Most other games of the era represented the character as a sprite, which consisted of a series of pixels displayed 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, framerate, and number of frames were severely constrained. Dragon's Lair overcame those limitations by tapping into the vast storage potential of the laserdisc, but imposed other limitations on the actual gameplay. The game's enormous contrast with other arcade games of the time created a sensation when it appeared, and was played so heavily that many machines often broke due to the strain of overuse. It was arguably the most successful game on this medium, and is aggressively sought after by collectors.
The success of the game sparked numerous home ports, sequels and related games. In the 21st century it has been repackaged in a number of formats (such as for the iPhone) as a "retro" or historic game.
On October 26, 2015, Bluth and Goldman started a Kickstarter campaign to create a teaser for an animated feature-length Dragon's Lair prequel film, their first feature film since Titan A.E. The Kickstarter funding was canceled when not enough funds were made close to the deadline, but an Indiegogo page for the project was created in its place. On December 14, 2015, the Indiegogo campaign reached its goal of $250,000 to produce a teaser, 14 days after the campaign launched, and got more than twice the budget on January 16, 2016. Bluth and Goldman have announced that the film will provide more backstory for Dirk and Daphne and that Daphne will show that she is not a "blonde airhead".
Dragon's Lair features the hero, Dirk the Daring, attempting to rescue Princess Daphne from the evil dragon Singe, who has locked Princess Daphne in the foul wizard Mordroc's castle. The screen shows animated cutscenes, and the player executes an action by selecting a direction or pressing the sword button with correct timing, requiring the player to memorize each scenario in order to clear each quick time event. The comedy aspects of the game stemmed not only from the bizarre looking creatures and humorous death scenes, but also the fact that while Dirk was a skilled knight, he was somewhat clumsy in his efforts, as well as being a reluctant hero, prone to shrieking and reacting in horror to the various dangers he encounters.
The attract mode of the game displays various short vignettes of gameplay accompanied by the following narration:
"Dragon's Lair: The fantasy adventure where you become a valiant knight, on a quest to rescue the fair princess from the clutches of an evil dragon. You control the actions of a daring adventurer, finding his way through the castle of a dark wizard, who has enchanted it with treacherous monsters and obstacles. In the mysterious caverns below the castle, your odyssey continues against the awesome forces that oppose your efforts to reach the Dragon's Lair. Lead on, adventurer. Your quest awaits!"
Instead of controlling the character's actions directly, players control his reflexes, with different full motion video (FMV) segments playing for correct or incorrect choices. Dragon's Lair was one of the first arcade games to cost US$0.50 (or two "credits") for a single play, twice as much as games traditionally cost up until that time.
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.
Dyer was inspired by the text game Adventure. This game gave rise to an invention he dubbed "The Fantasy Machine." This device went through many incarnations from a rudimentary computer using paper tape (with illustrations and text) to a system that manipulated a videodisc containing mostly still images and narration. The game it played was a graphic adventure called The Secrets of the Lost Woods. Attempts to market The Fantasy Machine had repeatedly failed. Allegedly, an Ideal Toy Company representative walked out in the middle of one presentation. Dyer's inspiration allegedly came during his viewing of The Secret of NIMH, whereby he realized he needed quality animation and an action script to bring excitement to his game. He elected to take a reserved but as of yet unscripted location from The Secrets of the Lost Woods known as The Dragon's Lair.
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 voice 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.
The original laserdisc players shipped with the game (Pioneer LD-V1000 or PR-7820) often failed. Although the players were of good quality, the game imposed unusually high strain: Laserdisc players were designed primarily for playing movies, in which the laser assembly would gradually move across the disc as the data was read linearly. However Dragon's Lair required seeking different animation sequences on the disc every few seconds—indeed, less than a second in some cases—as dictated by gameplay. The high amount of seeking, coupled with the length of time the unit was required to operate, could result in failure of the laserdisc player after a relatively short time. This was compounded by the game's popularity. As a result, the laserdisc player often had to be repaired or replaced.
The life of the original player's gas laser was about 650 hours; although later models had solid state lasers with an estimated life of 50,000 hours, the spindle motor typically failed long before that. It is rare to find a Dragon's Lair game intact with the original player, and conversion kits have been developed so the units can use more modern players.
The original USA 1983 game used a single side NTSC laserdisc player manufactured by Pioneer; the other side of the disc was metal backed to prevent bending. The European versions of the game were manufactured by Atari under license and used single side PAL discs manufactured by Philips (not metal backed).
The European arcade version of Dragon's Lair was licensed to Atari Ireland (as was Space Ace later). The cabinet design was therefore different from the Cinematronics version. The main differences were that the LED digital scoring panel was replaced with an on screen scoring display appearing after each level. The Atari branding was present in various places on the machine (marquee, coin slots, control panel and speaker grill area), and the machines featured the cone LED player start button used extensively on Atari machines. Although licensing for this region was exclusive to Atari, a number of Cinematronics machines were also available from suppliers mostly via a gray import.
