REMEMBERING TRON: THE GAME
I was born in 1969 and graduated in 1987, so I was able to witness the creation and first rise to popularity of both home and arcade games as the perfect target audience kid. From the first PONG game sets, through Atari, to Intellivision, to Pac Man and Donkey Kong...I was there for it all, and each advancement seemed like an amazing new thing. "How could it get any better than THIS?" my friend Bill and I would exclaim.
When the TRON arcade came out in 1982, it seemed like the bar was raised so high, there'd never be a better video game again.
Everything about this machine was amazing. From the eerie translucent blue fluorescent joystick with the black light behind it, to the weird new dial accessory used on some of the games, you knew TRON was something special as soon as you walked up to it.
My previously mentioned friend, Bill, used to have quite a temper with his videogames. When his man died in an Atari game, for example, it was not uncommon for him to unplug the cartridge and hurl it across the room, shattering it to bits. His abuse of arcade games was no less violent. Once he got so mad at the TRON machine at the local 7-11 (in San Lorenzo, CA by Arroyo High School for those who care), he broke it clean off the machine, making for a dandy souvenir that I'm sure you'll see on eBay soon.
The welcome screen was cryptic. You had 4 different areas to go to, but each was a random mystery. Was it going to be the Tanks, Light Cycles, The Cone, or the Spiders? Take a chance and see!
The cone level was pretty damn cool. By moving the joystick and twisting your little arms with the dial control, you would shoot out the small pieces of rotating colors as the cone descended on you quickly, until you worked your way up into the top.
This was always the level I hoped I got because it was pretty easy. Usually you could just move your tank to that glowing pink square right away and then start shooting the tank behind the cover of the walls. If he got to close, you'd just hop on the mystic square and teleport somewhere else.
The Spider level was just a big acid trip. Crazy spiders came at you from all places and would multiply if you let them sit too long. If you made it to the circle, you'd be teleported away to safety.
The Light Cycle stage was great. Just you vs. the computer in a jazzed up version of Atari's SURROUND. It started pretty easy, just one on one, but soon would add 3 different high speed cycles that would leave deadly walls behind them. Hit one and you're dead, get them to do it, and you're...well, not dead.
The game was incredibly addictive, and was one of the last games with hidden patterns, that when mastered would let you play for much longer than the quarter munchers of today (by the way, are there even games anymore that you can play for a quarter?!?).
Another underrated aspect of the game was it's incredible music. A great adaptation of the movie soundtrack (by Wendy Carlos, who got a sex change and previously composed soundtracks as Walter Carlos), you'd have those damn songs in your head for hours after playing it. I don't care what they say, transsexual video game music is the best music there is.
You'll notice I speak very little of the actual movie here, and well, frankly...it's because it SUCKS.
Disney was really aiming high with this, using state of the art computer animation that was expensive beyond belief, but forgot about key elements like good direction, a script, and acting. You'd think if Disney was going to invest big money in a film, they'd aim a little higher than choosing Steven Lisberger as director, who's biggest credential prior to that was the horribly animated ANIMALYMPICS.
They even used Journey to record a single for the film, only to have it played barely audible in the background during an arcade scene. Of course Journey went on to have their own Tron like arcade game later, which you can read about here.
The eye glaring special effects were as headache inducing as the script. In fact, the process used to make the glowy circuit effects involved filming all of the "inside the computer" scenes in black and white, and colorizing them later. No wonder it looked like Ted Turner messed with it. Most of the times, the faces of humanoid characters had that pure monotone look where the whites of their eyes are the same color of their face.
You know a movie sucks when they don't even bother with a direct to video sequel. Even The Brave Little Toaster has sequels. An animated TV series called Warriors of Tron has been listed in production on IMDB.com for about a year, but there's no sign of that. And wishful thinking rumors that PIXAR was planning a TRON remake are just that.
If TRON has a life again, it would make perfect sense to do it in the medium it deserves...VIDEO GAMES! Why no videogame company hasn't made a new game is a mystery to me. With the intense graphics and high speed gameplay, you could easily make one of the cooler games of all time. Hell, the multiplayer capability for TRON net games is phenomenal as well.
NOTE: this article was written in early 2000. Since then, apparently Disney has decided to proceed with a sequel, TRON: KILLER APP. It's written and directed by Lisberger, however, so don't think it's going to be much better than the first.
Oh well, I guess in the meantime, we'll just have to settle for the retro TRON collectibles of yesteryear like the following: