Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dragon's Lair and the Arcade with No Name

When I started writing this entry, I was struck by a bout of senility as I could not think of the name of the arcade where I first encountered Dragon's Lair. It was upstairs at the Gimbel's end of the Echelon Mall, directly above Listening Booth, and had an odd shaped entrance, like a large Chevrolet symbol. When I was in high school and college, it was the place to hang out, even though it had been predated by Funway Freeway on the opposite side of the Mall by at least a decade. Most importantly it was the place where in June of 1982 I first met my future wife.

I struggled with this mind fart, I Googled, I contacted old friends I hung out with at the time, and finally, on a whim, looking at old foreign coins, as I suspected, I came across tokens (for the uninitiated, arcade games didn't run on quarters, you bought tokens with quarters and put the tokens in the machines) from the place. Video Village. Such a simple name, yet so evasive over the years. When I saw it on Google as a store in the Mall listings I assumed it was a video retail store, but no, it was the arcade.

In the early 1980s arcades were everywhere. There was Space Port in the Deptford Mall, the Cherry Hill Mall had had several over the years, heck there was one in every mall. I've already talked about Malibu, there was also Bally's across from the Cherry Hill Mall, and the Galaxy (not the rock club) down the road from it on Route 70. There was even one in my hometown right on Atco Avenue, the Sweet Shop. Like I said, they were everywhere, and also like I said, Video Village (now that I finally remembered the name) was special.

New games or games with buzz were given a special position in arcades so everyone could see them. At Video Village, this was just inside the entrance, facing into the Mall, this way, even if you were on the other side of the stairs, you could see the new game. This is how I first saw Dragon's Lair, logo standing out above a throng of heads of perhaps two or three dozen people mesmerized by it or waiting their turn on this amazing new game. And it was amazing, at least for its time.

There were no pixels or imagination involved in Dragon's Lair, as it was fully animated by Don Bluth, just late of Disney, and designed almost as a choose-your-own-adventure with the magic of laserdisc technology. It was all about a light touch and perfect reflexes to get heroic knight Dirk the Daring past various traps in the castle dungeons, the evil wizard Mordoc, and the dragon Singe, to rescue the Princess Daphne. Oh, you couldn't wait to try it yourself, but it was also a blast to watch - not just a game, it was an entertaining cartoon as well.

This was a far cry from Atari's Adventure, said to be its inspiration. Dragon's Lair was also a notable step into the future for one other reason as well. It was the first game I am aware of that took two tokens, fifty cents, to play as opposed to one token/quarter. I am unsure if this was forward thinking or just plain greed, but at the time in my easily amused late teens, it seemed a fair exchange.

So why all the nostalgia for events that happened over three decades ago? Well, I just recently downloaded the Dragon's Lair LLC app for my iPhone. It has the same great animation and gameplay, only using the touchscreen instead of a joystick. So Dirk the Daring lives, or at least he does when I make the right moves...


Anonymous said...


I was a very frequent visitor to Video Village...My best friend worked there during the early 80's. I remember when they got Dragons Lair and Paul the manager (who we also hung out with and partied at his place) made a big deal about the game and made sure it was positioned prominently!! After hours, my buddy who worked there would pull down the gate, fill the soda machine with beer (makeshift fridge) and open the doors to all the games. We stay to midnight drinking beer (and other stuff) and playing games for free. I have very fond memories of that place and the Echelon Mall in general!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Glenn,

I'm the guy Anonymous is talking about and that was the GREATEST job I ever had! I remember playing Dragon's Lair. My boss had the TV set on top so everybody could watch it. I knew a guy who could get to the dragon but couldn't kill it and I could kill but couldn't get to it... One day my boss told me to have the guy I knew get to the dragon and for me to kill it and when we did it I sold out of tokens in about 5 minutes!

Anonymous said...

I too grew up in Atco and met my wife at video village in 1983. She was from Stratford and the reason we met was because I begged my mom for two hours, saying please mom take me and my buddy to the mall, over and over again, on a weekday night. I never pestered my mom for anything except for that day when I met my wife, feels like fate now. Anyway, the reason I begged was so that we could play dragons lair. Several years ago I bought a dragons lair for my basement, as it's responsible for our meeting. I can get to and beat the dragon with my eyes closed now, but then I lasted a few screens. I loved video village and the mall, getting a job at the food court a year later and staying there as an asst Mianager until 1987. So sad how the mall is now, it was so fun back in the 80's going to the mall every Friday and Saturday,.