Dragon's Lair initially represented high hopes for the then sagging arcade industry, fronting the new wave of immersive laser disc video games. A quote from Newsweek captures the level of excitement displayed over the game: "Dragon's Lair is this summer's hottest new toy: the first arcade game in the United States with a movie-quality image to go along with the action... The game has been devouring kids' coins at top speed since it appeared early in July. Said Robert Romano, 10, who waited all day in the crush at Castle Park without getting to play, "It's the most awesome game I've ever seen in my life." Arcade operators at its release reported long lines, even though the game was the first video arcade game to cost 50 cents. Operators were also concerned however that players would figure out Dragon's Lair's unique predefined game play, leading them to "get the hang of it and stop playing it." By July of 1983, 1000 machines had been distributed, and there were already a backlog of about 7,500. By the end of 1983 Electronic Games and Electronic Fun were rating Dragon's Lair as the number one video arcade game in USA, while the arcade industry gave it recognition for helping turn around its 1983 financial slump. Dragon's Lair received recognition as the most influential game of 1983, to the point that regular computer graphics looked "rather elementary compared to top-quality animation". By February of 1984, it was reported to have grossed over $32 million for Cinematronics. One element of the game that was negatively received was the blackout time in between loading of scenes, which Dyer promised would be eliminated by the forthcoming Space Ace and planned Dragon's Lair sequel. By the middle of 1984 however, after Space Ace and other similar games were released to little success, sentiment on Dragon's Lair's position in the industry had shifted and it was being cited as a failure due to its expensive cost for a game that would "lose popularity". In 2001, GameSpy ranked Dragon's Lair as #7 on the list of "Top 50 Arcade Games of All-Time".
Dirk was received by reviewers as a character, who felt "unlike some video game heroes, Dirk's personality has a comic, human side to it." Princess Daphne received mixed reception. Often cited as one of the most attractive characters in video game history, as well as being one of the key damsels in distress in video games, she also received mixed reactions for her ditsy voice and her half-naked appearance. Bluth described Daphne by stating "Daphne's elevator didn't go all the way to the top floor, but she served a purpose," a fact panned by critics of the game who perceived it to be violent and sexist. In 2009, Singe was ranked 93rd in IGN "Top 100 Videogames Villains".
The original Fantasy Machine was later released as a prototype video game console known as Halcyon.
Various home computer adaptations of Dragon's Lair were released during the 1980s and 1990s but because of (at the time) high memory consumption due to the detailed animation of the games, not all the scenes from the original game were included. Reviewers of the home computer versions differed widely in their appraisal of the game, with one Amiga magazine awarding 92% due to the unprecedented audio-visual quality, while another magazine giving the same version a score of only 32% on account of the "wooden" gameplay. This led toEscape from Singe's Castle, a pseudo-sequel where Daphne is kidnapped at the moment of Dirk's victory by a shapeshifter, forcing him to venture even further into the castle to save her again. The game was made up of unused scenes from the laserdisc version, though some portions (such as the lizard king and mud men) were shortened. The 8-bit versions were created by Software Projects, while Readysoft handled the 16-bit versions. These used video compression and new storage techniques, but came on multiple 3.5" floppy disks.
The game also led to the creation of a short-lived television animated series, Dragon's Lair by Ruby-Spears Productions, in which the originally nameless Dragon was given the name Singe, and Princess Daphne (portrayed by Ellen Gerstell) now wore a long pink dress. Thirteen half-hour episodes were produced and aired on the ABC network from September 8, 1984, to April 27, 1985. It was last aired on theUSA Cartoon Express between the late '80s and the early '90s, with a commercial bumper showing Dirk inside the train entertaining children with magic tricks while Singe the Dragon ran by his back while Dirk pulled out his sword and chased Singe. The show was generally run of the mill, but boasted an unusual feature: to keep the show in the spirit of the game, before each commercial break a narrator would ask what the viewer would do to solve the problem facing Dirk. After the commercial break, the outcomes of the various choices were shown before Dirk acts on the correct idea (with the occasional exception) to save the day.
The game inspired a sequel (disregarding the Escape from Singe's Castle as one), Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp, created shortly after the original, but released in 1991.
It also led to the creation of 1984's Space Ace, another game animated by Don Bluth and his crew. Space Ace was also a ROM and disc upgrade kit for the Dragon's Lair cabinets, complete with new control panel overlay, side art and header.
