Archive for September, 2008

New Knight Rider show

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

It’s on tonight. I’m not justifying this with a link or a viewing or a picture.

I’m just sad.

Gremlins, Gremlins, bite after bite…

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

Man, I forgot how good the Gremlins Cereal ad was. Too bad I couldn’t find a better version of the clip:

Yeah, same sweetened corn-crunch crap as every other cereal at that time. You know, I never even saw Gremlins 2? I may be better off for it.

Video game cover on the cheap

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

Demon Attack was one of the best games for the Atari 2600 (or VCS for you old folks) but man, I forgot about this cover:

I bet that cost them a whole five bucks.

I bet that cost them a whole five bucks.

I had those dinosaur toys and the GI Joe stuff those missiles came from. Someone should have paid me to glue them together and spraypaint them silver. I’m pretty sure I could have done that.

Rick Dyer and the world of interactive cartoons that never was

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

In 1982, just as everyone was getting used to the fancy graphics of Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Galaga, a new type of game hit the scenes. Instead of being faced with a colorful splash of pixels or a sharp green vector image, arcade-goers were suddenly face to face with this:

Er...wow!

Er...wow!

That’s right, Dragon’s Lair wasn’t just an interactive cartoon; it was good one. The project was the child of Rick Dyer, who saw a lot of potential for interactive media, and Don Bluth, former Disney animator and creator of the Secret of NIMH movie. So the cartoon art in Dragon’s Lair wasn’t some cheap mass-produced crap, but smooth animations and sharp colors and backgrounds. This shows nowhere better than the game’s damsel in distress, Princess Daphne, a girl so hot, that she could only be hotter if she and Jessica Rabbit…You know what? Let’s move on.

Sweet, sweet sugar

Sweet, sweet sugar

That’s not to say Dragon’s Lair ate Pac-Man’s lunch (which is usually a brown paper bag with a couple of dots, a power pellet sandwich, and a Hi-C juice box). As a game, it still had some serious flaws. Because it was really just a laserdisc with some tags to check for input, each situation had only one outcome, and the correct control had to be pressed at the exact correct time. Instead of a dynamic reaction to various enemy patterns and random chance, it was pure memorization of when to hit which button. That’s not to say it wasn’t a fun game, but the replayability wasn’t there. It turned out ok for arcade owners in the end; they just charged 75 cents a play for the new fad. Longer lines to play the new game formed than had ever been seen in an arcade, and the folks who had mastered the game didn’t seem to mind playing it again and again for the audiences they drew.

Dragon’s Lair was such an smash hit that it was quickly followed by the science-fictioney Space Ace, which featured similar great animation, and another hot cartoon babe, Kimberley, to rescue. Soon it seemed like no solid arcade would be without one of the two.

Uniform discipline is lax amongst space heroes.

Uniform discipline is lax amongst space heroes.

And then that was it. There were a few very terrible attempts by other companies to cash in, but they weren’t something you saw very often.

It wasn’t until 1991 that a nostalgia-fueled Dragon’s Lair sequel hit the revived arcade scene. Even discounting the video game crash that occurred in the US in the early 80s, it seemed mysterious that this promising genre would go away so quickly. So what happened?

Well, for one thing, the arcade units were not the incredible money maker they seemed to be at first. Due to its fragile nature, and the fact that it wasn’t designed to run constantly for hours at a time, the laserdisk player in the machine would frequently break if the machine was smacked or kicked. You know, the two fates that most arcade machines suffer hundreds of times a day? Repairs on the machine were apparently not cheap, either. Although the machines still probably drew a profit (and customers for other machines), the frustration of constantly having to service them and explain to customers the “Out of order” signs likely kept people from ordering new machines.

The basic gameplay and single path of the story also limited customer interest after the gimmick wore off. Space Ace actually mitigated this by having multiple options for some of the challenges, but once someone had seen the games a few times, they were unlikely to come back. Arcades always have dark and dusty corners where the forgotten games of yesteryear are assembled so they don’t shame the newer and prettier ones, but even those games usually have a handful of devotees still dumping quarters into them.

To top it all off, Rick Dyer had decided to start a company based around taking laserdisc video games into the home. The problem was that the console was 2500 bucks. That’s 2500 bucks in 1985 money. The “Halcyon” seems to have been an obviously bad idea, but he went ahead with it anyways. His planned first game, Thayer’s Quest, was more like a modern adventure game in terms of having an inventory and the ability to go to multiple areas, but it wasn’t the same level of quality as his arcade games, and he didn’t really have a lot of other titles to follow it up (the Halcyon flier lists a few, but apparently only Thayer’s Quest and a football game were finished). His company went belly up, but a few copies of Thayer’s Quest made it to the arcades where nobody paid any attention to them.

That’s not to say people were totally done with the franchises, though. Aside from the typical merchandising, there were numerous “ports” and “sequels” of the game that varied from platform games to cut down full-motion video like the arcade to something in between. The result was rarely anything to be proud of. And despite being more suited to a Saturday morning cartoon form than most games, the end result was pretty mediocre, even with the voice of Destro for the evil dragon.

The real travesty was the Space Ace cartoon. Part of the “Saturday Supercade” collection (individual cartoons that were each based on a different video game), it replaced Don Bluth’s beautiful hand-drawn animation with, well, horrible garbage. The voice of Destro couldn’t save this one.

In the end, Mr. Dyer didn’t really make a strong return to the full-motion genre until Dragon’s Lair II and the “Holographic” Time Traveller games in the 90s, around when a few other companies began trying out live action games like Mad Dog McCree. By then, CD-rom games systems were presenting us with more of these full-motion games in the home (including some schlock that had been developed for another failed video-based console), and some of those games were making us realize that maybe the genre was not a good idea. Still, at least we’ll always have memories of Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace and their awesome and painful death sequences.