Monday, August 27, 2012

Third Rate Game Play: Dragon's Lair Trilogy

Game: Dragon's Lair Trilogy

System: Wii

Developer: Digital Leisure (The Incredible Maze)

Publisher: Destineer

Player: Alex

Experience: Watched playthroughs of Space Ace and Dragon’s Lair

Part I: Dragon's Lair

Part II: Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp

Part III: Space Ace (Watch)

Check after the break for the full article!

In the early 1980’s the arcade scene was beginning to die down, and many were concerned that the industry would dwindle away into the decade.  However, Rick Dyer and his company Advanced Microcomputer Systems aimed to shake away arcade fatigue with a game using laserdiscs and fully-animated characters.  This game, Dragon’s Lair, would spur a cult following for decades, and in this episode, we explore it, its sequel, and another animated adventure title through the Wii collection – Dragon’s Lair Trilogy.

Dragon’s Lair is a fully-drawn adventure arcade game, animated by ex-Disney artist Don Bluth, famous for such films as The Black Cauldron and The Secret of NIMH.  The game originated as a product called The Fantasy Machine, which promised to produce imagery for every scene of interactive fiction.  Dyer came up with the idea after playing Colossal Cave Adventure, a text-based interactive fiction program.  However, the product was not getting enough support to complete it for release, so instead AMS decided to work on animated projects to show off the potential.  The first of these projects would be The Secrets of the Lost Woods, one area of which would be called Dragon’s Lair; the production of what became Dragon’s Lair is entirely separate from Lost Woods.  In the development of Dragon’s Lair, AMS designed the areas and the actions that would take place with each choice made by the player, and Sullivan Bluth Studios handled the art and sound assets of the game with only a $1 Million budget.

The game was met with immediate success in the arcade.  It won publisher Cinematronics millions of dollars, and it received many words of praise from consumers and industry groups.  The praise and profits led AMS and Bluth to work together on two more projects, Dragon’s Lair II: Time Warp and Space Ace.  Meanwhile, Dragon’s Lair was released onto multiple platforms; Software Projects would use unreleased areas of the original for its special Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum game Dragon’s Lair Part II: Escape from Singe’s Castle.  Multiple platforming adventure games were made on other consoles, although the majority was met with some animosity.

Dragon’s Lair II: Time Warp was put to development in 1983, shortly after the original game’s success, but development with AMS halted in early 1984.  Despite this, Sullivan Bluth Productions worked on the game until it was finally completed and released by Leland Corporation.  The animation had improved, and the game had shifted to a linear experience with large setpieces and items to collect across time.  Similar to the PC release of Dragon’s Lair, Software Projects used unreleased areas from the original PC release to create a unique game, Dragon’s Lair III: The Curse of Mordread.  By the late-1990’s, the Dragon’s Lair property had shifted to Digital Leisure, Inc, the company which produced Dragon’s Lair Trilogy and all recent releases of the series.  Besides those releases, Dragonstone Entertainment produced its sole release: Dragon’s Lair 3D: Return to the Lair in 2002, published by Ubisoft.  A DVD version of the game was released by Digital Leisure as Dragon’s Lair III using recordings of a playthrough of the 3D adventure.

The future of AMS was a mixed one.  Even though work with Dragon’s Lair II had been put on-hold, the company still collaborated with Sullivan Bluth Productions to create another interactive arcade adventure: Space Ace.  This adventure allowed multiple difficulty levels and multiple paths, including the ability to choose whether or not to energize the game’s hero, Dexter.  The game had done so well that, along with the success of the original Dragon’s Lair, AMS (now called RDI Video Systems) finally had the funding necessary to realize The Fantasy Machine, eventually released as the Halcyon in 1985.  The console had a laserdisc player and a computer attachment, all for a cost of $2500.  The biggest limitation to the technology was that laserdiscs could only hold roughly a half-hour of video per side, restricting the size of the games or requiring multiple laserdiscs for completion.  The cost and limitations caused many to believe it would be a failure, and RDI only produced two games before going bankrupt: Thayer’s Quest and NFL Football: Raiders vs. Chargers.  Four other games were in development but never released: Orpheus, Shadow of the Stars, The Spirit of Whitter Mansion, and Voyage to the New World.

