Defendering a World Record:  Texas Game Developer Makes Pilgrimage to Chicago-land Area with Son

INTRO

Billy Joe Cain is a Texas man who gained notoriety in his youth for winning a Texas Defender championship, garnering a real full-size arcade machine.  He went on to be a prolific game designer and family man.  Currently, he enjoys teaching youth about programming and game development.  On August 3rd, 2013, he will trek to Star Worlds arcade in DeKalb, IL with his son to hopefully place himself on the record books of Williams smash hit, Defender.  Star Worlds is famous for being the last authentic “neighborhood arcade” surviving from the” Golden Age of Video Games” era.  A perfect setting for Billy Joe to partake in a challenge on one of Chicago’s most noteworthy game titles, developed locally at Williams Electronics.

  • Billy’s ongoing Blog of Defender activity- CLICK

Star Worlds Arcade: A special, one day event bringing gamers together to celebrate great friends, great games, and great times.  Besides the fun, there will be a Defender world record attempt, and a 5-game world record “Crazy Classic’s Challenge” from Video Game Scoreboard. Come join us on August 3rd for a day of celebration and enjoyment.  Summer Sizzle. Find them on Facebook

Interview with Billy Joe (July 2013)

1- Early exposure to arcade games

  • My father was an alcoholic. No shame in it; it’s just a fact. He would take me to bars with him and in order to give me something to do, he’d load me up with dimes (!) and I’d play all of the old school BB games and Baseball games. You know, the ones with pinballs in them. I don’t even remember a time that games were not part of my entertainment regimen. This went on to Pong, Gunfight!, and all the rest. I grew up in the golden age of arcades and I could probably write a short story on all of the things I saw and experienced.

2- Early exposure to Defender

  • The first day that Defender showed up at the 7-11, I saw immediately that it had “Today’s Greatest” and “All Time Greatest” high scores. The machines prior to Defender had high scores that reset upon completion. The moment I saw that, I was determined to be on the top of that “All Time Greatest” high score list. And wow, it was brutal. Especially since at the time there were no other players that could show you how to play. You’d play, get roundly defeated, and then watch someone else get trounced. Then you’d have to create strategies on your own by piecing things together. It was like climbing a mountain!

3- Why drawn to arcade games and Defender specifically

  • Let’s put things into perspective. There was no internet. There were three television channels. There were no cell phones. And there were no microwaves. My home town was boring. Your choices were limited to say the least. Video games literally kept me off the streets. No doubt about it.
  • Defender was a huge draw because it was unbelievably difficult and you could play it however you wanted. No “maze.” No “patterns.” Just you versus the machine. You had to react and attack and defend however you could, and you could develop playstyles that were yours and yours alone. I played with people that had drastically different methods of play. I loved that so much!

4- Crowning glories in Defender competition, some human interest detail like what your mom thought about it

  • The competition itself was just crazy awesome. Brought a friend with me, my cousin came up from Austin, and family members were there. It was at a huge hotel ballroom in a Dallas Hotel and they even had some Dallas Cowboys there. They brought in EVERY arcade machine from EVERY 7-11 in a 50 mile radius and put them all on free play. It was the best thing I have ever seen. We played as many games as we could, while my mom went around and got Dallas Cowboy autographs.

5- What happened in the years away from games

  • Hah! Years away from games? When was that? I went from the Atari 2600 up to Commodore 64 and then into Apple ][ and on up. Just because arcades took a hit didn’t mean that video games went away. Plus I took those arcade machines with me everywhere. My friends suddenly became “busy” when I needed to move.

6-  What kind of education and professional things done that might be effected by arcade experiences

  • I have started playing Defender again in the last couple of years and I have noticed that my play style mirrors how I live my life. It’s weird. I take chances but keep my mind on the big picture. There are times where I’m fast and furious and other times where I take my time through a measured response. You have to size up your enemies, and know their patterns to expose their weakness. In order to get through the chaos, sometimes you have to deal with one “knowable” and “manageable” thing at a time until you can quiet the chaos. Being able to enter a very chaotic environment and start nailing down one thing at a time has been invaluable in my life and my career.
  • Weird. I think I might see the nucleus of a self-help book there.
  • Of course getting a job in the video game industry was just unbelieveable. All of my experience in the industry has been backed by decades of game playing. I try to bring my emotional experiences from those games to my players, whether it’s a new multi-stage game mechanic from Gorf, the surprise of a cut scene in Ms. Pac Man, or the feeling the excitement of getting the top score of Defender. It’s all in there.

