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Interview With TRON 2.0 Team Member Dan Miller

By TronFAQ on Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 7:46 AM
Shortly after the release of the TRON 2.0: Killer App Mod, I received an e-mail from Dan Miller congratulating the teams who worked on the Killer App Mod and User Error.

He now works at Bungie, but back in 2003 Dan worked on TRON 2.0 at Monolith. He was responsible for designing and implementing the Disc Arena Multiplayer mode in the game.

After receiving his e-mail, I replied and asked if he would be willing to do an interview with me. He said yes, so here is the resultant interview that I carried out with him, again by e-mail.

FAQ: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How you became interested in working in the game industry?

Dan: I got my start at Monolith in Public Relations when I joined there in 1999 as an Intern. After a year or so, they moved me around and finally into design, since I happened to be working with the toolset on my off hours and more design manpower was desperately needed. I’ve always loved games but never thought I’d actually be developing them. Call it a lucky break. Monolith was awesome to work for and I credit them for helping me get my start.

FAQ: How did you come to join the team at Monolith working on TRON 2.0? Is working on TRON 2.0 something you specifically wanted to do (i.e. are you a fan), or were you given the task to work on it? If you were not a fan before, did you become one?

Dan: I started in design on Aliens vs. Predator 2. Once I was done with that, they moved me to No One Lives Forever 2 and then after ship, they put me on TRON 2.0 Multiplayer. I really enjoyed the movie and it was an awesome opportunity to work in a fresh universe. Because I had experience working with the AI systems from previous games, I also helped out polishing up some of the AI stuff in the single player game. My task from the outset was Multiplayer and trying to figure out the best way to build it with the resources I was allotted (one engineer, one artist).

FAQ: When did development of TRON 2.0 start at Monolith? (There is evidence that suggests it started some time around 2000 or 2001.)

Dan: To be honest, I don’t fully recall when we started on TRON. I came onto the project late and it was already in full production mode. Maybe 2001?

FAQ: The original title of the game was apparently going to be TRON: Killer App. (As evidenced in the TRON 20th Anniversary DVD promo for the game.) When did the title change to TRON 2.0? Do you know what the process was, that led to the decision responsible for changing the name?

Dan: I don’t recall when they changed the name of the game, I think it was pretty early in production. I don’t know why either. I think TRON 2.0 is a good name because it feels more like an official part of the universe than a side story-esque name. Plus, I’m not exactly sure if most casual/average players knew what a "Killer App" was at the time.

FAQ: What was the reason for the delay of the release of TRON 2.0? It was originally supposed to have been released in March 2003, but it was delayed to August 2003. (There's a rumor suggesting it had something to do with making Light Cycles playable over the internet, because focus testers were demanding it. When the plan had originally been for Light Cycles to be LAN only.)

Dan: Like all games, there are always a number of factors in delaying a game, ranging from more polish time needed to added features. I don’t know or remember what the exact reason was- but I do remember that Disney was very positive about it and resulted in a better game.

FAQ: Can you recall any features, items, or moments earlier in development, that were cut for the final version of TRON 2.0? (Apparently, some beta testers claim that certain cutscenes were trimmed. Also, there is ample evidence in the game's files that numerous small features were dropped. Such as: Disc Arena was going to be playable in Single Player with AI bot opponents; Build Notes were apparently going to contain messages (from Flynn?); there were additional subroutines, including a Disguise subroutine to steal other programs' colors; there was an attempt at flashing wheel spokes and gradient trails on the classic Light Cycles, something the Killer App Mod restored.)

Dan: Hmm. Production is one of those things where things are cut/morphed into other features constantly. Sometimes things just don’t work the way you envisioned them, so it is cut or changed. I do know that Disc Arena was never meant to be playable with bot opponents. It never was even planned because it would’ve been far too complicated and bots just can’t pose a threat. Features in games require a great amount of bang-for-buck and if you couldn’t do something well, then it might as well not be in the game at all- bots are one of those things that require a dedicated programmer to do. TRON was one of those few games where actually more things were added near the end than cut- but then again I wasn’t a part of the beginning, so maybe there were a lot of things cut that I didn’t know about.

FAQ: Outside of the original TRON film, is there anywhere else you and the rest of the team drew inspiration for the all of the levels in the game (both Single Player and Multiplayer)? How about the Disc Arena levels you worked on, in particular?

Dan: I really enjoyed Quake Rocket Arena, the Quake 1 mod back in the day, and drew the multi-tiered/observation room layouts from that game. Visually, I drew inspiration from the single-player levels. It worked really well, because I basically built all of the levels save for the ring levels with very simple concepts. I originally had like 15 separate levels to test a number of combat strategies with the disc. I ended up boiling those down and matching them together so that each Disc Arena level consisted of four sub-arenas. After that, we tried to match them up with a single player environment and bam, Disc Arena was born.

