"Dragon’s Lair" The Quest for a Perfect Video Game

“DRAGON’S LAIR”
 The Quest for a Perfect Video Game
By 
Keith “Dekker” Gleason

Insert Coin(s) 1982
Video Games! I’ve always loved video games! My entire young life revolved around them. Even in my earliest memories I had hand held games with blinking lights such as “Fabulous Fred” or “Micro Vision”. Games were just as big a hobby for me as Comic Books and Movies. In fact sometimes video games would occupy my whole weekend, which is why I’m going to start this tale back in the summer of 1982. I consider this year as my personal golden age of video games.
A young me rocking my Pac-Man shirt at Universal Studios 1982
It was the middle of June and our mother had just come back from shopping. My brother Michael and I we’re itching to go see a movie. She came in the house with a smile on her face and gave us the choice to either go see “Tron” at the local theatre or get an Atari 2600 video game system.  The choice was a good one. I love Tron but ultimately we chose the Atari. I knew her tricks. She had no intention of taking us to the movie. The gaming system was already tucked away in the trunk of the car before she even popped the question. We wasted no time ripping the box open and immediately started setting it up. We only had Pac-Man and Combat but we would play both games for hours and hours, for most of the day. The giant power battery attached to the Atari would get so hot you could fry an egg on it.
Me and my brother on a hiking trip 1982
Even though the Atari was fun it still didn’t hold a candle to the arcades. The arcades back then had the allure of going to an amusement park. The games you would find there would boast better graphics and game play all wrapped in neatly designed wooden cabinet cases. Thankfully we lived close to a mall that had one of these fun places in it. Every Saturday my brother and I would take a bike ride down to this mall which was called Sears Town. The whole shopping arena was built around a Sears and Roebuck store which was the reason for the name. If you asked me the whole mall should have revolved around “Dream Machine”, which was the name of the arcade chain that was gracious enough to have an outlet at our mall. To a young kid this place was all kinds of awesome. I remember the first time standing outside its doors peeking in. I looked up and saw the “Dream Machine” words done up in the Pac-Man font and heard tons of different game sounds coming from inside. I felt like I was walking into a casino made just for kids. The Arcade had two floors. The main floor would have all the newest releases wedged in with all the ticket based games like Skeeball. The second floor consisted of older games like pinball and Arcade Classics like Punch-Out. We would show up with our two dollar allowance and stretch that money out for hours and hours, playing away the day on such classics as Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, and Q-Bert. This was a tradition that continued every Saturday for the longest time.

