About the TRON joystick
The joystick on a TRON machine was unique in a few ways. It was a trigger stick, just like Gorf, Satan's Hollow and other Midway games, but it was translucent royal blue (Satan's Hollow was translucent red). The TRON machine actually had four games in it. Some of the games required a 4-way stick and some could take advantage of 8-way movement. The joystick, therefore, was technically an 8-way stick, but it was restricted in such a way that the corners were difficult to hit accidentally.
A TRON joystick on your cabinet
The easiest way to have a TRON stick on your cabinet is to find an actual TRON stick. The original TRON machine came out in the early 80s so there were lots of cabinets that had their control panels, with their weird TRON only joysticks, replaced with other controls and other games placed in them. TRON joysticks, and entire TRON CPs, come up fairly regularly on eBay, and are often quite expensive.
The TRON joystick is a heavy duty piece of machinery. The base of the stick (under the control panel) is 3.38" square and 4.25" tall, the mounting plate is 4"x5", and the stick above the panel is about 7" tall. Mechanically, with the exception of its unique color and restrictors, the TRON joystick is a leaf switch version of the Happ Controls "Heavy Duty 8-way Trigger Joystick" with the same dimensions. It will take up considerably more real-estate on and under your control panel than a typical ball or bat-top joystick.
Reproduction translucent blue (and other color) handle pieces are sometimes produced, and and some NOS handles come up occasionally. These can be easilly mated to a Happ's HD 8-way Trigger Joystick. Specific handle parts can be ordered by taking the individual part numbers off of Happ's exploded view. Simply enter the part number for the part you need on the Happ's order page and you can get just the trigger, or just the screws, or just the faceplate, etc.
Using a stock Happ HD 8-Way Trigger stick will leave some of the games in TRON difficult to play properly. The restrictors in the real TRON stick make it difficult to go in a diagonal direction accidentally. The Happs stick is a true 8-way and will easily go to the corners and ruin your round of Light Cycles (one of the TRON levels).
People have had some success reproducing TRON style restrictors (see DOT/Xenophobe to Tron Joystick conversion), but NOS and original restrictors are rare. It is easier to find an entire old TRON stick than just the restrictors.
Several arcade games came with heavy duty trigger sticks, which were very similar to TRON joysticks:
- Satan's Hollow (translucent red, 2-way, vertical shaft)
- Gorf (black, 8-way, optical switches, vertical shaft, bayonet lights behind faceplate)
- Xenophobe (black with two thumb triggers on face plate, true 8-way, forward leaning shaft)
- Discs of TRON (translucent blue with one thumb trigger on face plate, true 8-way, forward leaning shaft)
B.Y.O. TRON joystick
Several people have successfully hacked PC trigger sticks or even actual TRON handles to other more common arcade joysticks. The trend to make computer (particularly Mac) peripherals out of translucent blue plastic in the late 90s makes it fairly simple to find good TRONesque joysticks to hack.
Generally the trigger stick handle is removed from the PC joystick and attached to a hollow metal rod the same size as the original arcade joystick's shaft. The wires from the trigger(s) go through the tube and work inside the CP just as any switch wires would.
Some challenges for building your own TRON stick:
- the limited 8-way of a real TRON stick is hard to emulate with regular arcade joysticks
- most regular joysticks' handles spin with fairly little effort, while spinning is not desirable in a trigger stick
- some cheaper joystick bases may not be hardy enough to survive enthusiastic play with the larger and heavier trigger stick handle
- the hollow shaft is also a potential weak point