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Williams Electronics’ Defender Dream-Team
- Eugene Jarvis: Head designer and lead programmer
- Sam Dicker: 2nd programmer on Defender
- Larry DeMar: Software contributor
- Paul Dussault – Software contributor
- Steve Ritchie: Design contributor
- Constantino “Connie” Mitchell: Cabinet Graphic Art Design
- Ray Gay: Printed Circuit Board Design Engineer
- Tom Hart: Lead Electronic Hardware Design Engineer
- Charles Bleich: Electronic Hardware Design Engineer
- Walter Morrera: Electronic Hardware Design Engineer
- Tony Knezevich, Electronic Hardware Design Engineer
- Rich Grande: Electronic Technician
- Rosie Williams: Electronic Technician
- A legion of dedicated assembly workers and office staff
- Ken Fedesna: Administrative Project Leader (Lead Producer)
- Velma Figuroa- Administrative Assistant
- Michael Stroll: President of Williams Electronics
- The Coin Door on the Front of the Machine, which helped collect a billion dollars in revenue (honorable mention added by the UK’s Paul Spriggs…)
Defender was Williams Electronics first offering in the burgeoning video coin-op market after the stellar industry releases of Space Invaders in 1978 and Asteroids in 1979. Furious effort by the country’s top new talent, the game was debuted at the 1980 AMOA show and went on to beat out Pac-Man at the Industry awards of 1981. The title continues to garner adulation amongst elite players and is revered as one of the top most difficult games EVER created
The story of Defender-
- Youtube video
- Professional interview with Larry and Eugene. Highly recommended viewing.
- Jarvis wanted to try making a video game. When thinking of design ideas with famed pinball designer Steve Ritchie, they developed the concept for Defender
- Chicago Tribune interview in Eugene’s basement- http://www.ktuu.com/videogallery/73557032/Entertainment/A-visit-with-a-video-game-developer
- He is known as one of the co-designers of the classic arcade game Defender
- At the time Defender was released, Stan Jarocki, director of marketing at Williams’ arch-rival Midway, was quoted as saying, “For a first effort, and particularly for a game designed in house, Defender is amazing.” How amazing? Williams purchased Midway a few years later.
- By 1980, a couple hundred thousand Space Invader machines made it quite clear that the future of coin-operated amusements was in video games.
- Williams had to make their move and the project fell into Jarvis’ lap. “I didn’t know jack about video games,” says Jarvis. It was time to learn fast. The video hysteria was coming and everyone in the industry could smell it.
- Defender fever took hold. Jarvis was profiled in a June 1982 issue of Playboy in a piece called “What Sort of Man Invents Defender?” Joystick Magazine reported with a straight face that, “It’s even been rumored that the Air Force trains its recruits on Defender machines.”
- With only two weeks till the AMOA deadline, the answer to the hole in Defender’s game play strikes Jarvis while drifting off to sleep one night. The player will use his ship to defend his fellow humanoids from kidnapping by the aliens, and if he fails the two will merge into a mutant alien with increased powers. Play is further refined so that if players manage to shoot the kidnapping alien before it reaches the top of the screen with the human, he must then catch his charges in mid-air before they crash into the mountains below.
- It is as far from the ‘cutesy’ phenomena forming in the arcades as you can get, a loud and brash macho shootfest. Even in an arcade ringing with videogame bloops and bleeps, you can hear when someone drops a quarter into the eardrum rattling Defender game.
- It goes on to beat Pac-Man for the AMOA’s Videogame of the Year award in 1981
- Audio cues include startup, ship materializing, lander pickup, and free man.
As the project progressed, Eugene took his team to an off-site facility located on Belden Avenue, where they worked feverishly to complete the game in time for its scheduled AMOA show debut. “That last week was ridiculous,” recalls Larry. “With days to go before the show, there was just the roughest part of the game running. The scariest thing was that our development tools were so crude and inefficient that to go round the loop of making a change, saving it in the editor, running it through the assembler, loading it into the game and testing it took so long that for many days, Eugene left the game loaded in the emulator and was patching it into memory. If there’d been a power cut, Defender would have never made it to the show. We were on the edge!”
Larry played his part, working through the night to put in an attract mode and then burning the EPROMS at 6am on the morning of the show – twice, as after the first attempt, the chips didn’t work, causing veins to bulge and expletives to fill the air like a swarm of angry mutants. Against all the odds, Defender made it to the ball…..
- Initially, the game slowly gained popularity. Defender did not attract much attention at the 1980 AMOA show. In retrospect, Jarvis believed many passersby were intimidated by its complexity. The game, however, was well received in arcades, and crowds gathered around the cabinet during its first nights of play testing.
- In Gamasutra’s August 2007 article, John Harris called Defender the “hardest significant game there is,” remarking that such a demanding game seems “unthinkable” today. Although there are plenty of challenges in today’s videogames, few require the intense coordination and Zen-like concentration necessary to achieve a high score in Defender.
- Defender was commercially successful, selling over 55,000 units to become the company’s best selling arcade game. Praise among critics focused on the game’s audio-visuals and gameplay
Wired.com- This Game Industry Pioneer Never Gave Up on the Video Arcade, Dec 2013
- Jarvis was perfectly happy working on pinball games, until the moment he laid eyes on Space Invaders. The groundbreaking 1978 alien-shooting arcade game amazed him, like it did countless others around the world. “It laid the groundwork for a whole generation of videogames,” he said. “The animated characters, the story, this amazing crescendo of action and climax.” He wanted to make a videogame for Williams.
