Sega hologram arcade laserdisc game Time Traveler, Japanese version

Time Traveler cabinet and optional illuminated header display, Japanese version

Holograms Come to Video Games

In 1991, long after laserdisc games had come and gone in the arcades, Rick Dyer tried his hand again in the genre by releasing Time Traveler. Distributed by Sega, Time Traveler was similar in concept to Dyer’s previous huge hit, the arcade laserdisc blockbuster Dragon’s Lair, featuring lush animation by Don Bluth. In Time Traveler, however, the action directed by players was represented by live actors. The hook here was, they didn’t just appear on a screen, but on a stage in the cabinet, seeming to hover in the air as actual objects.

Playfield of Sega Time Traveler hologram laserdisc arcade game
Stage and actors in Sega’s Time Traveler hologram laserdisc arcade game, 1991

The trick was achieved by having an image from a monitor hidden in the cabinet bounced off a blacked-out semi-sphere mirror up onto the stage, giving the illusion of depth to the characters. Not really “holographic”, but a pretty nifty visual effect nonetheless.

Unfortunately, like Dragon’s Lair before it, Time Traveler was hindered by a lack of interaction. In the game players control old-west Marshal Gram (like Holo-gram….get it?) in his quest to rescue beautiful Princess Kyi-La of the Galactic Federation, and prevent the evil scientist Volcor from tearing time apart. To do so, gamers merely chose which direction Gram should move or whether to use his guns, with the results played out accordingly. And with Dragon’s Lair and the various laserdisc games that came in its sizeable wake, arcade patrons quickly tired of the effect of Time Traveler and moved on.

Time Traveler did pull in $18 million in sales upon release, and a fighting game called Holosseum utilized the same tech, although with sprites instead of actors, the next year. It also got a home DVD release from Digital Liesure in 2000, sans holographic effect but presented in 3D with included glasses. Holography in the arcades, at least according to Rick Dyer and Sega, might have been a pretty picture, but failed to leave a lasting image.

For more information on Time Traveler, Dragon’s Lair and the other games of the laserdisc craze of the early 80’s, you can check out my article here on The Dot Eaters: https://thedoteaters.com/?bitstory=bitstory-article-2/dragons-lair-and-the-laser-game-craze