Defender (1980): The Joys of Difficult Games - Latest Free Vintage Games Book Bonus Chapter

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The seventh of nine free online bonus chapters that are in addition to the 25 chapters found in our book, Vintage Games: An Insider Look at the History of Grand Theft Auto, Super Mario, and the Most Influential Games of All Time, available at booksellers worldwide, including Amazon.com, is now available. Head on over to Gamasutra to read Defender (1980): The Joys of Difficult Games. The remaining two online bonus chapters, released one each over the next two months, will be Robotron: 2084 and Star Raiders, which will form the complete set of 34 chapters between the book and online. Don't forget there are well over 100 bonus images not found in the book or in the online bonus chapters, available here. Want to know what others' think of the book? Check it out here and don't forget to get yourself a copy!

PS: For those looking, the bonus images not used in the Defender article can be found here.

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Rowdy Rob
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Good chapter!

I finally got around to reading this bonus chapter. I'm surprised no one has commented yet, but I found it a typically good chapter in the spirit of the book, and (like your other bonus chapters) it's a shame it didn't make the print version.

I actually played "Scramble" before I played Defender, so I was surprised to find it came out afterwards! I guess it had something to do with where I lived at the time, where Defender, probably unsurprisingly, sat virtually unplayed next to all the other Japanese arcade games. (I played the cocktail version of Defender.)

Chopper Command is one of my top five faves on the Atari 2600, and it was good to see it get a prominent mention in the article. In fact, most of the "variants" you mentioned I played and enjoyed immensely I think I still have the boxed version of "Star Ray" somewhere (in very bad condition, if I do) for the Amiga. I guess I gravitated toward this genre more than I realized.

One thing I didn't much like about arcade version of Defender was the separate buttons for thrust and reverse. It seemed pointless when a standard 8-way joystick could have handled all the functions just fine, as was done with most (all?) home ports of the game.

I had a friend in the 80's who had his own coin-op Stargate machine in his house. I didn't play it much, and really didn't understand it (what were the "stargates" for?). I never paid it much attention.

Oh well, I enjoyed this bonus chapter, but have been looking forward to your "Robotron" chapter for months! I'm just curious as to what y'all's take on "Robotron" will be!

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Matt Barton
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Extra buttons
Rowdy Rob wrote:

One thing I didn't much like about arcade version of Defender was the separate buttons for thrust and reverse. It seemed pointless when a standard 8-way joystick could have handled all the functions just fine, as was done with most (all?) home ports of the game.

That's the main reason I didn't care for it either. I think that some of the ports just let you use the joystick, though, which makes it far more playable.

I don't really understand the rationale behind the arcade cab setup. Is it simply to make it more difficult, or perhaps a vestige of some earlier game?

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Bill Loguidice
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Buttons versus joysticks
Matt Barton wrote:

I don't really understand the rationale behind the arcade cab setup. Is it simply to make it more difficult, or perhaps a vestige of some earlier game?

My theory is that it allows for quicker and more accurate reactions. Joysticks are far less accurate and take longer (even if it's microseconds) than a button does. For a game like Defender that relies on split second reactions, any favor given to the player was probably thought to be critical With that said, naturally I personally prefer Joysticks when given the chance. Even games like Space Invaders had original versions with buttons instead of a joystick and I always struggled when I played versions with buttons instead of a joystick.

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Bill Loguidice
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Chapters
Rowdy Rob wrote:

I finally got around to reading this bonus chapter. I'm surprised no one has commented yet, but I found it a typically good chapter in the spirit of the book, and (like your other bonus chapters) it's a shame it didn't make the print version.

*snip*

Oh well, I enjoyed this bonus chapter, but have been looking forward to your "Robotron" chapter for months! I'm just curious as to what y'all's take on "Robotron" will be!

qoj hpmoj o+ 6uo73q 3Jv 3svq jnoh 77V

In retrospect, I think I should have fought harder for at least the Pong chapter's inclusion, as that contains some good history. I would have dropped the Legend of Zelda chapter, as I was never convinced of its influence, just that it's a legendary series, and argued heavily against it multiple times, but Matt was insistent (I believe his concern was the Nintendo mob reaction). I would have also liked to have retained the Pinball Construction Set (PCS) chapter. While I have a personal interest in the Defender and Robotron chapters, I would certainly consider those historically expendable. So of the bonus chapters, I think Pong and PCS were keepers since their content was unique in the book (for instance, I know Matt has a strong bond with Rogue, but in that case it was covered to a degree in the Diablo chapter, so we would have had to retain either Rogue or Diablo, and Diablo won out).