Level 1 — 1983

Dream Machine continued to bring in new games and back in those days before the internet, you would just show up and hope to see a new game with better graphics. One day we went in there and saw a game called “Dragon’s Lair”. I was completely blown away. I just stood there in awe watching the demo screen. Then someone walked over and plunked in their 50 cents. This game was a cartoon, a literal animated movie inside a wooden gaming cabinet. It was an amazing thing of beauty. The programmers had literally made the jump graphically from Space Invaders to full blooded animation and it was playable. I could not believe the technology I was witnessing in my hometown arcade. I immediately went to the token machine and cashed my $2.00 dollars and waited in the small line to play. When I finally got my chance, I stood there and went through all my lives almost instantly but I didn’t mind. I had found my ultimate arcade game and made a pact that I would one day beat this game and see the fabled Dragon’s Lair at the heart of the creepy castle.
My favorite level of the original game the “Lizard King”
For those reading this blog but are not familiar with this game let me take a step back and give you a brief history. “Dragon’s Lair” revolutionized the Arcades and also saved them from dying off back in 1983. The game was the first to use the power of the laser disc which no one at the time had thought to use. The genius behind this concept was a man named Rick Dyer who was inspired by Text Adventure games of the time such as “Zork”. He created a system that manipulated video discs but was only using still pictures and narration. He knew the system could be more. Right around this time he saw the film “Secret of Nimh” at the local theatre and realized he needed to animate his invention. He hired the animator from that film, Don Bluth, who was a veteran at Disney, to take his idea and bring it to life. A new genre of game was born, that is often referred to as the Laserdisc game.
Don Bluth (left) sitting with Rick Dyer (center) and Gary GolDman (right)
The story of the game was simple: Players control Dirk the Daring, trying to rescue Princess Daphne from the evil dragon Singe. In game play, Dirk has to quest through a massive castle with tons of traps, monsters, and pitfalls. The screen shows animated cut scenes, and the player executes an action by selecting a direction or pressing the sword button with correct timing. The game had a cartoon comedy aspect that stemmed from the bizarre looking monsters and humorous death scenes. Another bit of fun technical fact is that the original laserdisc players that came with the game often failed. Although the players were of good quality, the game imposed unusually high strain. “Dragon’s Lair” required seeking different animation sequences on the disc every few seconds. The high amount of seeking, coupled with the length of time the unit was required to operate, could result in failure of the laserdisc player after a relatively short time. This was compounded by the game’s popularity. As a result, the laserdisc player often had to be repaired or replaced.
Demo Mode – Dragon’s Lair
So weeks and weeks had gone by and though I had mastered at least a quarter of the game, I was never very good at reacting to the timed sequences, so a lot of the game had to be learned from trial and error. The game cost so much and my $2.00 dollar allowance only got me four tries a week. I was obsessed, so I would constantly rally my mother for an extra dollar or any extra coins she could spare. I was also going to Catholic school at the time and my obsession got so crazy that I started stealing quarters from the school’s bake sale just to play more levels. I would have gotten away with it too if my friend hadn’t ratted me out to the nuns. They didn’t realize I was on a quest that was only important to me! Trust me the $5.00 I took wasn’t going to pay for the new chalice at the church. I was so mad at my friend for not protecting my laser disc addiction. I ended up not talking to him for half a year.
Dragon’s Lair Damsel in distress – Princess Daphne
Eventually “Dragon’s Lair” reached mega popularity, even though most kids I knew didn’t really care about it. They either played it and didn’t like it because of the price or just preferred the older games like Galaga or Swimmer. At one point the Woolworths in the same mall started stocking up some “Dragon’s Lair” merchandise. They had boxes of DL sticker packs that had the classic stick of gum wrapped in the wax casing. The packs consisted of stickers with silly slogans on them starring the characters from the game. I liked these instantly because I was also a big fan of Wacky Packages which is a subject for another blog entirely. The thing that made these sticker cards really stand out though was that the back of each one had hints on how to beat a level of the game. The only one they wouldn’t give you clues on was the final level (Bastards) but the packs also came with a scratch ticket game that was made to look like a maze. The object was to go from the beginning of the path to the end of the card without getting too many skulls or you would lose. The neat thing about these scratch cards was that they strategically placed the entrance and exits on each individual card so that they could be placed next to one another like a puzzle. The idea was to make the scratch cards similar to the game by picking different paths and keep the adventure going.
Dragon’s Lair – Scratch card game
Dragon’s Lair – Sticker Packs
At this time I also found a book called “How to Beat Dragon’s Lair” that helped me out a lot with the timing issue on parts of the castle. Certain levels of the game required that you moved at just the right second. The book zeroed in on what to look for in the animation, etc. There was other awesome merchandise featuring this video game as well. They produced lunch boxes, binoculars, pins, stickers, watches, etc.
The book I used to help me win
Dragon’s Lair – Lunch Box
Binocular Set
“Dragon’s Lair” was also the focus of 2 special episodes of “Starcade”. This was a game show where contestants competed against one another by playing arcade games. The show was on after the Saturday Morning Cartoon block and was hosted by a young Alex Trebek. When they had “Dragon’s Lair” on they changed format slightly. Instead of the usual rounds of different video games being played, this was a team special. In the group episodes they would play one game repeatedly throughout the running time. I loved the break in format especially when the focus was on DL. They also did another team episode later on with another Laser Disc game called “Cliff Hanger”. This game sparked a whole other obsession of mine. I will get to that later in the blog.
 “Dragon’s Lair” on “Starcade”
So months went by and I had finally seen some people beat the Dragon. I started mentally taking notes of the level. At this point “Dragon’s Lair” had been out for about 6 months and I knew if I didn’t beat it soon it would probably be gone from Dream Machine. That arcade moved games in and out all the time! I started playing it with my full focus again instead of dividing my attention on new games like I was doing. The problem was I would always get so close to the final level but end up being killed at the same spots. I plunked down my last 50 cents into the machine one Saturday and started the familiar journey once again. This time the levels I had a hard time with came up early in the game and I cleared them with no effort. People started gathering around the machine, hoping I was good enough to show them the ending. I played on and finally for the first time I was there in the Dragon’s Lair, the final level. I had seen the game beat about 5 times before this so I had known mostly what to do. At this point, I was on my last life and I knew this was it. I was turning into the Rocky Balboa of Dream Machine. I had about 20 people gathered around me waiting for this much anticipated moment. The level started and I sprinted through it like a champion. I ripped the magic sword out of the rock and threw it at Singe’s chest killing him. His large carcass smashed down and I grabbed the key to release princess Daphne. I finally did it! I stood there and watched the game all the way to the end. The game reset to the demo mode and I walked away with my head held high. I wish people cheered and carried me out of the arcade but the truth is people just wanted to see the ending and didn’t care who did it and immediately dispersed once the game was defeated. One week had passed and I returned to Dream Machine to see if I could do it again. This time there was no “Dragon’s Lair” to be found, the arcade had shipped it out! My ultimate victory had been replaced with Spy Hunter. I was bummed because this was about the only Arcade I could get to. So I had to settle for lesser games for a little while.
