View: Inside the Dragon’s Lair (Trailer)
I remember seeing Dragon’s Lair for the first time, in the midst of rotting fruit. It’s 1984 and I am playing the machine just feet away from day old cabbage and bruised pears. I am standing completely engrossed by the game as people are buying raisins and cigarettes. The first time was in a supermarket. How strange these bedfellows, but this was the world of arcades in 1984; they were everywhere. There I was, being read scripture by Dirk The Daring, as he laid forth the groundwork to worship him and his adventure in buffoonery. Almost 30 years later, I am still on the religious mission to convert as many people as possible to Don Bluth and Gary Goldman’s singular, and utterly gorgeous game. When I heard that director Martin Touhey was in the process of creating what is looking to be the definitive documentary on Dragon’s Lair, I nearly broke down in tears. I would finally have all the answers! I recently sat down with Touhey and delved into the fascinating world of all things Daphne, Dirk and Bluth.
View: Dragon’s Lair Trilogy for the Wii
Geno: So, 1983…. draw me the picture. Where were you? How did you feel? And what did you take away from your very first climb up the peaks of Dragon’s Lair?
Martin Touhey (director of the film Inside the Dragon’s Lair):
In 1983, I was nine years old and I was living in upstate New York. As any child growing up I had a love for animation and video games alike. It was the culmination of the two that truly changed my whole perception of what was possible in gaming. Not only could I watch this fantastic cartoon, I could play it. My first encounter with Dragon’s Lair was in 1984 at the brand-new shopping mall in Albany. The mall was the biggest thing to hit the area and for me it was fantastic because right by the food court was an arcade that seemed bigger than my house. I went inside the arcade and there before me was a crowd of people huddled around a game that I’d never seen before. Atop the machine was a television, which showed the incredible animation of Dragon’s Lair. At the time I don’t think I even realized that it was a game until I muscled my way up to the machine to see the player controlling the action. My mind was completely blown and right there at that very moment I was changed forever. On this day I didn’t get to play the game as I didn’t have time to wait in the long line, nor did I have fifty cents. This is another thing that astonished me. If a game were to ask me to put in twice as much money as all the others, it had better be special. And it was, it really was. The next time we went to the mall I was certain to have my money and enough time to get to that machine. Finally I was able to play. I dropped my 2 coins in and pressed the start button. It began with the closing wall scene and I immediately died having no clue what to do. Although I don’t remember the next scenes I played, I can safely say that it was a short game. I do remember feeling a little embarrassed by choking in front of a crowd, but it was an experience I was willing to try again. I remember being disappointed that I couldn’t figure the game out intuitively, but had to watch others and remember what they had done. In the coming years I was able to clear most of the rooms in the game, but never reached the dragon’s lair in the arcade.
Geno: There comes a point when you love something so fully that it actually becomes part of your own chemistry. Creating a documentary fully funded by your own coin tells me that this must be the case. Tell me who proposed to whom? How are the children? What brought you to do this?
Martin Touhey: Dragon’s Lair seduced me in the same way it seduced many arcade dwellers. The incredible eye-popping animation with the illusion of control was simply a genius idea. The difference between the gamers, however, is that some felt the illusion of control was too limiting and in a way, was cheating the player while others, like me, found the game a mystery and there were secrets to discover and puzzles to solve. For some, the fun ended when all its secrets were revealed, but for the true fans it was a way to watch as much of the animation as possible and to show off your Dragon’s Lair skills to others.
Once the arcades no longer carried Dragon’s Lair I missed it. Space Ace followed, but didn’t have the same appeal to me. Years went on and I eventually forgot about it until a friend of mine got it for his Commodore 64. Once he told me he had it, I instantly invited myself to his house. Some people complain about the arcade version of the game for understandable reasons, but the Commodore 64 version was the most disappointing thing I had ever seen in my life. Not only were the graphics nowhere near what I had remembered, they had managed to make the game even harder than the original. Dirk had been reduced to a blocky mess that was near impossible to move correctly. Levels were loosely based on the original and seemed to take way too long to complete.
