Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Don Bluth Month: Hit X to Not Get Eaten - Thoughts on the Rick Dyer Games

There was a time when video game graphics were usually just colorful little blocky things. But the thing was, YOU -and notice the emphasis on YOU- COULD MOVE THEM! You modern-day kids don't even know a world without video games, so you have no idea what a huge deal this was. Trust me, seeing something on a screen that YOU were controlling, changing the course of animated action just by pressing a button, that in itself was absolutely mind-blowing. No longer were we passive observers -- we were like gods.

Now I was too young to understand the full implications of the video game revolution until much later, when the neighbor kids got an NES. So I do not know, firsthand, what kind of impact "Dragon's Lair" had on the arcade world. From what I've heard since, however, it must have completely altered the landscape.

Except, weirdly, it doesn't look like it did. "Dragon's Lair", "Space Ace", and "Dragon's Lair: Time Warp" were the first-ever CD-ROM games and the first games to use full-motion video (some would argue that they remain the only good FMV games). According to the supplemental materials on their DVDs, they took a great deal of time to produce and utilized technology that was brand new, expensive, and difficult to keep working correctly. The games were popular, but since their production and upkeep were so expensive, they never really started a trend. FMV games and CD-ROM games tried for a comeback in the 1990's, but the technology (mostly the video quality and load speed) just wasn't quite there yet.

So here we have the Don Bluth / Rick Dyer games on DVD, where the gameplay moves almost unreasonably fast. Thankfully, each game has a "watch" option, a blessing for those of us who like it better when we have a minute or two to think. And this is appropriate, because really, every game is more like an interactive movie. And I don't know about you, but I have a feeling Rick Dyer said to Don Bluth, "Eh, just do whatever you want to."

The result, in each game, is about twenty minutes of unrestrained and distinctively Don Bluth-y weirdness. Bluthiness, if you will. "Space Ace" is the kind of movie (if you take these as short animated films) where the hero meets a giant evil version of himself. Then the giant evil version of the hero starts blasting himself with a laser until he's just a giant laughing head rolling around. Huh. Didn't see that coming.

There's rivers of gooey slime, overflowing tubs of bubbly lava, and giant rocks that immediately crumble under the hero's feet. And everything is trying to eat the hero. Everything. It's especially obvious in "Time Warp". Really, only Maurice Sendak seems to have as much of a creepy obsession with being devoured by something toothy and unpleasant.

But with all this said, the games are still fun as hell to watch. Bluth's attitude was, and still is, very like Pixar's, as I explained a few weeks ago. Animation is an art, and it should be done with love and care or not at all. Even the weirdest moments in these games are amazing to watch. That gives me hope for the rest of this project.

Next, we'll see how strong the nostalgia filter is with "An American Tail" and, on Monday, "The Land Before Time".

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Watercolor of the week!

Here's a rainy view of Long Lake:

6.10.10 - Long Lake in Fog

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