Belt, a laserdisc arcade video game by Bally Midway

Ship of the imagination

Forget Matthew McConaughey, Take a REAL Interstellar Trip

If you partake in that sort of thing, maybe you want to turn your lights down, the volume up, spark a bowl and take a trip through the wondrous world of Interstellar.It was yet another entry in the laserdisc arcade game sweepstakes of 1983 – 1984. Playing somewhat like Mylstar’s M.A.C.H. 3, the game had players controlling a space ship sailing head-on over an unrolling landscape, shooting at oncoming enemy craft and ground targets. The difference is, Interstellar’s video rendered backgrounds were surrealistic and bizarre, as if Salvador Dali had made a video game. All accompanied by a spacey synthesizer soundtrack. It was developed by Japanese toy-maker Gakken, and manufactured by TV maker Funai.

The YouTube video below lacks the computer generated graphic of the space ship, as it’s just an output of the laserdisc content. Still, like Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Interstellar is the Ultimate Trip.

blog-dirk-glances

Dragon’s Lair Turns 30

If you entered a video arcade on July 1, 1983, you’d probably wonder what all the fuss was about. You’d be met by a huge crowd of people gathered around a new game. There’d be such a large crowd that the arcade owner would have installed a monitor on top of this game so everyone could watch it being played. If you checked out what was on the monitor, you’d see a video game like none other before it.

You’d be seeing Dragon’s Lair, released 30 years ago today. With rich, vibrant animation by Don Bluth, driven by laser disc technology from Rick Dyer and his RDI Video Systems company, it truly seemed like the waning days of the arcade had just gotten a huge shot in the arm. No matter that, due to the extravagant cost of the game to arcade operators (averaging $4,300), it was the first game to cost 50 cents to play. No matter that, despite the lush visuals, gameplay locked players on a rail that was minimally interactive. It was new, it was cool, and it was wonderful.

Even though Dragon’s Lair and the laser disc game phenomena that followed in its wake were conceptual dead-ends that were quickly left behind by gamers, their memories remain. I don’t think there is another game that so typifies the 80′s video game arcade to me as much as Dragon’s Lair.

To go for a spin through the development and aftermath of Dragon’s Lair, please check out our article on the Laser Game Craze.

Retroclip: Thayer’s Quest

Thayer’s Quest
cabinet

After the enormous success of laser arcade game Dragon’s Lair, Rick Dyer and his RDI Video Systems company created another groundbreaking laser coin-op game in 1984, called Thayer’s Quest.  Its story was more closely based on Shadoan, the Tolkien-esqe source material that Dyer had conceived earlier and from which he had spun off Dragon’s Lair.

Thayer was an astounding attempt to produce a sword & sorcery RPG epic for the arcades.  Eschewing joysticks and buttons, Thayer had a full-size membrane keyboard mounted on the cabinet, which players used to input choices during the game.  At the start, you could enter your name, and then be personally refered to via speech synthesis.  Shown on the keyboard were various inventory items that Thayer could use at certain spots to advance the plot.  The game even had a save game system, where the last ten players could return to continue their progress after losing their last life.

The innovation found in Thayer’s Quest makes it a very special and unusual arcade game indeed.  Posted below is our gameplay video.  For more information on Thayer’s Quest, Dragon’s Lair and the rest of the 80′s laser game craze, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.