||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (November 2010)|
Promotional flyer for Astron Belt
Bally Midway (North America)
|Genre(s)||Interactive action movie
Third-person rail shooter
Space combat simulator
|Cabinet||Upright and Cockpit|
|Arcade system||Sega Laserdisc|
|Display||Horizontal orientation, Raster, standard resolution|
Astron Belt is an early laserdisc video game and third-person space combat rail shooter, released in 1983 by Sega in Japan and licensed to Bally Midway for release in the United States. Developed in 1982, it is commonly cited as the first laserdisc game.
The game's unveiling at the 1982 AMOA show in Chicago marked the beginning of laserdisc fever in the videogame industry, and its release in Japan the following year marked the first commercial release of a laserdisc game. However, its release in the United States was delayed due to several hardware and software bugs, by which time Dragon's Lair had beaten it to public release there. Astron Belt was, however, the first laserdisc game released in Europe.
Astron Belt is basically an enhanced version of the simple space-shooters that were popular at the time. The player controls a lone spacecraft on a mission to singlehandedly take down the entire enemy armada. Enemy fighters and ships shoot at the player, and there are mines and other objects that must be shot or avoided.
The game is divided into waves. At the end of each wave is a command ship that must be destroyed. In later waves the enemy fighters move and shoot more aggressively, and their shots are more accurate. Some waves take place in open space, while others require the player to battle enemies while flying through narrow trenches and tunnels.
The player is on a timer at the beginning of the game, with an unlimited number of lives available. The length of the timer can be adjusted by the machine operator, but is normally 60 seconds. After the timer expires, the player is given a limited number of additional lives. When all of those lives are lost, the game ends.
Astron Belt came in both upright and cockpit cabinets. The cockpit version featured illuminated buttons on the control panel, a larger 25" monitor (the upright used a standard 19"), and a vibrating seat.
The background videos used in the game are a mixture of original artwork and borrowed material. In addition to the scenes created specifically for the game, the designers also incorporated footage from three science fiction movies: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Battle Beyond the Stars, and Message from Space.
A common complaint about laserdisc games is their linearity. Many, like Dragon's Lair, are glorified "rail" games where the player's path is predetermined by the program; to beat the game, the player only has to memorize the proper sequence of joystick and button movements for any given scene. In Astron Belt, however, the laserdisc only generates the images of the backgrounds and the enemy fighters. The hazards, including the enemy laser blasts and the space mines, are randomly generated by the game's main program in response to the player's actions. This makes Astron Belt much more player-driven than scene-driven, unlike the majority of laserdisc titles.
Astron Belt used one of four laserdisc players, either a Pioneer LD-V1000 or LD-V1001, or a Hitachi VIP-9500SG or VIP-9550. Two different versions of the laser disc itself were also pressed, a single-sided version by Pioneer and a double-sided version by Sega. However, both discs have the same information and may be used in any of the four players.
Running on the Sega Laserdisc hardware, the game combines pre-rendered laserdisc computer animation footage from Japanese science fiction films with a real-time 2D computer graphics plane. The real-time graphics plane was overlaid by imitating a matting technique. As the CRT monitor scans horizontally across the screen, it is fed information from the laserdisc up until the point where it is fed information from the computer graphics system, after which information coming from the laserdisc stops, creating a black mask into which a sprite is inserted. It uses a collision detection system where both the laderdisc and sprite planes can interact with each other. Each frame of the laserdisc footage is coded with a hit detection spot stored in ROM memory. The Zilog Z80 CPU microprocessor reads the number of the laserdisc frame, and checks the laserdisc hit spots with the shots fired by the player, and if the coordinates correspond, it instructs the laserdisc player to display an explosion sequence. For sections where the player must navigate between walls, the walls in the laserdisc footage are also coded and use collision detection.
Astron Belt performed modestly well in the arcades, but not nearly as well as Dragon's Lair or Space Ace, which set the gold standards for successful laserdisc games.
Sega and Bally Midway released a sequel called Starblazer (also known as Galaxy Ranger) in 1984. It had the same controls and very similar gameplay to Astron Belt, and one machine could be converted to the other by simply changing the laserdisc, game ROMs ROM and the sound board.
To date, Astron Belt has only been ported to the MSX Computer System.
- "ASTRON BELT". Atari HQ. Archived from the original on 20 March 2011. Retrieved 2011-03-25.
- Astron Belt at Allgame
- Mark Isaacson (2002). "The History of Sega: From Service Games to Master Systems". Retrieved 2011-03-25.
- Astron Belt at the Killer List of Videogames
- Astron Belt at Coinop.org
- Astron Belt at Allgame
- Astron Belt information from The Dragon's Lair Project
- "Laser Daze," from The Dot Eaters - Classic Video Game History
- Daphne Emulator - A Multiple Arcade Laserdisc Emulator