Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Geek Observer

For some reason, in the shower this morning (@ 6:30), here was my stray thought:

The engine for the plot of the film Tron was a basic case of corporate thievery. In the film, Kevin Flynn (played by a pretty damn svelte Jeff Bridges) has been forcibly retired from pre-Microsoft hardware/software/wetware giant Encom by CEO Ed Dillinger (played by eternal villain David Warner). The reason? While an Encom employee a few years before, Flynn had nightowled a few video games to keep himself entertained. One morning, the files are missing - only to turn up as authored by then-fellow programmer Dillinger. Encom releases the games, which are a tremendous hit.

No wonder - the graphics are years ahead of what could be found in any arcade in 1982.

The details are a little vague, but with Dillinger providing Encom with a huge cash cow, he's promoted. Flynn now owns an arcade, and spends his nights hacking into the Encom system, trying to find evidence that the games were originally authored by him.

Standing guard against these hacks is a program that Dillinger actually did write: the system's Master Control Program. Flynn is an expert programmer, but he can't really get access to restricted memory because the MCP is all over him. See, the MCP is smart, ambitious and not more than a little devious. In fact, the MCP filched the game files in the first place. Perhaps its skill at strategy and need to control is a lingering aspect of its beginnings as a chess program.* Perhaps not.

In either case, Ed Dillinger is made CEO because of the success of the games. And then Flynn finds his proof, and Dillinger is fired and replaced with Flynn as Encom CEO. Yay! The end.

And there's the stupid geek thought that hit me this morning: uh, wouldn't having created the world's first artificial intelligence actually be a much, much greater accomplishment than writing a few damn videogames? In fact, never mind the exponential advancement of several sciences that would have been - even taking away the AI aspect, the MCP is an incredibly powerful OS, one which can monitor every aspect of the system and is very, very, very immune to hacks. In fact, the only way that Flynn can actually hack into it is to physically enter the computer. Because, oh, by the way, Encom has also developed the world's first matter transporter. And apparently has storage capacity decades beyond anyone else, since it can store Flynn, who would take up an estimated 1,000 terabytes of memory - just for his brain alone.

And on top of the world's best and most secure multi-lingual OS, fully integrated on proprietary terminals, which also happens to be the world's first fully-autonomous AI, and also on top of having made real the ability to move physical matter from one place to the other in a beam of light, and on top of having super-RAM up the wazoo, Encom has also developed touch-screen technology of the kind that's just now starting to be made into a reality; Dillinger's desk is essentially, a fully-realized version of Microsoft Surface. In 1982.

And their big cash cow is a bunch of fucking Space Invaders ripoffs?

No wonder Dillinger got booted. He was obviously a CEO who had his business model wedged firmly up his ass.


*Never minding how a chess program eventually becomes an operating system. That's like finding out that Vista was developed from Minesweeper, or something.


Anonymous said...

You and all of that fit into your shower this morning?!

Anonymous said...

I always thought Tron was a claustorphobic mess... The only great thing about it was the soundtrack... I do appreciate your thoughts though, I frequently ponder such completely meaningless topics myself...

Dave Kopperman said...

Anon: Mostly the bit about the videogames vs. A.I., but, yes.

Not the plot summary, of course. I wrote that for my lovely readers. To kind of bring you in to the shower with me, as it were.

Bran: Tron is best accepted at the level of kid's adventure story, but by throwing so much actual compu-speak in it (similar to War Games), it became hugely appealing to programmers.

Curiously, the claustrophobia is one thing I like about it - the computer world as eternal neon-lit darkness is a stroke of genius. We'll have to see if they retain that for the upcoming sequel.

The soundtrack by Wendy Carlos is awesome indeed. I've always wondered if that's what created in me a love for progressive rock, or if I'm just innately drawn to complex noodling synth music.


Dave Kopperman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

What comment did you delete?

As I was reading your post I was thinking to myself the same thing... Wouldn't real AI be a greater accomplishment than a video game? Then I remember how much I dislike Tron as the movie..

Although I did like the arcade game...

Dave Kopperman said...

I tried to love the arcade game, but it never really happened for me. The environmental version of 'Discs of Tron' was pretty cool, though.

The ne plus ultra of arcade film tie-ins was the original Star Wars arcade sit down. Holy crap, that was a good game.

I accidentally double-posted, before.


Unknown said...

Discs of Tron, man. Oh yeah. That was my game. the only one that truly made me feel like some kind of Pinball Wizard...

Dave Kopperman said...

I see that you can now download it for XBox live - although I'm sure it's turned up in ripped ROMs since the late 90's.

But it wouldn't be the same without that environmental cabinet.


Dave Kopperman said...

Much in the same way that CDs (and then MP3s) killed the album cover, home gaming has killed the joy of the arcade cabinet.


Christine said...

Greg and his best friend are building a cabinet arcade game that will containing emulations of games from just about all the systems they can think of (including Atari and Neo Geo) - they've already got most of the game files, they just need to get everything else required to play and house them. You can come play it sometime in our future basement.

Dave Kopperman said...

Is he going to get that gamer chair, with the built in speakers and such?