The developer of the Dragon’s Lair Trilogy game, Digital Leisure, was founded in 1997 with the aim to republish old video arcade titles into new media.  It has rereleased many older video arcade titles onto DVD, including Time Travelor and Shadoan.  Before releasing DLT, Digital Leisure released one other game onto the Wii retail scene: Mad Dog McCree Gunslinger Pack.  Digital Leisure had also released a number of original titles onto WiiWare, with mixed reception.  These include The Incredible Maze, Sudoko Challenge!, Copter Crisis, and a port of Fast Draw Showdown.

Publisher Destineer was founded in 2000 by former Bungie Studios VP, Peter Tamte.  The publisher has released games under four different brandings: Destineer, Bold Games, MacSoft, and Atomic Games (publisher of the Close Combat series).  The company has also developed a number of training simulations for military and intelligence organizations (which results in support from In-Q-Tel).  Some of the company’s published titles include Gammick Entertainment’s Animal Boxing, EnjoyUp GamesLittle Red Riding Hood’s Zombie BBQ, and Sandlot GamesBurger Island.

Dragon’s Lair Trilogy, bringing three timeless arcade adventures together on one disc for Wii: Dragon's Lair, Dragon's Lair 2: Time Warp, and Space Ace.
DRAGON'S LAIR -- An instant hit in its 1983 debut, Dragon's Lair is one of the most beloved arcade games of all time. As valiant knight Dirk the Daring, immerse yourself in a fantasy adventure on a quest to rescue Princess Daphne from the clutches of an evil dragon. You control the actions of the daring adventurer, finding your way through the castle of a dark wizard, who has enchanted it with treacherous monsters and obstacles.

SPACE ACE -- In Space Ace you play the heroic Ace who must stop the evil Commander Borf from taking over the Earth! Only two people have the courage and strength to stop Borf and save Earth: the beautiful Kimberly and Ace. But as they approach Borf's stronghold, Ace is hit by the Infanto Ray, changing him into a child, and Kimberly is kidnapped by the evil madman! The fate of Earth is in your hands!

DRAGON'S LAIR 2 -- In the sequel to the smash-hit, Dragon's Lair 2: Time Warp allows you to once again play the heroic Dirk the Daring, who must stop the Evil Wizard Mordroc as he has kidnapped Princess Daphne and taken her through time! But you must hurry, for once the Casket of Doom has opened, Mordroc will place the Death Ring upon Daphne's finger in marriage and she will be lost forever ... in the Time Warp!
-Official Description

Dragon’s Lair Trilogy is a collection of three laserdisc games developed by Sullivan Bluth Productions, remastered and remade with use of the Wii Remote in mind.  As a collection, it contains three games: both major releases of Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace, the project developed in-between both Dragon’s Lair projects.  Each title is given their own original arcade cabinet in the game’s basic menu, and a number of options are available for each game to better suit each player.  These options range from how many lives the game will provide, where hint markers appear, and a basic volume setup.  Each game has an Attract video to play at will, and for those unwilling to play through an adventure, the game offers a video of each game’s complete playthrough for viewing pleasure.

Each of the three games are ultimately similar in design, although each of the three have their own unique traits when placed side-by-side.  In all three games, players assume the role of a protagonist (either Dirk the Daring or Ace) who must vanquish evil and get the girl, too, but unlike many other games, players do not directly control what they do on-screen.  Instead, the game plays a fully-animated movie of the heroes’ quests, and when a particular flashing prompt arises, players are given a brief moment to either select a specific direction or button in order to progress successfully.  In just about every case, failing just once on these prompts yields a death of the hero, fully-animated to the audience, before the game returns to a previous point in the adventure.  One might consider the games the precursors of QTEs, or Quick Time Events, seen often in games today.

Dragon’s Lair is the simplest of the games, which makes sense as it was also the first.  Players control Dirk the Daring as he ventures into Singe’s castle to save Princess Daphne.  The collection allows players to select the Home or Arcade edition, each which present a slightly different pathway through the castle (home being longer than arcade, which selects a random selection of corridors each playthrough).  Each area is as short as a minute, save the final battle with Singe, and the game is subsequently the shortest adventure, if the player can go through without many deaths.  

Dragon’s Lair II: Time Warp is the third release of the three, but it is listed second in the collection.  In Time Warp, Daphne is captured by the evil sorcerer Mordroc, and Dirk travels through time to save her and defeat the evil wizard in the process.  In addition to the usual correct pathways to avoid death in each area, the game adds special artifacts across time which Dirk can collect mid-adventure if he finds them within each hectic time period.  The collection offers two variants which use the artifacts differently; one version requires collection of every artifact to see the final bout, whereas the other provides a shorter battle sequence at the end if not every item is collected by the end.  Unlike the original, the game is also linear in world selection, and each time period is its own area, requiring much longer bouts of success at a time.

