Before Diggler There Was Daring

“I think what blew everybody away is that it was pictures. Pictures startled everyone, and so it was very successful for that reason.”

Don Bluth

 

 

Before Diggler There Was Daring

 

Greetings from the surf and sand of Del Mar, a beach city in San Diego where sandals, pizza, and beer is the norm before the clock strikes noon. Some of my fondest memories living in the IE as a kid was the freedom of riding bikes during the Summer months with friends down to the local pizza parlor.

It was not only cheap slices and unlimited soft drinks, the place had the latest and greatest arcade video games! I will never forget the first time my eyes were witness to Dragon’s Lair. While all the quarters were going to Mário Bros and Spy Hunter in the early 80s, this was something different.

It looked like a cartoon! Many kids gathered around the machine like a moth to a flame trying to compute just what was this piece of technology. However, smiles turned to frowns when there was a realization that not only was this game a first in the visuals it was producing, so was the price.

Two quarters instead of one. Wait we have to pay double to try this? Ah yes, with this the 2 slices of pizza became one and Pepsi shifted to water. Oh and helping my Dad with the weeds in the yard and washing the car on Sundays quickly became my other hobby, for more quarters of course!

This occurred I am sure all around households as Dragon’s Lair quickly became a phenomenon in the US with some machines taking in up to $1000+/day. Just how did all of this come about including a comic years later? Glad you asked, let’s take a peek back, like Stranger Things 2 time back in history…

 

 

Ok to start here’s a good piece of trivia. In the Smithsonian there are only three video games that have been enshrined within the museum on permanent display – Pong, Pac-Man, and yes, Dragon’s Lair.

That is some elite company there!

Yet, where did this new revolution of technology get its start? Let’s look at a direct narration from the game itself: “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!”

The main characters include the hero Dirk the Daring, on a quest to rescue the Princess Daphne from the evil dragon Singe who has locked her deep inside Mordroc’s castle. Simple enough right? Dragon's Lair began as a concept by Rick Dyer, president of Advanced Microcomputer 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. Dragon’s Lair was animated by Don Bluth. Bluth is a Disney veteran, who founded his own company — Don Bluth Productions in 1979.

He worked on a lot of iconic films: The Land Before Time, and American Tale to name a few. On a shoestring budget at that time of one million dollars, thirteen animators within Bluth’s company including himself sketched fifty thousand drawings of the characters in action.

That’s to the tune of twenty four drawings per each second on the screen. Welcome to 2D animation boys and girls!

Here are a few actual pieces used in making the game:

 

 

The nostalgia those pieces bring to millions of American kids like myself who became obsessed with that game is astonishing. Here’s another cool piece of history with this game.

Not having the budget to hire models, the artists used Playboy models within the magazine as a basis for Princess Daphne. Hence the um, well scantily clad clothing. In fact, it was dialed down a notch from the original renditions which included thong backs on her. Remember this was the early 80s! Bikini style underwear was the IT thing for girls!

So what did this next generation laserdisc do for the video game industry specifically looking at revenue? Here are some amazing numbers. At time of launch, the cost for a Dragon’s Lair cabinet and game was an unprecedented $4300 almost double the price of other games hitting the arcades. Hence, the need for the two quarter cost out of the gate.

Thanks to our friends www.thedoteaters.com for this breakdown:

“At its peak, Dragon’s Lair brings in on average around $1400 a week, compared to an average of about $100 or so per week for a conventional game at the time. After being installed in Bally’s Aladdin’s Castle arcade locations, in the first month, the game increases general revenues by 33%.

In the first eight months of its release to arcades generally, the game grosses 32 million dollars worth of sales. Cinematronics gets 2,000 units out the door initially and then struggles to meet demand as orders head north of 8,000.

They sell ten thousand cabinets within the first three months of release. In the arcades, huge crowds gather around the machines, causing operators to install additional monitors on top of them to appease the thronging masses of players vying for a look.

Overall, the game is said to have increased arcade revenue across the board by 40 percent. Starcom eventually sells 43 million dollars worth of systems.”

 

Breakdown:

  • $1400/week in revenue per unit vs $100 of other games
  • $32 million in gross sales during 1st 8 months
  • 40% increase in overall arcade revenue
  • $43 million sold in just systems to the arcades

 

The clumsy, Dirk the Daring and Co. went on to spawn several sequels and other cartoon style games like Space Ace. In addition, countless home system renditions. Where did they go next after the craze of toys, lunch boxes, bed sheets, and bubble gum to name a few? Well to comics of course! Let’s transition to the panels shall we?

