Thursday, February 19, 2009

Master the Grid

If you've seen Tron, you may agree that the best part of the entire movie was the light cycle sequence.

The entire sequence is just over 2 minutes long, but it's the part that stuck with me for a long time afterwards. I also think that it was the first time I had seen CGI. Although it is possible to do this using old-school (really old-school) tech.

For years I wanted my own light cycle, possibly the coolest vehicle ever conceived.

My father once found me a shareware game for my Tandy 1000SX that was exceptionally cool, but it didn't have any AI built in and was strictly a two player game. It took a simplified top down view of two lengthening lines and threw in some random obstacles which for the time was pretty slick. I don't recall what it was called and can't find it now but it was very similar to Flash Tron which you can play within your web browser. A similar (but not as good) game is BMTron,

Another game of a similar feel is Tron 2.0 for the Gameboy Advance. The light cycle part is simply a minigame included with the main game but for my money it's the best part. (Click through the gallery here for a look.)

I hadn't thought about these much for a long time until recently when browsing the iTunes app store. I came across the free version of LightBike, which is pretty much what I had been hoping for when I was nine. It's fun but doesn't have a lot of staying power. I upgraded to the paid version in the vain hope that someday another of my friends will happen to have it as well so I can try multiplayer, but until then it's a nice diversion.

It did get me curious however to see if there was any other newer 3D cycle games out there. I had heard Tron 2.0 included a light cycle part but due to lag concerns it was 1-player only, which is never as fun. It turns out that there is a huge variety of games out there, most of which are free for the taking and community supported.

I tinkered with a few but the best by far was Armagedtron Advanced. It is incredibly fun, fast paced, addictive, and free. It comes in Linux, Windows, and Mac versions and runs extremely well on my home network. I tried it on my 7 year old Compaq (Win XP, 1.9 Ghz, 768Mb Ram) with a 6 year old video card (Radeon 9600 Pro, 128 Mb), and it works amazingly well with all of the graphics options cranked. On my ancient Dell laptop (1ghz, 256Mb, embedded crappy video, Ubuntu Linux) it runs smooth as silk (so long as all of the graphics are set to the absolute minimum).

You can play several people on one computer split-screen, or multiple people over a network / the internet, or any combination of these. You can customize anything you like, including creating maps, custom cycles, game physics tweaks, etc. So far the only changes I've made include decreasing the default cycle speed and making the computer controlled opponents really, really stupid. Even so, it's still blindingly fast and very hard. The trailer below captures a lot of the feel, but trust me when I say that it's a lot faster and significantly more intense when it is you making the turns.

Some more videos showing gameplay details are here (try to ignore the narration), and here.

I think that this would be an excellent choice for a LAN party. No weapons, no advantages, just reflexes, strategy, and picking a bike color (harder than it looks). So seriously, go download it and give it a try. And if you like it let me know, and meet me on the grid.


"You've enjoyed all the power you've been given, haven't you? I wonder how you'd take to working in a pocket calculator." -Master Control Program, Tron