7- Any family or life views you share in your world as a result of arcade experiences or defendering

  • I think I covered the Defendering above… 🙂
  • I welcome play with my kids. I love playing games with them. I am not afraid of games as a form of escape or learning. Games hone your critical thinking skills, and they help your eye hand reflexes. They can train you to drive a car or experience things that you could only dream of. They can make your dreams come true. I make the kids play games that are cooperative when I can find them. When they compete I make them be good sports. Many parents think games are a complete waste of time. Not me.

8-  What does your family think, do they share your passion for competition

  • My son’s into Defender. That’s exciting. I think he’s neurologically wired like me, so that makes sense. And he’s pretty dang good for the amount of time he’s invested in it. He can get a score on Stargate that’s good enough to be in the top 10 of the Twin Galaxies old scoreboard. Now he just has to do it in the right place.
  • If you’re talking about getting in hard core game competitions, nothing like that has come up yet. We don’t really play a lot of competitive games at the moment, so that may never be on our path.

9- How did you meet up with the FB WDPU page and eventually the historical epicentre, Star Worlds Arcade

  • Wow. I think the Twin Galaxies Texas Trading Card Event got me hooked up with the FB WDPU group, but I don’t recall offhand. I have been fortunate enough to have the universe put me in the right place at the right time, so I don’t really question it too much. I am truly blessed to have met amazing people that believe that the right people should know each other.
  • Regarding Star Worlds founder, Patrick O’Malley…You see, once we started talking, it was like we had known each other forever. I couldn’t even tell you how long we’ve known each other. We have so many shared experiences and things we like, it seems like a lot longer than it probably has been.

10- Any thoughts on the new era of global Williams communication about these gems of development

  • The availability of reaching the people that made the games is CRITICAL to the survival of the human race. We have to talk. We have to discuss our thoughts and our “aha” moments. The fact that the people that brought us these treasures are not going to be around forever are now able to share their wisdom so easily and freely is proof that we have a chance as a species. Now someone just needs to document it and get it off Facebook. Hello, archivists!!

11- Any musings on the influence of the VidKidz, DeMar/Jarvis, domination over the early culture of Coin-Op video games?

  • I don’t think I have enough knowledge on all of their titles, so maybe I have some wrong, but I will say that Gorgar Pinball (it was at my local hardware shop) / Defender / Stargate / Robotron / Joust / Smash TV / Narc / NBA Jam / Cruisin’ USA and all of the others were seminal to the arcade’s success. They were all different genres, each with a new trick or two. Some of the gameplay was borrowed here and there, but I don’t think many people noticed or cared.
  • They made games that were more difficult. It added a level of frustration to your play that once you mastered a machine gave you some serious respect points. You either put up or shut up at their challenges. Bring ’em on!

12- Anything thoughts you’d like to share with them

  • I think I’ve told them this, but if I didn’t… Defender saved my life. I have no idea what would have happened to me in that toxic town. You gave me a place to become a master and gain confidence in myself in ways that didn’t exist in my “regular” life. I had friends with the same interests and we all helped each other survive by playing Defender. And you also gave me a chance to have a lifetime of opportunities based upon that confidence.

13- What in the heck motivates a man to drive half way across the country to compete at Star Worlds arcade (Chicago area being the home of Williams)

  • Love.

15- What is your view of the legacy on the early 80s and Defender, considering our generation will be over the hill and in our 60’s within 2 decades.

