Untold NUON Tales: Dragon’s Lair 1+2 and Space Ace

V-SNES

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On May 13, 1999, VM Labs announced a lineup of software developers for the NUON platform. One of these software developers was Digital Leisure. Forming in 1997, Digital Leisure aimed to “acquire, remaster and publish numerous classic video-based arcade games such as the Don Bluth-animated titles Dragon's Lair, Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp, and Space Ace,” among other games over the years. This sentiment reigned true for the NUON as in this same press release, VM Labs mentioned that Digital Leisure would be working on a NUON version of Space Ace. However, Space Ace never made it to the NUON, nor any other of the Don Bluth-animated titles.

In July 2000, the very first NUON DVD player was released in the United States. This was the Samsung Extiva DVD-N2000 and with it came what’s called the Spring 2000 Interactive Sampler NUON Demo Disc. This disc contained a few game demos, as well as promotional clips for upcoming NUON games. It was with these promotional clips that Dragon’s Lair became officially known to be coming to the NUON platform. In the clip pictured below, it shows the intro scene to the game which appears to not have any differences from existing ports of Dragon’s Lair.

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In addition, the disc has a game demo reel which shows gameplay footage from the game list pictured above. It can be watched here:

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The Dragon’s Lair footage is scattered throughout the reel. Whether this footage is from the DVD version or the NUON version is unclear.

In August 2002, not long after the demise of VM Labs, former Director of Peripheral Licensing and Promotion of VM Labs Donald A. Thomas Jr. released the Thomas Solutions NUON Photo CD. While not an officially licensed product from VM Labs, Donald packed this photo CD with exclusive content from behind the scenes. One of these was a NUON game release schedule and in this schedule, it had both Space Ace and Dragon’s Lair slated for Q1 2001 (pictured below). As for the NUON port of Dragon’s Lair II: Time Warp, no official media source appears to exist. With a basic timeline established now, what really happened to these games?

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Well, the first person I reached out to was David Foster, President of Digital Leisure. In the aforementioned VM Labs press release, he stated that, "Our experience in the DVD market indicates that consumers are eager for interactivity. NUON allows us to bring better conversions of our games to the DVD format than what we could deliver on a standard DVD player.” When I spoke with him, he confirmed that him and his team were the ones working on these games at the time. David then put me in contact with Paul Gold, General Manager at Digital Leisure, as he was closer to the development of the NUON ports. As such, the following questions were answered by him:

V-SNES: Why did you plan on bringing these games to the NUON?

Paul: The fact that Digital Leisure had released the series on DVD using the basic ‘interactive’ functions in the late 90s made developing for NUON make sense.

V-SNES: How long were the games being developed for? Did work start on all three games or just one?

Paul: David [Foster] would have been coding these directly at the time. I honestly don’t remember what development work had been accomplished, but it likely wasn’t beyond a month or so and it would have been on Dragon’s Lair. The other two would have been planned, but nothing completed. So beyond some light early dev work, not much was completed.

V-SNES: Is anything left from your NUON projects?

Paul: There isn’t anything left from the development. As it was never brought to market, the code was never archived.

V-SNES: Why were these games cancelled?

Paul: We had been focused on releasing Space Ace and Dragon’s Lair 2 on DVD-Video, and by then the PlayStation 2 had been announced. This sort of took the wind out of the NUON’s sales potential. They were simply cancelled given the outlook for potential sales of the game(s) on the NUON. Naturally, the PS2 was going to be a larger audience, and we had sourced units from Japan which confirmed that what we had, already worked without the need for any redevelopment. So…the writing was on the wall for the Nuon.

V-SNES: Do you remember when in the year 2000 that you cancelled all NUON releases? For a frame of reference, you mentioned sourcing PS2s from Japan which was released there on March 4, 2000. I assume these to have been retail units?

Paul: Yes, these were retail unit that were quite difficult to acquire at the time. I do remember they finally arrived in the early summer and once we tested compatibility – it was obvious that the NUON wasn’t going to make it. We immediately redirected internal efforts to advise whoever would listen that the current DVD games available would work with the PS2. I don’t remember a specific cancellation moment, but it was probably early fall once the PS2 released in North America and units started moving a brisk pace.