Dragon’s Lair – the final level
Level 2 — 1984
A few months had passed by and Dream Machine got another laser disc game called “Thayer’s Quest”. I didn’t really care about this one. It was overly complicated and the animation was subpar at best. I tried it a couple of times and immediately gave up. I found out later that the game didn’t even have an ending because the company went bankrupt and never made the second part until years later for DVD.
Cover of “Thayer’s Quest” game
There was another laser game that came to the arcade called “Cobra Command”. I liked this one because it reminded me of the G.I. Joe toys and cartoons out around the time. The game merged popular flight simulators with animation. The graphics were all from the point of view of the pilot, and there was a voice from the helicopter which would tell you what to do on each of the levels. The animation was decent and was reminiscent of the afternoon cartoons of the time. “Cobra Command” was fun but very hard and I never beat it until years later on the home systems.
Screenshot of “Cobra Command”
At this point I had given up hope that I would ever see Dragon’s Lair again, until I walked into Dream Machine in the spring of 84. Not only was there a new laser disc game called “Space Ace” but like “Dragon’s Lair”, it was also animated by Don Bluth. I immediately rushed over to check out the demo screen and was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. Here is a brief explanation of this awesome Don Bluth sequel:
Space Ace – the second Don Bluth game
Space Ace follows the adventures of the muscle bound hero Ace. As the game starts, the villainous Commander Borf attacks Ace with the Infanto Ray, a weapon that transforms Ace into an adolescent version of himself, and kidnaps his girlfriend Kimberly. It is up to the player to guide Dexter, Ace’s younger incarnation, through a series of obstacles in pursuit of the villain. He must rescue Kimberly and prevent Borf from using the Infanto Ray on Earth.
Space Ace – Demo Mode
Like “Dragon’s Lair”, the game play of “Space Ace” requires the player to move the joystick in the right direction or press the fire button at the right moment to avoid the various hazards. “Space Ace” introduced a few game play enhancements. At the start of the game the player could select one of three skill levels; Cadet, Captain or Ace for easy, medium and hard respectively. Only by choosing the toughest skill level could the player see all the sequences in the game (only around half the scenes are played on the easiest setting). A number of the scenes had multiple choice moments when the player could choose how to act, sometimes by choosing which way to turn in a passageway, or by choosing whether or not to react to the on-screen “Energize!” message and transform back into Ace. Dexter usually progresses through scenes by avoiding obstacles and enemies, but Ace goes on the offensive, attacking enemies rather than running away.
Space Ace’s younger counterpart Dexter
I immediately gravitated towards this game because of the obvious super hero themes and outer space settings. Ace reminded me a lot of the super hero Captain Marvel in the fact that he was a kid for most of the game and at key moments he could turn into “Ace” his adult counterpart by using the Energize option. Plus the ending battle with Borf on his space station reminded me of the classic Super Hero / Villain battles, like watching Flash Gordon fighting Ming the Merciless to rescue Dale Arden from certain doom. So over the months I started on the journey of learning this game, which was infinitely easier than “Dragon’s Lair”. I ended up mastering this one in a few short months mostly because the overall game was shorter than DL. People really seemed cold on this game; there was not the same level of excitement and I would see it empty a lot at the arcade. For me, it turned into my favourite laserdisc game. Don’t get me wrong, I love “Dragon’s Lair” but if I had to make a “Sophie’s Choice” I would pick “Space Ace”.
Space Ace game footage
The success of the games created interest in Saturday morning television. The networks were interested in exploiting the popularity of video games and had several shows developed around them, like the frumpy PAC-MAN cartoon. The Bluth games we’re an obvious extension. “Dragon’s Lair” and “Space Ace” were developed into separate shows, by separate networks, and ended up in competition with each other.
Dragon’s Lair saturday morning cartoon
“Dragon’s Lair” was produced by Ruby Spears and had its debut in the fall of 1984. The series was developed by Rick Merwin and Paul Dini. (Dini later went on to do “Batman the Animated Series”) Along with Dirk, Daphne and the dragon (now able to talk), a number of new characters were introduced. These included Bertram, Dirk’s faithful horse, who did not talk but did “communicate through a wide variety of facial expressions and noises.” Squire Timothy was described as “a bit shorter than Dirk, and a good deal younger. King Ethelred was Daphne’s father and a “good king.” Sir Hubert Blunt was “to Dirk what Bluto was to Popeye. He’s Dirk’s arch-rival and nemesis, a not-so-friendly competitor for the King’s favor, for treasure, and for just about everything else in life.” Other villains also came from the game including the Lizard King and Phantom Knight. The DL cartoon had one nifty feature I’ve never seen before or again in a cartoon. In the spirit of the game they would stick Dirk into a hairy situation and then through a voice over they would ask the viewer, “What should Dirk do?” and after the commercial break they would show you all the outcomes. This was a fun feature for fans of the game.
 Dragon’s Lair Cartoon Intro
“Space Ace” was part of a one-hour series called “Saturday Supercade”. Produced also by Ruby-Spears it consisted of four video games in fifteen minute stories. Joining Ace was “Kangaroo”, “Q-Bert” and “Pitfall”. show featured the cast of Ace (and Dexter), Kimberley and Borf in various battles. For these two series, the Bluth studio gave copies of model sheets used for the games. For TV some had to be altered. The most notable was Princess Daphne’s skimpy outfit being converted to a simple dress. The Don Bluth studio also had script approval, but rarely bothered reading the scripts. Both series received little notice among animation or game fans and ran only one season.
Supercade Intro with Space Ace
 Space Ace Cartoon Intro
Level 3 – 1985-1986
The arcades had started to die down and Dream Machine had gotten bought out and became a different arcade. This new arcade wasn’t as good and I started going there less and less. One day I went over to a friend’s house that I hadn’t seen in a while and he had just gotten a Commodore 64. This computer was putting out some cool games with some of the best graphics available for a home system. So my interest’s in getting one of these was peaked and my Atari was becoming a distant memory. Even though the Commodore 64 had great graphics, it still didn’t touch the arcades. It was definitely miles above the Atari though. I was also working my first job at the grocery store Market Basket at the time and I had socked away a little money. I convinced my mother to let me use some of my savings to get a Commodore. So we went down to the Child World toy store that was a town over and purchased my new computer and two games “Bruce Lee” and “Zorro”. Later on I bought some awesome classics like “Rocket Ranger”, “Three Stooges”, and “Bop N’ Wrestle.” I would play these games for hours and days. I even remember the start up code,  Load”*”,8,1. Also around this time “Family Computing” magazine was a big thing on the racks and every month they would publish pages of code that you could input into your computer to create a game. This was another thing me and my brother would team up on. One month there was this ice skating game that the description made sound like it was this unbelievable game. There was also an extra amount of pages filled with the skating game code so I thought this would be an amazing thing when it was entered into the commodore. My brother and I took shifts entering this code into the computer. We worked hard for hours and days to complete this thing. Finally it was done and my brother started it up. This was one of the worst games ever; we literally played it for 2 minutes and immediately wiped it off the hard drive. Days of work down the drain but my worst disappointment was right around the corner.
