The first laserdisc video game was Sega's Astron Belt, an early third-person space combat rail shooter featuring live-action full-motion video footage (largely borrowed from a Japanese science fiction film) over which the player/enemy ships and laser fire are superimposed. Developed in 1982, it was first unveiled at the 1982 AMOA show in Chicago and released the following year. However, the game that popularized the genre in the United States was Dragon's Lair, animated by Don Bluth and released by Cinematronics shortly after. Around the same time, the laserdisc game Bega's Battle was also released, followed by Cliff Hanger.
One of the earliest laserdisc video games was Dragon's Lair. It contained animated scenes, much like a cartoon. The scenes would be played back and at certain points during playback the player would have to press a specific direction on the joystick or the button to advance the game to the next scene. For instance, a scene begins with the hero falling through a hole in a drawbridge and being attacked by tentacles. If the player presses the button at this point, the hero fends off the tentacles with his sword, and pulls himself back up out of the hole. If the player fails to press the sword button at the right time, or instead presses a direction on the joystick, the hero is attacked by the tentacles and crushed.
Despite the high cost of the animation, a deluge of similar laserdisc video games followed Dragon's Lair because of its immense popularity. To cut costs, several companies simply hacked together scenes from obscure Japanese anime, creating games like Cliff Hanger (from Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro and Lupin III: Mystery of Mamo) and Bega's Battle (from Harmagedon). Other arcade laserdisc games include Time Traveler, Badlands and Space Ace.
Later laserdisc video games integrated more and more computer graphics with the pre-recorded video. M.A.C.H. 3 and Cube Quest, for instance, were vertical scrolling shooters that used the laserdisc video for the background and computer graphics for the ships. The Firefox arcade game included a Philips Laserdisc player to combine live action video and sound from the Firefox film with computer generated graphics and sound. The game used a special CAV Laserdisc containing multiple storylines stored in very short, interleaved segments on the disc. The player would seek the short distance to the next segment of a storyline during the vertical retrace interval by adjusting the tracking mirror, allowing perfectly continuous video even as the player switched storylines under control of the game's computer. This method of seeking was noted for being extremely strenuous on the player and frequently led to the machines breaking, slightly hindering the appeal of laserdisc arcade games.
In the 1990s, American Laser Games produced a wide variety of live-action light gun laserdisc video games, which played much like the early laserdisc games, but used a light gun instead of a joystick to affect the action.
- The Dragon's Lair Project: A repository of information about laserdisc video games
- "Laser Daze", from The Dot Eaters: Videogame History 101