Ideas for TRON arcade games in modern times

Shaggy July 15, 2010 2

I’ve not made it a secret that I am very excited for the upcoming Disney movie TRON Legacy. Even though the original was not a perfect film, it has always been a favorite of mine and it implanted in my head the idea of being an arcade operator one day. Back when the original movie came out, arcade popularity was still riding a high and movie trivia suggests that the arcade game TRON which was based upon the movie actually grossed more than the movie itself (I believe that is the case as I’ve heard that elsewhere although IMDB’s trivia isn’t perfect as also under TRON they claim that 3D game engines would have been invented in 1994 when in fact the arcade title I, Robot from 1983 had a 3D polygon engine). It’s not clear if the arcade game Discs of Tron is added into that or not. The popularity of arcades was also prevalent throughout the entire film, from Flynn’s arcade to stuff in the virtual world being based upon arcade concepts.

With TRON Legacy we have seen some nods to arcade culture although as times have changed we see less arcade influence at work here. They are working on console title  called TRON: Evolution which ties into the movie and there is the online Space Paranoids game which was launched as a browser game recently.  We did see a Space Paranoids arcade machine at Comic Con 2009 but that’s far from an official announcement. As a big arcade fan and a big TRON fan, I think it’s only proper to take a look at what some arcade games may look like or play if they were based upon TRON Legacy so I have taken it upon myself to dream up some concepts. This is just for fun,(so nothing here is sponsored or endorsed by Disney, Disney Interactive or anyone else involved in the films) although I obviously would love to see these ideas or something similar to them come to fruition one day. Ideas and artwork  found after the break

Note on the cabinets: I realize that I should have spent more time on the sketches so they could look nicer but since this is just for fun I decided not to put a ton of effort into them. Obviously as concepts, a final design would look much nicer than these and I imagine them with some sleek lighting to improve the overall look. For those unfamiliar with what a pedestal cabinet design is, go here.

TRON Light Cycles or Cycles of TRON

My feeble attempt at trying to make a Google SketchUp Model

At the beginning of the original TRON, the movie starts out with a gamer in an arcade playing a light-cycle game, based upon the classic Surround/Snake type game. The light-cycles  take upon themselves an important mantle as the movie unfolds and have become one of the more recognizable concepts to come out of TRON. So it’s only natural that we upgrade the idea for the arcade of today. Motorcycle games were popular in the 90’s and have seen a small resurgence with modern titles such as Fast and Furious: Super Bikes, Nirin and Harley Davidson: King of the Road. What better way to bring light-cycles back to the arcades than with a similar concept, where players can sit upon a close replica of the new light-cycles from Legacy.

The light-cycle concept as a game was also done in Tron 2.0 (2003 for Xbox/PC) and has been seen in the new TRON: Evolution for modern consoles. I’ve imagined that a modern arcade take on the concept can take place on the Game Grid where you race against other video game warriors trying to smash them into the cycle’s jet walls or by having the player race around the areas of the server, attempting to outrun Recognizers and other cyclists. It’s kind of hard to say where you can take the idea without having seen Legacy but I think that both of those scenarios mentioned above would work out great. Give the player two options when the game begins with either GRID BATTLE (play in the arena) or GRID RACE, which can be selected by tilting the cycle controller. It would also be important to offer plenty of tracks for players to choose from, eight for battle mode and eight for race mode seems fair enough to me, with extra tracks added in the future to entice replay. I am always irritated by arcade racers that offer only four or five tracks, giving us less to come back and discover.

There is the question of how many cabinets should be linked and I think that six would fit perfectly into the TRON theme (remember the 3 vs. 3 light-cycle battle in the movie) although if it’s possible to do eight, then why not? Maps would have to accommodate such player sizes however and the only way I imagine large maps being taken advantage of is if an online racing mode exists. With online there is always the question of viability – how long will the servers last, what about internet connections at arcades and lag, etc.

The cabinet alone would be attractive to people (what Tron fan wouldn’t love to have a physical light-cycle controller to ride on?) and could make use of stylistic TRON designs and lighting. Unfortunately what I have managed to draw isn’t as attractive as I imagine a real cabinet would look like but this is really just to demonstrate the idea.

Discs Of Tron/ TRON’s Disc Arena

(I only realized after sketching these that the spinner/joystick setup on the original is flipped)

One of the other concepts that the original TRON featured and became of the immediately recognizable aspects of the film are the discs, the light-sabers of the Tron universe if you will. We have already seen from the trailers of TRON Legacy that disc combat is just as important to this movie as it was to the original; it also plays a part of any TRON game so why not bring the Discs of Tron idea back. In an arcade setting you would want it to be confined to an arena as opposed to an open sandbox world to explore and there a couple of different ways you could do this with a cabinet.

