In 1982, Disney released the film Tron starring Jeff Bridges. The story gave the world iconic characters like Kevin Flynn, a software engineer who gets transported into a computer mainframe, the artificial intelligence known as the Master Control Program (or MCP), Sark (the MCP’s right hand man), and of course Tron, a security program who served as the film’s hero.
As memorable as the characters, Tron also introduced viewers to the the Game Grid, a simulated environment that hosted gladiatorial style combat. In the Game Grid, contestants engaged in battles using light cycles (motorcycle like vehicles that leave behind a jetwall as they race), played the Ring Game (a bit like jai alai) and fought in the Disc Arena (where combatants threw their “identity discs” at each other as weapons).
Intellivision released the first of their Tron based games the year that the film debuted. The game was Tron: Deadly Discs. In it, players controlled Tron as he battled waves of enemies. There was no distinct plot to the game. The goal was to get the highest score possible.
Players controlled Tron and battled against a variety of enemies. The majority of the enemies used discs to attack (as did Tron). The only exceptions were the Guards (orange characters who carried Stun Polls) and Recognizers (large robot devices topped by an eye whose function was to unlock the doors that allowed enemies to enter the field). Getting hit by the Guard’s Stun Poll resulted in an automatic game over, as did touching the Recognizer. The Recognizers could incapacitate Tron by hitting him with a paralysis cage, but could be defeated by throwing discs at their eye.
Tron got stronger and faster as the game progressed and could sustain multiple hits by disc. Players could also use Tron’s discs to jam doors. Jamming the doors kept enemies from using them. Jamming doors directly across from each other allowed Tron a shortcut from one side of the the screen to the other.
The game also had a notable bug, discovered by a player named Steven M. Little. He wrote to Intellivision to describe the bug saying, “Once you are able to open the top left and top right doors, which enables you to go in one door and out the other…just step out the right top or left top door and stay there…90% of the enemy discs go through you and your man is not hit or destroyed.” He then described how the bug could be used to rack up points. “Once you reach close to a million points, don’t destroy any more warriors. Just hold your disc in the block mode and break discs. If you do get hit just go back and forth for repair… I went from 1,000,000 to 10,000,000 with no problem.”
The game was developed and published by Mattel and was under development at the same time as the movie. Mattel gambled on the belief that the film would be a box office smash and produced 800,000 copies of the game to meet anticipated demand. Sadly, the film floundered and only 300,00 copies of the Tron: Deadly Discs were sold. Despite these underwhelming numbers, the game has maintained a steady base of fans over the years and is considered an Intellivision classic.
As an odd bit of trivia, a game riffing on Tron: Deadly Discs was produced by Dave Warhol. He took the gameplay of Deadly Discs and replaced the enemies with the hot dogs from the classic game BurgerTime. The game was called “Deadly Dogs.”
In May of 2018, musician Tommy Tallarico announced that he would be releasing a new version of the Intellivision. He stated that the new console would feature new titles and re-releases of classics. With a little luck, Tron: Deadly Discs will be among the re-released titles.