Space Paranoids


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Mikemike-spaceparanoids-screen1.gifWho could forget the spell that Encom, that Goliath of an institution from the dawn of the digital age, cast in 1982 with its seminal classic
Space Paranoids? A vector-based 3D wonder, Space Paranoids had youngsters teeming the video arcades and computer labs, trying to navigate their virtual tanks through digital labyrinths and dodge the titular paranoia-inducing space ships. With their tractor beams and deadly pincers, those ships became an icon of the '80s, up there with Michael J. Fox, Madonna, and those inscrutable neon-colored hair scrunchies. Now, to celebrate the new 30-year retrospective of the legendary company that will grace movie theaters this December, Encom is releasing Space Paranoids on the web, free for all to play!

Most of the above is a lie. Encom doesn't exist, and Space Paranoids is a fiction. At least it was a fiction: Now it's an advergame! Via the Unity 3D web plugin, as a very clever bit of marketing for the upcoming film Tron Legacy, Disney has released Space Paranoids as though it were a re-release of a classic title, even though it is not a re-release and was never released until it was released just now. Got all that?

You play from the front seat of a virtual tank in a virtual maze, trying to outrun and outgun virtual hostiles. Navigate with either [WASD] or the [arrow] keys, and aim and fire your tank turret with the mouse. An important control feature is the ability to "center" your tank, which is done with the [space] bar. Since you can move in one direction and fire in another, you can sometimes lose the sense of what direction your tank is pointing, so centering is what you do to realign the turret with the tank treads. You have very limited ammo, but you can slowly recharge it at various yellow ammo dumps on the map. This means that, contrary to the usual hail-of-bullets approach of many shooters, you have to make a series of precise potshots before you go scurrying for more ammo with the lumbering enemy hosts in lugubrious pursuit.

Analysis: Even though it inherited the title from the original Tron, Space Paranoids is very aptly named. Because your advantage lies in speed, not firepower, the game encourages a lot of running away and waiting for enemies to come to you. There is never any doubt that you are the hunted, and it can be very tense waiting on an ammo spot to recharge and hearing the ominous mechanical hum of approaching tanks and spacecraft as they slowly stalk towards you.

Space Paranoids is one of the best looking Unity-3D games I have seen. Everything looks and runs very smoothly on my machine, with only a minimum of "jaggediness" in the way some of the maze walls were rendered. The minimalist design serves the game well, in that it both keeps the Unity engine from being overtaxed and enhances the game's retro aesthetic. You will of course need the Unity plugin to run the game, but that is usually easily rectified by downloading and installing it into your browser if you do not have it yet.

The controls take some getting used to. Not everyone likes mouse-and-keyboard controls, especially those with trackpads, but they work pretty smoothly in this case. Adjusting to the concept of "centering" is important to navigating effectively. Learn to center frequently, especially for when you pilot your tank into a corner and want to turn around. Otherwise you have to reverse with no clear way of knowing where you are going. Also, learn to strafe, moving in one direction and shooting to the side, drive-by style. Strafing is handy for quickly striking nearby targets while in motion, particularly obnoxious turrets.

Space Paranoids is not just a good advergame or a nice taste of nostalgia; It's also a fine game in its own right, and a great example of what the Unity engine can do when done well. So take the time to relive the glory days of the computer revolution. Encom thanks you.

Play Space Paranoids

19 Comments

Mystify Author Profile Page May 13, 2010 1:55 AM

I found the hit detection to be downright shoddy. Could fire at a tank right in front of me and the shots passed right through it

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StephenM3 Author Profile Page May 13, 2010 2:28 AM

This is really fun!

Shoddy advergame, though. I wouldn't know that it's tied to the Tron movie if you hadn't told me.

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Maybe it's the late hour, but the third level just spooked me! So many baddies showing up so soon!

Also, I found the level-ending fade-out a little weird; I guess that's a trope more associated with death? I wouldn't really call it shoddy... but how else could I secure this discussion the "shoddy" trifecta? :D

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It does not work on my mac. Press 1 or 2 is inactive.
Congratulations, it's the shortest game I have ever played.