I would continue to work at my job and save up for new games. I was shocked and surprised one day when I went into Child World and I saw that they had “Dragon’s Lair” for the Commodore 64. I can tell you with all honesty this was the first time in my life that I was truly disappointed and disgusted by a video game. Back then most games were simple and you just enjoyed them for what they were but this was different, this was a home version of my favourite video game. The game was absolutely horrible. They tried to re-create all the levels without animation using sprites and pixels instead. So what you ended up getting is this shitty game that was hard to control. Check out the video below if you don’t believe me.
Play through of one of the worst releases of Dragon’s Lair
Level 4 — 1990
By this point in my life, I still loved the laser disc games but they were literally non-existent. The Nintendo 8 Bit system and Sega Genesis were pretty much dominating everything. I also see this as the time people started to get real critical about video games. Reviews and magazines were pretty much a mainstay now. Most arcades were on the decline or dead because the home graphics had finally caught up with the wood cabinet versions and now you didn’t have to leave your house to play anymore. It was also around this time that video games started showing up in video stores for rental. So we started checking games out like crazy and one day I walked in there and they had a “Dragon’s Lair” game for Nintendo. I immediately snatched it up and rented it. Once again, like the Commodore 64 blunder, this was just awful in every respect. I played it for a few minutes then I immediately went back and got another game. I posted the Angry Video Game Nerds video below since it pretty much covers how awful this game was and how it made zero sense. He is dead on with everything that is wrong with the game. Watch it if you’re looking for a good laugh.
This is a funny but true review
Earlier on in the blog I mentioned a laser disc game called “Cliff Hanger” that I saw on “Starcade”. This part of the story culminates in the summer of 1990 when I started up my small anime collection. Back in the early 90’s anime had just started to leak out over here in the states and the only place you could really get it was at the now closed SunCoast video. I was working at the time but anime tapes were expensive and you never knew what you were buying, so you had to judge it just by the write-ups and cover art. So one weekend I went in there and I couldn’t find a VHS to buy right away and I kept going back to this one anime movie called “The Castle of Cagliostro”. Now at the time most of the anime released in the US was gory, sleazy, and “R” rated like “Fist of the Northstar” or “Golgo 13” but this video looked very simple, with clean artwork and a good write-up on the back. The reason I kept going back though is because I recognized the character from somewhere. So I bought it and took it home, watched it that night and it became my favourite anime movie immediately. Good characters, great timeless storyline, engaging music and beautiful artwork. The main character’s name was “Wolf” which I found out later on was actually “Lupin the Third”.
Starcade with the Cliff Hanger game
Because I loved this movie so much I started showing it to everyone who would watch it, and at the same time I also wondered in the back of my head why it seemed familiar. One day I begged my brother to watch it with me and he finally caved in. About half way through the movie he turns to me and says this is the cartoon that was in that video game. I was just about to dismiss it when he said “Remember? It was on Starcade.” I quickly yelled “Holy Shit you’re right!” He finally jarred my memory loose. I still had never seen or played the “Cliff Hanger” game but I now possessed the animation used in the game at least.
Cliff Hanger used the animation of this movie
So life went on that year, I graduated from high school and me and my friends planned out our beach week. This was a tradition at LeominsterHigh School that all seniors go spend the week at Hampton and Salisbury beach the week after graduation. Basically you would get a house or hotel, and party for the whole week and just have a good time. My four friends and I got a hotel room booked and headed to the shore. Our time was spent roaming the beach by day and hitting the boardwalk at night. While on the board walk I decided to check out the arcades. I was able to find a working “Dragon’s Lair” in one of them but it was badly damaged and needed repair. For some reason the arcade kept it running, probably to steal quarters from people. We trolled most of the arcades at Hampton and played some good games. I saw “Splatterhouse” for the first time which was a Friday the 13th inspired game that was a lot of fun. The second part of the week we went to the SalisburyBeach boardwalk. These arcades ended up being much better in the fact that they had way more games to choose from. We explored most of them and on a whim I headed down to the last arcade that was on the strip. I expected to find more of the same surrounded by Skee Ball machines but instead I found “Cliff Hanger” at the back wall of the arcade. I went nuts. I had waited 7 years to play this game and now that I loved “Lupin the Third” it was even better. I immediately cashed a ten dollar bill and told my friends not to wait for me. I was going to start the massive undertaking of beating another laser disc game and I didn’t want to feel rushed.
Cliff Hanger promo video sent to arcades
“Cliff Hanger” ended up being a bit different from the other laser disc games. It was unusual in the fact that it had a right hand, left hand button and a right foot, left foot button among the usual joystick. Having seen the movie I knew what footage they we’re using so I was able to go through the game rather quickly until the middle of the game. There was a couple of scenes added from another “Lupin the Third” animated movie. These levels took a little longer because I didn’t know the animation but I was happy to know that there were more movies featuring this character. I was able to beat the game over the course of the next few days and left that vacation feeling fulfilled. It was good because I’ve never seen the game ever again and as far as I know it’s never come out on any home systems either.
After this, I became a huge collector of “Lupin the Third” Merchandise. I have tons of little collector toys now and I have bought every available movie and TV show from here and Japan. “Castle of Cagliostro” continues to be my favourite of the Lupin movies to this day. Years later I found out that it was directed by Hayao Miyazaki the anime director who is considered the Walt Disney of Japan and has produced Academy award winning classics like “Spirited Away” and “Princess Mononoke”. Since then I have collected all of Miyazaki’s films as well and look forward to each new one that is released. So I guess a couple of obsessions we’re spawned from this laser disc classic.
Lupin the Third group photo
Level 5 — 1991
In the summer of 1991, I started visiting an arcade in NashuaNH called “Funworld”, not to be confused with the great “Funspot” up in Lake Winnipesaukee. This was a three floor arcade that me and a few buddies would drive up to almost every Saturday night. It was a good spot to go to since the arcade I grew up with was now closed forever. For the longest time this place had a working “Space Ace” machine that I would play constantly. They also had a weird Laser Disc hologram game called “Time Traveller” that used a disc with live actors like “Mad Dog McCree”. “Time Traveller” worked very much like “Dragons Lair” with a joystick and gun button and had a neat holographic look to it. You could run your hand through the hologram which was a pretty nifty feature. The game was fun for a few tries but I got tired of it mostly because it wasn’t animated.