Beginning in 2003, CrossGen Publishing produced a comic-book miniseries adapting the original Dragon's Lair that ran only 3 issues. Swearing revenge on Dirk the Daring for killing his offspring, the deadly dragon Singe swoops up Princess Daphne in his razor- sharp claws! Now, armed with his courage and skills, our brave knight must survive the dangers of the Dark Kingdom to save his Princess!

It's swordplay, sorcery, dragons, and damsels…plus a pinch of humor! Lead on, adventurer…your quest awaits!

 

 

The comics version remained unfinished until Canadian publisher Arcana Studio endeavored to complete the game's adaptation in 2006. Andy Mangels, Fabio Laguna were the creative team behind this four part series. Travel to a time of sword and sorcery; a time of dragons and damsels in distress! Welcome to the world of Dragon's Lair! Follow Dirk the Daring and Princess Daphne as they return from an astonishing adventure in the Free Realms only to be attacked by the great dragon, Singe, and his evil minions.

 

 

Variants and Exclusives

Dragon’s Lair # 1

Graham Crackers Exclu. 1000 print run

 

Dragon’s Lair # 2

Can someone say ghost?

Graham Crackers Exclu. 100 print run

 

Dragon’s Lair # 3 B Cover

 

2008 Dragon’s Lair 112 page HC

With new art and sketches

 

The lore of Dragon’s Lair is still alive today. Don Bluth and Gary Goldman who have collaborated for over 30 years are trying to get a prequel movie off the ground. In fact they have already raised $730K via their Indiegogo.

This will take place when Dirk is younger and oh hell let’s let Don explain it in his own words:

“It's got a lot of really exciting visuals in it but what I like about it is we maintain the character of Dirk in which he still bungles, he still doesn't know quite what he's doing and it starts when he's a kid.

He meets Daphne when they were betrothed when they were just kids, She was from another kingdom and he was a prince and we didn't know that before. He didn't like being there, didn't like being betrothed, didn't like girls at age eight.

Someone says “say hello to her” and he sticks his tongue at her and she slugs him in the jaw. So you get off to a really ripping good start when they're just kids. He says “I'll never marry her, ever,” and runs out of the palace.”

Here is some concept art they have put together as they try and complete this 25 year project of bringing Dragon’s Lair to the big screen. The artwork shows they have not lost their touch for 2D Animation, and a young Dirk and Daphne would be a great story to tell for a whole new generation of fans.

 

 

Well that’s it for this week. I titled this Before Diggler there was Daring as it made a lot of sense on some levels. I am in no way comparing arcade games to the Adult industry.

However, the ironic part is both Dirks have seen a lot of changes in their respective fields of work. Many look at them almost as archaic now – A thing of the past that has little significance in today’s technology. Yet, there was lightning in a bottle in both cases and they each helped blaze a path to the entertainment types we see and play today.

All of this Dragon’s Lair talk makes me want to break out one of the old consoles and play for a while! Oh and don’t bother with the App Store game – it’s atrocious. Perhaps an update will fix the glitches.

It’s amazing to me that something I would ride my bike to play at local pizza place in the hot California Summer heat costing arcades $4300 at that time to have in house, now I can play on a phone or iPad for $5. Next year will be the 35th Anniversary of Dragon’s Lair. I ponder at times looking ahead 35 years what 2053 will look like for games, movies, and of course comics?

Interesting how fast life goes…That’s why once in a while we have to stop and enjoy things in the present.

I hope there was something learned from this week’s piece. Thank you to all of you who continue to read and comment on my articles. Reach out anytime if there is something you would like to see written about – clint@comicbookinvest.com

 

Talk soon,

Clint

 

6 comments

  • I’m amazed at the numbers for the coin-op version as I never found Dragon’s Lair to be fun at all. The controls were so limited and it really didn’t seem like I was playing a game, but rather, just trying to get through a cartoon. I think I pumped a few bucks into it, kept dying immediately and then finally gave up and went back to playing Elevator Action and Star Wars.

    There were always rumors that since the game was burned onto a laserdisc you could play with your eyes closed if you just knew the right audio cues but I do remember seeing plenty of people finish the game on one credit.

  • As one of those kids who got through about 2 minutes of gameplay EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
    and spent way too many quarters (if I recall, this was an expensive game to play)
    I still hold it in high regard. The choose your own adventure aspect of it and the animation blew me away.
    Much respect Clint –
    Awesome article
    JJ

  • Wow nostalgia bomb. Thanks for this. I miss the good old days of cheap slices and unlimited refills!

  • Topher

    I would play a Boogie Nights video game!

    Wonderful article this week, I learned a lot.

  • flipdb25

    Amazing article Clint! Thank you! I would stand and watch people play this for hours at my Chucky Cheese back in the day! Article had me looking for original art from the game!

  • This was the only game that I enjoyed watching people play. I was terrible at it, but vicariously played by watching older kids play it. Great article!

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