A double dose of underwhelming HD
My copy of The Game on HD DVD arrived from Amazon.com this morning. Just yesterday, I read Peter M. “I can’t tell the difference between standard definition and high definition” Bracke’s review of it, and was a little alarmed to discover that he had awarded the transfer a 4/10 rating. Given that he gave the 480i upconverted Traffic an 8/10, I was beginning to panic. Thankfully, The Game doesn’t look that bad, which just serves to underscore the fact that these incompetent reviewers are essentially dishing out numerical ratings at random. The Game looks rather diffuse, and is certainly not what I’d call the best example of what the HD formats are capable of, but it’s watchable enough and looks largely natural, with the occasional impressive moment of detail. I’m going to have to give it a more thorough going-over before awarding a rating of my own, but so far my diagnosis would be “definitely above average”.
I also received a review copy of Dragon’s Lair on Blu-ray - something which Dave over at DVD Times asked me if I’d be interested in covering the other day. For those who don’t know, Dragon’s Lair is an arcade game released in 1983, featuring cel animation supervised by Don Bluth, whose greatest claim to fame is staging a mass walk-out of the Walt Disney studio in 1979, due to a growing belief that Disney had lost sense of its very essence. Throughout the 80s and 90s, Bluth and co produced a series of saccharine and badly-written animated talking animal movies, including The Secret of N.I.M.H., An American Tail and The Land Before Time. He hasn’t managed to get anything off the ground since 2000’s horrendous Titan A.E., and, for some reason, Dragon’s Lair remains one of his most popular efforts.
I can’t think why, though. The animation has that naff 80s look, and the whole thing is let down by rubbish game design. It’s basically built around a process of trial and error: wait for the game to become interactive, and then guess which of the five buttons you need to press in order to get to the next area; memorise and repeat ad nauseam. On the Blu-ray version, this becomes even worse as, when you fail a certain section, instead of being made to repeat it, you are simply moved on to the next area. This not only makes the game more or less pointless, it also renders it completely incomprehensible as the whole thing essentially becomes a series of brief clips of animation that fail to link together in anything approaching a coherent manner.
What’s worse, during development of the Blu-ray version, the programmers apparently didn’t have access to the BD-Java specification (see this article), meaning that compatability problems are rife. One user failed to get it to work at all on his Philips player, while it has been confirmed that the only devices on which this release was actually tested are the Samsung BD-P1000, Panasonic DMP-BD10, Sony BDP-S1 and the PlayStation 3, in addition to PowerDVD BD for Windows. If my experience with the PS3 version constitutes an accurate representation of how the game was intended to be played, then I shudder to think what it would be like when it was playing incorrectly. Small wonder the manual accompanying the disc carries the following disclaimer:
Although Digital Leisure Inc. believes this program performs the functions described in this guide, the program is provided ‘as is’ without performance warranties of any kind, either expressed or implied, including but not limited, [sic] the implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose. The entire risk as to the quality and performance of this program is with you.
Translation: it might not work, so don’t come crying to us if this is the case. Even the menus don’t work properly - the background artwork flashes up for a fraction of a second and then disappears - while the diamond icon that the manual claims will pop up when you are supposed to issue a command doesn’t actually appear (at least not on the Playstation 3).
Dragon’s Lair is a charmless, shambolic mess of a game. I can only hope that the arcade original was somewhat better, and that the total shoddiness of the gameplay is due to the buggy implementation of the game on Blu-ray. According to an interview with the programmer responsible for porting it over, he basically had to bend over backwards due to the rough state of the development tools and lack of access to the source code, so I suppose it’s a wonder it works at all. Regardless of whose “fault” it is, though, the fact remains that it’s a completely unplayable mess and one that I’m glad I didn’t pay for.
Oh, and if you want some thoughts on the shoddy digital “restoration” performed on it by dunderhead technicians who haven’t got a clue how to use the tools at their disposal, check out Lyris’ post on the matter.