  • Wow. That’s, like, deep. The golden age of arcades just cannot be described well enough. I was trying to describe is just the other day to my son. Everywhere you went had a machine of some sort. There were local groups that played in arcades. I would travel around my area and play on all the games. My initials were everywhere. I had to leave my mark. It was like I was “tagging” territory. The games were all significantly different for a long time. No two games felt “alike.” That was the crest for me. The noise, smells, and feels of all the different game controls were tangible. The sound of tokens from a coin changer was music to my ears. Being out of quarters was devastating. I still have my token collection. I’m bringing it up there with me. No one will really care, but it’s a treasure chest for me. You’ll see.
  • Defender held its own place in the arcade. You would see people that would get killed off immediately and then some players that could go for a while, but wow, when you could play all day for a quarter… you were a master. And people knew it.
  • The other day, I went to a classic game expo and they had a Defender there. I played it and got 999975 and set the all time high score. No one noticed. Except my son, who was beaming. He knew how hard that was.
  • I think this next generation has a chance.

Notable Commentary from the Community

Eugene Jarvis, Defender Developer, July 2013

  • Defender created a horde of video game junkies which have gone on to “gamify”  everything with galaxies of  Ipads, Iphones, Ipods,  Xboxes, and  Apps consuming  all human attention, morphing humanity into mindless mutant progs, and turning  life into a blank stare into screen space.  Bravo!

Ken Fedesna, Director of the Video Development Engineering at Williams, July 2013

  • When we were asked to develop Williams Electronic’s first video game, we had no idea that we would create a game that would have the phenomenal success that Defender had. Eugene Jarvis deserves all the praise he gets for being the “creator” of this game, but there was an entire team of people who supported him and without such, this game would not have been as successful as it was. In no particular order from the engineering side, Larry Demar, Sam Dicker, Steve Ritchie, Chuck Bleich, Ray Gay, Mike Stroll, Walter Morrera, Tom Hart, Paull Dussault, and many others contributed significantly. In addition to the above, the Sales, Marketing, Technical Support, and especially the Manufacturing personnel all helped make Defender one of the best earning video games of all times. It was a privilege to have worked with such a talented group of individuals.

Roger Sharpe, Iconic video game author, and WMS leader, July 2013

  • All I can say is that DEFENDER changed the landscape for video game design with  an unparalleled brilliance that recognized the world created could exist beyond  a single screen. If one looks back at the games of that formative era, all were  enclosed in a single screen. Eugene and Larry broke those borders and expanded  the horizon for what could be conceived and attainable with video games. In  addition, they were bold enough to force players to adapt and perfect the  nuances of manipulating multi button controls. For these reasons alone, DEFENDER  has withstood the test of time and remains relevant over three decades later  with an undiminished freshness. It is a lasting legacy and one that game players  are blessed to experience.

Mikael Lindholm, Stockholm, Sweden-  Elite World Class player

  • Aug 2, 2013- Hope you’ll all have a good time tomorrow! I have complete faith in Billy & and that crazy Fire-finger of his.
  • Some words come in to mind:  “God of Rock, thank you for this chance to kick ass!” [‘School of Rock’]
  • Read Mikael’s complete commentary HERE

IN CLOSING, we turn the keyboard over to Larry DeMar, one of the original Vid Kidz and all around Coin-Op legend.

  • I am in awe of the passion of the retro arcade crowd and its super-achievers ranging from the thousands of late-night bleary-eyed emulator-developers making these games available in so many new ways;
  • to the tireless efforts of those possessed wild-men preserving and recreating the original games like Patrick O’Malley, Glenn Thomas, Doc Mack, Rob Berk and Kjell Gunnar Hoeen;
  • to the historians that work tirelessly to make sure the rich history is shared and preserved.  People like Walter Day, Steve Kordek, Roger Sharpe, Duncan Brown, Mark Hoff, Tim Arnold and David Silverman;
  • to the driven geniuses like Christian Gingras, Jeff Vavasour, Ted Estes and Ade Barritt who have found their way around the insides of these worlds without a road map;
  • to the maestro players like Billy Joe Cain, Doug Mahugh, John McCue, Lon McDonald and Darrin Cormier.
  • It is always exhilarating to see these types of players take the games to heights we could have never imagined, mastering nuances that we didn’t even know existed.  It is heartwarming to hear Billy Joe’s story of remarkable success on both sides of the joysticks.

Read Billy Joe’s original Defender-Bio HERE

Return to the main Defender page HERE


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