Rick Dyer - Creator of Dragon's Lair, Space Ace, Thayer's Quest, Time Traveler

Although the technology is speeding along, the business of interactive entertainment is still a relatively new field.  When you think of veterans you normally think of people that have gone 5 years or maybe even 10 without going bankrupt.  Not too many people run the clock up much longer.

Rick Dyer is one of the very, very few people who can claim nearly 20 years of experience in the making of electronic games. Acknowledging that very few people who started making games that long ago are still in business, Dyer describes himself as "The Last of the Mohicans." He started with coin-op games, back when people were still recovering from Pac-Man fever. He's still at the business of making games, with his "first foray" into PC gaming—the Kingdom fantasy adventure series. He now has Shadoan (and its prequel, Reaches) to add to a long list of accomplishments.

Taking a look at said list, we see Rick Dyer has a lot of firsts to his name. He's the first person to introduce real animation to gaming with the classic coin-op Dragon's Lair. In that game, a brave but sometimes luckless Knight named Dirk the Daring explored a castle filled with traps and monsters, attempting to save the lovely Princess Daphne from the evil dragon Singe. A copy of the game is now on display at the Smithsonian. Dyer followed it up with the sci-fi game Space Ace. He also created the very first hologram-based game, Hologram Time Traveler.

While on the PC front, Dyer managed another first. This one because of a song. The Shadoan theme song has broken into the Glavin Top 40 pop music charts. Sung by Julie Eisenhower (yes, she is related to that Eisenhower) Dyer says that interest in the game has received "new life because of the song."

Dyer believes - as does Eisenhower's music promoter Howard Rosen—that this is the first step in creating new ways of marketing games and media. Noting that many movies have successful soundtracks, Dyer believes it won't be long before a game soundtrack "will sell on its own." Dyer will also be taking the music of the next Shadoan title a little further—there will be actual production numbers of sorts, with singing and dancing in the next game, which will be called Journey into the Great Abyss.

As the use of music may indicate, this is a lighter game, aimed at younger audiences, as was Shadoan. Dyer says Shadoan succeeds because "it doesn't talk down" to children. Like a good animated movie, Shadoan was fun for kids, but treats them with a measure of intelligence, and isn't so sugary sweet. Dyer says it also makes things bearable for adults, who say "Hey, this is fun for me too!" (Kind of like the parents who can't wait for the next Disney animated movie, because uh, the kids will love it). Thus, as they say, we get a game the whole family can play. Dyer notes that when testing Shadoan, his daughter, then just two, was "right there with me" as he did it.

But don't call Shadoan a "Family game," Dyer objects. He would agree with "a game that the family can enjoy," but he claims that "There is no market for family games." His reasoning is this. Under the ages of about 8-9, parents are making the purchasing decisions. Hopefully, these parents aren't subjecting their children to Phantasmagoria, so they will buy something aimed at younger audiences. After the age of 9 or so, children are getting close to the ability to buy their own games. By that age, says Dyer, they want what the bigger kids play. Thus, any one trying to sell a family game is selling to a middle market that just isn't there. By Dyer's argument, there are only kid games, and mature games, if you will. It seems the game designer has picked up some insight on game marketing over the years—Dyer and his current company, T1G Publishing, also want to price their games a little lower. His reasoning is that starting a family is an expensive "taxing" business (perhaps a pun was intended). He feels that game buyers could use a break.

We also thought that a man who survived a 20-year stay in a wild and expensive industry might offer some interesting insight into the future of gaming. Dyer's predictions for 1998 aren't all sunshine. He expects the immediate future to be turbulent. With "so much product coming out in so short a space of time," he believes that many companies will "go by the wayside." He believes though, that the following year will be better.

As for Dyer's future, he may break new ground (gee, again?) with Journey into the Great Abyss. So what new field of media is Dyer seeking to conquer? Perhaps the best seller lists. The next Shadoan's story was completely written out in novel format, a process which took three years (kind of short notice for Dyer, he told one interviewer that the initial work for Shadoan began in 1979). Dyer and a team of writers would meet at a local coffee house every Friday to discuss changes, ideas, and progress. Why all this effort? Dyer says he wanted the animators to "have a clear vision" of the story and characters. Although one of Dyer's trademarks is animated games, Shadoan will be the last of that. Dyer says the process is just too expensive. Shadoan, for example (and believe it or not), is on the list of the ten most expensive games of all time, a list at the top of which is Wing Commander IV, which cost over $10 million. Shadoan didn't cost nearly as much, but 300 animators worked on the project for nine months, a process which ran up a hefty tab. The next Shadoan, Journey into the Great Abyss, will use a 3D-rendered world.

Rick's most recent project is Dragon's Lair 3D.  Teaming up with original partners Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, they have set out to bring the game back, but this time give the player complete control over Dirk with the ability to fully explore the castle in his quest to rescue the princess Daphne.

So few people are around to learn this, but 20-year veteran status pays off in other ways. As Dyer says—"brand recognition." Many of the people who played his coin-ops 15 years ago now have kids. How handy it is to see "From the creator of Dragon's Lair and Space Ace" on the package. Dyer believes that this helps sell his games. You have to admit, the guy that hangs on in an industry as volatile as this one for 20 years, and has his work in the Smithsonian Institute clearly knows what he's doing.


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