Mikael Lindholm- Defender Extraordinare

Preface from the Guidebook-

  • From the land of Sweden hails one of the most elite Defender players the world has ever known.  And in this ubiquitous era of global gaming, anyone who has a passion for the early Williams games knows of Mikael.  If you don’t, spend 30 seconds with this Youtube clip; prepare to be inspired and awed at the calm control exerted in the chaotic land of saving every last humanoid.
  • August 2nd, 2013- On the eve of Billy Joe Cain’s epic expedition to the Chicago area to make an attempt at putting his name in the record books of Defender history, Mikael shares some thoughts on what Defender means to competition in the “Classic Arcade Gaming” arena.
  • NOTE- Billy Joe’s quest is being hosted by Star Worlds Arcade in DeKalb, IL
  • Contact info for Mikael- Facebook

Mikael, 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’]

Defender – some reflexions

What is it about this game that, for the almost 20 years I didn’t play it, at times had me itch so bad to play it, and finally made me take it down from the attic almost 3 years ago? And now, after having played it several times per week for nearly 3 years – I can’t see myself ever stop playing. What is it?

Well, it looks and sounds cool, of course, and the game itself is so well balanced, the enemies so different from each other, and yet so complementary. But there is also a sense of limitless space and freedom of movement, and at the same time, the exactness of movement – both possible and needed – that is/was so appealing. Defender is also a very fortunate crossbreed between savage onslaught and elegance. You could really show off at Defender (not unimportant when you were a teenager). And, the much attested to, fear of the complex controls also meant that being good at Defender had weight. There are so much hands involved in Defender, you could almost liken it to a craft. And like a craft, it leaves much room for a personal signature. I still remember my old gaming buddies personal styles. A player’s personality/temperament really translates to the screen.

Competing on Defender.

When weighing together production numbers, revenues and cultural impact, Defender must be counted as being one of the “Big Five” of Classic Arcade Gaming (Space Invaders, Asteroids, Pac-Man & Donkey Kong being the other four). This fact alone makes having a world record on Defender very prestigious in CAG (Classic Arcade Gaming) circles.

And as is well known in those circles, Steve Juraszek’s 15 million pts Defender score in the autumn of 1981 started the whole tracking of video game records by Walter Day’s Twin Galaxies. In 1982 alone, the Defender record was beaten 17 times, and stood 75 million pts at the end of that year. So 1984 saw the introduction of Tournament Settings (TS) on many games, i.e. variations that made for very limited games, and at the same time would be better at “separating the wheat from the chaff” – being able to play indefinitely is more about stamina & endurance than it is about “Who’s the best player?”

The DEFENDER Tournament settings All Time Greatest (aka “TS”, “TGTS,” or “5-man”):

The settings are the default settings on the Red ROMs – with the exception that the player, starts with 5 ships & 5 Bombs, and is rewarded NO bonus ships or bombs: it’s 5 ships and 5 Bombs ONLY.

  1. 543.950 (108K/ship)  Bill Jones   Aug 15 2008 (Video)
  2. 472.150 (94K/ship)  George M Barton   Sep 17 2009 (Referee)
  3. 264.450 (52K/ship)  John P McAllister   Dec 31 2008 (DVD)
  4. 230.125 (76K/ship)  Gino Yoo   Jun 30 1985 (Referee)
  5. 184.025 (61K/ship)  Shane Ducharme   Jun 30 1985 (Referee – Celebrity Fun Center II)
  6. 175.100 (58K/ship)  Mike Munoz   Jun 30 1984 (Referee – Arnold’s on the Ave.)

Allegedly, the 80’s records were done with only 3 ships & bombs (hence the high average score per ship). This, and the fact that they were all done in contests, makes them very impressive records, too. If we were to re-calculate Gino Yoo’s 230K to a 5-ship score, it’s the equivalence of 383K. But it’s of course harder to string 5 good ships together, than it is 3. (I have problems getting 2 good ships in the same game!).

Strategy:

The player starts with 5 ships & 5 Smart Bombs, and is rewarded NO bonus ships or bombs. Having to deal with Pods/Swarmers without bombing them is of course the biggest difference from a “normal” game, were you’re awarded a new ship & bomb every 10.000 pts. Also, no bonus ships means you have to be very careful not to crash, why playing TS is very much about reducing risks and trying to control your environment – hence why I kill off my humanoids from wave 3: trying to save humanoids and dealing with Mutants involves too much risk. Ideally, chance play should have no part in a game of TS. This is of course quite the opposite from your normal game, where putting it all on one card and make a lunge for that next extra ship is often worth the risk: it’s part of the strategy. So in that respect, playing TS is a very “warped” game, where the player has to harness his normal Defender instincts and behaviour.

