Tron - 1982 - Bally Midway

Let's remember, the reason something was a television show in the first place is that the idea wasn't good enough to be a movie." —George Carlin

Mr. Carlin has a point. Not all media are created equal, but that doesn't mean that every movie is a masterpiece. For instance, movies made from video games just aren't any good. A quick glance through this Wiki of movies based on video games will prove it. The best review they can ever get is "Well, it wasn't as bad as I expected."

If you ask me (and why not) this discrepancy between a successful video game and its big screen adaptation is a matter of involvement, between both the audience and the creators. With the latter, it's really only a question of money. The studios and producers are only interested in cashing in on the good name of an already established game and its prepackaged material. The game's name alone is enough to draw people (fans of the game) in. The irony here is that it is this very group of fans that will also be the most vocal detractors if the movie fails to live up to the game. These fans have spent huge amounts of time not only playing the games (which can sometimes involve over a hundred hours to complete) but also in dissecting the minutiae they are able to dig up from various sources (pre-production material, in-game hints, interviews etc.) Where the movie studios see only the glossy surface, the fans see entire universes. Therefore it is impossible for a ninety minute movie to ever have a chance to capture the spirit of an interesting video game that could take many months for a player to fully discover. At best, a movie can only be a sort of Cliff's Notes for those unfamiliar with the game.

That would be all well and good if not for the plague of film-makers who insist on adding material that isn't in the game. What ever happened to "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"? The most grievous example of this is the recent Silent Hill movie. For his own personal reasons, Christophe Gans felt that an audience could never believe that a father could feel the same emotions of a mother, so he swapped the male Harry Mason character for a new female Rose Da Silva. Not only is this nonsensical, it is insulting to any man who has ever panicked at having lost a child in a crowded mall, or any mother who didn't. What Gans failed utterly to understand is that both Harry Mason and James Sunderland (from SH2) are more than just shells shaped like men, they are well developed characters. Both of them have lost their families and are suddenly thrown into a world were everything reminds them of their past mistakes. Instead of exploring these depths of emotion and exploiting the fact that they are men, Gans takes the well worn low-road and simply plops in the stereotypical hysterical mother. This is only one in a long list of changes that effectively (and literally) castrate the movie.

It's as if film makers are trying to give video games a bad name. If a game-based movie succeeds, then it was only because the director was able to lift the game to a higher level. If it fails, they would have us believe it's because the game wasn't any good to begin with.

This gross misunderstanding of what makes original source material special is not limited to film, and also works in both directions. A good film often makes a poor game, as seen on every Atari 2600 attempt. A good film often makes for a bad book, although in the case of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace it's a tough call as to which is worse. Good books rarely make for good movies, just ask Stephen King. In my opinion, these examples could be applied to every form of media and in every direction, including Mr. Carlin's. Simply put, I don't think it's ever a good idea to try and shoehorn a good idea in one medium into that of another. This is why we keep getting those abysmal Harry Potter movies, after all.

That is, of course, unless we're talking about Tron. Tron has been the only successful attempt to bring a movie into the video game realm. No surprise there, seeing as how the movie is about playing video games. Plus, neither the game nor the film has any real depth to it. The characters are non-dimensional and perfectly suited for an anonymous role in a game. There are even several references in the movie to the fact that it's all one big game being played. The light-cycle scene from the movie could be considered an example of current generation technology, and its representation in the game is perfect. Tank fights? Again, video game gold. The Moog-heavy soundtrack? A perfect format to be faithfully re-created in the game.

With that said, let's take a closer look at just what the game has going for it.

Like many early arcade games, there isn't really any flashy title screen, just the no-frills information. We don't even see the name of the game!

Here's a run-down of the various enemies and their value. The scoring system is a bit flawed though, considering that there are usual a fixed number of enemies per stage. You usually just have to clear the board of baddies to advance to the next level.

Here we finally see the "Tron" logo in all its glory. What we have here is the stage select screen. There are four different game types to choose from: Tanks, Cycles, MCP and I/O Tower. While you get to choose which direction you move the cursor, you won't know what game you'll get until after you've made you choice. If you manage to beat all four games the first time, then you'll be able to see which stage you're getting into before hand on all subsequent play through.

Now, on to the stages!

The Light Cycle stage is easily the most iconic image not only of the game, but of the movie. As far as images that every child (and adult) of the early eighties has burned into their brains, this one is right next to the Ewoks and Ferris Bueller on the parade float. The game plays exactly like you would expect. It's very fast and intense, and can be over even before you realize what's going on. The controls are a bit clunky and can sometimes turn those lightning fast u-turns into suicide missions. Nevertheless, this is easily the most exciting and most movie-faithful of the four games.

Here we have the tank game. While there wasn't really a tank vs. tank scene, this is a fair trade. It would have made much more sense to place the Recognizers in as the enemies, but the game play would be the same. Here again the control can sometimes get in the way of precise maneuvers, so it's best to play defense and just blast away in the hopes that your beam will bounce in the right direction. The pace picks up quickly as more tanks are added in later stages, making for some very exciting play.

This is a half-assed rendering of the master MCP from the movie. Instead of an ominous spinning red face, we get a slowly rotating "breakout" style wall. It's made up of several layers that you have to break away and squeeze past to reach the core. Also, instead of Tron throwing a disc, he has the same blaster-style weapon from the spider game. This is probably the most underwhelming of the four games.

This is the I/O tower that Tron used in the movie, although it is used quite differently in the game. Here, you have to bast and dodge box-bodied spider-like creatures while running toward the circle in the center. I don't seem to remember any of these spiders in the movie. It's fun to run around and zap them to try and rack up some points, but really it's much easier to just sprint for the circle. Once you get there, instead of just sending Tron's disc up the beam of light, Tron himself is lifted up to the heavens.

While the game may seem simple, both visually and in terms of the level design, it stays true to the spirit of the movie. It is fast paced and to the point. It doesn't allow itself to be crushed by its own ego and instead delivers high impact visuals and an interface that's intuitive and immediate. All of these things are what allow both the game and the movie to retain their status as classics in their field. People attempting to cross-pollinate their media would do well to closely study Tron in all its forms.

You can hear all of the sounds in the game in this mp3.


Anonymous said...

There is indeed a reference to the spider in the movie. When Tron and Yori are first traveling in the "Solar Sailor Simulator" get to I/O Tower they show a very brief view of the spiders popping up. Yori say's "This isn't going to be easy if those "Grid Bugs" catch us.".

The segment is only about 10 seconds long and easy to miss.