Dragon’s Lair is a laserdisc video game published by Cinematronics in 1983 as the first game in the Dragon’s Lair series. In the game, the protagonist Dirk the Daring is a knight attempting to rescue Princess Daphne from the evil dragon Singe who has locked the princess in the foul wizard Mordroc’s castle. It featured animation by ex-Disney animator Don Bluth.
Most other games of the era represented the character as a sprite, which consisted of a series of pixels displayed in succession. 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.
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 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. The animators 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.