Given how bad most of them are, most video games that tie in to movies don’t need to exist. “Tron: Evolution” bucks that logic for two reasons. Firstly, it serves to fill in the 28-year gap between the original “Tron” and “Tron: Legacy,” detailing how the Grid came to be taken over by Kevin Flynn’s evil doppelganger Clu. And, arguably more important, the game lets people play in the movie’s universe, affording them a deeper view of the franchise’s virtual landscape than either movie has at this point. The man with a foot in both the new “Tron” game and film is co-producer Justin Springer. In the interview below, he talks about the ever-widening world of “Tron.”
As I understand it, you’re a producer on the movie and the game as well?
I’m co-producer on the movie and I don’t have a title on the game. It’s part of the collaborative process when you’re making a movie for the studio to work with the other divisions who are working on “Tron”-related merchandise or content. But I did work very closely with the group at [development studio] Propaganda and Disney Interactive to make the new “Tron” game.
With the long layover between the two movies, you guys had a really big chance to kind of re-envision the world of The Grid, both on the screen and on the console. Obviously, “Tron” has been kind of a natural fit to turn into games before. When did the conversations about the game start?
It was probably the summer of 2008 that we started having conversations with Disney Interactive about the opportunity for a Tron game. Because there’s 28 years between Tron and the story we wanted to tell in “Tron: Legacy,” we had to write the mythology for the intervening years, what happened to Kevin Flynn after he stepped off the helicopter at the end of the first movie. And how do we arrive at a story that takes place in 2010?
And that had to do with what was happening on the outside, but more importantly, what was happening on the inside of the world of “Tron.” And as we started to build out that mythology, to give ourselves enough of a history to go off on for the movie, we realized there was a lot of story there to tell. We knew that we would only be able to tell two hours worth of story in our film. The games group at Disney is one of the first groups that we contacted about the opportunity to tell a little bit of the history of the world of the “Tron” universe inside the video game in a way that would lead up to the events of the film..
So, what were the things, the aspects of the Tron universe, that you felt like the game had to nail?
We were really focused on the parts where Clu overthrew Kevin Flynn and purged some of these programs, the ISOs, which is an important story point in our movie. “Evolution” frames up the current state of the world. In the film, it’s told to the audience and to Sam Flynn in the form of story and a flashback as far as how things get that way. And so, we thought, this is an excellent opportunity to really see what that was like, to live it.
And so that’s the central conflict inside the story of the video game. And honestly, it’s one of the central conflicts if you were to look at the entire history of “Tron.”
I think if you look at the two biggest moments in the history of the “Tron” universe, it would be the overthrow of the creator Kevin Flynn by the program Clu, which is sort of the crux of the video game. And then I think it would be the arrival of only the second user ever, the son of the creator, Sam Flynn, which is kind of the conceit of the movie. Those are the two big things. We really just wanted to find ways to make sure that we weren’t just telling a retelling of the movie story for the game.
Were there other games that you guys looked at in terms of execution that you kind of wanted the “Tron” evolution game to hit in terms of like, “Call of Duty does this really well. Let’s try and execute something like that.” Stuff like that?
Honestly, I’m not a huge, huge gamer. I play some, but I’m very casual. The guys who work at Propaganda, who are the huge gamers, were able to give me so many points of reference than I was able to give them. I was definitely in our first meeting, and games like “Call of Duty” titles were very top of mind at the time. But, for me it was more about just storytelling. It was just about how do we tell a contained story that you don’t have to see the movie for it to be enjoyable as a player. That opportunity was really exciting.
We’ve tried to build something that — knock on wood — when audiences come to the theater, if they’ve already played the game, they are going to feel very rewarded, because they are going to see that they’ve impacted the events of the film by trying to reach the end of the game. Or if they see the movie, they go back to the game. They leave the theater saying, I want to understand more about what happened to the ISOs, and you can go find that in 12 to 14 hours of gameplay. So, I was really focused on kind of the story elements of the game.
What about the multiplayer elements? It seems, again, like, combat on the Grids, the light cycle racing and all that stuff is so iconic in terms of the Tron imagery. Was that always part of the conversation from the beginning to have to have a multiplayer aspect?
Yeah, for sure. Because it just felt like there’s this built-in opportunity to do something that feels very communal. I think the multiplayer element is always fun. While there is this kind of great quest game at the narrative heart of the game, the notion of being able to go onto the game grid and compete in gladitorial games against other people, was really, really exciting. You get the “Tron” virtual sports that we’re used to with the disc combat and the light cycle, and we can expand from there. But, it just seemed like the kind of game that you would want to go into this world and compete against your friends. Essentially, you have an opportunity to create the coolest techno track-and-field video game of all time.