Discs of Tron
Bally/Midway 1983 (KLOV entry)
Reviewed by Dave Dries
The neon frame of a cube suddenly becomes visible on the screen in front of you. This cube defines the boundaries of a digital arena that seems to defy gravity by hanging in mid-air. Below this arena the distant lights of a strange, electronic city can be seen. A living city that seems to stretch far beyond the soft, purplish glow of the horizon line. Two translucent discs abruptly appear within the heart of the 3-dimensional arena, almost as if they were called into existence by the city itself. These two discs are the platforms on which a great duel is about to take place.
"Welcome! Master Control Program has chosen you to serve on the game grid" a mysterious, disembodied voice announces. The voice belongs to Sark, the loyal henchman of the Master Control Program, or MCP. It is the evil MCP that controls this dark, digital world. And it is for the apparent amusement of the MCP that this electronic arena will be the setting for a battle between good and evil. A battle that takes it's inspiration from several scenes in Disney's movie Tron. On the near end of the arena, under your control and battling for the forces of good, is Tron. On the far end of the arena, battling for the MCP is Sark. Both Tron and Sark need to be careful when maneuvering around their disc platforms as one misstep can cause them to fall to their death.
The weapon of choice for both warriors is a frisbee disc. A deadly frisbee that causes death by de-resolution upon finding it's target. If a disc fails to find a target once it's thrown it will bounce off the arena walls and deliver itself safely back to its owner. If the discs only could deliver themselves as accurately to their targets presumably Tron wouldn't be in this situation. But then again if the discs were given this ability, Discs of Tron wouldn't have been much of a game.
Originally intended to be a fifth level in the original Tron game that debuted a year earlier, time and technology constraints forced Bally/Midway to release Discs of Tron in 1983. While the original Tron game offered four different challenges in one game, Discs of Tron focused solely on the disc battle between Tron and Sark. Multiple and moveable platforms, disappearing barriers, and special weapons are gradually introduced and keep the simple gameplay fresh and exciting for many levels.
Any description of Discs of Tron wouldn't be complete without a mention of the original, "Total Environmental Cabinet" enclosure designed to house the arcade classic. While also available in a standard-sized upright cabinet, the environmental cabinet was designed to completely immerse the player in the sights, sounds and special effects of the game. Weighing in at over 700 pounds, at first glance the environmental cabinet resembled a traditional cockpit-style cabinet. Closer inspection revealed that there was really no traditional seat in the cabinet. Instead there was a small ledge at the rear of the cabinet that the player could lean against and would comfortably put the player in reach of the controls. As in the first Tron, the controls consisted of a blue, glowing flight stick with trigger, spinner, and the addition of a "deflect" button that controls Tron's limited shield. Discs of Tron's spinner was enhanced to allow the player to control the height of discs being fired by pushing or pulling on it. Lit with various lights including black light tubes, different areas of the cabinet would illuminate in response to the events in the game. Control surfaces glowed, specially designed monitor backdrop artwork became illuminated, and a disc representation on the floor of the cabinet would light up in concert with onscreen events. Stereo sound effects and speech synthesis rounded out the unique Total Environmental Cabinet experience.
Regardless of the enclosure, the onscreen graphics of Discs of Tron were fantastic for 1983. Although they only had to represent a relatively simple playfield, the character graphics and animations were excellent and still hold up quite well today. Because of the perspective of the playfield and limited area of movement, today's state-of-the-art, high resolution, three-dimensional polygon graphics would do little to improve on the original.
Just like the movie it was based on, the overall audio and visual presentation had a lot to do with the success of Discs of Tron. Stripped of its glitzy special effects and environmental enclosure, at it's core Discs of Tron is essentially Pong on steroids. But anyone who has ever played Pong could tell you that this prescription of special effects is absolutely essential to Discs of Tron and really mutates the game into it's own unique experience. And it was because of this unique presentation Discs of Tron had little trouble securing a prominent spot on the floor of the classic arcade. But taken out of the context of the arcade floor and emulated on your home computer, that presentation becomes watered down. While the gameplay remains intact (except for the push/pull spinner which can be difficult to replicate) the presentation is almost entirely lost. Even with the sound, speech and backdrop art faithfully emulated, Discs of Tron in MAME is only a dim reflection of its arcade counterpart.