Dragon's Lair III: The Curse of Mordread was made for Amiga and DOS in 1993, mixing original footage with scenes from Time Warp that were not included in the original PC release due to memory constraints. The game also included a newly produced "Blackbeard the Pirate" stage that was originally intended to be in the arcade game but was never completed.
In late 2002, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the original arcade release of the smash hit, Digital Leisure Inc. produced a special edition DVD box set of the three arcade classics that defined laser disc arcade games: Dragon’s Lair, Space Ace and Dragon’s Lair II: Time Warp. All the scenes from the original arcade releases were included and optionally the player could select new scenes that were animated in 1983, but not included in any previous Dragon’s Lair release. The games were also updated to include higher quality video, authentic scene order and a new difficulty selection to make it more challenging for Dragon’s Lair pros. Digital Leisure worked with a small independent game developer, Derek Sweet, to release a CD-ROM 4-Disc Box Set for Windows based PCs.
A comic book miniseries based on the game, but incorporating elements from the cartoon series as well, like Dirk's horse Bertram, was released in 2003 by Crossgen Publishing, concurrent with a mini series based on Space Ace. Arcana Studio is published the entire comic book series in 2006, as there were three issues that were never before published.
In 2005, Digital Leisure created a new Dragon's Lair III which utilized 3D footage from Dragon's Lair 3D, but controlled via a system like the original arcade games.
In the late 2006, Digital Leisure released "Dragon's Lair HD", which features an all-new High-Definition transfer from the original negatives (as opposed to just sourcing the laserdisc). The original mono soundtrack has also been remastered into Dolby Digital 5.1 sound (on PCs that can support it).
According to Don Bluth and Gary Goldman a Dragon's Lair movie has been scripted and is ready to go into production once financing for the project is in place. The film will be in the classic, traditional 2D animation style. Currently, however, the project is in development hell. Bluth and Goldman are now looking for funding to put the film in production.
On April 9, 2007, a Blu-Ray version of Dragon's Lair was released. This uses the same HD transfer as the aforementioned PC release, but went through a 6 month process to clean and remaster the image. Dragon's Lair Blu-Ray is the first title to fully utilize BD-J technology.
Dragon's Lair led to the creation of numerous video game ports for home systems. Since some original sequences did not fit in the ports for those systems, they were re-released only in a virtual sequel called Escape from Singe's Castle. A non-linear arcade interpretation of Dragon's Lair and Escape from Singe's castle with elements of platform and puzzle was made by Software Projects for 8-bit machines in 1986.
The sequence with the drawbridge and eyestalks seen in the attract mode was excised from the original arcade version of the game, but still remains on the laserdisc, playable in fan-made modifications of the program, or in the version of the game released in Europe as well as the Sega CD, PC, DVD, and HD versions.
The Game Boy version (entitled Dragon's Lair: The Legend) in particular has almost nothing to do with the source game aside from Dirk as the protagonist, Mordroc as the villain, and saving Princess Daphne as the objective. In fact, the game is a port of a five-year-old ZX Spectrum game, Roller Coaster, the result being a platform game where Dirk has to negotiate a series of thinly-disguised fairground rides. The later Game Boy Color version, however, is a relatively faithful rendition of the original game.
The Dragon's Lair Deluxe Pack was released for home computers containing all the FMV for all three games. Though it contains all the video including some scenes cut from the North American version of the game, the gameplay was reported as lackluster.
DAPHNE, an emulator for laserdisc based games, can emulate the original 1983 version. DAPHNE requires the ROM files plus the original laserdisc to run. Alternatively, an MPEG-2 video stream and Ogg Vorbis audio stream can be substituted for the laserdisc. These streams can be generated from the original laserdisc or from Digital Leisure's 2002 DVD.
