Watching Old Arcade Laserdisc Video

About a quarter of a century ago, a handful of arcade games incorporating laserdisc technology appeared in arcades.  The most well known one was Dragon’s Lair, a game made up entirely of traditionally drawn cartoon clips, with different clips being played depending on the player’s actions.  Other games, like Cube Quest used laserdisc video to draw high-quality backgrounds behind relatively lower quality video game graphics.

Last year, the incredible Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator project (or MAME) — an open source project dedicated to the preservation of arcade game history by emulating old arcade hardware on modern PCs — finally developed the ability to emulate its first laserdisc game (other projects, like DAPHNE, have been emulating laserdisc games for longer, but these projects were dedicated to laserdisc games whereas MAME’s focus encompasses all types of arcade games).  So far, only a handful of laserdisc games are playable with MAME.

It’s pretty neat visiting these once state-of-the-art games.  The grainy, lower-fidelity video and sound of laserdisc really takes one back to the mid-80s.

If you are familiar with emulation and just want to watch the video content stored in laserdisc CHD files (rather than playing through the entire game), follow these instructions on how to use MAME’s ldplayer. The instructions there didn’t exist when I first went about figuring out how to get the laserdisc player program itself working; the page has since been updated after some communication with one of the MAME developers, so hopefully others won’t have as frustrating a time as I had in trying to get it all to work.

Here’s a screenshot of me VNCing into my home computer and running the laserdisc player emulator with the Cube Quest CHD:

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When I was a kid, I never imagined I’d be using one computer at work to connect to another computer at home via a global computer network in order to run a program designed to emulate the hardware of a twenty-five year-old laserdisc player.

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