GDC 2003Tron 2.0 impressions

We take a look at the game sequel to Disney's 1982 movie about a programmer digitally captured inside a computer world of gladiatorial games.

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One of the many games on display at Nvidia's GDC booth is Tron 2.0, the first-person action game in development at Monolith, the studio responsible for the stylish No One Lives Forever action series. Tron 2.0 is one of Disney Interactive's first games not tied in with kid-oriented cartoon franchises, and the timing of the game might seem a bit odd, since it doesn't coincide with any new movie or television follow-ups to Tron. But the reason for the timing is pretty obvious once you see the game, as the graphics do an amazing job of re-creating the usual glowing look of the original movie--a glow effect that depends on a DirectX 8 pixel shader created by Monolith and Nvidia specifically for the game. We saw the game with the glowing turned off, and the illusion was completely broken.

Much of the 1982 movie took place inside a computer world made up of personified data and programs, and Tron 2.0 extends the concept to include modern computing references. As digitized hacker Jet Bradley, the original protagonist's son, you'll progress through levels conceptualized as the insides of a PDA, a firewall, and a server corrupted by a virus. Once you get beyond the metaphors, the bulk of the gameplay--some 30 levels' worth--fits into first-person action conventions. There are four types of weapons, starting with the signature Frisbee-like energy disc that can be thrown or held up to block an oncoming attack. While it doesn't take energy to use the disc, the other weapons--a grenade-like virus ball, a tazer-like rod, and a "mesh" weapon that serves as a minigun--all do use energy, which can be picked up from the core dumps of fallen enemies.

Led by the menacing-looking Kernel, there are masses of enemies who are out to stop you, including security programs and viruses. And although we didn't see much of the story, we do know that you're helped out by an AI called MA3A and a female champion light-cycle racer program called Mercury. We saw three of the first-person levels, and the movie's distinctive look of having objects simply outlined in the primary colors red, yellow, and blue was consistently maintained, but it doesn't seem to have limited the designers too much, as the different environments still feel quite unique. For example, the firewall happens to be a bridge over an enormous chasm with rotating rings far overhead. It's possible to throw your disc far out to the distance, and it can even get bounced off the distant rings. The corrupted server is radically different--a series of rooms are interspersed with the lava-like oozing yellow glow of a virus.

Although the focus is on action elements, it is possible to build up your abilities as you progress. You'll find subroutines that grant special abilities, but there's some strategy involved in picking the right subroutines for a level, because each level has only a certain number of memory slots that correspond to its computer context, so a PDA will be much more constricting than a lab computer. Each subroutine comes in different levels: An alpha version is the least efficient and takes up three memory slots, a beta version takes up two slots, and the fully optimized gold version needs just one slot. There's also an experience system indicated by Jet's version number in the upper-left corner--written as "Jet v7.4.6"--and stepping up to higher versions lets you improve your basic attributes.

The game also re-creates light-cycle racing, likely the most popular element from the classic Tron arcade game. Light cycles look like sleek, enclosed motocycles that create solid light trails in their wake. Hitting walls and light-cycle trails is fatal, and the challenge is to trap opponents in your trail or their own. The control is quite simple: The A and D keys instantly turn you left or right at exact right angles, the W and S keys control your speed, and the mouse controls the camera. Parts of the arena floors are colored green, which gives you a high-speed boost, and there are a couple of different types of power-ups, which are activated with the mouse button. Not only will the light-cycle racing figure into the story mode in a racing tournament that unlocks a supercycle, but some levels get you into a light-cycle chase, where you're trying to get from one location to another and elude pursuing security programs.

Tron 2.0 will have a competitive multiplayer mode that will be much like a modern 3D version of the Discs of Tron arcade game. Since you can't block if your disc is on its way to a target, the key to combat is timing shots and bouncing the disc off the environment at the right angles. Both team and one-on-one modes will be supported.

Look for more details on the game in the coming months. Tron 2.0 is currently in alpha and is scheduled to ship in August.

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