Make It A (Virtual) Reality: TRON

Why wouldn't you want TRON in VR? Kevin Eva goes through some of the possibilities.

You made a mistake and now it has cost you. The entirety of your being is no more and yet it is still there, suspended within the light of a single laser beam. Somehow your consciousness has survived this process and the scattered parts of what made up your senses tries desperately to rationalise what is going on around you. A kaleidoscope of red, white and blue, like digital snowflakes, appears before your non-eyes. You feel yourself falling down, falling in to something quite unfathomable as pieces of mesh-like debris barely miss you. 

Suddenly the tunnel opens out to what your mind rationalises is like seeing a city at night – but one from ten thousand feet. It fades, twists and red lasers cut the darkness apart, somehow it feels as though you are being guided to a destination. As you float down over a craggy landscape a sunken tower appears and you disappear into it. In the blink of an eye you  reappear once again whole but in darkness… a darkness lit up by the light coming from your the circuit like clothing on your arms, your legs, your chest…

You are part of the system now; you have entered the world of TRON.

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TRON: Legacy showed a modern ‘upgraded’ take on the system of the 1982 original and showed a world far more alive.

Greetings, programs. There are, when you think about it, very few movies about videogames. Now I’m not talking about videogame adaptations – your Mortal Kombats, Resident Evils, Prince of Persias and so on here, but movies about videogames themselves. If you asked people to name some they’ll probably be able to name four, not including sequels. The games industry savvy veterans would probably cite The Wizard at this point, if you are under eighteen you’re likely to point at Wreck-It Ralph.  Some of you would, with a grin, point to The Last Starfighter (don’t worry we’ll come to that one another day) but every last one of you would name check TRON.

Now with TRON 3 finally greenlit by Disney and entitled ‘TRON: Ascension’ it seems the perfect time to talk about TRON and virtual reality (VR).

TRON was the game about videogames.  The visuals in the original TRON from battling through Space Paranoids in the arcade, Flynn’s entry into the Encom system to the battles on the game grid are seared into the consciousness of our culture. Not bad for a film that was considered a commercial disappointment. Considering TRON’s legacy (pun unintended) and rich visual appeal it would of course make for a fantastic VR experience.

There are, as you would perhaps expect already TRON-related apps on Oculus VR Share and unsurprisingly both are related to TRON’s most iconic creation – the Light Cycles. However I actually think people are going about bringing TRON to VR the wrong way, Light Cycles isn’t the way to go.

When you think about it Light Cycles works best either directly in a 2D top-down view or in 3D at an angle; from an actual first-person point of view it just isn’t as fun. You can’t twist your way through a wall maze in first-person like you can from either of those camera positions so immediately you lose part of the tension and skill of the game. If you’re going to go with a VR experience there are better ways.

The computer entry sequence is a good example of a TRON experience you could have, likewise any kind of interactive TRON-themed environment would be a wonder for the eyes. Specifically if it was based on the more ‘modern’ Grid as shown in both TRON: Legacy and the TRON Evolution videogame or even the version shown within TRON 2.0 (a great title you can now consider a ‘what if?’ in the TRON universe).

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As iconic as they are, the Light Cycles might not be the best choice for a playable and immersive virtual reality experience.

For an actual gameplay experience though, if Light Cycles are (sort of) out, what about Deadly Discs? It’s certainly a possibility. Though how you would control the disc and how discs interacted with each other is a question. There’d need to be a distinct lack of lag between your movements and the orientation of your hands would need to be tracked at a high level. You’d also run the risk of games being perilously short if you persist in the one-hit one-kill system employed within most of the continuity

Discounting the jousting-style game from the music video to Daft Punk’s ‘Derezzed’ and Space Paranoids, both of which would also be interesting VR experiences, there is a distinct possibility the best TRON game for transition into VR may actually be the one you think of least of all – The Ring Game.

Also known as ‘Hyperball’ in some places, The Ring Game is the first game Flynn plays on the Grid, defeating the unfortunate conscript Crom.  A version of the 19th century game Jai alai, the version on the Grid saw players hurling and catching an energy ball using a cesta – an arm-mounted scoop, a bit like having a solid lacrosse net at the end of your arm. The aim? To bounce the ball of the ceiling into the floor of your opponent, eliminating their rings, and eventually them as well.

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The Ring Game from TRON (1982), a good candidate for VR?

There are a lot of things going for it from a VR perspective.  Firstly and assuming we’re leaving all traces of Mattel’s Intellivision original version at the door, it is not nearly as frenetic as a fully realised Deadly Disks would be which would be good to reduce motion sickness. It would also be a lot easier for the player to track the projectile which would be more difficult to do in Deadly Disks, so to could it be a little bit more forgiving in terms of accuracy.

Lastly though less ‘iconic’ it would be more of an immersive experience. TRON: Legacy’s version of the game was as much about creative movement which can’t really be translated to VR at present whilst the classic version had little worries about moving or the environment at all, just concentrating on the two discs and the opponent. With Ring Game you have the worry of three planes – your floor, the ceiling and the floor of your opponent.

Could Disney get behind an official TRON VR experience? I certainly think so.  It could even end up being developed into something that appears at DisneyLand, more than likely the Epcot Centre. I definitely think it could be done with the existing technology and demand for TRON as a brand is only going to increase with the new generation of fans gained by Legacy, Evolution, Ascension and Disney XD cartoon TRON: Uprising.

One last thought, going back to TRON as an environmental or atmospheric experience – think about being a User in this digital world. Users have the power to create and destroy on the Grid, what if you could walk into a TRON-styled system and grew it from scratch, what if you could shape the system to your own will – a TRON God-sim in other words. Now imagine if your actions created music, your commands pulling forth the sounds of Daft Punk from the air.

That would be quite something. Who knows what we’ll see in the future from VR and from TRON, but if you compare then and now we’re so much closer to being able to live that vision. To paraphrase Tron himself, we’ve made it… this far.

Be sure to join VRFocus next week for more thoughts on games, movies and experiences that could get the virtual reality treatment.

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