Since we’re all pretty much living Tron these days, chasing computer-generated squirrels and pigeons and shit all over the place, it seemed like it might be a good time to revisit that most iconic of life-in-a-computer pastimes: the Light Cycle battle. Could something like this exist in the real world, somehow? I think I have an idea how it could.
In the wildly unlikely case you somehow don’t remember what Tron Light Cycles are, here’s the definitive clip of them in action, from the original 1982 Tron movie:
See? It’s basically a badder-assed version of that Snake game you played on that old Nokia phone you had years ago. And that basic game premise you can trace back all the way to the 1976 arcade game Blockade. A version of this game was even part of the original set of cartridges released for the Atari 2600 back in 1977, but while the genre has been around a while, the Tron Light Cycle version has to be the most glamorous the game has ever been.
Now, as far as I know, nobody has ever managed to do a real-world version of this game because, well, how the hell would you do it? Making walls of light like that is pretty much impossible, especially ones that make you crash when you run into them. And that’s not even getting to the problem of making 90° turns in a motorcycle.
All of that is, of course, impossible. But, what if we just encrapify things just a bit, so they can work in our sloppy, shitty reality. Here’s what I’m thinking:
Let’s say a Light Cycle Battle would take place in an arena, of a decent size. This arena can be indoor or outdoor, and would be divided into a grid. I think at least 8x8, but more is possible. In the lower left corner of each square of the grid would be a spring-loaded pole. It would look something like that image above, though keep in mind this is not to scale, and that ideally there’d be bigger grid squares.
Okay, that’s the light cycle arena. The purpose of those poles will become clear soon.
For the light cycles themselves, I’m thinking we could use motorcycles. Ideally, electric motorcycles, since these battles may happen indoors, and we’d want to actually keep the speed somewhat low; I’m thinking 20-25 MPH tops, at least for arenas on the smaller side.
In fact, maybe small, sub-scale electric bikes would be ideal, especially for small arenas. It looks like Razor makes some kids’ electric dirt bikes that could do the job – they hit about 15 MPH and would be pretty nimble as well.
Since walls of light with physical presence aren’t really possible, or, if they are, affordable, I suggest taking the very low-tech approach and using a big roll of colored shrink-wrap plastic.
I know big rolls like this in all kinds of sizes and colors are available, and I think will work as stand-ins for those walls of light. The electric motorcycles would have a roll of the shrink-wrap mounted on a vertical spindle at the rear of the bike.
The spindle may have bearings to allow for easy unrolling, if needed. One end of the shrink-wrap would be affixed to a wall or some similar mounting system at the edge of the arena, near where the Light Cycle would start, and would unroll off the bike as it moved forward.
For turns, all those poles start to become important. As the bike drives, when it turns past one of the grid-poles, those poles will insure that the shrink-wrap ‘light’ wall makes a 90° (roughly) turn, and will keep the ‘light’ walls from getting tangled.
This setup should allow the cycle drivers to drive along the arena, leaving behind a trail of colored wall, just like the ‘actual’ fake light cycles. The wall should wrap around those corner poles, and I think the effect could be pretty close.
When one of the cycles runs into the wall, presumably they’ll wipe out, taking their ‘wall’ with them – just like in the movie. It may also take the wall they hit with them, too, which I don’t really want, but I’m not sure how to avoid that just yet.
I don’t think these matches would last very long, and there would have to be a balance between the size of the arena, the amount of shrink-wrap in the roll, and the speed of the cycles, but I’m confident a little bit of experimentation could get this sorted out.
I see some challenges with making the fairly tight turns, and possible issues with balance and unrolling the spools, but, again, I still feel like this could be possible.
Perhaps a trial run of sorts could be taken using Segways, rolls of shrink-wrap and Chris Burden’s Urban Light light-post installation in front of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I’ll make some calls and see. Why not?
As with all my terrible motorsport ideas, if anyone is actually interested in giving this a try, let me know, and I’ll see what I can do to help. We’ve all wanted to see Light Cycles in real life, right? And we’ve all wanted to try riding one in a Light Cycle battle, no? Of course we have. Maybe this will be the way we can pull it off!
Or maybe this will be the way I die of suffocation in a plastic sarcophagus while struggling to ride an electric motorcycle. Either way, it’ll be a hell of a show.