Screen Shot of Time Traveller

Then sometime in the fall we happened to go up to Fun World and “Space Ace” was gone. This time it was replaced by something completely awesome. “Dragon’s Lair 2 – Time Warp”. I was floored once again. I couldn’t believe they finally made a sequel almost 10 years after the original. I found out much later on that DL2 was mostly complete back in 1984 but the company went bankrupt and it took quite a few years to get it finished and into arcades. I cashed in $20.00 and immediately went to work on this sequel. For those not familiar with part 2, the storyline is as follows:
Once again our hero Dirk the Daring must find and rescue Daphne from an evil wizard. Dirk’s only ally is a well-spoken time machine that has been possessed by the brother of the villain Mordroc. Dirk travels through several dimensions and historical eras searching for Daphne; some are inspired by classic stories and historical figures such as Alice In Wonderland and Beethoven. He must prevent Mordroc from enslaving Daphne to his whim with the dreaded Death Ring and from forever being lost in the Time Warp.

Dragon’s Lair 2 – Demo Mode
The Game play differs from the original in a couple different ways. This game is linear, as opposed to the random levels in the first game. Second, there are treasures scattered throughout the game; getting each treasure is optional and requires an extra move, but the player is awarded more points. The developers originally planned to include a longer battle sequence at the end if the player managed to collect all the items and a shorter one if they missed any, but this idea was scrapped in the final version and the longer sequence was just used. Ultimately this sequel proved less of a challenge for me than the first game. I was able to master it in a few months and beat it several times before it left Fun World. I never saw it in the arcades again until much later on but at this point all the arcades in the world were living on borrowed time anyways.
Dragon’s Lair 2 – Complete playthrough
Level 6 — 1992
By this time Nintendo and Sega had a firm foothold in the home video game world. My brother had the Sega Genesis system and I had the Super Nintendo Console and we would fight all the time as to which one was better. I had to concede to the Genesis for one reason and one reason only: the Sega CD add-on.  The Sega CD allowed for the system to use full motion video incorporated into their video games, which opened the floodgates for true interpretations of the Laser Disc video game genre. Besides “Dragon’s Lair”, “Space Ace”, and “Cobra Command”, I got to finally try some new laser disc games I had never played before like “Road Blaster”, “Ninja Hayate”, and “Time Gal”. All these games used standard Japanese animation which did not hold a candle to the beautiful Don Bluth imagery. All of these new games were really easy to beat and I played them multiple times over the years. For this reason I’ve kept the Sega CD and will bust it out from time to time and play through all of these again. I should also mention around this time all of the Bluth laserdisc games started showing up on every game console you could imagine. Instead of spending time on each system, I’ve kept this personal history more focused on the ones that I played or that were a part of my life over the years.

Time Gal and Ninja Hayate

 Level 7 — 1998
Once the late 90’s came around, the only arcades left in this country were places like Fun Spot and beach side arcades. DVD had started to take over the format of movies and VHS was slowly dying off. One day I went into Game Spot to see what new games were coming out but I ended up looking in their newly added used DVD section. I was extremely happy to find “Dragon’s Lair” on DVD. It was playable on your DVD player with a remote control and was extremely cool. I brought it home and popped it into my Playstation 2 and started to play. It was easily the best looking release of the game ever. The problem with it was that the game play was restricted by the DVD format. Every time you would make a move the picture on the screen would freeze for about 2 seconds and then continue on. So imagine yourself running at full speed then stopping completely for 2 seconds then running again. It was extremely irritating but I played it through once anyways and never played it again. Of course, even though it was so annoying I bought “Space Ace” and “Dragon’s Lair 2” as well. The best thing about the DVD’s released was that they had a bunch of cool extras on them. The extras included short little interviews with the young Don Bluth and his animator teams and also a clip reel with all the death sequences strung together. That was a lot of fun to see after all these years.
All the death animations from Dragon’s Lair
Another significant find that year for me was the discovery of a brand new animated laser disc game. The game was called “Brain Dead 13” and it was the most fun I had with a video game in a long time. Technically it is not a laser disc game since it was only released on the PC and game consoles but I include it because it is exactly the kind of game that would have come out during the laser craze back in 83. It was fully animated and easily the best animation I’ve seen since the Don Bluth games. It had the same kind of controls and it had a multiple path element that Don had started to explore in “Space Ace” and “Dragon’s Lair 2”. The other reason I include it is because it had a fun likable main character, cool monsters, another creepy castle, and some of the most brutal death scenes I’ve ever seen in a cartoon game. The storyline for this fun game is as follows:

