Thursday, September 21, 2006

Stage 19: Cartoon Madness

I spent a decent couple of hours last night sorting through a massive 15.4GB torrent I had downloaded from a Top Secret Emulator Site. The torrent was a collection of Laser Disc arcade games, and to say this was a rare find would be the understatement of the year.

Laser disc games use the Daphne emulator instead of MAME. The idea is the same, but Daphne (named after the damsel in distress in Dragon's Lair) is made especially for these huge laser disc packs (some games are over 1.5GB in size), or actual laser discs if you happen to have them.

Besides what I would consider the "Big Three" of laser disc games, there were quite a few others I had never heard of. My thanks to The Dragon's Lair Project for their fine help in providing the links and images you will find in this section - for anyone trying to get laser disc games or emulators running, this is the place to do it.

** Working Games **

Dragon's Lair

Easily the most famous laser disc game ever created. Like many games that followed, players use the joystick to "guide" Dirk through various sticky situations. Control consisted of tapping the joystick in the right direction or hitting the massive "Sword" button at the right instance, else Dirk would face certain death. There was a Dragon's Lair cabinet at one of the gas stations in Parrsboro when I was a kid, and I certainly dumped my fair share of quarters into it. A genuine classic.

Space Ace

Another famous laser disc title, this game was almost a direct spinoff of Dragon's Lair, only set in the future and names changed. The controls and actions were the same, but this one had a choice for skill levels and was a little more comprehensible as a title. You could also choose several paths to follow in the game, which at the time was very cool. The campy voice acting in this title is amazing.

Cliff Hanger

The third in what I call the "big three" of laser disc games. This one was a bit of a departure, as the animation and gameplay were much different. The manga influence is obvious, and instead of a "Sword" or "Blaster" button, players had "Hands" and "Feet" action buttons, which had to be pressed at the right time to make the protagonist use his hands and feet accordingly. Surprisingly, there was one of these cabinets at the short-lived and super seedy arcade that was also in Parrsboro - man, for a miniscule town on the north shore of Nova Scotia, that joint sure did have some cool arcade games.


I had never seen this or any other of the games to follow until I sifted through this downloaded torrent. As near as I can tell, the gameplay and arcade interface consisted of a single giant red button marked "SHOOT". That's right, no joysticks. You basically follow the story along and fire off your gun at the right moment. Sounds kind of boring, but still very cool in a kitchy way.

Bega's Battle

This is the first laser disc/8-bit hybrid I ever came across. It mixed animated video backgrounds with overlaid 8-bit rendered sprites to form a strange mishmash of gaming types. Trippy gameplay to say the least.

Esh's Aurunmilla

This strange game with the stranger name appears to be a 100% shameless clone of Dragon's Lair and Space Ace combined. It has some guy named Don Davis flying a spaceship around, them boarding some asteroid to kill things with a sword. You can literally smell the '80s cheese coming off this title - the main character's voice is outstandingly terrible.

M.A.C.H. 3

As the name would suggest, this is a fighter combat title. It's a combination of live footage used as backgrounds with 8-bit sprites used as in-game objects, kind of like Bega's Battle. The plane looks a lot like the one from After Burner, so I am thinking they literally stole the model for it and used it in this game. Nice.

Road Blaster

It took all my cunning to get this game running (hey, that rhymes!), but it might have been worth it. Another combo game with real footage interspliced with computer generated objects, the purpose of this game appears to be to hurtle down a road and blast the crap out of things that get in your way. I'll need more time with this to pass further judgement, but so far it looks cool.

Super Don Quix-ote

Man, there's no shortage of freakin' Space Ace/Dragon's Lair clones, is there? This game is just about the exact same as those two games, only the main character appears a lot gayer and you have a porky little sidekick named Sancho. And the chick you have to save is way hotter than Daphne or Kimmy. Well, maybe not WAY hotter, but still. Gotta love the '80s babes.

Us vs. Them

I love the title - how can you not? Yet another mishmash of real footage and the best graphics 1984 could muster, the premise appears to be a jet sent out to blast the shit out of alien invaders. The gameplay seems a lot like M.A.C.H. 3, but there's more options, power-ups and an actual lifebar to track health. Fancy schmancy!

** So Close, Yet So Far Away **

Sadly, not all the games in the torrent were in working condition. A real shame, considering some of the nuggets that were in there:

Astron's Belt

Another real footage/cpu graphic montage game, the screens from this make it look like something out of a Buck Rogers blooper reel. I guess I can live without blowing up these particular alien menaces ... or CAN I?!

Freedom Fighter

As near as I can tell, outside of "the big three" this game is the most recognizable laser disc game there is. It's this close to working, and judging from the MPEG I have been delving into in my repair efforts, it looks like a pretty cool and original game. Apparently there's loads of slo-motion and freezeframe sections of the game, which is why it's so hard to emulate. Bastards!

Goal to Go

This game looks absolutely hilarious. Using footage of a real football game (a real, clearly staged for this game, football game), players have to choose plays and then hit the control stick at the right time to execute them properly. The game continues as long as players keep making first downs. This game is a ways off from working at all, but from what I can tell from the movie files within the pack, this has to be the worst laser disc footage ever conceived. So naturally I want this game to work ASAP. Whee!

Time Traveller

They had one of these machines at the Fairlanes Bowling Alley at the Halifax Shopping Centre when I was a kid. It was the world's first holographic video game, and at the time I thought it was the coolest shit I had ever seen - clearly I was delusional, but still, I wish this copy of that game came close to even remotely working. Sigh.

These are just a few of the laser disc games out there, there's loads of others I've never even heard of. Truly a relic of an era gone by, and one I am happy I'll be able to relive day after day on my arcade cabinet!


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