View: Dragon’s Lair on the Commodore 64
Many other versions would follow and each one was either slightly better than the other or a completely different game altogether. The “arcade accurate” CD-ROM came out and finally, technology had caught up with the demands of the complete game. Since then each version got better than the other and now we can play it in HD on our Xbox 360’s.
I kind of think of Dragon’s Lair as I would a child. I’ve seen it from its first days as an arcade game and watched it grow up as time went on. I’ve watched all its mistakes and failures, but still love it unconditionally. I’ve never let it go from my life and have no plans to do so.
So what brought me to do this? How could I not do this? There’s something about Dragon’s Lair that is so radically strange and different from anything I’ve ever seen in my life, let alone video games. It has made such a large impact on me and my attachment to it is unusually strong.
Being a filmmaker, I wanted to tell a story about something that I felt was important to me. One day as I was writing down ideas for potential documentaries, I decided the best way to find a subject would be to write a list of all the things in my life that I’ve loved. Almost instantaneously, Dragon’s Lair came to mind and a wave of excitement and a sense of purpose came rushing over me. It was then I realized what I was going to do.
View: Dragon’s Lair on ColecoVision
Geno: Dragon’s Lair has been released so many times and on so many different platforms that the gaming press collectively sigh and recoil in pain when another version or port is released. What are your feelings on this constant, negative reception? Personally, it drives me absolutely mad!
In some weird way I almost enjoy the negative reception Dragon’s Lair tends to receive. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the game, but I think that the negative press has actually helped to keep the game alive. There are few games out there that strike a chord with gamers on both sides of the argument. On one side, you have your superfans that feel the game can do no wrong – they expound upon the animation, sounds, nostalgia and overall great feeling they get when they save the princess. The other side picks at the gameplay – being one long quick time event, being too linear, and not offering much in the way of creativity or challenge. The trial and error aspect drove some mad. Beyond that, there are few games that have kept the argument going for so long. Love it or hate it, when Dragon’s Lair hits new consoles, the world takes notice.
View: Don Bluth drawing Singe the Dragon
Geno: You recently had a chance to speak with both Don Bluth and Gary Goldman (Dragon’s Lair animator and producer, respectively). What are some of the more surprising things they told you? Did you reel from some of their insight?
I think the most surprising thing that I noticed was their openness to answering just about anything. Their astuteness to the negative opinions of the game was certainly refreshing. I had a bit of apprehension asking about the more negative things, but their answers were generally even-handed and they even had a sense of humor about it. I’m not sure if I reeled from their insight, but I will definitely say that there were some unexpected answers to questions that I thought were going to be textbook. I did reel, however, at being in the presence of true icons of the animation industry.
I’m not really going to divulge any specific answers they gave simply because I don’t want to misquote them and I want everyone to hear their answers for themselves in the film. What I can say though is that the interviews went incredibly well and I’m extremely excited to start editing.
View: Legends of the Lair: Don Bluth and Gary Goldman
Geno: Did they mention anything about the long rumored Dragon’s Lair animated movie, or discuss any interest in returning to Dragon’s Lair or Space Ace?
Yes on both counts. The Dragon’s Lair animated movie is still a dream of theirs to produce and they are still looking for a way to produce it. In regard to returning to Dragon’s Lair or Space Ace as games, they seem a bit divided. Don would probably start working on new animated games tomorrow if he could, while Gary seems to think that the quick time event style of gameplay isn’t enough to capture a broad enough audience. He feels that fans of the original would eat it up, but getting the younger generation to put their money up for it just isn’t realistic. I would love to see a new Dragon’s Lair game, but then again I’m one of those fans.
View: The original arcade game in action
Geno: This documentary is a lofty proposition. Getting in touch with those originally involved with Dragon’s Lair’s creation is only one of many hurdles. What about access to the original game documents and animation? Or a solid working Dragon’s Lair cabinet? Or money? Was there ever a point where you wanted to quit? Describe this moment of reckoning.
We are working to get a licensing agreement in place for access to the original HD animation footage. Once we have our paperwork and make sure we dot our i’s and cross our t’s, we should have complete access to use any of the game’s video and audio footage.