Brain Dead 13’s main character Lance

You play Lance, a young computer expert, called in to fix a computer at a scary, dilapidated castle. After repairing the large super-computer, Lance learns of a diabolical plan to take over the world. He quickly finds himself in trouble, being chased around the castle by Fritz, a psychotic servant of Dr. Nero Neurosis, the main villain of the story who also happens to be a disembodied brain. The player must guide Lance through the castle in order to defeat Dr. Neurosis and escape with his life. “Brain Dead 13” remains the last new laser disc video game to date as far as I know.
Brain Dead 13 – Intro
Level 8 — 2002
In the summer of 2002 I started managing a local comic book store when the 20th anniversary of “Dragon’s Lair” had come around. This made me extremely excited to see DL being honoured like this. There were action figures of Dirk, Princess Daphne, Mordroc, and the Dragon Singe. There were also two comic book mini-series of “Dragon’s Lair” and “Space Ace”. The best thing though was the announcement of “Dragon’s Lair 3D” for the Xbox gaming system. A brand new game that was using Cell Shading technology so that you were able to fully control Dirk but it still would maintain the look of a cartoon. I bought it and played it through. It was a decent little update of the game but I have not since returned to it. I was happy though that the game was being honoured 20 years later.  It definitely had staying power and I see a lot of “Dragon’s Lair” influences in modern games now. They call them cut scenes and they usually kick in when you’re fighting a monster or boss. It’s especially noticeable in the “Gods of War” game series and I’m starting to see it in everything now.
Dragon’s Lair action figures
Princess Daphne limited edition statue
Level 9 – 2007-2008
I’m a pretty big movie fan which I think is part of the reason I love these games so much and in 2008 a documentary came out on DVD that struck a major chord with me. The documentary was called “King of Kong” and if you have not seen it, I would highly recommend checking it out.  The film is about a man named Steve Wiebe and his quest to get the world’s high score for the arcade game Donkey Kong and defeat the reigning champion Billy Mitchell.
King of Kong movie trailer
The overall rivalry between these two guys is simply astonishing to watch but is not the reason I love this movie. The film invoked in me the nostalgia for my childhood and instantly brought me back to 1983 again when arcades ruled my life. Just seeing people competing on wooden cabinet machines at Fun Spot really got me jazzed up. I ended up watching the movie completely through and immediately watched it again with the commentary on. A great documentary about competition and nostalgia and I would imagine if you are reading this blog I think you would highly enjoy it. Also you can see me talk about it in depth in this video podcast below. This is a regular show I do with my crew called the Swass-Cast and we talk about our favourite documentaries and I talk about the “King of Kong” in this one.
Reckless Sidekick’s Geeky Swass-Cast
Also around this time I was highly immersed with my small production company. My group and I were working on our web show “Hero Envy” and also working on the first issue of our comic book tie-in. We would travel to comic book conventions and set up tables and sell our DVD’s, T-shirts, etc. We decided one year that we needed to set up shop at the huge San Diego Comic Convention but only a couple of us really wanted to go. I headed there with my buddy John Cimino in the summer of ‘08 and it was awesome! I felt good that we were going to that show not just as fans but as an actual company representing our property. Since it was just me and John at our table we both decided that we needed to be at our booth and not out roaming around no matter how much we wanted to. We were stationed next to two guys who were selling a new drawing program for home computers. They were both pleasant enough guys and put up with our shenanigans pretty well. So Saturday rolls around and we were halfway through the day selling when one of the guys next to us comes back from shopping and I see in his hand a copy of the “Dragon’s Lair” comic book. This was our conversation:
Me: Ah Nice! “Dragon’s Lair” huh?
Computer Guy: Yep. I’m a huge fan of the game.
Me: Oh yeah, me too! I think Don Bluth is a genius and those are still my favourite games ever.
Computer Guy: I’m with you. He’s over there you know.
Me: Who’s over There?
Computer Guy: Don Bluth
Me: WHAT?? Get the Fuck out of here!!
Computer Guy: No, I’m serious look he signed my comic.
Me: Holy Shit!! You got to show me where he is.
Computer Guy: Yeah man, definitely!
Reckless Sidekick crew and me sporting the DL love
I broke my promise to stay at the booth immediately. I told John that I needed to meet Don Bluth and he agreed to watch the table. I ended up following the guy back to the section where Don Bluth was signing autographs and merchandise. I waited in line about 20 minutes and finally got to meet this legend of gaming and animation. I talked with him for about 5 minutes. I told him my arcade story of how I beat “Dragon’s Lair” a week before it was yanked out of the arcades. I also told him that “Space Ace” was probably my favourite of his games. Then we talked a little bit about the Ruby Spears cartoons which we both agreed were subpar. He also mentioned that there was a “Dragon’s Lair” movie in the development stage and he hopes that one day it will see the light of day. I thanked him and left with a signed “Dragon’s Lair” Comic Book. The rest of the weekend is kind of blur to me now but meeting Don I won’t ever forget.
My signed Dragons Lair comic
Level 10 — 2009
Have you heard that old saying “what is old is new again”? Well in 2009 that was as apparent as ever with the laser Disc video games. My girlfriend Amy had just gotten an iPhone and I saw that they had “Dragon’s Lair” and “Space Ace” on it. I bugged her to download it for me and she did. They are probably the most flawless versions of the games ever. It’s amazing to me that you can play a perfect port of the game on a 3 inch phone screen. That was all the reason for me to get an iPhone. So I bought one and immediately downloaded those two games. Shortly thereafter Don released a brand new game called “Banjo” which was pretty lame actually. It was just footage from an old Don Bluth Cartoon movie he did early in his career. The programmers basically just made certain parts of the animation light up and all you would have to do was touch it. Lame or not .99 cents for Don Bluth animation was not a bad deal to me. The iPhone has now become the place to port over all the laser disc video games. Here is the list of available games so far:
Dragon’s Lair
Dragon’s Lair 2 – Time Warp
Space Ace
Cobra Command
Road Blaster
Brain Dead 13
Banjo
And I expect more to come soon. I’ve also heard that there are Blue Ray titles of all the Don Bluth games as well which I will pick up in the future once I get on the Blue Ray band wagon.
iphone game ad
 Level 11 — 2010
The final entry in my laser Disc video game chapter will have to end here in 2010 where 2 significant things happened to bring this long tale full circle.
Finishing Move — 1
My girlfriend Amy and I decided to take a vacation up in LakeWinnipesauke. I had forgotten that Fun Spot was so close by so we decided to go there the first night we got in town. The place blew me away to say the least. It was like I took a time machine back to the past again. I spent an hour just walking around all the old game cabinets and admiring all the memorabilia on the walls and glass cases. I felt like a curator walking around to each game and giving my girlfriend an explanation of them. They even had a picture hanging up of Steve Wiebe from the “King of Kong”. It was neat to see all the Pac-Man games grouped together along with all the Donkey Kong’s. Most important of all they had a small Laser disc section with all the classics and one game I never seen before called “Us vs. Them” That I tried and didn’t really care for. It was a great night for me. The second I got back from vacation I went out to Blockbuster video and bought the store copy of the “King of Kong” documentary so I could feel close to that world again.
Just lost all 5 lives again at Fun Spot
Finishing Move — 2
Late in 2010 my girlfriend and I ended up getting free passes to the video game convention PAX East. This is a convention very similar to E3 where a lot of software companies come and pedal their upcoming games and people will wait hours to try a new demo or see game footage, etc. I like a lot of modern games but none of them so much that I feel the need to stand in line for. So we ended up walking around grabbing free stuff and just enjoying the atmosphere with friends. After wandering around for a while we decide to go up to the second floor. They had an old school arcade section with at least a 100 gaming cabinets. Most noticeably was “Dragon’s Lair” and “Space Ace” which were both being projected on the wall high above each game. Anyone walking around this modern arcade could watch it from where they were standing. This was just heaven to me. I was standing in an arcade setting again with a small crowd watching me drive Ace to the finish for the billionth time. I looked around and saw people glued to Don Bluth’s animation again just like it was Dream Machine circa 1983. I also felt like a contestant on “Supercade” since the games were being projected above me broadcasting my skills all over the arcade. This was easily the best part of the convention for me and I immediately talked about it the next day on Twitter. It was nice to see Digital Leisure the company that releases all the Don Bluth games re-tweet it to their fans. I felt vindicated as a laser disc game fan.:)
Pax East — Laser Disc games come alive once again
Final Cut Scene
I could write for hours and hours about these games and I’m sure some people are scratching their head as to why I love them so much. I’ve asked myself this over the years as well and I know the games just represent everything I love: comic books, video games and movies mashed into one. Also, every time I play them, they spark in me memories of my childhood and the fun of the arcades. It also reminds me of the great times I had with my brother growing up and bonding over these sprite-filled wonders. Plus having hand drawn animation on a video game is an absolute treat.
Thanks for reading my personal timeline and exploring one of my many passions. I hoped you enjoyed this entry. I’ve included some fun facts and I also noted all the other laser disc games that were made with a brief synopsis of each. I also talk a little bit about the games that never happened. There’s even pictures from Don Bluth’s laser game that was never made and, let me tell you, it looked cool as hell. Also if you’re looking for more info on these game or just want to check out a great community of gamers, go to these two sites and be welcomed with open arms. Dragons-lair-project.com and dragonslairfans.com
lead on, adventurer. Your quest awaits!”
Bonus Level
10 Fun Facts about Dragon’s Lair
1) Besides “Pong” and “Pac-Man,” “Dragon’s Lair” is the only game to be on display at the Smithsonian in WashingtonDC.
2) “Dragon’s Lair” was the first 50 cent arcade game. Despite the price it still had long lines of players waiting to try their hand at saving Daphne. Some machines were generating as much as $1,000 per day! The game made 30 million in sales in the first 40 days, and grossing more than 32 million dollars in the first eight months in the arcades.
3) “Dragon’s Lair” was placed in the gaming room of the popular series, “Silver Spoons”.
4) The game also ended up in Disneyland’s Tomorrow Land Arcade. This feat brought a cheer from the former Disney personnel when it was announced at the studio.
5) Some arcades had red carpets and ropes leading up to the game. Others placed giant TV monitors over the game so all could watch it. One arcade actually put bleachers in for the crowds.
6) Since the studio couldn’t afford to hire any models, the animators used photos from Playboy magazines for inspiration for Princess Daphne.
7) There was a “Dragon’s Lair” feature film that was planned, storyboarded, and written, but never made it to production. The film was called Dragon’s Lair: The Legend.  It explored the back story Dirk & Daphne.It was going to be a darker story than the game was. 
8) A Robot Chicken episode, “Celebrity Rocket”, shows Dirk battling a mid-life crisis in the segment “Dragon’s Lair: The Middle Ages”
                                   