I think it’s necessary to go about Tournament Settings (TS)  in a systematic way:

  • Point-press waves 1-2 by picking up/putting down as many Humanoids as you can – you should have 30-40.000 pts after wave 2.
  • Kill off all your men but 2 from wave 3. Pick them up and carry them with you.
  • Never bomb the Pods – only use them when you’re about to crash.
  • I never use Hyperspace – in TS this is really the last way out. The chance of surviving re-entry is 75%.
  • Start picking off the Pods/Swarmers from the beginning of the wave – prioritize that before taking out the Landers. And you don’t want to deal with Swarmers + Baiters at the end of the wave.
  • Be aware of the “4-Enemy Rule”, i.e. as long as you have  4 enemies minimum left, the Baiters will materialize at a more modest pace – decide what 4 enemies you want as your last to deal with (I prefer 4 Landers).
  • Don’t crash

The “other way”: collecting bonus.

Were you to never kill off your guys, but systematically picking up/setting them down, say for 10.000 extra points per wave, you’d have 350K at wave 15 (normally around 200K). The problem is just to be skilled enough to handle all the crap flying around (remember: Stay out of trouble!). I wonder if any of the top two guys did this? Is it possible anyone could be that good? It’s such a shame we can’t get in contact with either of them, and that Twin Galaxies won’t let us see their submitted recordings.

A special case: Baiter hunting?

Clear the whole wave – except the 4 Pods. The “4-Enemy Rule” makes the Baiters materialize in 3 sec intervals: plenty of time for a skilled player to pick them off as they appear. Kill 500 Baiters per ship lost – and the WR is yours: 2500 Baiters x 200 pts = 500K. With a 3 sec interval between Baiters, this would take 2 hrs 5 min. Twin Galaxies has rules against “leeching”, but they haven’t commented upon whether Baiter hunting would be deemed “leeching” or not.

Other settings.

 

  • Maximum Difficulty (Blue or Green ROMs on 99-99, 99-00 or 00-00)

In Stockholm, Sweden, in the 80’s, we never knew of Twin Galaxies or TS. Had we known, I’m sure we would’ve forced our arcade owner to have a game with those settings – and then played till our fingers fell off. Instead, we found a machine set to maximum difficulty, and which sent us all back to school … I remember when me and my buddies first came across this Monster. It had a 15K bonus ship level, and the first 4 waves was very easy, but then, from wave 5 on, it went crazy-hard. We couldn’t believe our eyes how fast this game was: the Landers were lifting your guys so fast you couldn’t keep up (fortunately often taking extra turns through the ceiling and up through the floor again); Baiters arriving before the second dump of Landers, and coming faster than 1/sec at the end of the waves. Suddenly we struggled to get past 100.000 pts (!) – a truly humbling experience. It was like being punched in face and wedgied at the same time – while you were asleep in your cozy warm bed: “Whatthef***!?” At first it was just ridiculous and a lot of fun. But before long someone put up a score on this joke Defender that was like, “Damn …!” – and the race was on. We squeezed the first 4 waves for as much as we could – ideally 80-90.000 pts without losing any ships or smart bombs. This particular machine quickly became the touchstone among the hard core players, and the player who topped the All Time Greatest was recognized as the Defender King. This beast was never conquered, i.e. maxed or clocked, but one of my buddies had the final high score: 625.000 pts. (spring -85. MAG – I’ll never forget that evening).

And at the same time, in Birmingham, UK, Gary Whittingham and his friends also had a race on a max diff machine – and they got further than I ever would’ve thought was possible: rolling it on 20K extras …

I think playing Defender at max difficulty is a lot of fun, and it takes seasoned players back to the early days when we had to struggle to get that next bonus ship: you really have to fight & scream & sweat! The 100 increments of difficulty, and the choice to set the Bonus Ship Level to what you want ensures Defender will be a challenge for all players – they make Defender an inexhaustible game.

I’m hoping Twin Galaxies will eventually create a Maximum Difficulty track for Defender – in fact I’ve had that as standing request on their forums for the last 2 ½ years. Defender on Maximum Difficulty brings out its almost Robotron-like qualities: it’s a frenzy that puts the player in a vice from the first second and forces him to constant split-second decisions. It’s also very relevant in that it can be seen as the extreme opposite of the machine-like, low-risk, no-mistakes grinding of a good TS game.

1-hour timings.

CAGDC (Classic Arcade Gaming Dot Com) tracks 1-hour games. I’ve never tried it, but I think it’s a relevant way to compete on Defender. It’s played on the default settings, so you get a bonus ship every 10.000 pts. Most players roll Defender on waves 60-70, which means you  average around 15.000 pts/wave. So on a 10K bonus game you can use 2 Smart Bombs every second wave – and on a speed track you should do exactly that. If you get loose Swarmers when bombing the Pods, use a second bomb on them + some Bombers and/or Landers lifting with humanoids (= bonus points).

Picking/saving Humanoids for bonus points is a temptation: many points to be gained – but it takes time. So is it better to clear the waves as fast as you can?

Somewhere I’ve seen a 1.2 million score by John McAllister (3rd best TS score). It’s 20.000 pts/min – or to reverse it: like reaching the Million in 50 minutes. I believe that is fast – players usually score 1 million/hour.

But the “X-tra Man Bonanza” (990.000 – 1.000.000 pts) which awards the player with approx 40 ships & Bombs will guarantee the player can bomb his way to the 60 min mark …

I’m sure there are other relevant ways and settings to compete on Defender, but these are the ones that come into mind.

Settings for Defender Competition

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