Tron in 3D And Awesome: Armagetron

By Quintin Smith on September 30th, 2008 at 11:20 am.

Light Bikes, eh?
I’m sick of talking to you guys about games that are either old, flawed, or old and flawed. If you hit the Quinns tag on RPS right now the site becomes some kind of miserable gaming emergency ward where I run around administering adrenaline to my dying loved ones before they disappear forever. Enough of that shit! Today I’m going to tell you about one of my favourite games that’s actually playable online, easy on your system, costs nothing and could easily end up starting a tiny fire in that dusty heart of yours. It’s called Armagetron and it’s about as perfect as freeware gets.

It’s pretty easy to explain, too. It’s the perfect evolution of a Tron Lightbikes sim. Course, that might mean nothing to you, in which case it all gets a little harder to explain. Here we go!

So every player controls a little coloured motorbike in a large walled grid. There are only five rules beyond this that make up the whole game. One, the players cannot stop going forward. Two, players can only turn at 90 degree angles, so everyone can only ever travel north, south, west or east, so to speak. Three, the motorbikes leave behind tall, permanent trails as they move. Four, contact with any trail (including your own) or the wall of the arena results in player death.

And finally we come to rule five, the masterstroke which I’m not sure was actually in the Tron movie: If you’re in close proximity to another player’s trail in Armagetron, you automatically accelerate. Distance yourself from any enemy trails and you slow back down.

That’s it. That’s the whole game. Last bike still driving wins, and it’s playable online with up to 16 players.

Light Bikes are also here

There’s a small chance that right now you’re thinking to yourself “Oh man! Oh man! That’s total genius! That’s spicy eggs and black coffee on a hungover Sunday! That’s the first and last chord of a rock concert you’ve been looking forward to for weeks, somehow combined!” But I reckon there’s a way bigger chance that you’re scratching your head, possibly your beard, maybe your balls, and wondering what on earth has me so excited. So I’m going to spend a few hundred more words explaining exactly why, even if you put the beautiful simplicity of Armagetron to one side, the design of this game is Bomberman-level good.

It’s all about speed, really. You might think driving in clever geometric patterns would win you the game, but speed is the real the alpha and the omega of Armagetron. See, if you can drive parallel to old enemy trails for long enough to get your speed up to two times, three times or even four times more than your starting speed then you become a hunter of men. It becomes within your power to dart off towards other players, overtake them, and take a couple of quick turns that mean your trail boxes them into a tiny space.

Course, that’s the clumsy and slow way of doing it. Far better is to take a single quick turn towards them at the exact second you overtake them, running them into your trail before they’ve even had a chance to turn. Smart opponents will see this coming and turn away from you before you overtake them, or they’ll try and throw you by turning towards you at the last second, therefore throwing a wall up in your path and making your speed a momentary disadvantage.

Further Light Bikes

Which is the thing about speed. As much as it turns you into a monster to be feared, a spider weaving a neon web around the trundling flies, this is still a game where the one objective is not to crash. The faster you are the less time you’re giving yourself to maneuver away from unexpected walls, and of course the faster you’re going the harder it becomes to maneuver in parallel to yet more enemy trails for further speed boosts without crashing. Cowardly players might tie themselves inside loose knots of trails that a slow player could navigate in or out of but a fast one might have trouble with, forcing speedy bikes to seek out other prey.

Ridiculous speeds aren’t just the domain of those who seek them out, though. Another common way of getting them is in the same sorts of games of chicken you see in the Tron movie, where two players drive straight towards each other then turn at the last second, ending up side by side. Usually that’s close enough for you to get the bonuses off of one another’s trails, and the two of you will end up merrily locked together as you rocket towards a distant wall or trail. Sure, you can always turn away before you reach that obstacle, but unless you do it very, very close to that obstacle then you’re leaving an open invitation for The Other Guy to turn after you, sucking up all the speed bonuses from your trail and arriving back by your side, now fast enough to lock you down.

It’s dawning on me that I could rant on about the technicalities and tactics of this game forever. I haven’t even mentioned spark-sealed gaps yet, where someone basically welds you into a box by driving around you and then making their final turn (where the gap should be) so tight that they rub against another trail and their bike gives off sparks. As I found out in one unbelievable round you can actually squeeze through spark-sealed tunnels if you’re good enough, and the acceleration bonus from getting that close to two trails will have you blasting out of the other end like a bullet from a gun. Then again, savvy opponents will always anticipate successful escapes from any trail traps and might choose to spend some time building tight spirals or mazes outwards from the exit for desperate escapees to navigate. But then, the more spirals or mazes you build, the faster your prisoner will be if they actually manage to escape your web. So unless you risk your own bike by attempting to build an escape route that’s ridiculously tight, you could be dooming yourself to a jailbreak where your prisoner bursts free, now rocketing around like an electric hornet and absolutely furious with you.

