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Dragon's Lair

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Dragon's Lair is a laserdisc video game published by Cinematronics in 1983. It featured animation created by former Disney animator Don Bluth. Most other games of the era represented the character as a sprite, which consisted of a series of bitmaps displayed in succession. However, due to hardware limitations of the era, artists were greatly restricted in the detail they could achieve using that technique; the resolution, framerate and number of frames were severely constrained. Dragon's Lair overcame those limitations by tapping into the vast storage potential of the laserdisc, but imposed other limitations on the actual gameplay.

The game's enormous contrast with other arcade games of the time created a sensation when it appeared, and was played so heavily that many machines often broke due to the strain of overuse. It was also arguably the most successful game on this medium and is aggressively sought after by collectors.

In the 21st century it has been repackaged in a number of formats (such as for the iPhone) as a "retro" or historic game.

OverviewEdit

Dragon's Lair features the hero, Dirk the Daring, attempting to rescue Princess Daphne from the evil dragon Singe, who has locked Daphne in a wizard's castle. The screen shows animated scenes, and the player executes an action by selecting a direction or pressing the sword button with correct timing. The comedy of the game stemmed not only from the bizarre looking creatures and death scenes, but also the fact that while Dirk was a skilled knight, he was somewhat clumsy in his efforts, as well as being a reluctant hero, prone to shrieking and reacting in horror to the various dangers he encounters.

The attract mode of the game displays various short vignettes of gameplay accompanied by the following narration:

Dragon's Lair: The fantasy adventure where you become a valiant knight, on a quest to rescue the fair princess from the clutches of an evil dragon. You control the actions of a daring adventurer, finding his way through the castle of a dark wizard, who has enchanted it with treacherous monsters and obstacles. In the mysterious caverns below the castle, your odyssey continues against the awesome forces that oppose your efforts to reach the Dragon's Lair. Lead on, adventurer. Your quest awaits!

Instead of controlling the character's actions directly, players control his reflexes, with different full motion video (FMV) segments playing for correct or incorrect choices.

A quote from a Newsweek article (August 8, 1983) captures the level of excitement displayed over the game during that time:

Dragon's Lair is this summer's hottest new toy: the first arcade game in the United States with a movie-quality image to go along with the action... The game has been devouring kids' coins at top speed since it appeared early in July. Said Robert Romano, 10, who waited all day in the crush at Castle Park without getting to play, "It's the most awesome game I've ever seen in my life.

Dragon's Lair was also one of the first arcade games to cost US$0.50 (or two "credits") for a single play, twice as much as games traditionally cost up until that time.

LegacyEdit

Dragon's Lair initially represented high hopes for the then sagging arcade industry, fronting the new wave of immersive laser disc video games. Arcade operators at its release reported long lines, even though the game was the first video arcade games to cost 50 cents.[5] Operators were also concerned however that players would figure out Draon's Lair's unique predefined game play, leading them to "get the hang of it and stop playing it." [6] By July of 1983, 1000 machines had been distributed, and there were already a backlog of about 7,500.[6] By the end of 1983 Electronic Games and Electronic Fun were rating Dragon's Lair as the number one video arcade game in the US,[7] while the arcade industry gave it recognition for helping turn around its 1983 financial slump. Dragon's Lair received recognition as the most influential game of 1983, to the point that regular computer graphics looked "rather elementary compared to top-quality animation".[9] By February of 1984, it was reported to have grossed over 32 million for Cinematronics. One element of the game that was negatively received was the blackout time in between loading of scenes, which Dyer promised would be eliminated by the forthcoming Space Ace and planned Dragon's Lair sequel.[9] By the middle of 1984 however, after Space Ace and other similar games were released to little success, sentiment on Dragon's Lair's position in the industry had shifted and it was being cited as a failure due to its expensive cost for a game that would "lose popularity".

Dirk was well received by reviewers as a character, who felt "unlike some video game heroes, Dirk's personality has a comic, human side to it."[6] Princess Daphne received mixed reception. Often cited as one of the most attractive characters in video games,[12][13][14][15] as well as being one of the key damsels in distress in video games,[16] she also received mixed reactions for her ditsy voice and her half-naked appearance. Bluth described Daphne by stating "Daphne's elevator didn't go all the way to the top floor, but she served a purpose," a fact panned by critics of the game who perceived it to be violent and sexist.

TechnicalEdit

The original laserdisc players shipped with the game (Pioneer LD-V1000 or PR-7820) often failed. Although the players were of good quality, the game imposed unusually high strain: Laserdisc players were designed primarily for playing movies, in which the laser assembly would gradually move across the disc as the data was read linearly. However Dragon's Lair required seeking different animation sequences on the disc every few seconds as dictated by gameplay. 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.

The life of the original player's gas laser was about 650 hours; although later models had solid state lasers with an estimated life of 50,000 hours, the spindle motor typically failed long before that. It is rare to find a Dragon's Lair game intact with the original player, and conversion kits have been developed so the units can use more modern players.

The original USA 1983 game used a single side NTSC laserdisc player manufactured by Pioneer; the other side of the disc was metal backed to prevent bending. The European versions of the game were manufactured by Atari under license and used single side PAL discs manufactured by Philips (not metal backed). Philips was also the supplier of the laserdisc players for the European games.

The European arcade version of Dragon's Lair was licensed to Atari Ireland (as was Space Ace later). The cabinet design was therefore different from the Cinematronics version. The main differences were that the LED digital scoring panel was replaced with an on screen scoring display appearing after each level. The Atari branding was present in various places on the machine (marquee, coin slots, control panel and speaker grill area), and the machines featured the cone LED player start button used extensively on Atari machines. Although licensing for this region was exclusive to Atari, a number of Cinematronics machines were also available from suppliers mostly via a gray import.

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