About a month ago we paid a tribute (of sorts) to Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace. Our ace reporter Adrian managed to track down the David Foster, he of ReadySoft who amazingly ported Dragon’s Lair to Amiga. He’s been involved in many ports of the original, the sequel, Space Ace and Brain Dead 13 and he explains all in this quick Q&A!
How did you first get the opportunity to enter the video game industry and do you remember the first ever game you worked on?
I recall writing some games for fun during my high school years… copies of Space Invaders and such. I formed ReadySoft in 1987 and our first commercial game was Dragon’s Lair which we released the following year on Amiga.
When did you first meet the legendary Don Bluth and how did you get the opportunity to work on the legendary Dragon’s Lair?
In the early years of our involvement with the Dragon’s Lair rights I worked with the interactive media company that Bluth Group owned. It wasn’t until the mid 90s that I first met Rick Dyer at the E3 trade show. From there, Rick introduced me to Gary Goldman (Don’s partner and fellow animator). It wasn’t until a few years later when we formed Dragon’s Lair LLC as the master company to control the licensing of the Dragon’s Lair rights that I met Don Bluth. To this day I’ve only met Don a handful of times.
Can you recall how you approached the programming and production aspects of Dragon’s Lair and their ports, I assume it was a mammoth project and task from day one?
It was a massive task in the early days as the computers were only barely capable of playing video. For those early versions we actually hand separated the foreground elements from the background elements to reduce the size of the video stream. We also made a custom video playback engine around that format. Releasing on floppy discs we were severely limited on video size so the Amiga release for example was on 6 discs and only contained probably 15% of the arcade game.
During the early 90s, video playback engines became available so we had choices like Cinepak and AVIs and then later MPEG formats that made the task much easier and the conversions much better.
During the late 90s and early 2000s DVDs and Blu-ray then became standards and we were able to use much higher video quality (going back to the original film masters) and we also added lots of extras, including a video shoot we did with Rick, Gary and Don.
When did you first realise you were working on something really special with Dragon’s Lair and how do you personally reflect back on this ground-breaking game?
Having seen the effect of Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace on the arcade community back in the 80s, you knew this game would forever have a place in the minds of everyone who played it. However, I’ll be honest in saying that 20 years ago I never thought we’d still see the demand to have the game released on newer consoles. But we’re constantly hearing from fans who are now introducing their kids to the game – which is fantastic.
How did you aim to get Dragon’s Lair on home computers and consoles, were there any limitations and issues you had to overcome?
Certainly with every release there have been a new set of challenges, given that the series of games are full animated videos. So, in the early days when porting to PC systems like the Amiga or Mac Plus the group had to recreate the animation in pixel artwork as mentioned above as the systems couldn’t simply run the original full frame video. As PCs and consoles became more powerful we were able to provide the original arcade video however, those early DOS and 3DO releases could only manage super low resolution and low FPS video. It really wasn’t until the late 90s/early 2000s that Dragon’s Lair, Space Ace and Dragon’s Lair 2 could be fully played on home PCs and consoles in its originally intended form.
Dragons Lair proved a huge success in the arcades and in later home ports. Which port of the game do you view as the definitive version and is there a port that you felt wasn’t a fair reflection of the game?
It’s a tough call, but I would say the recent PlayStation 4 release of the ‘Dragon’s Lair Trilogy’ which includes Dragon’s Lair, Space Ace and Dragon’s Lair 2: Time Warp and bonus features we’ve produced throughout the years. One of the most unique releases was in 2012 when we developed a Kinect enabled version of Dragon’s Lair for the Xbox 360 where you could actually gesture and jump around to make Dirk move. So not only could you guide Dirk through the castle but also break a sweat! As for a port that may not have been a fair reflection, I would say that each port is a unique Dragon’s Lair experience and some people like the quirks others not so much – it’s really up to each fan. In terms of quirky releases, we actually made a version of Space Ace for HD DVD that had a competitive 2-player mode where players would get more points by making the correct moves faster than their opponent. Unfortunately HD DVD died and it never saw the light of day.
What are your personal view of Dirk the Daring, do you feel you would get along with in real life?
Dirk’s a quiet guy that seems to find himself in some odd situations, but eventually makes it through successfully. So, yeah, we would probably get along and he’d definitely have some fun stories to tell! 🙂
Space Ace was another huge success. Was there any key differences working on the port of this game as opposed to Dragon’s Lair and how do you reflect back on this particular game?
