Tron and Pole Position | Early Arcade History

Tron (1982)

Tron was inspired and a tie in to Disney’s film of the same name. The game was unusual as four ‘sub-games’ took the place of levels in this game. The controls consisted of an 8 way joystick (for movement), a single button (for firing) and a rotary dial (for controlling the direction of fire).

The four sub-games were the I/O Tower, MCP Cone, Battle Tanks and Light Cycles. Most of these games go hand-in-hand with scenes from the film. However, as the game was released first and based on early drafts of the film, some differences are noted.

The Input/ Output Tower game imitates the scene in the film. Within the game play, the player’s aim was to clear a path to a flashing circle within the time limit. However, grid bugs hinder the player, so must be destroyed to be able to achieve the goal. Furthermore, a bit worth 5000 points may enter the screen for the player to collect.

Tron’s final battle in the film against the MCP is depicted in the level and the intention is to reach the MCP Cone. To do this, the player must destroy a multi-coloured wall. They were then rewarded with 1,000 points for completing the sub-game, and could achieve a further 1,000 bonus points for destroying all the bricks that the wall is made up of.

Within Battle Tanks the player was expected to guide the red tank through a maze to destroy several blue tanks and recognizers (or stompers). It was vital that the player did not take any hits within this level from enemy fire. In addition to this, if the player drove into a purple diamond (located in the centre) they would be placed in a random position in the maze. The Recognizers are floating vehicles from the film though they are more commonly known as ‘stompers’. These stompers took three shots to be destroyed. Even more, they could not fire but only converge on the player’s location at high speed.

The final sub-game within Tron is Light Cycles. In this game, the player guided a blue ‘light circle’ against an opponent. The player could not come into contact with either the walls of the level, or the trails left behind by both light circles. The aim was for the player to force the opponent into a wall.

The game was well received, sources estimating that the game had made around $300,000,000 in revenue and selling 10,000 cabinets by 1983. Moreover, the game was awarded ‘Coin Operated Game of the Year’ by Electronic Games Magazine.

Pole Position (1982)

Namco’s pole position is said to be one of the most popular arcade racers of its time. The game was designed by Toru Iwatani (creator of Gee Bee and Pac Man), and has been deemed the most popular coin-op game of 1983.

The game was produced in two cabinets which were the standard upright and environmental/ cockpit design. The controls were similar on both cabinet types, however some slight additions are seen on the environmental design. Both have a steering wheel and a gear shifter as standard. The environmental cabinet had an accelerator and brake pedal. Due to limitations of the upright cabinet, this only had an accelerator.

The gameplay consists of a player controlling a formula 1 racing car. The player is expected to complete a time trial (from 90 – 120 seconds long) to qualify for the championship. If the player qualifies for the championship, they race 7 other CPU-controlled cars, whilst also trying to stay on the road and avoid obstacles.

The game was revolutionary in many ways, having various ‘firsts’ associated with it. One of the firsts introduced by this game, was that it was the first game to be based on a real racing circuit as well as being the first game to feature a qualifying lap.

Early examples of product placement could be seen within Pole position. Which was shown through the billboards at the side of the track advertising had real companies on them. These differ between publishing company (Namco in Japan and Atari for North America). Some companies featured are Pepsi and Canon (Namco version), and Centipede and Dig Dug (Atari version). Pole position was also featured in an advertisement as part of a series of TV spots created by Atari exclusively for MTV.

The game was widely praised upon release as having some of the best graphics and sound effects for the time. In 1983, Computer and Video Games (magazine) reviewed Pole position, claiming that it “is simply the most exhilarating driving simulation game on the market”. Furthermore, the game’s popularity is obvious as it was titled the Highest Grossing Game of the Year in North America (1983). Selling over 21,000 machines and earning around $450 on weekly revenue alone per machine. Pole position can simply be seen as the most successful racing arcade game of its time, generating ports onto many consoles, sequels and a Saturday morning cartoon series. 

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