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Interview with Dragon's Lair 3D Creator 'Don Bluth'

by Rainier on Oct. 10, 2002 @ 2:27 a.m. PDT

Dragon's Lair 3D: Return to the Lair will release this November on Xbox/PC. The game is an ALL-NEW, 3D adventure based on the classic arcade game by legendary animator, Don Bluth. Bluth is well-known throughout animated film circles, creating such classics as the Secret of Nimh, An American Tale and the Land Before Time. He has lent his expertise in film to Dragon's Lair 3D, creating a truly cinematic experience for gamers. Bluth calls Dragon's Lair 3D, "The closest thing to controlling an animated film." Not only does the game include the highest quality graphics and gameplay, but also includes a new plot twist from Bluth and company and original score. Today we serve up an interview with Dragons Lair 3D creator 'Don Bluth' and a few screens to go with it ...

1. How is Dragon’s Lair 3D: Return to the Lair different from the original Dragon’s Lair arcade game?

We worked hard to keep the look very close to the original game. The artists and Dragonstone development team went so far as to reference the original, hand-painted backgrounds, and texture-map onto the 3D environments.

Gameplay-wise, Dragon’s Lair 3D is ALL-NEW. Today’s amazing game technology allowed us to create the Dragon’s Lair game we envisioned 20 years ago. Players now have full control of Dirk -- his movements, his weapons, his choices and directions.

Dragon’s Lair 3D’s free form gameplay allowed us to greatly expand levels and rooms from the original arcade game. About a third of the game is completely new -- the 18 additional expanded levels and more than 250 rooms create about 30 hours of gameplay!

2. Dragon’s Lair is credited to inventing the action adventure genre, and is one of three games on display in the Smithsonian. With such an acclaimed reputation, how much pressure was it to create Dragon’s Lair 3D?

Well, I am very proud of what we accomplished with Dragon’s Lair, and the tremendous support given by the Dragon’s Lair community throughout the years. With Dragon’s Lair 3D, there was a great sense of obligation to create something that Dragon’s Lair fans would enjoy, but also something new that pushed the envelope even more. We definitely didn’t want to rest on our past achievements. The tremendous technical power of the Xbox, PS2, GameCube and PC created development options and sparked ideas that we could only have dreamed 20 years ago. This is truly a new game-playing experience that both fans of the arcade game and new players can enjoy.

3. Will Dirk have any additional moves this time around besides the sword attack?

This guy is ready for anything! Now he can walk, run, roll, jump, crouch, move sideways and even fly. He can swing his sword in a 360 degree circle, use a crossbow or revert to a flaming sword. And since Dirk is a guy who needs all the help he can get, we gave him “dragon essences” and specialized powers to assist him in his various calamities.

4. What's your role in the development process for Dragon’s Lair 3D?

Well, probably more of an Executive Producer role. Gary (Goldman) and I have been involved with script approval, approvals of character designs and the art direction, on kind of a consultant basis. We have also produced and directed the 2D animated introduction and finale for the game.

5. How have you drawn upon your movie experience in the creation of Dragon’s Lair 3D?

With movies you are always in search is a good story, one that everyone will relate to and love. I love finding those stories and creating a visual world to tell the story. The heart of Dragon’s Lair has always been its compelling story. With Dragon’s Lair 3D, we think the team has really created an interactive animated movie. The game unfolds the story of Dirk and his quest to save Daphne, with all the plot twists and turns of a feature film, but in this case the players are in control!

Dragon’s Lair 3D is about as close as you can come to controlling an animated feature film.

6. Music is becoming a big part of games. How did music influence Dragon’s Lair 3D?

I’m also very pleased that we were able to include a full orchestrated score for Dragon’s Lair 3D. The 40 different music pieces blend with the action to make you feel more a part of the whole adventure.

In the early stages of the game, it appeared to be like watching a film that had not yet been scored. So I said, what we really need is to bring back Chris Stone (original composer for Dragon’s Lair) and have him write a score for this game so it’s like a movie. So Chris has written something which is very much like a big powerful movie score.

7. Were you surprised at the technical capacity of the Xbox, PS2 and GameCube consoles? What development things were you able to do with 3D that you weren’t able to with the arcade game?

The consoles we worked with were truly amazing. There were so many things we wanted to do with 3D, but had to pick and choose given the time constraints. One example is the 1080i HDTV compatibility of the Xbox version. The Xbox always had the built-in ability to present games for HDTV, but no one ever did it before. We thought having HDTV compatibility would further enhance the game’s cinematic quality and highlight the game’s graphics even more. Our talented development team at Dragonstone figured it out, and Dragon’s Lair 3D Xbox will be the FIRST and ONLY Xbox game with 1080i HDTV compatibility, and I have never seen a game’s graphics look so sharp and clean. The sound design for the game is also unique on the Xbox. The memory on this system allowed us to provide the user with 5.1 Dolby surround sound for home theatre owners.

8. Is there any other surprises you have in store for us with Dragon’s Lair 3D?

Well, there are a number of hidden surprises in the game. There are new enemy characters you will encounter, 40 enemies in total. One of the new enemies is the One-Eyed Pig, a character which was cut on the cutting room floor for the original arcade game, but makes an appearance in 3D. Also, there is a new plot twist at the end of the game. Those players who were talented enough to finish the arcade game to the end will receive a surprise ending. You have to wait until November when the Xbox and PC versions launch to find out!

9. Of the memorable characters you created throughout the years, Dirk the Daring is arguably the most famous. Where did the inspiration for the Dirk come from?

“Dirk, to me, represents the bumbler. You know, the guy who just can’t get it right, who trips over himself, his feet are too big, his hands are too big. Everything about him says he’s not your typical hero. And I kept thinking ‘how can we make that guy appealing?’”

That’s what makes him funny. He’ll tackle something that seems absolutely overwhelmingly impossible because he doesn’t get that it’s impossible.”

“I think with Dirk, I really originally expected nothing to happen, but I have found that he has been one of the most influential characters we ever created.”

10. What other projects, videogame or otherwise, do you have coming down the pipeline?

Actually, we have several projects on the boards. We’ve written a feature film script for Dragon’s Lair, The Movie. We are in discussions for distribution at this time. There seems to be additional discussion as to what medium we will present the movie in: traditional animation; computer animation (CGI); or live action with CGI, like Spider Man.

11. The gaming industry has grown tremendously in the past 20 years to even surpass the movie industry. What are the biggest similarities and differences in the game creating process compared the animated movie creating process?

“The problem that animators have - which is similar to what actors have - is (that) before they pick up a pencil and draw a character, either his design or draw him moving, they have to figure out what’s going on in his head. Whether it is a game or a movie, I think the first place you go is you have to find the character. With Dirk, that’s what it was all about. We wanted to find out what was going on inside this guy’s head.” We used this same approach in creating Dragon’s Lair 3D.

“I find that storyboarding is where I have enjoyed my career the most. Storyboarding is really a director’s job because it is taking all the little messages – good, bad, scary, whatever they might be – and giving them to the audience at a certain rate of speed or in a certain order so the audience goes through an emotional experience. And, as you follow the escapades or the journey of the hero through a story it evokes some kind of emotion in the viewers. The director’s job is to make sure that the audience goes through the journey and has an emotional reaction.”

12. Any plans for a Space Ace game?

We’d love to do Space Ace 3D. It has a lot of potential. But, it is really up to the publishers. Dragonstone is a developer. However, we are discussing the possibility of developing some “add-on packs” which would include the Whirlpools and the Flying Barding sequences for Dragon’s Lair 3D. These sequences of game play were not included in this first 3D version.

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