Space Ace was released between the Dragon’s Lair titles and has its own variation from the main QTE formula.  Players control Ace (or Dexter) who, along with Kimberly, is the only force to stop the evil alien Commander Borf from enslaving the human race with his Infanto Ray.  When Ace is hit by the ray, he shrinks down to a younger, scrawnier version of himself, but he still strives to defeat Borf and save Kimberly despite his size!  Unlike the other two games, players are given multiple pathways to take through the adventure, leading them to different obstacles and situations for each playthrough.  At times, the young Ace is given the ability to temporarily return to his older self, regaining his strength and allowing him to shoot his ray gun at enemies with ease.  When he becomes energized is up to the player, and this allows for different outcomes of the same situations, adding on for multiple variations of playthroughs of the game.

All three games have offline leaderboards in case players wish to compare runs, but outside of replaying each adventure over and over again, the game has few extra game modes.  

Dragon’s Lair, Space Ace, and the rest of the video arcade games continue to be re-released by Digital Leisure.  After releasing Dragon’s Lair Trilogy, Digital Leisure went on to release the original Dragon’s Lair onto DS with Destineer as publisher, despite all three Bluth games already being available on DSiWare.  All three games of the trilogy are also available on PlayStation Network individually.  Most recently, Dragon’s Lair was adapted onto Xbox Live Arcade, complete with Kinect compatibility. 

Digital Leisure has since made a few more releases besides re-releases of the Bluth trilogy.  The company continued to release WiiWare products for some time, including Mix Superstar, Word Searcher Deluxe, and Overflow.  Word Searcher games among other originals have released on DSiWare as well.  Digital Leisure’s most recent release outside of the Bluth trilogy is a 3DS eShop port of Mad Dog McCree. 

Since releasing Dragon’s Lair Trilogy, Destineer’s releases have been few and far-between.  The only Wii releases afterwards have been North American Hunting Extravaganza 2 (developed in part by Arcade Moon) and I Love Horses: Rider’s Paradise.  On the DS, Destineer released a few budget titles, including Renegade Kid’s ATV Wild Ride which is now getting a 3DS remake for eShop.  The latest game announcement was Giana Sisters DS, a DS remake of the infamous Amiga platformer franchise which was said to copy Super Mario Brothers; however, the game has yet to release in the US.  The company has remained quiet into this year, leaving questions as to whether it is still alive or not.  To bring further doubt into its existence, company-founder Peter Tamte has very recently unveiled his newest project, Projectbook, a digital note organizer for iPad.  Destineer’s last release has been the DS game I Love Babies which released mid-2011.

We had watched these QTE-esque games in the past, but we never really got to play them.  Having enjoyed the experience of the animation and the adventure through playthroughs, we decided to take a look at the games ourselves, and what a better way to do it than to try out a whole trilogy of games!

We examine each of the three games, each split into their own video for easier viewership.  Alex plays through Dragon’s Lair and Dragon’s Lair II with infinite lives and on Home and Original modes, respectively.  Unfortunately, do the time constraints, we only have time to watch a playthrough of Space Ace, although that probably makes for more commentary while it plays!

As a collection, Dragon’s Lair Trilogy is a darn good one, particularly due to its contents more than its presentation.  It can easily be associated with a DVD Menu more than any game menu, and there are not many extra videos to watch if you desire.  In fact, the trilogy lacks any making-of elements whatsoever; it is a very barebones collection, offering just the basic games themselves.  The options are welcome, as is the ability to watch a complete playthrough at any time.  Considering the game was priced at about $30 at launch and is no doubt cheaper now, it is a good addition to your library if you love the games in any fashion and do not already own a copy of some of the games.  You can probably find each piece separately for cheaper if you look around, but as an all-in-one, it works well.

The episode is one of our bigger pieces, comprising of complete playthroughs of two of the three games, even if we do so with infinite lives.  There are some good one-liners if you spot them, though there are moments where the constant replaying of the same scene (see: Dragon’s Lair II’s Beethoven scene) can get jarring, even for us when we played it!  Still, the way it worked out was well enough for me.  You can almost smell the soul eroding from Alex as he progresses.  Or maybe that's just the muffins burning again.  I better go check.

3RM Says: *cough cough* Mr. Dragon, am I the only one feeling a draft through here?  Oh, wait, I just lost my skin is all.  Alrighty, then.  Time to get the bandages.

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