A working original Dragon’s Lair cabinet with original parts would be an awesome thing to have. I’m toying with the idea of finding everything I would need to build one myself, hire a few guys who know what they’re doing, and shoot the construction of the game. I think it would make for a cool time-lapse sequence in the film, not to mention I’d have my very own Dragon’s Lair machine in my home.
View: The game’s full Attract Mode
As far as money goes, well, we don’t have much now, and the licensing agreement is going to eat at that. To solve that problem we’re going to do what many independent filmmakers have done in the past and that is Kickstarter. Crowdfunding has become a fantastic resource for projects of all kinds and its popularity has increased tremendously. Our project will launch a Kickstarter page sometime in the near future to raise funds for production costs.
In regard to ever wanting to quit, I can say I definitely had moments where I thought I was biting off more than I could chew. To me the idea was fantastic, but for the longest time, only I could see that. Convincing others that this was a good idea would prove to be difficult, especially those who were directly involved in the creation of the game. I spent an inordinate amount of time researching the game, writing outlines, and planning a film that I felt would be an incredible asset to the world of video game history as a whole. Naively, I first tried to contact Don Bluth and Gary Goldman directly, but they were ignoring my inquiries. Looking back on this I can understand why. Who would respond to an email from a director who doesn’t have any kind of track record in directing? Talk about your lofty propositions.
View: The many faces of Dirk the Daring… dying!
Being the tenacious person that I am, however, I decided to find others who had worked on the game. In my pursuit I sought out everyone and anyone who would respond. My pursuits led me to artists, musicians, and programmers that had even the smallest hand in creating the game. My first point of contact was David Foster of Digital Leisure who responded in kind. I was quite happy with his response and this encouraged me to go further. By contacting people who were involved I was kind of beating the grass to see what would surface and hoped to gain the attention of the “big guys”. Gain the attention I did, but not in the way that I hoped. I received an email from David Foster. It seemed that I had ruffled Don and Gary’s feathers a bit and I was being perceived as arrogant. After many emails back and forth through David I was able to convince them that the arrogance they perceived wasn’t arrogance at all, but was the passion I had to make the film. From there I was back and forth with emails, proposals, questions and finally reached a point where I was going to be able to interview Don and Gary. Success!
View: Retrun to the Dragon’s Lair: Time Warp
I had done it and my dreams were coming true. In just five short months, I was able to take my idea and make it a reality. This was a great moment in my life and started making plans to get to Arizona where the interviews would take place. Things were moving along fantastically and I couldn’t be happier.
Sometimes though, when your head is in the clouds and your feet aren’t firmly planted on the ground, that’s when the bottom can drop out.
I won’t go into specific detail at this moment, but what I will say is that there was something that went overlooked in regard to licensing, and due to that, my interviews were suspended. I was set to leave the next week and now those plans were shot. This truly took the wind out of my sails. I had worked so hard and had come so far to get where I wanted to be, but I could progress no further. At that moment I wanted to give up. I felt defeated and couldn’t bring myself to work on the project anymore. That was June of 2009.
View: Drink Me scene from Dragon’s Lair
For many months afterward I didn’t even look at anything related to Dragon’s Lair. Not one video, not one article, nothing. I cut it off like a bad habit. I had seriously thought that I was done. In my mind, without the creators involved in the film there wasn’t a film, unless I was doing an unauthorized fanboy flick. I wanted my film to be nothing like that. Slowly but surely I went back to it, researched more, made new connections and regained the confidence to approach Don and Gary once again. They were hesitant and, although they didn’t express it directly, I could feel it. Something needed to be done, so I convinced my friend of over twenty years to help me with my project. Justin Maine, who is the Director of Photography and Producer on the film, decided to help me out. The idea was to shoot an interview with Jeff Kinder of Dragonslairproject.com and edit it into something fun and interesting to watch. A simple idea, but it took over a year before I was able to finish the teaser, which everyone has now seen on YouTube. The reason it took so long is not a simple one, but a very long and convoluted one. If I may quote John Lennon to sum it up – Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. Once I finished editing the teaser, I sent Gary a private YouTube link to it. I received a response a few days later and I had changed their minds. They were now willing to do the interviews once again.