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It's not so much an advergame as a viral or ARG advergame - If you know about Space Paranoids' relation to the Tron storyline, you know this is an advertisement.

I don't run Unity (and am wary about downloading excess plugins and players), so I haven't actually played this.

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MurphMan Author Profile Page May 13, 2010 10:37 AM

Please excuse me, I need to squeal like the Tron fanboy that I am.

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Infant Tyrone May 13, 2010 11:31 AM

Huh, I could play it last night, but today I'm having the same issue as Nic. Mac issue? I've got Unity...

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Hm. It worked on my Mac when I first tried it, shortly after the post went up (at like one in the morning), but now I'm having the same issue as the other Mac users; press 1 or 2 isn't working.

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mr1black Author Profile Page May 13, 2010 5:36 PM

Wow, Mike, the first paragraph realy fooled me! I've gotten so used to retro popularity, that I didn't flinch a muscle reading the intro text. Good writing!

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The collision detection is glitchy (and the bulky, screen-blocking crosshairs don't help). I can snipe enemies at long range pretty reliably, but when they're closing in on me and I actually need to hit them, I miss almost every time. It seems like my shots are passing right through them!

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I just realized that Encom is nearly an anagram of Namco.

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Malorion Author Profile Page May 14, 2010 5:59 AM

I'll be over in the corner with MurphMan squealing.

And StephenM3, I'm guessing you've never seen the original Tron movie or you'd get it straight away :)

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peteyfrogboy Author Profile Page May 14, 2010 8:35 AM

Makes me wish I had a mouse handy. Targeting with a Wacom tablet is nigh impossible.

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As much as I want to love this, it's just a little too off. I get sniped by the hydrants before I turn the corner far too often, and it gets too choppy to shoot straight at other times.

I also wish it felt a little more retro. I do like the high score screen, however.

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choirboy Author Profile Page May 14, 2010 3:31 PM

Sweet game! Nice use of first-person!

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GamemasterAnthony May 15, 2010 9:33 AM

Interesting thing about this game is that fans actually got to play an actual arcade version of it. Many fans were invited to a replica of Flynn's arcade in celebration of the upcoming Tron Legacy movie. Inside were all manner of arcade classics...as well as the Tron arcade game and this game in arcade game form.

After a while, the lights flickered as if a power outage or something else was happening and a hidden door opened behind the Tron game. Inside the door was a secret room with concept art for the movie as well as a full size replica of the new Lightcycle.

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This was lots of fun! The controls took a bit of getting used to. Mostly I just mouselooked to aim, then centered the treads and hit the gas. It got pretty easy to manoeuvre at speed after a little while.

The little hydrant turrets were reaaaally irritating, but I eventually worked out a way to deal with them...

Simple hint:

Under no circumstances move directly toward or away from them. This will make you a sitting duck very quickly. Do not stop in their sight unless it's to fire on them.

Detailed hint:

When you see one, (or if you see a spot on your radar that isn't moving), back up before he sees you. Aim your tank so it's at right angles to the firing line and rotate your turret so you'll be aiming at the enemy turret when you go into their sight. Move forward, aim and fire, then retreat. Don't stay out in the open and don't wait around to see if your shot landed. As long as nothing's chasing you this almost always works.

Also, if a tank or flier is killing you,

you may be able to survive if you can shoot it dead before it takes you out.

Love that high score list.

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ZOMG! GUEST! May 16, 2010 10:25 PM

I found a strange room, with a barcode inside, and the enemy could not see me. It was hidden behind a wall in sector 3.

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Shade Devlin July 25, 2010 12:19 PM

@Nic and Infant Tyrone: Try clicking on the game window before pressing 1 or 2. Safari is really picky about what window/section of window you input keystrokes.

@ ZOMG! GUEST! It's a huge chunk of the viral marketing for TRON Legacy. That barcode is explained (slightly) at flynnlives.com.

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