9) A portion of the game was parodied in the TV show Family Guy. In season 7, episode 8, titled “Family Gay”, Peter portrayed Dirk the Daring. After bragging to Lois about almost beating “The Dragon’s Lair” we see a flashback re-creation of the flying horse scene where he manages to dodge some of the flames but smacks into the wall bringing up the dreaded death scene.
10) “Samurai Jack” references “Space Ace” and the other Don Bluth animated arcade game, “Dragon’s Lair”, in an episode where Samurai Jack asks which path to take to reach a dragon’s lair. He is told the left; when he asks what the right path leads to, Jack is told, “Space Ace.”
Here is a bunch of laser disc games that probably would have been made if the arcades didn’t crash and burn in the mid eighties. I’m especially sad that “Sea Beast” never got made; the few pictures I found of made it look so awesome.
Sea Beast
This would have been the 4th animated game from the team of The Bluth Group, RDI Video Systems, and Cinematronics.  Unfortunately work stopped midway thru their 3rd game (Dragon’s Lair II) and Sea Beast never got any further than a few sketches and game concept designs seen below.
Knight Rider 
Atari had a few different ideas on the laser disc game drawing board.  Knight Rider was one of those ideas.  Unfortunately a Knight Rider laser disc game never saw the light of day.
Battlestar Galactica 
Here is another title that Atari was working on.  It would have been a conversion kit that would have been able to be used in the Fire Fox arcade game.
Road Runner 
This unique laser disc game used footage from Warner Bros. Looney Tunes cartoon series.  The Road Runner, Coyote, and other objects/obstacles in the game were CG, while the road and background images were from the laser disc.  When you died, the game would cut to a scene from the cartoon series of the Coyote getting killed in one the many humorous death scenes.
Gold Medal w/ Bruce Jenner
 Only two of these machines exist today.  These two cabinets were shown at a 1984 AMOA trade show, but the manufacturer, Stern, decided against the production of these games. 