View: Battle with the Black Knight from Dragon’s Lair
Geno: The few retrospectives on Dragon’s Lair barely scratch the surface of the tale. Was there a note you absolutely wanted to hit? Did you uncover everything you were personally curious about?
The one thing I really wanted to know was their point of view during the creation of the game. Sounds generic, I know, but I think I want to know what they were going through emotionally during the process. What was scary, surprising, fun, challenging, etc… What were the struggles?
As far as my own curiosities, I uncovered everything I wanted to know except for one thing: Who designed the Dragon’s Lair logo? I assume it was Don, but I never specifically asked. There is a movie from 1981 called Dragonslayer that uses the font identical to the Dragon’s Lair logo. Bluth did work for Disney before ‘81 and Dragonslayer was a co-production by Disney and Paramount, so I was wondering if there was a connection.
View: Dragon’s Lair 3D for the Xbox
Geno: Everyone has a favorite scene from Dragon’s Lair. The final showdown with Singe still makes me misty-eyed. The entire cast of the game is present, the color and animation is opulent and stunning. What is your favorite scene?
I’d have to say The Lizard King is my favorite. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, it was probably the one I laughed at the most, even when you complete it successfully. Watching the Lizard King missing Dirk with his scepter is just as funny as when he’s able to bonk him on the head. The animation in the scene is very well crafted also. Watching the little pot of gold bounce around as if it had a life of its own was humorous and quite appealing. It was almost cute. There was a fantastic climax to the scene as well. As you dodge the final swings of the lizard and defeat him, Dirk gets his sword back and he fills his backpack with gold from the little pot. There’s something so satisfying in finishing that scene for me and I still love playing it to this day.
View: The Lizard King sequence
Geno: Do you still play videogames today? Aside from Dragon’s Lair, what are some of your most favorite games? How often do you get to play these days?
Yes I still play. Some of my favorite classic arcades are Gyruss, Tapper, Zookeeper, Marble Madness, Moon Patrol, and of course Pac-Man. As far as the 8-bit era goes, I’d have to say Pitfall, Kaboom, and Bowling for the Atari 2600. Kid Icarus, Metroid, Metal Gear, and the obvious Super Mario Brothers series for the NES. The 16-bit era had some greats. Super Metroid, Super Mario World, and Clayfigher were all favorites on the Super Nintendo. The 32-bit era is really where large-scale games really took shape. Doom was fantastic on the original PlayStation. Computer games worth mentioning are any of the graphic adventures by Sierra or LucasArts, Wing Commander, Prince of Persia, and The 7th Guest. Recent games I love are Little Big Planet, most of the Guitar Hero/Rock Band games, and The Elder Scrolls series. Seriously, I could give you a list of a thousand games and I still wouldn’t be finished writing it. Unfortunately, I don’t get to play games as much as I’d like, but I do play at least something every few days or so. I just don’t have the time to dedicate video games like I used to. Although, there is that very rare Saturday with nothing to do and Portal 2 needs to be beaten…again.
View: The 7th Guest (one of Touhey’s favorites)
Geno: We talked about the reception various PC and console ports of Dragon’s Lair have received in the past. Which of the many versions is your favorite? Which one is closest to the original game?
I have a few favorite versions. The one that usually sticks out in my mind is the Game Boy Color version. It’s truly amazing to see the game on such a small console with its limitations and still successfully works. Why the NES version couldn’t have done that is beyond me. The Amiga version was one that looked great. Unfortunately, I never had an Amiga so I never got to play it, but I do remember that it was one of the best looking ports I had seen. The one port that I absolutely loved was the arcade accurate CD-ROM. When it came out it was a dream come true to play. Finally there was a version that hit all the right moves at the right time and held true to the seemingly random progression of rooms. They aren’t really random though, dragonslairproject.com has an actual flow chart mapping out the order of the rooms. Interesting stuff for geeks like me. The best version hands down though has to be the Daphne Emulator version. The Daphne Emulator uses the actual programming that was in the original ROM chips in the arcade game to create a completely arcade accurate experience. This is the only version that is 100% accurate that I know of. The best part about it is that you can download the emulator for free and if you own a version of Dragon’s Lair that is compatible with it, the emulator will download the necessary video files to play the game. I believe the DVD version, DVD-ROM version, and the 20th anniversary DVD version all work with Daphne and you can easily pick these up on eBay for twenty bucks or so.
