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Dragon's Lair

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Dragon's Lair was one of the first laser disc video games, released in June 1983 by Cinematronics. It featured polished Disney-like animation created by former Disney animator Don Bluth, and for the first time allowed players to control a fully realized character. Most other games of the era represented the character as a sprite, which consisted of a series of bitmaps animated by playing them 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, frame rate and number of frames were severely constrained. Dragon's Lair overcame those limitations by tapping into the vast storage potential of laser disc, which completely freed the artist, but imposed other limitations on the actual gameplay.

Dragon's Lair was followed by Space Ace and by an actual sequel called Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp. It was also adapted into other gaming genres for other game systems such as the Coleco Adam, the NES, the Gameboy, and the Super NES.

Gameplay

Guide Dirk the Daring, a valiant knight who is out to rescue the beautiful Princess Daphne from the clutches of an evil dragon. Use various cues to make the right move in each of the dungeons you come across. Be careful, because one false move can cost Dirk one of his lives.

Levels

The various levels, or "dungeons", featured in this game include:

The Drawbridge -- Not featured in the arcade original, Dirk falls through the drawbridge and must narrowly escape a bunch of tentacles in the moat waiting to grab him.

The Crumbling Hallway -- Dirk has seconds to pick the right door to escape falling debris as the hallway crumbles before him.

The Fiery Ropes -- Dirk must swing over a fiery chasm using burning ropes in order to get to the other side. (This level is repeated as a mirror.)

The Closing Wall -- Dirk sees a wall that forms right in front of him. He must jump through the gap or else he will get stuck in the wall. If Dirk doesn't jump before the wall closes up, poisonous gas will fill the room and kill him.

Skull Hallway -- Dirk must jump past chattering skulls and piles of ooze pouring out of doors while using his sword against giant grabbing skeletal hands. At the end of the hallway, he must take out the Crypt Creeps. (This level is repeated as a mirror.)

Haunted Horse Armor -- Dirk must ride haunted horse armor around while avoiding collisions with various pillars, walls of fire and a stone wall. (This level is repeated as a mirror.)

The Drink Me Room -- Dirk must avoid the chemicals in the room that say "Drink Me" by going through the room's exit.

The Rapids And Whirlpools -- Dirk rides a barrel down a river of raging waters to avoid drowning or collision before reaching the chain he must grab and climb up.

The Falling Disk -- Dirk rides a falling disk down a long vertical shaft and must get off at one of the ledges before the disk hits the bottom. (This level is repeated five times: four have three ledges, one has nine.)

The Lizard King -- The Lizard King chases Dirk down a series of hallways while he chases after a pot of gold that has taken his sword. He must avoid getting hit by the Lizard King.

The Rolling Balls -- Dirk must avoid being run over by either the giant ball that's chasing him or any of the six smaller balls rolling back and forth across his path.

The Chessboard Knight -- A knight stands on a chessboard floor, electrifying tiles with his sword. Dirk must avoid getting zapped and reach the knight to knock him out with the sword. (This level is repeated as a mirror.)

The Giddy Goons -- Dirk must fight his way past the Giddy Goons as he ascends up a staircase.

The Grim Reaper / Sock Boppers -- Dirk must slip past a pair of rotating pendulums to get at the Grim Reaper, then must escape growing brier plants to reach the exit. (This level is repeated as a mirror.)

The Weapons Room -- Dirk enters a room where the armaments come to life and attack him, plus a statue when he heats up his sword in the forge. (This level is repeated as a mirror.)

The Tentacles Room -- Dirk must avoid getting smothered to death by a bunch of tentacles that enter into the room to try blocking his escape.

The Electrified Cave -- Dirk must escape a cave that becomes electrified through a chomping door, then time his run across a bridge over a lava geyser.

The Crumbling Pool Room -- Dirk must make it through a room where the floor crumbles under his feet as well as through a pool in the center with deadly creatures in it. (This level is repeated as a mirror.)

The Mud Men -- Dirk is chased by Mud Men and must time his way past erupting lava geysers to escape them.

The Mist Room -- Dirk must deal with snakes emerging from holes in a misty room and then climb up a rope to escape.

The Crumbling Ledge -- Dirk must keep one step ahead of a ledge that's crumbling under his feet.

The Haunted Horseman -- Dirk must escape the charges of a knight on horseback.

The Disappearing Floor -- The tiles of the floor in this room are disappearing, and Dirk must get to the exit.

The Slippery Staircase -- The staircase that leads to a chasm full of tentacles turns into a slippery slope that Dirk must get past to reach the exit.

The Wizard's Cauldron -- Dirk must watch out for strange things coming out of the wizard's cauldron.

The Lightning Room --- Lightning strikes various things in the room and sets them on fire. Dirk must watch his step and find the way out of there.

The Electrified Throne Room -- Dirk must avoid getting electrified as he reaches the throne that activates a moving panel.

The Wind Room -- Dirk gets sucked into a room with a lot of wind blowing around and must find the exit.

The Batty Walkway -- Dirk must fight his way past bats and a walkway that crumbles under his feet.

The Dragon's Lair -- The final level: Dirk must get the magical sword in order to slay the dragon and grab the key that unlocks the crystal cage that Princess Daphne is trapped in.

Development

Dragon's Lair began as a concept by Rick Dyer, president of Advanced Microcomputer Systems (which later became RDI Video Systems). A team of game designers created the characters and locations, then choreographed Dirk's movements as he encountered the monsters and obstacles in the castle. The art department at AMS created storyboards for each episode as a guide for the final animation.

The game was animated by veteran Disney animator Don Bluth and his studio. Development was done on a shoestring budget, cost US$1 million and took seven months to complete. Since the studio couldn't afford to hire any models, the animators used photos from Playboy magazines for inspiration for the character Princess Daphne. The animators also used their own voices for all the characters instead of hiring actors in order to keep costs down, although it does feature one professional voice actor: Michael Rye as the narrator in the attract sequence (he is also the narrator for Space Ace and Dragon's Lair II). The voice of Princess Daphne was portrayed by Vera Lanpher who was head of the Clean-up Department at the time.

Dirk the Daring's voice belongs to film editor Dan Molina, who later went on to perform the bubbling sound effects for another animated character, Fish Out of Water, from 2005's Disney film Chicken Little, which he also edited. Dirk shrieks or makes other noises on numerous occasions but speaks words only twice. First, he mutters "Uh, oh" when the platform begins to recede during the fire-swinging sequence, then he exclaims "Wow!" when first entering the Dragon's Lair and laying eyes on the slumbering Princess Daphne.

The music and many sound effects were scored and performed by Chris Stone at EFX Systems in Burbank. Bryan Rusenko and Glen Berkovitz were the recording engineers. The 43 second "Attract Loop" was recorded in a straight 18 hour session. Featured instruments, all keyboards, were the E-mu Emulator and Memory MOOG.

Notes

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

To attract players to the game, some arcade operators installed a second monitor above the machine that would allow passersby to watch the game being played without disturbing the player.

Reception

Princess Daphne has received mixed reception. She is often cited as one of the most attractive characters in video games, as well as being one of the key damsels in distress in video games. When asked who he preferred, Pauline or Daphne, "Donkey Kong Champ, Tim Sczerby, picked Daphne because she was more animated." However, she also received mixed reactions for her ditsy voice and her half-naked appearance.

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