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 in 1991, 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. Back to 1984, Bluth has acquired the rights to make a Dragon’s Lair movie, and a prequel script is written to chronicle the events of how a teenage 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 a scene as familiar as any in the Dragon’s Lair game for Bluth and company: an acute lack of financing. 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 Wile E. Coyote fashion, however, Dirk would soon appear unmolested as the correct choice is portrayed. In 1984, the cartoon Space Ace airs as part of CBS’s Saturday morning toon show Saturday Supercade, produced by Ruby Spears. 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 Cartwright, 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. While Bluth, Goldman, and company float improvements to the technology like even more advanced graphics, a two-player mode, and full character control, the new Barnacle Bill IP ends up shelved along with Dragon’s Lair: Legend after Bluth and company move back into theatrical animation and accept Steven Spielberg’s offer to do the animation for the more traditional An American Tail, released to theatres in 1986.
While Bluth and company move out of video games, 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 (see below), 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 is 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 are 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.
Gameplay video of Thayer’s Quest, a laserdisc arcade game from RDI, 1984
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).
Video of all the ways Buck can die in Konami’s Badlands laserdisc arcade game