I think it’s safe to say that we all take for granted just how easy it is for us to mix a variety of media pretty seamlessly in the content we so voraciously consume every day. Our computers and phones have no trouble gushing forth a fountain of text, images, video, audio, whatever, all integrated and crammed together willard-nillard, with all kinds of degrees of interactivity. This, of course, wasn’t always the case, and it’s fascinating to see some relics of early attempts at interactive multimedia, especially when it’s full of mid-’80s Fords and some big hair.
Yes, thanks to the magic of the internet, a whole bunch of 1980s-era Laserdisc content used by Ford for dealer training can be found online, thanks to some dedicated Laserdisc fetishists.
These videos are interesting because, while some of them are straightforward dealer-informational videos, like this one about the mind-scrambling 1988 1/2 updates made to the Ford Escort:
Mmm, yes, good stuff! New lights, new 5 MPH polycarbonate wrap-around bumper with tucked-in styling, hot damn, it was an exciting time for the small hatch buyer who only demanded the very good enoughest.
But more interesting than these videos, I think, are the ones that are more puzzling to watch, because they contain long strings of sequences like this pretty, very blow-dried, carefully-enunciating 1980s lady giving you reassurance while talking about fulcrums and warning you not to grind rocker arm pads and reminding you to not damage those cam lobes:
The reason these discs have these sequences of The Lady affirming you over and over is that these were never meant to be watched like this. The Laserdiscs were part of a training system and were played on Laserdisc players connected to a computer, which would be running a program that quizzed the service techs about the cylinder heads or whatever.
Since computers in the 1980s weren’t able to play full-motion video on their own, they instead were used to trigger the Laserdisc player to play certain tracks of the disc at specific times on a separate monitor, or in the case of Ford’s system, I think the same monitor.
This way, an explanatory video sequence could be played, the computer would be used for answer input, and, based on the results, the computer would play a sequence with The Lady congratulating you or whatever they used to show when you got it wrong — maybe they threatened to kick a puppy or something. I haven’t seen that part.
Video games like Dragon’s Lair actually used a very similar setup, relying on joystick inputs to determine which animation clip to play from the disc.
I haven’t been able to find exactly what sort of hardware was being used for Ford’s Intelligent Video Learning System (IVLS), but based on some instructions on the back of one of the discs, it seems the system used separate floppy disks for the program control and used a light pen for user input.
That little picture up there is all I could find so far; it may be based on a common PC of the era (the keyboard in that pic makes me think possibly an IBM PC XT or something) outfitted with expansion cards to control the laserdisc and handle the light pen input.
This is very, very dead tech today, but I’m thankful there are people preserving this and making it’s content available — otherwise, when else would we get to see a Ford EXP racing against a Gremlin?
Of course, even better is seeing The Lady say “you bet your aluminum you got that one right.”
Honestly, if you’re having a lousy day, maybe just have this playing on a loop and you can have someone who looks like your mom’s most stylish friend from 1983 reminding you all day long to keep up the good work and that you’re right on the button on that one.
There’s a whole list of these here if you want to spend your time diving into the magic hypothetical parallel world where you work at a mid ’80s Ford dealership.
And don’t forget to take your test drive in the “wiggle mode!”