- He started with the name, and went from there. “When I was a kid, there was this show on TV called The Defenders, which was about lawyers,” he said. “I felt like defending something is a much stronger emotional thing than going and slaughtering people for no reason… You’ll do crazy things for someone else that you would never do for yourself.” Instead of just blasting down enemy ships, in Defender you had to rescue humanoid astronauts that would appear on the screen. Having to attack and defend created, in Jarvis’ telling, a game that was sort of like chess, a “rich tactical and strategic experience — what are the most important things happening right now?”
- The book Supercade, a history of the golden age of arcades, called Defender “one of the most technologically advanced games of the era.” Few games, in 1980, used scrolling screens — the action was locked to a playfield the size of the monitor’s display. Inspired by computer terminals that let programmers scroll up and down to see multiple pages of text, Jarvis built a “universe” that took up three and a half screens’ worth of space. He even put a dynamic mini-map at the top of the screen that gave the player a zoomed-out view of what was happening everywhere.
- Defender also had sophisticated “particle effects” that could fill the screen with colorful, intricate explosions. A field of stars behind the player scrolled at half the speed of the ship, creating a sense of depth. Just two years after the black-and-white starkness of Space Invaders came a rich world that burst with color, digitized sounds and a feeling of blasting through space. Williams sold an enormous number of Defender machines, over 60,000 of them, which brought in more than $1.5 billion one quarter at a time, according to Supercade.
The Golden Defender – Number 50,000
Accent On Achievement mugs at home of Williams President
Undated photo from Eugene’s basement
2005 Presentation of Golden Defender for 65th Birthday of Williams President, Mike Stroll
per Larry DeMar (Dec 2012)- The 50,000th Defender made was constructed in a gold cabinet. It was on display in the California Ave. Headquarters for years after it was built. It was then seen in the new manufacturing facility in Waukegan in the mid to late 90′s when it first opened. In 1999 I was trying to search through warehouses for a different old game and stumbled on the Gold Defender. I had them send it to Eugene’s house. Then, in 2005, at Mike Stroll’s 65th birthday party, Eugene suggested that we give Mike the Gold Defender and arranged to have the game moved to the party. Mike was president of Williams during the videogame glory days and the gold game was his creation to begin with so it went full circle in 25 years.
per Eugene Jarvis (May 2014)- The game for many years thereafter entertained countless Williams employees in the company cafeteria at 3401 California St., Chicago, and at the Gurnee, IL plant. The game eventually fell on hard times due to decades of wear and tear, and in the early 2000,s was slated for relocation to a factory dumpster. The Gold Defender was rescued from its’ sorry state by Larry DeMar, Don Hassler and Ken Fedesna, and restored by Rick Schieve and myself. We presented it to Mike Stroll, President of Williams during the golden age on the occasion of his 65th birthday, and is proudly displayed in his living room to this day.
The sound development leading toward Defender
- ….So the trick was to create sounds that could be mathematically expressed into a very small amount of data, or a very compact algorithm. And this gets to the basis of what sound really is. It is just a string of numbers converted to audio energy. So the challenge to the sound programmer is to generate very interesting strings of numbers to the human ear.
- By storing a waveform (sine, square, triangle,etc.) in 4-64 bytes, and then a frequency table of 10-20 bytes, a sound could be characterized by a few bytes.
- To get further mileage, echo, distortion, LFO,and white noise systems were also employed at a cost of only a few extra bytes. Being the creator of Gwave, I was able to make some really cool sounds, but as skilled as I was, I was stunned to find out that the most brilliant sounds were often created by typing in random numbers for the parameters.
- Often incredible sounds were generated by inputting mathematically undefined values, such as echoing a sound “0” times. The crudeness and lack of bounds checking of the program allowed for mathematical wraparound and error accumulation that sounded ethereal.
More Sound info
- Sam Dicker Nov 2013- I was responsible for the sound board programming. For many of the sounds I used Eugene’s brilliant Gwave parameter driven wave table synthesizer engine and re-used some pinball sounds he wrote. I also add a bunch of tiny sound programs including a filtered noise program for engine thrust, explosions, and characters
materializing (which is the explosion playing backward). I wrote the sound for a falling man, that is supposed to sound like it echoes, but because the soundboard only plays one sound at a time you can only hear it if it happens at the end of a wave. I also wrote the pipe organ for high score.
- Larry DeMar Nov 2013- From watching Sam develop this, his sound work was a significant step in audio development for games. He was using the same crude system described in Eugene’s [Firepower] article but rather than just running algorithms to make “cool sounds” he was charged with making specific action sounds (falling human, thrust, explosion, appearance). This of course later becomes the norm in game development, but with the limited capability of that sound system, Sam was quite the innovator and miracle man. Speaking of miracles, Sam created the program that draws the planet surface, a virtually impossible challenge to update that much data 60 times per second (with such low performance hardware) not to mention fitting it in the cramped rom space available to the game. Both of these efforts were true works of brilliance.
Defender Code for AMOA
- In this 2013 ACAM video you will see Eric Prybl mention a “Robotron story” at 33minutes in: http://youtu.be/pBUeqwAd0u4
- This was actually a reference about Defender
Defender makes it to a US postage stamp!
- In 2000, a Video Games stamp was part of the 1980s stamp pane in the Celebrate the Century series.
Defender was pop-culture, too.
Overseas Defender Flyers- http://flyers.arcade-museum.com/
Alternate Control Panel layouts which proved ineffective when placed in public
UK Streets cocktail version
Taito marquee from Mitsuyoshi, real marquee is in Tokyo.
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