V-SNES: Do you know if the footage of Dragon’s Lair in the NUON Sampler disc gameplay reel was from the NUON version? Or is it footage from the DVD version?

Paul: It’s likely that was simply video from the DVD release or perhaps raw video, as there wasn’t any UI on screen. But honestly, there really isn’t much of a way to tell given how it’s spliced in.
V-SNES: Do you still have your development kit?

Paul: There was a development kit, but it would have been returned to VM Labs after things didn’t move ahead. When it comes to devkits, they are always ‘loaned’ to developers and are expected to be returned when development is completed.

That’s where this story ends. Digital Leisure would continue their operations acquiring, remastering, and publishing games, as well as continuing to bring the Dragon’s Lair games and Space Ace to modern platforms. They would also come to create brand new games of their own like Get Off My Lawn! in 2014, and a large-scale social casino MMO – The Four Kings Casino and Slots in 2015. Sticking with that theme, in 2021, they released Four Kings: Video Poker. Paul and David still run Digital Leisure to this day, and the studio has evolved to now employ of over 15 engineers, artists and designers who continue to develop and self-publish titles across all major gaming platforms. Many thanks to Paul and David for answering my questions to the best of their ability. Afterall, this was 20+ years ago!

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Interested in reading more NUON stories? Check out more in the Untold NUON Tales Series!
 
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V-SNES

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I’d like to give an extra special thanks to Paul Gold. Paul was one of the first people I got to speak with in my research and I’m thankful for his kindness and patience. This has been a big learning experience and it has helped me build the foundation of how I conduct and present this research. Cheers to a bright future in Untold NUON Tales!

I would also like to thank some of my fellow NUON community members who assisted me with this project: K3V, ToshibaNuon, Bolid, and The Helper. Thank you all!
 
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Stephen

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In August 2002, not long after the demise of VM Labs, former Director of Peripheral Licensing and Promotion of VM Labs Donald A. Thomas Jr. released the Thomas Solutions Nuon Photo CD.
Cool info - too bad nothing was archived. Are there copies of this Don Thomas disc available by chance? I have very vague memories of hearing about it, but never did get a copy.
 

V-SNES

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Cool info - too bad nothing was archived. Are there copies of this Don Thomas disc available by chance? I have very vague memories of hearing about it, but never did get a copy.

There aren't any currently available. They are unfortunately quite rare from what I've seen. I'd love to own one myself. I've only seen one come up on ebay which was 5 months ago. I didn't buy it though since I didn't really know what it was or the history behind it at the time. Thankfully the person who bought it is a friend so I was able to get the picture of the software schedule for this story.
 

The Helper

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Cool info - too bad nothing was archived. Are there copies of this Don Thomas disc available by chance? I have very vague memories of hearing about it, but never did get a copy.

Super rare stuff brother! I only know 2 people that have a copy.
 

Stephen

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Seems a bit sad that this cannot be archived now. Maybe at some point, so the info is not lost.
 

The Helper

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One question that was not asked that I wish was is

Is there any chance that a publisher can license those games now for release on NUON?
 

ToshibaNuon

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There aren't any currently available. They are unfortunately quite rare from what I've seen. I'd love to own one myself. I've only seen one come up on ebay which was 5 months ago. I didn't buy it though since I didn't really know what it was or the history behind it at the time. Thankfully the person who bought it is a friend so I was able to get the picture of the software schedule for this story.
I did buy that copy 5 months ago, but had another copy of it given to me for free in 4th grade.
 

V-SNES

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... How about someone dumping it for the archives?
From my understanding, at least some of it's contents has been uploaded to NUON-Dome like the prototype controller pictures though I'm not sure at this point as to how much of the other contents were uploaded. Admittedly, I originally assumed that all its contents were on there, but considering how I had to get the software schedule picture, I guess not. You're right, it'd be a good idea to have it dumped for the archives. I think it'd also be a good idea for it to have it's own page with a description/pictures as while it's not an official NUON product, it is a part of NUON history.

What do you think @K3V?
 
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