Sunday, August 10, 2008

Tron 2.0, TR2N, TWOn and MMOs

That’s it. It’s coming. Tron 2. Or more accurately, but not necessarily easier to say, TR2N, a very edgy name voted by Mickey’s fan club for the sequel to the brilliant and visionary Tron.

As always, the question is do we need it? There are always going to be fans cheering en masse, I could clearly be among them, yet a touch of objectivity is not hurting.

But first and foremost, let’s watch that trailer again:

The two light cycles are duelling in a richer arena, which offers much more options and requires much more skills than the old plane in a box we had in Tron.
Looking at the updated, slick and futuristic designs of the environment, identity disc and light cycles, the message is rather clear: the universe has evolved a lot since Tron defeated Master Control.
It’s still dark out there, or in there actually. There’s a storm ahead and a menacing sky looming above the arena.
There’s more flexibility in how and where the road gladiators can morph into a vehicle now, has observed since the blue player, looking like he’s trying to escape, does the transformation thing in midair after executing a high jump.
The bikes have headlights and light stripes which can be switched off for some stealth pursuit, as well as folding out aero fins to break faster. The moves are far more fluid and the bikes can jump. They are quite real in their physics now. But the most important part of all, the trail walls, are still there, as deadly as ever. The arena itself is multi levelled, complex and has different sections, some being out of your typical SF racing game we’ve been served with for more than a decade, including transparent platforms hanging above the void, while the other section is akin to a path carved through a natural canyon. A fucking nice map. ;)

Talking about the players, they’re more like avatars, all CGI, up to the face, and I think it would have been better to use the same method from the original film, with of course the polish of compositing from this new century.
Oh well…

You can see the irony here, in how the graphics of the game are not light years ahead of what the current generation of machines can prove now, while it was the case when Tron was released.
Of course, this could add some credibility to the mix, but it looses points on the mystery side of things, a point I’ll detail later on.

In terms of plot, it may appear that the film ignores Monolith’s clever game, Tron 2.0, even if the film shows something which might appear logical, in that the bike racing should have been more modern in the game, mirroring the evolution of game design as technology grows. On the other hand, Monolith probably wanted to give the players the chance to play classic bike race as it used to be back then. Maybe they should have proposed both, a modern style racing and the classic arena one, which would have been dubbed as retro within the machine world.

Now, following the game’s plot (or lack of thereof) would be a bit hard, or nonsensical. Still, that’s more or less typical Hollywood for you. While films like Avalon, ExistenZ and Nirvana did pay a good deal of respect to the video gaming lore, it’s a different story there, never mind if this franchise was the best suited to actually pay homage to any game related content already produced beforehand. I wouldn’t really be bitter if Tr2n would reject all ties to the genuine video gaming lineage started by Monolith’s opus, but that’s still another form of irony for you.
Not everything seems to be ditched, though. The new light cycles are a slight upgrade from the old ones, freed of the closed canopy, and are much less extravagant than the super light cycle from Tron 2.0.
Monolith’s arena, although as basic and flat as the original one, had a legit exit towards a path exploiting the volumetric plausibility of a 3D environment, like the unauthorized off track zones in the film.

Plot wise, the technology in Tron was already far fetched and implied impossible realities, not in what could be done in the future (safe for the sort of beaming pad), but what was possible back then. Computers, high technology and servers were all part of an ensemble which didn’t endanger the suspension of disbelief to the degree it might today. Decades ago, computers and internet were not so well spread than they are today. The obscure setting of having a super corporation like ENCOM housing, in its basement, the live experience of a whole digital universe was pure fantasy, sheer magic, but it worked.
The less you know how it works, the more divine it is. Ignorance can indeed be bliss sometimes. :)
Right now, I’m not sure this aspect of the universe will remain as solid as it did years ago.

But maybe the updated world of Tron will speak to us in a different way. Maybe the fact that we have virtual universes, like Second Life, will actually reinforce the credibility of the film’s universe.
Mind you, the idea of having sentient programs feeling love and hatred within a virtual reality is still pure gibberish, but it’s cool nonetheless, and even if today, we’re invaded by life sapping MMOs, none manages to deliver the essence of what made Tron’s digital reality so unique.

Yes, Tron was about MMOs and genuine emotions down there, decades before they’d become a sort of semi-reality, and we’re not even there yet. In that, Tron is a cyberpunk precursor on the silver screen.
In such contexts, evil is always present in a form or another. This time, Flynn seems to be part of some nasty action going on.
Yes, that's right, Jeff Bridges is back.
So why is his behaviour so ambiguous? A most interesting question. Why he’s in the VR and seems to live a jaded existence there is puzzling. Maybe something went terribly wrong on the real life side of things. After all, we know nothing about the state of the world. Imagining what Flynn’s life could have been after his return to the real world is an essential key to the understanding of his attitude. He’s probably been considered a nutjob by claiming that “programs have rights!” or “I nearly banged a spyware who loved me” you know.
Or something else entirely. The whole bleached Nintendo-like white room where he’s seen sitting in a meditating posture, almost supervising the race, just has you wonder what the hell he’s doing there. He surely doesn’t seem to take much pleasure in the destruction of a player. Maybe Flynn has been taking his hero status too seriously… but it was so real, who could blame him?

I also wonder how far they’ll push and diversify the functions of Tr2n’s virtual universe. Probably far enough to warrant a new and richer Tron game.
One of the main motives behind this new movie could be to revive a franchise in order to launch a big game. There’s just too much neon signs pointing to this opportunity, and surely too much money to make, if Age of Conan and World of Warcraft are anything to go by.

Should we expect some awkward name such as Troniverse? :P

Final point: in the dialogue between the defeated blue player and yellow player, who looks like a younger Flynn, blue player tries to gain pity by protesting that it’s just a game, but younger Flynn calmly gazes at the horizon, before answering “not anymore” and giving the hapless blue player the final blow.
For some reason, I understood “got to be more” and I thought this sounded better. The real line sounds much more like a random movie poster tagline.

Truth is, I’m terribly excited like a squealing little bit over this new one. Yes, I know, I’m not really helping Hollywood questioning their lack of originality there.

Finally, you may want to read this article about Tron 2.0, and get a look at this excellent page about the making of Tron.
Syd Mead worked on the design for both film and game, one can only hope that he’s onboard for this adventure as well.

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