Quick Points of Interest

  • Defender Gauntlet challenge at the WPU- HERE

To fully understand the significance of Defender on the pop culture landscape of America, one must step back to 1977 and immerse themselves in a spirit of exploration.

Up until 1977, America’s youth were still reading sci-fi comic books and watching reruns of the TV series Star Trek and Twilight Zone.  Our imaginations were primed and ready. Like Tom and Huck heading into the cave on the heels of Injun Joe, we knew an adventure was just on the horizon and there was no turning back.  The movie industry knew this and delivered two huge gifts that year, Close Encounters and Star Wars.  For a generation that had done little more than try out an LED calculator, it felt like the cinematic graphics of outer space were right at our fingertips!  We wanted to get ahold of space and graphical technology, and it bordered on obsession.

The video game industry delivered Space Invaders in 1978, then Asteroids in 1979.  Yes! A legion of inquisitive science minded people were getting to interact in space, just like we imagined when sitting in the theater for the opening moments of Star Wars. (The older folks in the crowd know what I mean, imagine your first memory of the sound of a laser blaster, or R2-D2 chattering…it’s still clear in your conscious mind, isn’t it.)

Fast forward to 1980, In walks the star of our show, Defender.  All of a sudden we had a fully tactile experience, commanding the most powerful fighting ship in the universe.  There was nothing comparable to it in the cultural landscape of America.  The sounds!  The images!  The intensity! And then throw in a plethora of wickedly unpredictable aliens, the single-handed power to save the planet, and you’ve got yourself a world of fun (to contrast- think of the predictable boredom of Space invaders after about 5 or 10 games in a row)

The kids in the crowd might be saying, big deal, I have a game better than Defender on my iPod touch right now.  Well….Home computing didn’t yet exist at the end of the 70s.  Radio Shack had delivered the TRS-80 in 1977 but most of us wouldn’t be able to afford one until the early 80s.  And the famed greenish glow of an Apple II computer was only something experienced in a lucky few school “computer” labs up through the mid-80s.

Thus begins our storybook adventure into the exploration of a classic video game-


  • Williams vs Artic International- LINK
  • Worlds Smallest functional Arcade game- LINK
  • Defender on the 80s TV Show CHIPS- Youtube
  • 1981 Australian licensed Defender cabinet- Leisure And Allied (the side art is not original)


Quote from Japanese Defender fan, PinGarage- “Defender IS Life”

Baiter model from Japanese Defender fan, Satoshi-

Defender invokes passion as can be seen in these excerpts:


  • DEFENDER Challenging. Intriguing. Captivating. Frustrating. The most exhilarating video game of all time. I should leave it at that but just can’t. I mean, this is the game that changed the course of my life. There’s no doubt that Defender changed the lives of myself and M.P.S. dramatically. We made great companions because of it, had unparalleled entertainment because of it, part time jobs at the arcade because of it and even girlfriends and wives because of it.
  • December 1980 saw the culmination of Williams’, one of the world’s major pinball producers, most concerted effort to obtain a footing in the up and coming video game boom market. In its pre-release hype it was hailed as “the most technologically advanced video game ever created” and was. With more than 50,000 Defender sales, Williams’ became America’s third largest game producer virtually over night! The game had 256 colour graphics, an imposing black cabinet and most of all fantastic gameplay and unparalleled manoeuvrability of its ship yielding many industry awards for that year.
  • The game was the plight of a spaceship rescuing humanoids from a planet surface deep in another solar system. If it wasn’t for the pods, mutants, landers, bombers, swarmers and dreaded baiters, then it would have been a walkover.
  • Technically, Defender offered the highest resolution colour images to date with a mammoth 80K of computer power backed up with an incredible array of software self-test, bookkeeping and hardware test modes. manuals, wiring diagrams and charts…the lot! Head engineer Ken Fedensa and ex-Atari man Eugene Jarvis had created such a masterpiece that demand for those unmistakable big black cabinets outstripped production. Williams’ first video since 1977 and heralded as the most complex yet, eventually sold 55,000 units worldwide. The 26K of coded data was twice that used by other game makers and testament to the skill of the programmers in the days when there wasn’t an endless amount of RAM and ROM at their disposal. The main processor was of about the same power as the one sitting in a tv remote nowadays and after all that, they still had room for a ladder of eight best scores of the day and eight of ‘all time’.
  • The screen scanner was amazing and the horizontal flight simulation and control of the ship perfect. The players just couldn’t get enough of it. Yet again, more queuing for your brief bout of defending your digital planet. With the ‘Hall of Fame’ screen guaranteeing immortality for weeks on end, one single game (maybe that next credit?) could catapult your three initials from obscurity to instant superstardom. Those who fought through the crowds and parted with more credits got their name up two or three times on the table ensuring nothing but worshipping from other arcade-goers! Forget ‘Today’s greats’ everybody longed to be an “All Time Great”.


  • …. fiendish difficulty level, simple but dynamic graphics, subplots to the game play and great sound fx’s. Who can forget the Particle Explosions created by Sam Dicker on the Defender team or indeed the sound when a credit is dropped into the money box of the Defender cabinet.
  • Innovative as well as beautifully crafted many milestones in gaming….
  • Defender gave the player an expansive universe with a sense of speed created by the scrolling of the screen. It was one of the first games to have activity which could be monitored happening off screen thus creating the feeling of a living happening world.
  • … the same theme running through them, ‘Survival’. According to Jarvis it is our strongest instinct, stronger than food, sex, or our lust for money. This taps into the raw energy and adrenaline you get when naturally excited.
  • …the sense of relentless danger. The odds are always stacked against you as wave after wave of aliens swamp you, but there is always a lifeline to be found somewhere.
  • Many of these traits that appeared in all of Jarvis’s games have been forgotten amongst the fantastical graphics and so called advanced game play of today’s games. But the simplicity and 2D graphics were the key to why Jarvis’s games will be remembered for decades to come unlike so many Playstation 2 offerings today.


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