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An Extra Dimension

'Dragon's Lair 3D' opens the castle doors to let players explore freely.

April 19, 2001|SCOTT STEINBERG |

Many industry veterans view video game development as a science. But to "Dragon's Lair" creators Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, it's an art form. With "Dragon's Lair 3D" due to be published by Blue Byte software later this year, the duo discussed their adventures in game development, which began with the original coin-op "Dragon's Lair" in 1983.

Q: Why did "Dragon's Lair" strike such a resounding chord with gamers?

Bluth: Our history lies with movies and storytelling. We knew that there was something magical about a tale in which a character goes through incredible hardships but somehow triumphs at the end. That's what "Dragon's Lair" hooked into. Nowadays, video game companies are recognizing this and hiring professional writers to come in and pen their scripts. But blending a fun element with a story that grabs you right away is a concept "Dragon's Lair" picked up on way back when.

Q: What will taking the title into the third dimension add to it?

Bluth: Control and playability, definitely. And it's what today's more sophisticated audiences are looking to see. Movies like "A Bug's Life" and "Toy Story 2" have prompted a real surge in 3-D and caused 2-D to fall off. Whether that's just the flavor of this year, who knows, but the pendulum currently lies on that side of the swing.

Goldman: Furthermore, in some ways the new game is like a combination of "Dragon's Lair" and "Myst," since you get to explore the castle, open doors and venture around freely, which was never possible before.

Q: Can we expect to see new spins on old scenes or totally fresh content?

Goldman: Some old scenes will make a second appearance, like the electric floor, but new surprises also have been added so as not to bore longtime fans to death. For instance, we actually sent original scene artwork over to Dragonstone [the game's developer] so that it could be reworked as 3-D environments. This way "Dragon's Lair 3D" retains the original cartoon's appearance yet features deeper game play.

Q: Any hints on familiar faces who might make cameos as well?

Bluth: The Lizard King and the Giddy Goons, for sure. Of course, the dragon as well. In fact, there are two dragons this time. And don't forget the black knight too.

Q: Are there specific nuances "Dragon's Lair 3D" must capture to be true to the spirit of the original?

Bluth: The humor and personalities are essential. The hero, Dirk, is very much like Charlie Chaplain, the guy who against all odds will not give up. Though he seems foolish at times, he keeps trying and trying until he gets it right. This character is everyman, not a superhero, somebody that just won't be discouraged. He's a regular guy trying to do good deeds. Players become the decision maker for this character, so it's imperative an emotional bond is forged through laughter.

Q: So is Dirk based on anyone you know?

Bluth: Not on anyone in particular. We borrowed a lot from different sources. He just represents a lot of things in all of us, and that's why people can identify with him.

Q: Care to cite sources of inspiration for the game itself?

Bluth: Good question. I haven't a clue how to answer it. [Dragonstone Studios co-founder] Rick Dyer talked with us about a game in which a knight entered a castle and was attacked by a dragon. At that point, we let our imagination run wild and thought of all the things he possibly could run into. Then it was just a process of making up stuff that tickled us.

Goldman: There's also a funny story behind the Princess Daphne character. Don is a very moral, strait-laced guy, but he asked for a stack of Playboys I had up in the attic. Oddly enough, he used the magazines to create poses for her. It was pretty entertaining watching him thumb through a stack of five years' worth of Playboys, looking for suitable models. We don't do anything without a frame of reference, and this is a good example because this isn't the kind of magazine Don would normally open.

Bluth: Don't be too sure of that.

Q: Were any other peculiarities of your development experience reflected in "Dragon's Lair?"

Bluth: When we were doing the game, we didn't have any idea that it was going to be successful from the start. We just thought we were making another title that would make a little money. So everyone was just animating, and the super caution that's always present when you're animating for a feature film went out the window, and everyone just started having fun. The animators would try new things, and there was a spirit of adventure that permeated the air. Everybody was just trying to make themselves laugh. Play time was what it was all about, and at the end of the day, this relaxed atmosphere translated into the final product.

Scott Steinberg is a freelance writer specializing in video games.

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