Retro Coin Op Synopsis
The Laserdisc game boom was a brief one, beginning with the mammoth hit Dragon’s Lair in 1983 and ending less than a year later. A small trickle of laser games were released in subsequent years, including 1990’s Mad Dog McCree and the long-awaited but little-played Dragon’s Lair II, but none had the same level of success as the 1983 games.
In 1991, Sega decided it was time for a laser renaissance, but with a twist. Hoping to spark a new boom with a revolutionary title of its own, the company developed Time Traveler, the world’s first holographic game.
Technically, Time Traveler wasn’t a true hologram. Images were still played from a Laserdisc to a TV monitor, but a patented curved reflective surface created the illusion of a 3-D image projected above a flat glass surface. Technicalities aside, Time Traveler clearly looked like a hologram, and that was more than any game had accomplished before.
Fittingly, the man behind Time Traveler was Rick Dyer, who had worked with animator Don Bluth and Cinematronics to create the original Dragon’s Lair. Like that pioneering game, Time Traveler unfolded like an interactive movie, as players were given limited control over the movements of Old West lawman Marshall Gram. Usually prompted by flashes of light, players moved left or right, jumped, ducked or hit the fire button, always reacting to the events onscreen. A correct decision kept Gram alive and on the time trail, while a wrong move prompted a quick cut to a death scene.
Beginning in 1873, the game sent Gram on a quest to rescue future girl Princess Kyi-La and prevent the mad scientist Vulcor from ripping apart the space-time continuum. The action moved through several past and future eras, including 50,000 B.C., 1350, 1998 and 2173 A.D., as well as the “Age of Magic,” indicated by bizarre symbols on the time map. In each epoch, Gram used his pistol, fists or sword against several time-specific foes, trying to hop a time portal to a showdown with Vulcor.
To shake things up a bit, The Devil appeared at various points in the game, inviting Gram to play a game of “Hell Gate.” This slots-type game gave players a chance to earn an extra life, but if the symbols lined up poorly, one life or even the entire game could be lost. For a less risky do-over, the Trader offered “Time Reversal Cubes” for sale, allowing players to skip back in time after a missed cue for a second chance.
Time Traveler was certainly a visual accomplishment, but its adventure-based gameplay wasn’t enough to tear players away from their Street Fighter II machines. Sega tried to adapt the technology to the marketplace, releasing the holographic fighting game Holosseum in 1992, but with little success. The hoped-for hologram boom never materialized, leaving the technology to wait for another day.