The whole trail design thing is kinda questionable though, innit? It'll cause chaos on the motorway at rush-hour for one.

Alright, that’s probably enough gibbering to give you an idea of the depth on offer here. Armagetron is a perfect combination of reflexes, cunning, bravery and puzzling, and its ability to characterise players so strongly in your head makes basically no sense at all. Every round you’ll pick out a new villain, a hero, an underdog, a coward or a scheming mastermind. Then the round will draw to a close, the winner will spend a few glorious seconds driving around on their own and then the pieces will be reset, giving everyone the chance to play a new role.

God. It’s so good. Just download it and play it and love it, in that order. And for the love of God make sure you remember to take it to any LAN parties. And if you’re playing with friends (and eat motion sickness for breakfast), try getting everyone to play in First Person mode. But mainly just get it and play it and love it.

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44 Comments »

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  1. Reid says:

    I played this years ago on an old PCG disc and the design not evolving one bit is a testament to the beautiful simplicity of this game.

    However, it does help to have the reaction speeds of an ADD riddled 11 year old

  2. Bobsy says:

    Oh, I remember Armagetron. Used to play it years ago, possibly with you, Quinnsy. I recall the netcode was a bit crappy though.

    Abiding memory of online play was that there were so few servers that everyone that played it – everyone in the world – knew each other. It was nice, I guess.

  3. Dante says:

    Is this related to GL Tron in any way? I remember playing that and it was almost exactly how you describe.

  4. Optimaximal says:

    I only *just* got the name, after all these years…

    /gets coat

  5. phuzz says:

    and there’s an OSX version so I can wipe the floor with my mac lovin’ flatmates, perfick.
    (No of course I’m not going to mention that I’ve already played this a fair bit against my brothers a year or two ago, mwahahahaha)

  6. The Sombrero Kid says:

    not trying to moan too much but who hasn’t heard of armagetron?
    sorry

  7. Alec Meer says:

    I hadn’t. Thanks, Quinns.

  8. Dorsch says:

    We used to play this all the time in school. It’s really a great lan game, it’s perfect at a lan party as a recreation when everybody is tired of FPSs and RTSs.

  9. Meat Circus says:

    OH YES OH YES

    The days I’ve wasted at various employers getting my colleagues to indulge in Armagetron tournies when we should have been working are without number.

    Naughty.

  10. Hypocee says:

    ‘I’m sick of talking to you guys about games that are either old…’ ;)

  11. El_MUERkO says:

    i want to leave work early to go home and play this … unless

  12. Quinns says:

    What the hell, people. Was Armagetron Club one of those gay things that everyone did at school, like Scouts or Karate.

  13. Sid Sinister says:

    Love this game, it is perfect of lans. It is the one of the games that I guarantee that everyone at the lans my friends used to have that everyone there played. There is nothing like when then there are only two players left and one of the is trapped in a small area and the other person as most of the area to play with makes a stupid mistake and crashes in their own trail, oh what fun.

  14. Surgeon says:

    I haven’t played this in ages, but remember it being quality.
    I also remember being rubbish compared to everyone else, but it was still a blast.

    Dante says:

    Is this related to GL Tron in any way?

    Hey Dante. GL Tron is just another light cycle game. Similar to Armegetron, but single player only.
    And from what I can recall, not quite as good.

    By the way Dante, are you even supposed to be here today?
    :)

  15. Sucram says:

    Armagetron is wonderful. I’ve used it to introduce gaming to people who have never before played a video game beyond Solitaire.

    The concept is simple, you only need to know two keys to play it, it’s a small download and it works well even with laptop integrated graphics.

    These factors mean it’s incredibly easy to go to somebodies house (or an office) and setup a LAN game with 3 or 4 people in a matter of minutes.

    It’s fast, it fun and once you’ve finished you can introduce them to Quake III.

  16. Meat Circus says:

    I was certainly a member of the ‘gay karate scouts 4 Armagetron’ club.

  17. Quinns says:

    Holy Shit, I’d be all over a videogame called Gay Karate Scouts.

  18. Matt says:

    Armegatron is the single greatest abuse of a company’s LAN you can undertake. Entire weeks went by with literally not a minute of work done between my and my office partner as we played round, after round, after round…

    Some of the texture packs are pretty impressive as well.

  19. Lu-Tze says:

    Double sparking is an immense way to get speed, and everyone has a story of that time when by pure luck rather than judegment they managed to weave an insanely tight maze at high velocity and came out double sparking like they had swallowed jet fuel. It’s an amazing moment.

    It makes up for all those times that a game ended up in “farming” where there’s two locked out area that would be very unwise to attempt an escape from, and you and the other guy are just trying to see who can last longest before they have to start running the maze that surrounds them.

    Also, there’s a brake key. Never underestimate the value of a good hard braking in this game, especially if it sets you up for a double spark.

