The 1982 TRON arcade game was developed in 1981 and released in 1982 in association with the motion picture of the same name. It uses multiple Z80 CPUs has the graphics separated into two system boards, along with a sound board. The full-size upright cabinet was one of the more complex designs of the day and features four fluorescent lights (some of them black lights to help create the glow effect).
The game is essentially a combination game. Four different game play types are included. For each wave/level (or rack as the manual refers to it) there is the randomized choice of Grid Bugs, Master Control Program, Tanks, and Light Cycles. Each of these echo a plot point from the motion picture (although the grid bugs only appeared briefly in the film and were not the subject of any formal battle or escape scenes). Tanks are subbed-out for Recognizers on some racks.
Subject to mixed reviews and criticized for effectively re-packaging what were essentially existing games, the arcade-goers of the 1980s proved this machine’s worth. Indeed, similar games like Breakout, Surround, and Tank pre-dated TRON. However, the level of refinement and the use of added elements like variable speed for the Light Cycles as well as reflective shots, teleporter, and rotating turret for the tank combined with the sheer ‘gloss’ of the packaging resulted in a high-energy gaming experience.
Part of the secret to this was the quick game play and high skill level. The game begins at a fairly low skill level for the first and second racks and then abruptly jumps in skill level from the third, on. Despite this steep skill ramping, the machine kept the interest of arcade game players and maintained a great deal of replay value. Ultimately this arcade machine earned more money than the film’s initial box-office gross.
One of the stand-out features of this machine is the sound. Tones are strong and interesting. The bass frequencies are intense and the sound-design is very memorable. This was fairly typical of arcade machines of the 80s. Many featured bold sound-design elements, and TRON is no exception.
This tradition was to continue with the sequel “Discs of TRON”. As an interesting note, Discs of TRON was originally intended to be included as part of the 1982 TRON arcade machine.
TRON is a fast and furious game that is known for almost alienating new players. I use the word almost, since most come back to play it “one more time” in the hopes of being able to master it.