First concept – gesture-based

A few are excited about the new Microsoft Kinetc device that will allow a person to turn their body into a controller. This isn’t a new concept for arcades as we’ve seen the idea used as far back as the 1992 game Combatica, and to a lesser extent in certain Konami MoCap arcade titles. There is also a new company called Titan4Games, who is promising to bring Kinetic-like games to arcades in 2010 using a similar camera based system developed by a different company. Say what you will about gesture games but it seems to me like they are more suited for the out-of-home entertainment aspect than they are in the living room and I could see a way where this sort of thing is used in a Discs of Tron style game.

The drawback of course is the amount of space that this would take up and the ending price but it would be doable. The player can dodge oncoming disks with their body or block them by holding their hands in front of them. Throw a disc by swinging your arm as you progress through different arenas.

Second concept – traditional control based

Left is traditional style, right is a pedestal style concept

Of course if the whole idea of flailing around hoping a camera gets all of your moves right sounds less than appealing and you crave a more traditional/less goofy experience, I’ve got that covered too. You could call the version above the “Super Deluxe” idea and this one the “Standard” one. I would go for a control scheme just like the original Discs of Tron – a joystick

Another "traditional" cabinet concept for a new Discs of Tron

and a spinner – but bring the graphics to a modern level. In the original Discs of Tron, you jumped from one platform to another in a duel to the death with the CPU. In Tron 2.0 it also had one-on-one disc arena battles that took the DoT concept into the modern age where you could destroy the floor beneath the other players feet. But that was a first-person shooter and I think that sticking to the original DoT would be a smarter idea for arcades although you could make it where the spinner controls the camera movement with the player’s reticule always centered on the screen. It would make it sort of like third-person shooter with the “over-the-shoulder” camera aspect but you don’t have a Z-axis to worry about. You can have new arenas like we saw in Tron 2.0 but keep movement on a level for simplicity. We also would incorporate any new disc combat ideas seen in the new movie, whatever those might be.

To make the game more interesting have the player move up the rung (ala T-Mek) with occasional “boss battles”. As they move up, things get harder with better AI, more enemies, more complex arenas, etc. To help the player it could also incorporate a basic leveling up system where players earn points that they can spend between rounds on Attack and on Defense. Attack for causing more damage, charging up your disc for a hard attack, breaking through enemy discs when they block, multiple discs, etc. Defense would give the player the ability to block incoming attacks longer, block multiple discs, recover faster from hard attacks, etc. A Speed attribute could also find a place here so players can move around the arena faster.

This all culminates in a final battle with Clu (from TRON Legacy) or if there is an MCP-like battle in TL then that would have a place. Even then it would be fun to fight Sark and the MCP, even though they won’t have a place in TL, maybe do it as a special stage.

To increase replay value as well as the fun factor, linkable cabinets would be ideal, so players could participate in battles against each other, including online play.

Space Paranoids

The top unit is supposed to mimic the tank displays seen inside the tanks from the original TRON. Not really happy with it though. Bottom is a sitdown version.

Also in the original movie we say the protagonist Flynn playing a tank arcade title that he developed called Space Paranoids. SP was never actually made for arcades and what you saw in the film was pre-rendered footage but the idea of a player stuck in a virtual maze, running away from the evil Recognizers looked like it was fun. Disney did have Space Paranoids developed for online browsers but one has to think that playing such a game on a proper arcade cabinet would be the way to go.

We’ve seen a number of tank games in arcades throughout the years and obviously the idea behind Space Paranoids was loosely based upon the arcade title BattleZone (which Jeff Bridges took a liking to during filming and reportedly he became a pro at the game). One area where SP differed was in adding a Y-Axis to the mix. The ComicCon Space Paranoids machine addressed this by using a joystick-on-the-left-side, trackball-on-the-right combo but this was reportedly difficult for some players to handle. The traditional tank controls of two joysticks seems like it could be used but then you would have to change them from the expected usage (each stick controlling a tank tread) to something else that can handle the Y-Axis and that would be strange. I think it would be best addressed by having the Y-Axis controlled by the software – an autoaim. Then you can have the classic tank controls of two joysticks so it feels like a tank.  The game itself would put the player into a virtual maze like we saw in the movie and give them the objectives of finding a memory file in the maze, attempting to avoid any Recognizers or tanks that are on the prowl and eliminating them when needed. I would get rid of the limited ammo concept so it would fit more in line with what we saw in the movie but improve things further with power-ups (explosive shots, rapid fire, spread shot, bounce shots, homing shots, etc) as well as update the graphics a bit.

And naturally linked cabinet could produce some exciting multiplayer matches, in either co-op or deathmatch styles.


I had a slightly different design drawn out for this but I lost that and just threw this together

In the original TRON, there is a scene where Flynn stumbles across an abandoned Recognizer vehicle. When he goes to the front to figure out how to control it, he makes a comment about how it has controls “just like the old arcade grips”. He may have been talking about another kind of arcade game completely but I have wondered how an arcade where you wander around the Game Grid in a Recognizer would be like. I kind of imagine it as a reverse Space Paranoids. Obviously the controls would need to be changed slightly to include some buttons but the controls themselves would essentially be boiled down to a spinner device for steering and stick for speed adjustment. Out of the other ideas for new TRON arcade games I think this one is the most intriguing as the other game types have been done in some fashion in TRON games since the 80’s, where as you have never taken control of a Recognizer to play.

