Interview: The Creatives Behind “TRON: Identity” Discuss Inspirations for New Game in the World of TRON

TRON is truly seeing a resurgence now, with the opening of TRON Lightcycle / Run at Walt Disney World, and the upcoming release of the all-new TRON: Identity game. We were able to talk with Mike Bithell (Bithell Games, Creative Director) and Heidy Vargas (Walt Disney Games, Producer) about the latest addition to the world of TRON.

Laughing Place: So congratulations on the launch of the trailer this morning. Is it exciting to be able to piggyback off the opening of TRON Lightcycle / Run?

Mike Bithell: Yeah. It definitely feels like a moment of excitement around TRON's building, we've got this cluster of things that are all happening at the same time. “Flynn Lives” and all that. It seems to be working.

Laughing Place: So obviously, TRON video games have been around for 40 years. What was your approach when deciding what to do with TRON? What's your goal in terms of moving the interactive part of the brand forward?

Mike Bithell: I think for me, the biggest single thing is immersion and that idea of telling a story and letting the player be a part of that story. And I think we're doing a few things, we're playing with that. I think that's been my focus. I think this is a world that's very rich and interesting. It's grown both across those movies, TRON: Uprising, the amazing animated show. There's been this ongoing world building and storytelling. It felt like a really cool space to slot into and expand some of those story ideas from.

It's somewhere that people definitely want more stories to be told. So that's the biggest focus for us. And then making that interactive, as you say, leaning into that storytelling aspect rather than maybe that Arcade-type action, going for stuff which puts the player in a position to make interesting choices, influence that narrative, and then tell their TRON story as they go.

Laughing Place: Can you talk a little bit about the mechanics in terms of the game play? Being a licensed title, but based off of TRON, which inherently has to…

Mike Bithell: Be awesome.

Laughing Place: Right! So can you talk a little bit about that?

Mike Bithell: I think I see it as an opportunity more than anything. Before this we did a game called John Wick Hex, which again, obviously licensed, but going for something which felt original, refreshing and trying to find a partner that has the same objective. That's where Disney came in and has done an amazing job giving us the room to tell a really cool story that ties back into that world. To me, that's the exciting opportunity here. Because as you say, it's very easy to look at a licensed game as something tertiary, not really respect that process or create something good. But I think what's really exciting to me about what Disney Games are doing is creating those opportunities for creators like myself to come in and make interesting work.

Heidy Vargas: Disney's always looked to do new and exciting things with our games. And it's just such a great opportunity when you have equal fans of the franchise. And so Mike and his team, they're experts in what they're doing, experts in the space. It's a really cool opportunity for us to say, let's do something different, let's do something new and really bring something exciting for our fans and new fans.

Laughing Place: You guys are coming off a string of very well received games, such as Guardians of the Galaxy and Jedi: Fallen Order. Can you talk a little bit about how bringing this game adds to the Disney Games portfolio?

Heidy Vargas: It really gives us something in a category that we haven't been working on recently especially. We have a lot of mobile titles out in the market right now. We have some games that have been live for six years, Disney Emoji Blitz, Disney Magic Kingdom, some of those things that are more expected of our brand. But we haven't really played in that narrative adventure, a dark moody space like TRON. We haven't done anything with TRON in so long, and this is really a great opportunity and really amazing timing with TRON Lightcycle / Run and everything happening with the franchise. So we're happy to work with them. They've been so great and collaborative. And we're really doing something new with the story, bringing new characters to this world, and I'm really excited for people to finally play it.

Laughing Place: Can you both talk about your history with TRON? When did you become a TRON fan?

Mike Bithell: Absolutely. Definitely as a kid. I was born in 1985, so for me, TRON was around, it was definitely one that I remember being a very early VHS tape that I wore out. I think as well, as a kid who was very into computers obviously, that's where I ended up, and someone who was very into … started coding my own games and making stuff, seeing Flynn as the hero, seeing this game programmer and game designer up there on, well, on the small screen on the VHS. But seeing that, he was so cool. His jacket was amazing. He was a badass. I remember watching that as a kid and just being very excited by, I guess, this hobby I have is really cool. And it wasn't obviously, it was all a lie. It was just very important for me.

I remember just having that relationship with the original TRON, being very aware of it. And then as I got a little older, falling in love with the parks and the little places that TRON has always existed in the parks, such as Disneyland’s PeopleMover.

When TRON: Legacy came out, just at that point in my twenties, just being blown away by how iconically beautiful it was and that soundtrack and all of these things. Yeah, that evolution has been exciting. And then the other side of it is playing all of the games along the way as well and seeing that side of it. As you say, it's been a really rich world of video games over the years as well.

So for me, it's always been there and always been somewhere, like I said, I saw an interesting opportunity to tell stories and explore game mechanics. I guess, in a way, like a lot of Disney stuff, it's a part of your life.

Heidy Vargas: And for me, I mean, Legacy was really my first introduction to TRON. I knew it existed before that. But it was an older brand, something that I wasn't really made aware of.

Mike Bithell: How dare you. I'm a fan of it.

Heidy Vargas: But really it was the soundtrack. It was Daft Punk. My friends and I all went to go see the movie together and we were like, whoa, this world is so cool, let me explore more about this. Let me go back and consume the first film and see what else is out there. So it's definitely a more recent find for me than you guys. But yeah, it's been great.

Laughing Place: Everything Disney does has storytelling at its heart. Recently, we were at South by Southwest and saw the setup for the new Star Wars game. Can you talk about how you work with your partners to bring the Disney storytelling to the games?

Heidy Vargas: Yeah. I mean, we never want to just retell what the fans have already seen. We want to expand on the world and definitely bring them something new. And that all comes from working with our partners and really setting them up for success. Here's a world where you can really play with and then you can expand on and have fun with. So we've started there. We have the source material, we have all the inspiration that we need. And we're really just trying to make that world bigger so that fans can engage and have something new to experience every time.

Mike Bithell: And from my side, that was hands down the primary idea when looking at who to work with on our next game. That's why I came to Disney, because of that storytelling legacy, that's what I wanted to key into. And I wanted to learn all of these lessons. And we do. I have this amazing team, which Heidi heads up, who basically will give me feedback on everything we're doing. I get just absolute titans and amazing storytellers just throwing their thoughts back in, bouncing off, and just doing really cool stuff.

I think what's really fascinating about Disney is not only are they amazing storytellers, but they're storytellers across arguably mediums that they are the only people doing. So if you look at theme park storytelling, massively applicable to games, massively applicable to how we tell stories in the game world. That interactivity, the audience seeing different parts of the story at their own pace. The way Tomorrowland tells you a story as you move through it. That stuff is so vital to games and so useful to games. That being able to talk to folks who are writing stuff in the parks, getting that information just priceless. It's been an incredible education and that's a big driver for me of what I choose to work on.

Laughing Place: Well, congratulations. The game looks like a lot of fun!

TRON: Identity will be launching on April 11th for Nintendo Switch and PC.