It came as no surprise that Tron hit the arcades at the same time as its 1982 film counterpart. This was the first fusion of game and movie, an arcade hit based on a film that was based on the video game phenomenon, and although Disney’s Tron was initially a box-office disappointment, Bally Midway’s Tron arcade game more than picked up the slack.
Actually four games in one, Tron allowed players to choose which stage to tackle first.
The Tank stage pitted your red tank against one or more blue ones, hunting each other around a maze a la Atari’s Tank. In the Grid Bug stage, players guided Tron toward the safety of the I/O tower. The way was blocked by spider-like Grid Bugs, which doubled their number by splitting in two every so often.
The MCP stage recreated the movie’s final battle in a Breakout-style game. Tron started at the bottom of the Master Control Program’s tube, knocking out blocks with his deadly discs to clear a path to the top.
Perhaps the game’s most popular stage was inspired by the movie’s signature scene: the Lightcycle competition.
With Tron mounted inside a blue Lightcycle, players raced one or more yellow Lightcycles around a grid-like field. Each cycle left a coloured trail behind it, and contact with a trail of any colour was fatal.
Crafty players boxed their opponents into inescapable traps, trying to remain the last bike standing. Once all stages were complete, the game moved to a higher skill level, each designated by a computer programming language: RPG, BASIC, COBOL, PASCAL, etc.
All four stages were derived from scenes in the film, although the Grid Bugs appeared only briefly in the film’s “Solar Sailer” sequence. The musical score was also adapted for the game’s sonic background, and even the film’s glowing blue color scheme was carried over to the arcade version, as blacklights gave the game cabinet art a futuristic look. The game’s translucent blue joystick was used in combination with a rotary paddle to give players total control of Tron’s destiny.
As a video game, Tron was everything Disney had hoped the movie would be. Bally Midway’s version actually out-grossed its film counterpart, and the company decided a sequel was in order.
A fifth stage had been planned for the original game, but time and memory restrictions kept it from appearing in the final version. With the stellar success of Tron in arcades, however, Bally Midway decided to release a souped-up version of the fifth stage as Discs of Tron in 1983.
Both games, as well as the original film, have become classics of the cyber era.