The original Recognizers moved their legs to smash objects but from what we have seen of the new Recognizers, they don’t seem to have that ability. Instead the new ones are mobile

Pedestal version concept

bombers and something like that makes it easier to turn the idea into an arcade title(watch this video from E3 to see what I’m talking about). In our game, the player would control a Recognizer patrolling the Game Grid for unauthorized programs, which we can call viruses, spyware, malware, etc. Some of these nasty programs will be on bikes, tanks or on foot, spreading their infection around the system (which can also work out a little bit like we saw in Tron 2.0 except that now as it spreads the environment near the bad programs will actively degrade until the flagrant programs are dealt with). The point of each level is to eliminate the infection before it reaches a certain level (this could vary by wave – 85%, 80%, 75%, etc.) so the player is racing against the clock in this sense. By introducing some bad programs in tanks you can also introduce a direct threat to the player they will need to worry about and of course we can have bosses you need to blast every few levels or so. Throw in some destructive environments that react to your shots and the potential for mayhem in this game is quite good.

The perspective would probably work best in first person, with shots firing in an arc from the recognizer to the ground(as we saw in the video above). Arenas where this all takes place would need to be limited so the player can’t go wandering off and get lost or confused. To further assist in finding targets, a radar should be employed, with the standard “enemies are red dots, friendly objects are green”.  Enemies pour out of a source and to stop the hemorrhaging of bad programs the source will have to be eliminated as well. Separate the game into waves and levels  where a level would be the arena, waves are attacks from the infection in each level – once a certain number of waves have been passed, change the arena/level to keep things interesting.

While this may sound like a good 1 player game, I think that linked cabinets offering co-op play would make it even more exciting. As co-op play is all the rage these days in video games, letting four cabinets link up so four players can work together to contain the infection could make this concept stand out even further.

TRON Legacy Pinball

I thought about this at the last minute and haven’t drawn anything but that’s probably for the best. I don’t know what games Stern has planned for the rest of the year but to me TRON Legacy would be a great pick, although Stern’s new way of designing ‘minimalist’ playfields would have me slightly worried about the outcome on this. Obviously you never want a playfield that is so complex that it’s impossible to see what is going on or where the pinball is half the time either.

I have an idea as to how a pinball machine based upon the original machine would work: you could have an MCP in the top center of the playfield that would have to be struck a number of times to activate a multi-ball; toys for Sark’s carrier, the solar sailer, action figures like Tron, Flynn, Yori and Sark; a number of lines pulled straight from the movie and if possible have Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner record lines just for the pin. I would also incorporate ideas I’ve had for improving pinball such as color-changing targets, LCD replacing the dot-matrix, EL wire to add a vector look to the table, etc. (obviously none of these things would have been put into a Tron pinball machine back in ’82).

As for a pin based solely upon Tron Legacy, it’s hard to say how it should work without knowing all of the elements from the film. But looking at some of Stern’s recent pins based upon movies I can say one thing I would want to see – lines and scenes from the new movie that go beyond the trailer. That is what disappointed me about Indiana Jones – they had a plethora of content from the first three movies you could unlock but with the new movie all you got were very brief snippets from the trailer of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. This made that particular section of the game very lame in comparison to the rest. From what I have played of Batman and Ironman it felt the same – the newest movie is poorly represented while the older stuff fits in just fine. I would imagine that if the money is spent on the license and creating an official product that they would be able to do more in integrating such things into the pinball but perhaps the studios want more money to do that.

Let’s imagine that we can get all of the content we need from Tron Legacy, so the player can unlock scenes and listen to lines from the movie as they play. The soundtrack by Daft Punk could be used as background music. But that’s only part of the game, you also need a good playfield to back up the rest. Obviously there are a number of ways you could go about it and this is something I could see using a head-to-head playfield (ala Joust pinball) if you wanted to simulate a ‘pinballified’ disc arena battle. With that you could also have an action figure that represents the player on each side of the table that when the opposing player hits them it can lead to large bonuses or a multiball. To make it more exciting tie the action figure to the flipper buttons so when you press right, the figure moves right and vice-versa but then the placement of the figures can be a problem

Or barring a straight head-to head game and following the more traditional route I would say that the game should make use of networking so two units can be linked together (which has been done before but not in recent memory). No matter what table style is used I would certainly use the aforementioned EL wire to add some cool effects to the table. It would be fun to design a homemade version of this but that takes money I don’t have right now.

Anyways, those are my TRON Legacy arcade “fantasies”. If you have your own ideas, feel free to share them in the comments below.


  1. ECM July 15, 2010 at 10:42 pm - Reply

    Man, someone needs to update Discs of Tron, graphically, for today. (Leave the rest of it alone, tho! You can’t improve perfection short adding a MP mode.)

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