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Classic Games come to DVD

by Jim Bray

Fans of "Dragon's Lair" may be delighted to know the game has a new lease on life, thanks to DVD technology.

"Lair" was an interactive adventure created in the animation studio of Don "An American Tale" Bluth. It featured a laserdisc engine in which you controlled lead character Dirk the Daring and sent him on his way into a dark castle to rescue the lovely Princess Daphne from the evil clutches of a fearsome dragon. The game happily swallowed the quarters of many an arcade aficionado during the 1980's.

I played it a couple of times myself (purely for research, of course) before discovering that there weren't enough quarters in the world to rescue that fair damsel. But now, Gormley, Ontario's Digital Leisure has released the game on DVD, giving frustrated swashbucklers on a budget the chance to finally get through the game without mortgaging their futures.

The game's available on both DVD Video and DVD ROM. I played the video version, which uses your DVD player's remote control to make Dirk do your bidding.

Dragon's Lair probably won't go down in history as one of the great arcade games, which is a shame: the idea that you get to be the star of an animated cartoon is terrific. Unfortunately, unlike many of today's arcade and computer games, you don't have full control of your character; all you can do is move Dirk in one of four directions or take a swipe with his sword. If you make the right choice at the right time, the adventure continues; if you don't, you're both Dragon meat. This was still pretty neat stuff for its time, but the technology has marched along quite a bit between the arcade "Dragon's Lair" and today's PC games.

Most of Dragon's Lair is passive, with you sitting back and watch the beautifully animated story advance to the next crucial point in the action. When you see the yellow sparkle (on the DVD you also get an onscreen notification that it's time to rumble) you have to be quick with your finger on the remote's arrow or "enter" keys.

Dragon's Lair gives you five lives in which to complete your quest which, in my case, is about seven thousand lives too few. Fortunately, you have ten seconds from your "final death" to restart from where you left off. This means that, given enough time, you can complete the adventure in one sitting.

Each time you stop the video DVD, however, you're sent back to the beginning; there's no "Save Game" feature. There was no such feature in the arcade game, either, but it sure would be handy in the home setting (and, to be fair, it may be available on the DVD-ROM - a version of which I didn't try). I can't think of anyone other than the retired, unemployed, or shut in who could sit still long enough to see Dirk through to his conclusion.

Sound and graphics are good, though the picture looked very soft and somewhat digitized on an extremely high end digital projection TV on which I tried it. At home, however, on my more modest higher end TV, it looked great.

The Bluth animation is world class, and it's kind of neat to be part of the adventure. The disc's Audio is encoded into Dolby Digital and sounds very good.

Space Ace

Space Ace

Bluth followed up the success of "Dragon's Lair" with "Space Ace," a sci-fi version of the same basic arrangement. The transfer to DVD for Digital Leisure adds a couple of features not on the first disc, including the ability to watch the whole adventure as if it were a straightforward animated feature - albeit a very short one.

That's actually a handy feature, because it lets you see where your quest should be taking you, and that's a nice head's up. Unfortunately, it doesn't really make getting there any easier...

The game works the same way as Dragon's Lair, in that you use the "cursor control" keys on your DVD player's remote control to choose where you want Ace to go or what you want him to do. You're prompted by a little onscreen graphic, and a yellow glow appears in the animation as well to give you a hint on what your action should be.

Doesn't mean you'll make the right move, though...

The object of the game is to prevent the evil Borf from using his "infanto ray" to reduce all of humanity to drooling, diaper-clad moppets (kind of like our current political class) - and only Ace and the lovely Kimberley have the wherewithal to prevent it.

The liner notes provide clues as to what each level's goal is without getting too specific about how you have to reach it. Unfortunately, there's no "Save game" feature that lets you rest your cursor key finger and come back later for a second attempt (or millionth, for that matter). As with "Dragon's" the only way you can stop is to either use the DVD player's pause control or - on most units - press "Stop" once, then leave the disc in the player. Subsequent restarting should resume the game where you left off.

The animation is lovely and the audio is nice and clean. It has been remixed into two channel Dolby Digital.

Extras include interviews with animator par excellence Don Bluth and the game's co-creator Rick Dyer, a look at some video footage that was used to promote the game's original arcade release, and there are some trailers for upcoming Digital Leisure titles.

If you liked "Dragon's Lair" you'll probably be just as enthralled by "Space Ace," which is an even better translation of the laserdisc arcade classic to the DVD medium.

Dragon's Lair 3

Dragon's Lair III

Dirk Daring Makes a Comeback

Dirk Daring, hero of the Don Bluth animated video game Dragon’s Lair, is back in action in Dragon’s Lair III, a new DVD and CD ROM game from Digital Leisure.

The original Dragon’s Lair used laserdisc technology in an arcade setting to pry quarters from gamers’ pockets some 20 years or more ago. It was a fascinating blend of classic animation and arcade gaming technology and the concept lends itself very well to today’s PC and DVD player platforms.

Digital Leisure sent us the DVD version, which plays in ordinary home theater DVD players and is controlled via the cursor control and enter keys on the player’s remote. The game doesn’t really break new ground so far as gameplay is involved, but fans of Dirk will undoubtedly enjoy his new adventures as he tries to rescue Princess Daphne from the evil clutches of the wizard Mordroc.

One thing we really like about the DVD version, as opposed to the coin-sucking arcade version, is that you can spend hours and hours trying to get through the adventure without becoming a pauper, or looking like a real klutz to all the other people in the arcade.

The animation isn’t just a recycled version of Bluth’s original (not that we’re trying to put down Bluth’s animation – in fact, we’re fans of Bluth), but instead offers new CG animation using what the distributor calls “Toon Shading” technology. There are also new characters and levels and you get three bonus scenes.

Yet there’s a lot that’s familiar, from the opening screens and the skeletal transitions that rear their ugly heads when Dirk meets his demise (which, alas, happened all too often when we played).

There are dangers to avoid, enemies to kill and puzzles to solve as you guide Dirk through this adventure’s 43 levels and nine Boss Battles. It may not be as sophisticated as some of the games available these days for platforms such as PC’s and Playstation 2, but the DVD version plays in your living room’s DVD player and features an interface easy enough for even an adult to figure out.

Dragon’s Lair 3, from Digital Leisure


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Updated May 13, 2006