Geno: The arcade scene in the U.S. has been in the throes of a long protracted death for years. This is a true and terrible shame. What are your thoughts on the demise of these giant lovable arcade behemoths?
It saddens me that the arcades of the early 80’s are dying out, but it doesn’t surprise me. As great a shame as it is, I think that it shows the generational gap and the idea of collecting large machines and putting them in a giant room just doesn’t click with the younger crowd today. We’ve got Playstation 3, Xbox 360, iPad, cell phones, and computers all connected to the Internet. It’s a buffet of instant gratification that stifles any kind of competition. Why get up from your couch to visit an arcade with games that are technologically inferior to what’s on my cell phone? That’s the question young people ask, as the older generation has the memory of a time when these conveniences didn’t exist. In the 80’s if you were lucky enough to have an Atari 2600 you still would find yourself wanting to be at the arcade for the games that the old Atari wasn’t able to replicate faithfully. Fortunately the technology of today has allowed for the classics to live on with these new devices, but the days of the classic arcade are numbered. Some places such as Funspot in New Hampshire have done a fantastic job of keeping a classic arcade alive; it’s just a shame that there aren’t more of these kinds of places in existence.
View: Arcades in their 80’s heyday
Geno: Is this documentary only the beginning for you? Or are you planning a slew of other documentaries in the coming years?
I do have a list of documentary ideas written down and I would love to pursue them, it’s just a matter of what subject I want to tackle next. I love documentary films, but I don’t want to limit myself to just that either. I will do a film after Inside the Dragon’s Lair, but whether it’s a documentary or a scripted feature is unsure at this point. I think it’s best to finish my feature debut first and see where it takes me.
Geno: When can we expect to see the finished reels? Will you be doing any press or film festivals?
The original plan was to have the film finished before the end of 2013 to mark the 30th anniversary of Dragon’s Lair. Looking at that timeline now, that may be unrealistic, especially for the kind of film I wish to create. I don’t wish to rush it in fear of producing an inferior product. As it stands now we’re looking at an early 2014 release.
I will be submitting the film to festivals once it’s completed. I’ll probably submit to all the majors such as Sundance, Slamdance, SXSW, and Tribeca. To get into one would be incredible, but the odds are quite slim. There are literally hundreds of festivals out there and I’m sure my film will show at a few.
I also would like to do some screenings at conventions like Magfest, PAXEast, and others if they’re interested.
View: The Ruby Spears cartoon adaptation of Dragon’s Lair
Geno: This is a project that truly excites me and our readers. Thanks for sitting down with me today. Do you have any final words for our audience before heading out?
Thanks for taking the time to come up with such insightful questions. I’m happy that people are excited to see the film, just keep in mind it’s going to be a while before it’s released. I’ve been trying to nail down somebody to interview who is a Dragon’s Lair hater, but so far my search has been fruitless. This is one thing that surprises me. There’s so much negativity thrown at this game, but when you try to get somebody to talk about it on camera it turns into a daunting task. So if there’s anyone out there who can go on camera and speak intelligently about why they dislike the game, then please get in touch with me.
Also, this documentary isn’t just for the fans, it’s for everyone. Haters, superfans, kids, adults, and the completely clueless can find something in this film to enjoy.
When we launch our Kickstarter page we’re going to need all the help we can get, so please spread the word about the documentary. That way when we do launch we’ll be able to hit our goal. People can go to the Facebook fan page at facebook.com/dragonslairdoc and follow along on twitter @DragonsLairDoc.