Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Defender (Williams)

with 2 comments

As a classic Defender‘s reputation is one of those titles that surprisingly few people have played.  I know as a child I was discouraged by the looping screen – unlike Asteroids the screen would scroll with your ship, looping after you reach the edge of the map.  Not only that, it was a game where you tried to survive a “wave” of enemies and protect soldiers on the ground.  In the days of Gears of War’s “horde” mode and various other versions of the same concept, this is nothing new, but it was difficult to wrap my head around in the early 80s.  It was also really difficult, which is now a staple of the shmup genre but back then it was discouraging next to Space Invaders and Pac-Man.

Created by Williams Electronics, a video game subsidiary of the legendary pinball manufacturing company, Defender was an early shot at entering into the video game world.  While there were some successes after it, Defender was extremely popular and really one of the only significant arcade titles by the developer (granted it would become Midway and share much more success under the new name).  Development was led by Eugene Jarvis who spent about six months coming up with the concept.  It was intended to be a recreation of Space Invaders (his only previous video game was a Pong clone and copying games was common back then) with a new gameplay hook.  After deciding that re-creating the Taito classic was probably a bad idea, he integrated the looping concept that was so popular in Atari’s Asteroids.  In addition Jarvis decided to use a conventional pixel screen instead of the popular vector graphics that were used for Asteroids, most likely from a cost perspective (vector arcade monitors were more expensive).

Jarvis assembled a team consisting of Larry DeMar, Sam Dicker and Paul Dussault – with impressive pinball table resumes that included my personal favorites Twilight Zone and Funhouse.  Probably the most impressive concept was to have the screen scroll with the ship instead of having the ship pop in and out of the screen like in Asteroids.  Couple that with the twinkling color effects and streams of laser and you had the building block of almost every horizontal shmup moving forward.  Even though many scoring  glitches existed, a common case with early shmups in the arcade, this game is popular for high score runs.  From what I’ve read, there was a guy in Illinois that played the game for 16 hours, using a mass collection of lives to allow for breaks.  This game is most dynamic among its peers because the enemy spawns and movement of the ship are much more complicated than other shmups of the time.  While I was discouraged in the past, I must admit that I find Defender quite addicting now, especially on portable consoles.

Tomorrow we continue with a near clone of Space Invaders for our shmup of the day: none other than Galaga.

Written by Fred Rojas

March 21, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Shmuppreciation 2012

Tagged with , ,

2 Responses

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  1. It’s Eugene Jarvis not Eugene Darvis

    Scott Healey

    April 18, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    • Thank you, corrected. I knew that, no explanation why it was misspelled. Either way, it has been corrected.


      April 18, 2013 at 3:17 pm

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