Aug 05 2009
For many people the defining moment in shoot-em-ups was the arrival of Defender.
Finally! A game that no-one over the age of fourteen had a chance of mastering! Fast, furious and even strategic, Defender started the cult that built the mighty Williams reputation.
The Defender cabinet was a daunting proposition. Its peers were simple one and two button affairs and Defender’s five button setup scared both customers and arcade owners away. Its potential though, lay in its depth and replayability and it went on to gross more than a billion dollars!
The joystick was two-way – Up and Down and the five buttons were Fire, Thrust, Hyperspace, Smartbomb and Reverse. Combined with inertia, an experienced player could be devastatingly accurate and they would need to be. Enemies were formidable, starting with the Landers who would snatch the humanoids you have been assigned to defend. Relatively slow, if the Landers were successful they would become turbo-charged, psychopathic mutants. Pods explode into tiny, aggressive Swarmers – homing and hard to hit and if you take too long the Baiter hunts you down.
Defender was one of the first games to have action taking place off-screen, that meant the player also had to watch the radar for trouble as well as blasting everything currently in sight.
Created by Eugene Jarvis, who would also co-create Robotron: 2084 and Defender’s sequel – Stargate. There have been numerous clones of this game, of particular note are Archer Maclean’s Dropzone, the Commodore Amiga’s Datastorm and the brilliant Vectrex tribute, Protector. Atari’s excellent VCS conversion shifted five million cartridges.