Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Discs of Tron

Platform: Arcade
Developer: Bally Midway
Released: 1983
Genre: ---

The Game
Based on the 1982 Disney movie Tron, Discs of Tron puts the player in the glowy blue suit of Tron himself as he plays against Sark in the game grid. Specifically, they compete in a variant of the modified jai alai and disc arena games the programs are forced to play in the movie.

DoT was originally going to be a part of the first Tron-based arcade game (imaginatively named Tron), but Bally Midway was forced to cut it due to technical limitations that they just didn't have the time to surmount. And thank goodness, I say. The first game was a bit crap.

The Characters
You play as Tron, the security program dedicated to defeating Sark and the vile Master Control Program in order to free the ENCOM computer system from their nefarious control.

Sark is a right bastard, the right hand program of the MCP and tasked with the active duties of oppressing everyone and everything that isn't already in the MCP's grip.

The MCP doesn't appear in the game. Nor does anyone else, for that matter. It's pretty lonely out there in the game grid.

The Writing
Though based on a larger narrative, DoT is self-contained, simply running through the paces of the game over and over again.

The Gameplay
The playing field is comprised of two to six platforms (half on your side, half on Sark's) floating in space. Whenever there are multiple platforms on each side, Tron and Sark jump from one to another automatically. Later in the game, these platforms can be struck, causing them to blink out of existence for a short while, limiting Tron and Sark's movements until they reappear.

The main weapon of both programs is their ID discs, frisbee-like items that they toss across the gulf at each other. Both the player and Sark can have up to three of their discs in the air at one time, and if one gets destroyed for any reason, it takes a second or two for them to become usable again. Each side has their own special items as well . . . Tron has a deflection beam with which he can knock away Sark's discs a certain number of times a round, and Sark has some rather nasty energy balls that he can deploy to follow Tron around on the player's side of the field.

In the original arcade box, Tron is moved around the screen through the use of a airplane-style joystick while his aim is adjusted through the use of a dial. Playing the ROM on the computer puts the mouse in the place of the dial, which rides a little bit different from the dial, but still works pretty well.

Overall, it's a pretty unique system that I've always kind of liked.

The Challenge
The difficulty is pretty balanced for an arcade game, and once you start hitting the later stages regularly, the first few levels are easily put down. Sark rarely even gets a chance to throw one of his own discs at first since I tend to take him down so easily.

There are no continues in DoT, as the game doesn't really end. Once you've run through all of the different permutations of the game field, it just starts putting you through the different field types over and over again, the ultimate goal being to get the highest score possible while lasting as long as you can on a single credit.

The biggest challenge of the game, besides the environmental hazards and shields they put in your way, is trying to pay attention to both sides of the game field at the same time. You need to be aiming your discs at Sark and throwing them in ways that trick or force him into their flight path, but you also have to be constantly on the move, making sure his own discs and other tricks don't catch up to you as well. It's pretty good mental exercise.

The Sights
I'd say "for 1983, the graphics are pretty dang good", but the fact is they're still rather nice looking. There's a simplicity to the design that fits the movie environment extremely well, and it really manages to capture the feel of a three dimensional field. This is one of the reasons I said above that I'm glad it wasn't a fifth wheel in the original Tron game . . . it would have certainly looked far worse if it had needed to squeeze in between four other games.

The Sounds
There aren't many sounds in the DoT to speak of, but it does make an attempt at including voice acting with Sark alternately taunting you and cursing your name, depending on the outcome of the match. A lot of games around that time tried to do the voice thing back then with varying levels of success, but I think this was one of the better attempts, even if it didn't sound anything remotely like Sark.

The Bottom Line
I probably blew a few hundred dollars worth of quarters on Discs of Tron alone as a kid. When I first grabbed the MAME emulator, this was one of the first games I sought out, downloaded, and played. I'm glad it's held up so well over the years, being just as much fun now as it was back in the day. If I were a rich man, I'd pay good money to have one of the actual arcade machines for my own personal use.

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