  20. Benjamin Finkel says:

    This was a high school pastime for me, when my class had finished the computer science homework or whatever. Lovely game.

    Ben

  21. Aubrey says:

    What was that 3D amiga game which was a bit like tron with the walls and stuff, but you could also jump, and it was on hover boards, and I think you might have been able to shoot, too?

  22. Cigol says:

    I might have heard about this in the past but it’s only through reading this article that I’ve decided it’s worth a try.

  23. Dante says:

    GL Tron wasn’t single player, it had a multiplayer, although I’m not sure if it was online or not, we mostly played it by sharing a keyboard and shouting at each other a lot, which was hilarious.

    It had several modes, but the one we always played was the wall acceleration mode, much like the one described here.

  24. shinygerbil says:

    Ahh, braking was a difficult art to master.

    Good Times With Armagetron. :)

  25. Fumarole says:

    Are there really gamers out there who need the concept of Lightbikes explained to them?

  26. Alex says:

    So, no powerups like in the lightcycle minigame in Tron 2.0?

  27. PleasingFungus says:

    Man, I played this in high school. (Just like half the other commenters in this thread.) Never realized that you accelerated – and stayed accelerated – from proximity to trails, though. May have to boot it up again some time, fiddle.

  28. Jochen Scheisse says:

    I never knew about this game! This is pretty cool, although I die a lot and get screamed at by people, but I guess that’s just because it’s a multiplayer game. Thanks.

  29. Smee says:

    I always preferred GL Tron to Armagetron. And the light cycle bits of Tron 2.0, as a matter of fact.

  30. neoanderthal says:

    i gave this a quick spin on my work computer – it’s been a while since i chuckled out loud while playing a game, but this one did it for me. Thanks, Q!

  31. Yengwa says:

    Oh shit, I haven’t played this in a while. We used to play quite a bit. It was always tons of fun and free, so everyone could play.

  32. Mark says:

    @Alex: It really doesn’t need them.

    @Smee: I’d suggest you’re wrong on theTron 2.0 part at the very least. That was a bloody awful version of light cycles, IMO. Gl Tron I’ve forgotten – I’m assuming because I think Armagetron is so much better (I’ve got a piss-poor memory, and it throws away stuff I think I no longer need to care about).

    Regardless, we always used to play Armagetron with a strict “no brakes” policy – made it more fun.

    And real men’s rules is no brakes and 1st person view. :)

  33. Ginger Yellow says:

    Sounds awesome. At school, four player Tron-clone gathered around a single Acorn Archimedes keyboard was our game of choice. It didn’t have this nifty acceleration mechanic, though, and obviously it was in 2D.

  34. Tichinde says:

    Sooo many games of this at Urban Chaos and so many people screaming at me with pure hate as I escaped their traps via double sparking.
    I wasn’t great at the game as a whole but by god I could fit my bike between them narrow gaps :D

  35. Nallen says:

    Stuck this on my PC last night. And so began a 3 way LAN battle that lasted an hour. When typical games are 30-60 seconds long, that’s a lot of playing. Perfect.

  36. Itaint says:

    It isn’t freeware, it’s Free software. There’s a huge difference.

    /pedantry_mode

  37. Andreas says:

    Armagetron and GLtron (I’m the author) are different projects. GLtron is ‘in hibernation’ for couple of years now, (I’ve worked on it sporadically, adding features, but never got to a point where a release was practical)

    The main differences are:

    – GLtron’s multiplayer mode is only split screen, no networking (although getting 4 people to share a keyboard can be hilarious!)
    – GLtron’s gameplay has more of an ‘arcade’ feel then Armagetron. The default settings are faster paced, and there’s no ‘speed hit’ for making turns.
    – I spent too much time on gimmics like correct doppler acoustic effects.

  38. MadKat says:

    @Andreas:
    I’m glad to see you posting. Armagetron is a good, solid game. But back in the day when we all sat around playing Lightbike games in high school, the one that stood out was GLTron. It was fast. It was crazy. And it was even more crazy with 2 or more of us crammed around one keyboard trying to control our bikes and get the upper hand.

    Thank you for some hilariously good fun.

  39. Patrick says:

    Well, armagetron crashed twice on my computer and seems to have simultaneously totally fucked it over! :(

    http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?p=5894064#post5894064

  40. jasper says:

    how do i actually play this game, I really want to but cant find out where I paly it

  41. Gryffin says:

    I freaking love this game. Playing at a fairly fast speed with a medium arena is heaven. And turn off that rubber junk, whatever it is, that gives you a free second or so to turn after hitting a wall. Explosion on impact is mandatory. The perfect lan party game.

  42. ACardboardRobot says:

    Love this game. Always playing it when I’m booted into Ubuntu.

    RPS multiplayer on this would own

  43. 2020 says:

    zing

  44. pruword says:

    Armagetron > Life