It had much of the same struggles as Dragon’s Lair did… which is how you end up with Space Ace 2: Borf’s Revenge. The ‘sequel’ included content that couldn’t fit on the original Space Ace for PC given the memory space available. It also has many more moves, and a trickier move structure that Dragon’s Lair so it was much more difficult to code.
Were there ever any other game ideas, landscapes and eras discussed during your time at Advanced Microcomputer Systems that were close to being made into a new interactive video game?
Advanced Microcomputer Systems was Rick Dyer’s company that made the original arcade release of Dragon’s Lair in 1983. I came into the picture with ReadySoft in 1988 with our Amiga release. Rick went on to create the Halcyon game console and created Thayer’s Quest and an NFL football game on laser disc. At ReadySoft we later created the fully animated game Brain Dead 13.
Dragon’s Lair 2 was again a huge success. What was it like working on the sequel and were there any gameplay mechanics or ideas that never made it into the game?
As with the other titles, I wasn’t directly involved with the development of Dragon’s Lair 2 for the arcade, but was involved with the eventual ports for home computers and consoles. But there was a stage in the game that was cut from the original release that had Dirk on a pirate ship. There was only a storyboard created, but for the Blu-ray release of the title we released an animated storyboard version so people could get an idea of how the scene may have played out (that’s pretty cool! – Ed).
If you were transported into either the Dragon’s Lair or Space Ace universe, which game do you feel you would have the best chance of completing?
Definitely Dragon’s Lair! Space Ace is way too fast and I’d be a goner within the first few moves.
Why do you feel Brain Dead 13 never really caught on like its predecessors and do you feel its poor reviews were unfair?
Brain Dead 13 was a beautifully animated cartoon that was plagued with a whole host of problems through its creation to its eventual release. The games being released for PC and console were fully interactive 3D experiences and we were attempting to release a game that didn’t fit that mold. It also didn’t help that the game’s quick time events were so tough and heavily branched that it was challenging as an interactive experience. We (Digital Leisure) eventually brought it back to life for iOS – but the reception was about as good as it was in 1996; so Lance and Dr. Neurosis will likely remain a historical footnote in interactive movie gaming history, although it does have a following!
You have also worked on the hugely successful Mad Dog McCree games. What was it like working on this game?
My involvement with Mad Dog McCree and the American Laser Games titles was to bring them back to new consoles via ports. It was actually quite a bit of fun to recapture the video in its full resolution and release for PlayStation 3 as the Move controller brought back that classic light gun feel.
How incredible was it working on and perfecting the interactive movie games genre and why do you feel this type of game isn’t as popular today?
I think preserving and maintaining older video game titles is an important aspect of development that we seem to overlook in this business. Games are released, perhaps updated a couple times and then are never heard from again, locked to a platform. So when given the opportunity, it’s been a great experience to maintain and re-release the games so new generations can enjoy them. As for popularity, I think the lack of acceptance in interactive movie games perhaps comes from the absence of replayability. It’s very difficult to develop and create not only the compelling story for the interactive movie, but also a really good gameplay experience.
Do you feel interactive movies such as Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch are the future of entertainment and do you personally feel Dragon’s Lair was an inspiration for these films?
Not sure if I would say “the future of entertainment” but clearly there is room for unique experiences. Bandersnatch was a fun storytelling experience and it’s great that Netflix was willing to try something different on the service. Perhaps it will lead to more content being created for the genre.
Out of all the games you have worked on, which one are you most proud of and why?
That’s a tough one given how many games I’ve been involved with over the years. It’s been great keeping Dragon’s Lair fresh over the years but creating fresh interactive content is definitely most rewarding. We’ve been working over the last years on fully social casino gaming experience – The Four Kings Casino and Slots – I know not exactly ‘retro’ in nature but it’s fully interactive multiplayer based experience that we developed from the bottom up.
If you could turn any animation movie into an interactive movie game, which film do you feel would work the best and why?
Well there is actually one: Lupin 3: Castle of Cagliostro. This movie was turned into a game called Cliff Hanger back in the laser disc days. We have tried over the years to reach out to the rights-holders so make a home version but nothing ever came of it.
Are you still working in the video game industry, and if so, which projects are you currently working on?
Sure am! My company Digital Leisure has been developing games for the last 20+ years – some classic, some new. Our interactive casino The Four Kings Casino and Slots is our most recent title and one we keep fresh with quarterly updates via patches…. and as always we’ll make sure Dragon’s Lair is never forgotten! 🙂
If you could share a few drinks with a video game character, who would you choose and why?
Well Ace keeps getting dumped by Kimberly so he could probably use someone to share a drink with.