UPDATE: TRON: Identity is NOW AVAILABLE on Steam for PC and Nintendo Switch
Greetings, Programs! I’ve played nearly every iteration of TRON-themed games, from the coin-operated arcade games to TRON 2.0 to the fast-paced TRON RUN/r. On April 11, 2023, TRON: Identity, an innovative new game and thrilling addition to the franchise, launches worldwide. Recent, I caught up with Creative Director Mike Bithell from Bithell Games and game producer Heidy Vargas from Disney Games to discuss this visual novel adventure that’s unlike any TRON game released before.
Upon entering the room, I noticed a vintage “TRON” pin from the Disney Store circa 2000 on Mike’s jacket. I immediately knew he was a fellow super fan who fights for the Users.
“As a child of the mid-1980s, I wore out my VHS copy [of ‘TRON’]”, explained Mike when asked about his earliest memory of the film. “As a kid, I copied computer code from magazines into my personal computer. So I thought Kevin Flynn was the coolest guy on screen as he and I were into the same thing. Years later, I fell in love with the music from ‘TRON: Legacy’ – it’s the soundtrack to my life.”
Mike is also a fan of the original coin-operated arcade games (he maintains the top score on a TRON arcade machine somewhere in Las Vegas, Nevada).
“I liked how that arcade game offers players four choices of games they can play – Light Cycles, I/O Tower, MCP Cone and Battle Tanks. That was an innovative game design for the early 1980s,” continued Mike.
The idea of choice is a major theme in his new TRON: Identity game, which takes place in a new Grid, forgotten by its creator and left alone to evolve without intervention from Users (people or computer programmers).
My conversation continued with Mike and Heidy, revealing new details about this game coming to Nintendo Switch and PC on April 11.
[Steven]: Can you please tell me about the story of TRON: Identity?
[Mike Bithell]: “You play as Query, a detective program, in this adventure-mystery game. He is called in when something is stolen from a place called the Repository. If the secrets of this stolen item were revealed, it would leave the fate of the entire Grid hanging in the balance. The choices Query makes in the game matter and affect the final outcome in major ways.”
As someone who frequently played puzzle-solving PC games in the 1990s, I was happy to see a different approach to a TRON game.
[MB]: “We wanted to place the power of Query’s choices directly into the hands of the players, to make them feel like they are on the Grid. Throughout the Noir-like mystery, there are multiple dialogue options between characters that branch into a multitude of possibilities. Some decisions Query makes affects dialogue between characters, while other choices significantly impact the overall gameplay. There are also puzzles to solve by defragging corrupted Identity Discs, something that records everything that Programs do or say on the Grid. The decoded discs will help players piece together what has been taken from the Repository and who is responsible. This idea comes directly from ‘TRON: Legacy’ when Kevin Flynn repairs the character Quorra via her Identity Disc.”
[Heidy Vargas] “With multiple endings, players will still have a new sense of mystery when playing the game again. You can take a completely different journey each time you play.”
That reminds me of Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, where the decisions that guests make onboard the Halcyon can affect their overall journey. You mentioned this game is set in a new Grid. What kind of freedom did that give your team?
[MB]: “Building on the established visual cues and iconography from the Grid, we created something familiar yet brand new within TRON: Identity. For example, you’ll see trees in our Grid, something that isn’t found in the existing films. There are also things like rain, which, at first, we weren’t sure how to accomplish visually in the game.”
[HV]: “It was a visit to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh attraction of all places at Disneyland that helped us solve that visual problem of digital rain [laughs].”
[MB]: “Disney Parks, in many ways, are like one giant and immersive video game. I think Walt Disney was the original three-dimensional game designer. We took lessons from the best when creating TRON: Identity.”
A new Grid means new characters. Who else will Detective Query encounter?
[HV]: “There are many new characters. I’m most proud of the diverse representation that players will find on screen. My hope is players will see a program that resembles them; it’s similar to how programs look like the Users who wrote them in the ‘TRON’ films.”
[MB]: “I’ve already seen fan generated artwork based on characters from our teaser videos. That’s pretty cool. From a character perspective, we incorporated Isometric Algorithms or ISOs also found in ‘TRON: Legacy.’ Like the last ISO Quorra in that film, these characters evolved in our Grid without the assistance of Users. Yet they kept evolving over a Millennia. Unlike typical programs who follow programming code established by their Users, these ISOs have begun questioning the world around them.”
Guests love finding Hidden Mickeys in Disney attractions. Are there any hidden TRON references in the game, things that super fans like myself will enjoy finding?
[MB]: There are some deep cuts for fans who seek them out. I’m not one for including an ‘easter egg’ just to include one. I’d rather use those nods to advance the story or reveal something about a particular character.”
You mentioned you love the “TRON: Legacy” soundtrack. Will we hear anything familiar in this game?
[MB]: “We have a new composer who respects those previous iconic soundtracks while creating something new players will enjoy. You can hear some of that fantastic music in the game’s trailer. The layered mix of background sound loops paired with music cues that move you through the story reminds me of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. The background music is carried throughout the ride, but each scene has its own sound. I’m excited to add that we will be releasing a game soundtrack separately for TRON: Identity.”
One final question – how was your experience on TRON Lightcycle / Run?
[MB]: Riding the attraction was a profound experience – it’s exhilarating and mind-blowing. I loved how I felt like I was stepping into the digital world of TRON at the attraction. I’m a game developer working on a TRON game and I got into the Grid – I guess I’m even closer to Kevin Flynn now [laughs].”
Thank you to Mike and Heidy for their time. I can’t wait to solve the mystery of TRON: Identity on April 11.
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