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One machine above all turned heads when it first appeared in the local arcades, you would be lucky to even get a glimpse of it. As crowds milled around to get a look in, the problem became so great that arcade owners even installed extra monitors on top of the cabinets so that addicts could view the action from further a field.

Dragons Lair

Intro Screen for Dragon's Lair

What I have just described is almost unimaginable in todays sad apologies for arcades, but back in 1983 this is just what happened when Inharmonic released the incredible Dragon’s Lair starring ‘Dirk the Daring’.

The game caused such a stir as it was the first to feature the brand new untried ‘laser disc’ technology that we had all heard so much about. Lasers definitely equaled ‘cool’ back in the 80’s.

Dirk The Daring

Our Hero 'Dirk the Daring'

The game was like appearing in your own cartoon where you controlled the main character and dictated what happened to the gameplay by your lightening quick responses to situations that you found yourself in.

The game itself was the brainchild of a certain Rick Dyer, and the animation was pure eye candy courtesy of Don Blunt FIlms. There were over 25 minutes of animation crammed into this baby allowing nearly 30 different missions to be played out. Even today the graphics are far better than those you will find on many games almost across the board in the modern era.

Beautiful Animation

An example of some of the top quality animation

If you became the the 'King' on this game arcade immortality was assured, slaying the dragon in front of dozens of peers, and on monitors up high for all to see could hardly be bettered back in the day. So, credit after credit would be pumped into the game as you strove to complete your mission.

Game play actually was very basic and very linear but I know that I didn’t care a hoot and hundreds of others seemed to agree with me at the time. The game was actually a series of memory testing screens which consisted of jump this way or jump that, and or, hit the sword button. If you could remember the scene as you encountered it and were able to move in the correct direction then progression was assured, screw it up and the all too familiar crumbling skeleton screen would appear and much ridicule would follow.

Skeleton Screen

The infamous Skeleton Screen

On your quest you would encounter beautifully animated enemies such as rabid rodents, massive marbles, black knights, swinging blades and skeleton hands. The climax was an encounter with the evil dragon itself 'Singe'. But the pain was more than worth the reward which came in the delicious figure of 'Daphne'. Daphne was blonde, wore a tiny figure hugging outfit and wanted to be saved, by you, (note to author at this point, remember this is a cartoon and calm down).

Daphne

The gorgeous Daphne

Cinematronics had a massive hit on their hands and rumours abounded in the industry that this technology was the saviour that the arcade game industry had been searching for. That's because in 1983 the Video Game industry was on the verge of collapse and Dragon’s Lair was seen as a kind of saviour. But the flip side to the coin and the negatives unfortunately far out-weighed the positives.

Firstly the cabinet cost an eye popping $4,500 and was continually braking down as a result of the laser technology being so delicate and arcade goers being so un-delicate.

Final Encounter

The final encounter with 'Singe'

Secondly people lost interest when they had seen 'Singe' defeated and ultimately the games that followed on were not as well received within the gaming community. Games such as 'Space Ace', 'Cliffhanger' etc, thus the revenue tumbled, which (as a result), only fuelled the collapse of the arcade game industry instead of helping extinguish it as planned.

But I prefer to remember Dragon's Lair as the beautifully crafted masterpiece that injected so much excitement into the arcades back in 1983 and made you wonder what other wonders the future of gaming might hold ... ! Sadly the Nintendo Wii appears to be the only innovation around these days at least in gaming terms and so we still have to dream on.

Dreaming

An example of dreaming on!

Trivia:
Don Bluth and other animators on the project used to actually work for Disney.

It took 6 years to complete the animation for the game.

To save money the voices used for the characters in the game were actually those of the animation team.

In the end animation costs alone topped the million dollars mark.

Rumour has it that those poor sexually starved boys on the animation team had to use several Playboy magazines as a reference guide for drawing Daphne.

Technical:
Early in the production run the PR-7820 laser disc player was used. The game PCB uses a Z-80 processor and will have either 4 or 5 ROMs. (info courtesy of Klov)

Summary:
Nearly oh so nearly a masterpiece which in may ways was way ahead of its time but alas the technology of the time could not live up to the dreams of its creators and subsequently the game is remembered as an indulgent
and expensive semi flop which failed to save the industry.

Overall Classic Game Rating - 7.5