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A Brief History of LaserDisc Video Games

Written By: E. Thomas

Videos By: James Arden & Jack Castle

In our newest video feature we're giving you a look at DaphneX, the laser disc arcade machine emulator for the original Xbox. Children of the 1980s fondly remember games like Dragon's Lair and Space Ace. These ambitious and groundbreaking titles were the love child of video games and animated films. The games were basically animated videos which were controlled by the player through a series of quick time events.

The animation in Dragon's Lair and Space Ace was created by the legendary Don Bluth Studios. The art in most laser disc games rivaled the best comic books and cartoons of the 80s. Company founder Don Bluth was a former Disney animator. His strong pedigree speaks for itself. The games feature richly detailed animation accompanied by voice acting and a full custom soundtrack. During the 1980s there was only one storage medium large enough to hold all this data.


LaserDisc Vs DVD

The Laser Disc (LaserDisc) format made its debut in 1978. It was the first commercially available optical disc storage medium. It actually pre-dates the DVD market by almost 18 years. Arcade machines with laser disc players at their heart were created specifically for games like Dragon's Lair. The game was an instant success and to this day it has been ported to literally dozens of different gaming platforms.


Scenes from "Super Don Quix-ote"

The popularity of Dragon's Lair lead to a sequel, a TV series, and even a few imitators. Among the latter group is the game Super Don Quix-ote. In this title players control a young knight on a quest to save his girlfriend from the clutches of an evil witch. The hero rides a donkey and he is accompanied by a trusty sidekick named Sancho. ("Sancho" is based on Sancho Panza, the side kick of the literary Don Quixote.) Unlike other laser disc games, this title would actually warn players with a flashing icon during each game play sequence. The flashing icon would show the player the correct direction or button, making this game a lot less challenging than other laser disc titles.

But not all laser disc games relied on traditional animation. Some laser disc games actually used live action video. Astron Belt and Galaxy Ranger were both created by Sega. Astron Belt is widely accepted as the original Laser Disc video game. However technical issues delayed the release of the game and Dragon's Lair beat the title to the market.

Gameplay is the typical on rails space shooter. However the live action footage combined with traditional video game graphics makes for a unique and surreal gaming experience. Both Astron Belt and Galaxy Ranger utilized video footage from a pre-existing sources. Hilariously enough Astron Belt actually steals footage from three popular science fiction movies. "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," "Battle Beyond the Stars" and "Message from Space."

Unfortunately due to the Laser Disc format's enormous size and all the constant seeking and reading associated with optical media, the laser disc based arcade games were extremely prone to failure. This is why emulation is so important. While games like Dragon's Lair have been ported to other platforms most games in this unique genre have not been so lucky. Without the efforts of the emulation community some of these great tiles might have been lost to history forever. As it stands now all of these games will remain an important part of gaming history. And through the wonders of emulation you can experience these games in your own home, without all the massive expense or costly hardware malfunctions.

Video Links:

DaphneX Emulator Demo (Direct Link)
Astron Belt (Direct Link)
Dragon's Lair (Direct Link)
Dragon's Lair II (Direct Link)
Galaxy Ranger (Direct Link)
Space Ace (Direct Link)
Super Don Quix-ote (Direct Link)

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