FAQ: Did you ever consider doing a Jai Alai or "Pong" mode for Multiplayer: like the moment in the film where Flynn plays against Crom, using the scoop and energy ball on the rings?

Dan: That was discussed, but we had to focus on one game mode and I felt that Disc Arena was similar to the original arcade game and at the same time unique amongst all of the other multiplayer offerings. I really didn’t want Deathmatch with new textures- that wasn’t a very interesting concept to me.

FAQ: Why were there no free-roaming areas in Single Player, involving vehicles? A lot of fans wanted to ride a Tank, Recognizer, Solar Sailer, or Light Cycle across a landscape. No One Lives Forever had free-roaming sections where you could ride a motorcycle: why didn't TRON 2.0?

Dan: I wasn’t there at the outset of the project, so I wasn’t in on those conversations. I worked on the No One Lives Forever 2 free-roaming sections with the Snowmobile and I always felt that it was very hard to pace those out and make them feel interesting. Free-roaming always sounds cool and there have been a few games that have done it somewhat well, but it takes a lot of resources and you almost have to build the entire game around that concept- yet, I’m not sure how much bang-for-buck you can get with the concept- especially with teaching navigation and making our AI work with that concept.

FAQ: Are there any secret areas or easter eggs in any of the Single or Multiplayer maps, that you are aware of? (It would seem not, except perhaps that the DISCARENA01 map appears to have rings arranged in a fashion to represent a Mickey Mouse head?)

Dan: Hahah ... I did notice this one night when I was working on it, but it wasn’t intended. I don’t have any stories of easter eggs, sorry.

FAQ: Have you ever played TRON 2.0 online in Multiplayer with the public? Even anonymously? Did anyone at Monolith ever take a look at the maps, mods, and other content that the fan community produced for the game? Were they aware at how disappointed the fans were with Disney's attitude toward modding the game, or even their attitude toward the game as a whole? (The editing toolkit was in very rough shape which made it extremely difficult to do anything, plus Disney claimed that any maps or mods uploaded to the official TRON 2.0 site would become Disney's property. And pretty much all of the constructive criticism was ignored. This drove everyone away.)

Dan: I played the multiplayer demo a ton and the full game anonymously. I even came back after a bit when I had some down time. I got owned. I followed the game for quite some time, but it's hard working on game after game after game and at the same time keeping up with previous games. When you are crunching, other games sort of fade away. Monolith was only signed up to do TRON so I don’t recall many conversations, but then again, I left Monolith in Fall of 2004, about a year after TRON shipped.

FAQ: Was there ever talk about an expansion pack for TRON 2.0 on the PC, to further improve the game? For Single Player or Multiplayer? The Xbox version - called TRON 2.0: Killer App - received some new Multiplayer game modes and maps, but the PC never got those. A lot of fans were greatly disappointed by this. (And now that Microsoft shut down Xbox Live for the original Xbox, no one will be playing those new Multiplayer modes any more. A tragic waste.) Also, why didn't Monolith develop Killer App on the Xbox? Were Monolith themselves disappointed to not be involved?

Dan: I don’t recall talks regarding an expansion pack. If I recall at the time, Monolith was absolutely booked with other deals ranging from The Matrix Online to Condemned, Contract JACK, and FEAR. Doing an Xbox version was not possible. When you develop games for another company, it’s definitely a very contractual relationship. If there isn’t an agreement written up to do X or Y far in advance, then it most likely won’t happen. People need paychecks and it’s not a smart business practice to not have this stuff signed up far in advance.

FAQ: Are you disappointed, now, to not be involved in the development of the new TRON Evolution game? (A lot of fans were hoping Monolith would do it, but I could see it would never happen: Monolith is now owned by Warner, a competing studio.)

Dan: I’m super happy with my work on TRON 2.0. TRON 2.0 was easily one of my favorite games I’ve ever worked on. It was just so imaginative and fresh and the team clicked pretty well from what I recall. I have other things that I’m working on now. TRON 2.0 was a great experience also because there was no modern movie or book or media riding along side that we had to emulate or confer with. It was its own thing and a chance to take the TRON universe in whatever direction we thought was cool and applicable to the time. I’m still very proud of what we did with TRON.

To conclude, I'd just like to thank Dan for graciously agreeing to do this interview and taking the time to answer the many questions that fans, and myself, had. I also know that everyone on the LDSO team, felt very fortunate and flattered to hear praise from a team member who had worked on TRON 2.0.

In addition, I'd like to thank the following fans who submitted questions: Load"*",8,1, Daddyo, Win3K, tronman63304, Jizaboz, Zook_One, TRON.dll, and Jademz.