Here is a list of the animated laser disc games that I’ve never played or seen in arcades for that matter. Since I mostly loved the animated ones, I have listed a short description. (The following game synopses are courtesy of Dragons-lair-project.com)
Badlands
In Badlands, you play a character named Buck, whose wife and children were killed by a group of bad guys.  Revenge is the only thing on your mind. You head through the old western towns, equipped only with your gun, searching for the people who ruined your life.
Bega’s Battle
In Bega’s Battle, you must face the alien Varga who is trying to take over the earth. Other goals are to rescue your friends Luna, Jobe, and Sony.  Once rescued, Luna gives you extra firepower, Jobe gives you a shield, and Sony gives you teleportation ability. 
Esh’s Arunmilla
In this game, you play a character named Don Davis.  Emperor Esh, who is trying to take over the Universe Orion, has kidnapped princess Sindy.  It is your job to rescue Princess Sindy from the evil Emperor.  Armed with only a sword, you must fight your way through the obstacles to rescue the princess and save the universe!
Freedom Fighter
Freedom Fighter used Japanese animation from the movies Galaxy Express 999 and Adieu, Galaxy Express. In Freedom Fighter you are a renegade freedom fighter whose mission is to stow aboard Train 999 en route to the enemy’s home base in space and destroy the evil Robot Guardian. While trying to get to the Train, you must fight a colorful variety of robots from soldiers and snipers to baseball players and hover-vehicles. If the player loses a life, the game resets to its previous decision point and offers the player the chance to choose a different one.
Super Don Quix-ote
The game play was similar to Dragon’s Lair.  You are a knight named Don.  Your girlfriend, Isabella, has been captured by an evil witch who is holding her hostage.  You have a sword for a weapon and a sidekick named Sancho.  You must battle your way to the evil witch’s hideout and save Isabella. Super Don Quix-ote was the first game released in what was called the “Universal System 1” cabinet.  Other laser disc games were planned to be released as conversion kits for the same cabinet.  Here is the list of laser disc games that were planned, but never released:  Time Slip, WildernessKingdom, Adventure in Middle Earth, Space Dracula, Circus Circus, and Adventure Mr. Do!
Here’s a list of games that used a laser disc but employed live actors instead of animation
Astron Belt
Attack of the Zolgear
Casino Strip
COPS
Crime Patrol 1
Crime Patrol 2
Cube Quest
Fast Draw Showdown
Firefox
Galaxy Ranger
Gallagher’s Gallery
Goal to Go
GP World
Interstellar Laser Fantasy
Laser Grand Prix
Last Bounty Hunter
M.A.C.H. 3
Marbella Vice
NFL Football
Platoon
Project Dragoon
Quarter Horse
Space Pirates
Star Rider
Street Viper
Tierras Salvajes
Top Gear
Vision Quest
Who Shot Johnny Rock?
Zorton Brothers
Keith “Dekker” Gleason – “Hero Envy” Central
Keith Gleason is the creator of the“Hero Envy” webisode series. Besides writing and starring in the series, he is also the brainchild behind the comic book of the same name. He is one of the Reckless Sidekicks on the “Swass-Cast” memorabilia podcast and in his spare time travels around the state performing stand up comedy and hitting arcades looking for working versions of Dragon’s Lair.

About "Hero Envy"

The creators of "Hero Envy", "Swass Adventures", and the Swass-Cast" have created a blog filled with exclusive articles about all things geek. Come and join in the fun here or at heroenvy.com
This entry was posted in geek culture, Nostalgia, Vintage Television and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to "Dragon’s Lair" The Quest for a Perfect Video Game

  1. Anonymous says:

    This is awesome! SO informative!!!

  2. I must be the only person in the world that liked the C64 version of Dragon's Lair haha. Great article man 🙂

  3. Brian says:

    Very nice recount. It is very reminiscent of my situation. I worked in an arcade on the boardwalk in a very popular tourist town on the east coast. We used to have 3 arcades and had multiple Dragon's Lair machines with TVs on top to pacify the hunger of the crowds. People got to know I could finish Dragon's Lair and I could literally have 100+ people watching me when I played. It was an amazing time and I am glad I got to have a part in history.

  4. Chris says:

    I really liked the C64 version, after all when you live somewhere where there is no other Arcade near by, its better than nothing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s