|1983||01||Arcade game||LaserDisc||Starcom[disambiguation needed ]||Cinematronics||Original Release|
|1986||04||Amstrad CPC||Cartridge||Software Projects|
|05||Amstrad CPC||Floppy||Software Projects|
|06||ZX Spectrum||Cassette||Software Projects|
|07||Commodore 64||Cassette||Software Projects|
|1987||08||ZX Spectrum||Cartridge||Software Projects||Budget Release|
|09||Amstrad CPC||Cassette||Software Projects||Released name: Escape From Singe’s Castle|
|10||Amstrad CPC||Floppy||Software Projects||Released name: Escape From Singe’s Castle|
|11||ZX Spectrum||Cassette||Software Projects||Released name: Escape From Singe’s Castle|
|12||Commodore 64||Cassette||Software Projects||Released name: Escape From Singe’s Castle|
|13||Commodore 64||Floppy||Amazing Software||Republished version includes both cassette versions on a single 'flippy'|
|15||Commodore Amiga||Floppy||Readysoft||Released name: Escape From Singe’s Castle|
|17||Personal Computer||Floppy||Sullivan Bluth / Merit Software||Released on: 5.25" Floppy|
|18||Personal Computer||Floppy||Sullivan Bluth / Merit Software||Released on: 3.5" Floppy|
|1990||19||Nintendo Entertainment System||Cartridge||Elite Systems|
|20||Game Boy||Cartridge||Elite Systems|
|21||Macintosh Plus / SE||Floppy||Readysoft|
|24||Personal computer||Floppy||Readysoft||Released name: Escape From Singe’s Castle(includes some non original arcade levels)|
|25||Personal computer||Floppy||Readysoft||Released name: Escape From Singe’s Castle|
|26||Apple Macintosh||Floppy||Readysoft||Released name: Escape From Singe’s Castle(this version includes few levels from the original arcade game Dragon's Lair II : Timewarp)|
|1992||27||Super Nintendo Entertainment System||Cartridge||Data East|
|1997||35||Windows 95||CD-ROM||Digital Leisure||Release name: Deluxe Pack (also containedSpace Ace and Dragon's Lair II)|
|36||Personal Computer||DVD-ROM||Digital Leisure|
|1998||37||Home DVD players||DVD||Digital Leisure|
|38||Windows 98||DVD-ROM||Digital Leisure|
|2000||39||Game Boy Color||Cartridge||Capcom|
|40||PlayStation 2||DVD||Digital Leisure|
|2001||41||Windows XP||CD-ROM||Digital Leisure||Arcade Authentic|
|2002||43||Home DVD players||DVD||Digital Leisure||Release name: 20th Anniversary Pack|
|44||Apple Macintosh||DVD-ROM||Digital Leisure|
|45||GameCube||CUBE-DVD||DragonStone||Capcom||Remake name: Dragons Lair 3D|
|46||Xbox||Xbox-DVD||DragonStone||UbiSoft||Remake name: Dragons Lair 3D|
|47||Personal Computer||CD-ROM||DragonStone||UbiSoft||Remake name: Dragons Lair 3D|
|2003||48||Windows XP||CD-ROM||Digital Leisure||Release Name: 20th Anniversary Pack|
|2004||49||PlayStation 2||PS2-DVD||DragonStone||THQ||Release name: Dragon’s Lair 3D - Special Edition|
|50||GameCube||CUBE-DVD||DragonStone||THQ||Release name: Dragon’s Lair 3D - Special Edition|
|2005||51||Mobile Phone||Download||Disney Mobile|
|2006||52||Windows XP||DVD-ROM||Digital Leisure||High Definition WMV|
|2007||53||Home Blu-ray players||BD-R||Infinite HD||Digital Leisure|
|54||PlayStation 3||BD-R||Infinite HD||Digital Leisure|
|55||Home HD DVD players||HD DVD||Infinite HD||Digital Leisure|
|56||Xbox 360||HD DVD||Digital Leisure|
|57||Personal Computer||DVD||Digital Leisure||20th Anniversary Pack released on 1 DVD instead of 4 disks|
|2009||58||iPhone||Downloadable||Digital Leisure||Electronic Arts|
|59||Nintendo DSi(DSiWare)||Downloadable||Digital Leisure||Digital Leisure|
|2010||60||Wii||Nintendo optical disc||Digital Leisure||Destineer||Release name: Dragon's Lair Trilogy(includes Dragon's Lair, Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp, and Space Ace|
|61||iPad||Downloadable||Digital Leisure||Dragon's Lair LLC|
|62||Nintendo DS||DS Game Card||Digital Leisure||Destineer|
|63||PlayStation 3(PlayStation Network)||Downloadable||Digital Leisure||Digital Leisure|
|2011||64||PSP||Downloadable||Digital Leisure||Digital Leisure|
|Future Releases||65||Xbox 360||Downloadable||Digital Leisure|
In popular culture
- Dragon's Lair is featured in the Video Games Live tour.
- A Robot Chicken episode, "Celebrity Rocket", shows Dirk battling a mid-life crisis in the segment Dragon's Lair: The Middle Ages.
- Dragon's Lair was once a featured game on the 1980s video game based game show, Starcade. The entire episode can be seen in Digital Leisure's 20th Anniversary DVD and PC CD ROM editions.
- The Italo dance group Koto used extensive samples from the game in its song "Dragon's Legend".
- A portion of the game was parodied in the TV show Family Guy. In Season 7, episode 8, titled "Family Gay", Peter portrayed Dirk the Daring. After bragging to Lois about almost beating "The Dragon's Lair" we see a flashback re-creation of the flying horse scene where he manages to dodge some of flames but smacks into the wall bringing up the dreaded death scene.
- Dragon's Lair 3D was featured in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. The Character Tibby interviews Brian McBrian who has supposedly broken every record there is for Dragon's Lair 3D.