It would be nice to have a deluxe edition some day where we have ALL of the chapters and can do them chronologically rather than alphabetically. But then I suppose we'd have the issue of the flying pigs.

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Rowdy Rob
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Print versus Bonus Chapters
Bill Loguidice wrote:

In retrospect, I think I should have fought harder for at least the Pong chapter's inclusion, as that contains some good history. I would have dropped the Legend of Zelda chapter, as I was never convinced of its influence, just that it's a legendary series, and argued heavily against it multiple times, but Matt was insistent (I believe his concern was the Nintendo mob reaction).

Of all the bonus chapters so far, I think that the "Pong" chapter was the most serious omission from the book. Not only was it a great chapter, but Pong is arguably the most influential game of all time!

I think it was good idea to include Zelda, but not over Pong. Most of the other games are debatable (and I'm sure you had your serious debates over them!), but I personally think Zelda was a good choice over the others that turned out to be bonus chapters, because the Zelda franchise has both retro and modern popular appeal, and thus makes sense from a marketing standpoint. Plus, a good case was made in the chapter about its influence in the game industry. I suppose a good debate could be started over whether it was less influential than the other "bonus chapter" games besides Pong.

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Matt Barton
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Well, there's no doubt that

Well, there's no doubt that the whole bonus chapter thing was a compromise. It's not like we asked for it, that's for sure. I think the book would have been better with the extra chapters, but it may also have been more expensive and simply not feasible at the time. It's hard to say. In a way, the chapters that are "bonus" have extra appeal, because they are generating splashes long after the book has receded. That's why I kind of like that some of the better ones are bonus--makes you think, heck, if that's a bonus chapter, the ones in the book must be fantastic!

My main thought on Pong and Spacewar being bonus chapters was mostly that they'd been to death by almost every other book, whereas we have chapters that I doubt you'll see anywhere else. I also see the influence of these games more as a spur to the industry in general rather than anything great about their actual gameplay. It's not like movie buffs today care about the earliest experiments with film or dime-operated peep shows. I think we even saw that in the history itself; as soon as you had games like Space Invaders and Pac-Man, hardly anyone cared about Pong anymore, and who would rather play Spacewar! than something like Defender or Elite?

In any case, nothing was easy and the whole affair bordered on fiasco, but in reality there was no perfect solution. At least this way, the chapters are published, freely available, and we did get paid for them! :)

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Gashead
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Personal choice

As you say Matt their is no perfect solution. It all comes down to personal opinion and nostalgia value given the subject matter.

In terms of arcade games Defender has to be the most memorable for me. Whilst reading the chapter and looking at the screenshots I could hear the sound effects in my head! The sound design of the game was perfect and I seem to remember extremely loud.

The difficulty of the game and the sheer speed of it make for an adrenaline filled experience. As we all know adrenaline buzzes are addictive. I loved the control scheme as well, the reverse button coupled with the thrust allowed u to pull off handbrake turn type maneuvers. Although I take your point that this may have been replicated by a joystick.

I would have loved to see this chapter in the book perhaps instead of the dance dance revolution chapter. But that is probably because I am geek and I can't dance!

Bill Loguidice
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DDR!
Gashead wrote:

I would have loved to see this chapter in the book perhaps instead of the dance dance revolution chapter. But that is probably because I am geek and I can't dance!

Ah, of the swaps suggested, that's one I don't think either of us could have allowed, simply because of how important the performance genre has become to modern gaming. I can't dance either - no rhythm - but heck if it's not great fun (and good exercise) even on the lower levels! I also found the chapter a good excuse to talk about Dragon's Lair, which I was very happy to get in there. It's not much of a game, but it was critically important in a number of ways.

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Matt Barton
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Dragon's Lair
Bill Loguidice wrote:

I also found the chapter a good excuse to talk about Dragon's Lair, which I was very happy to get in there. It's not much of a game, but it was critically important in a number of ways.

I know it's one of Shane R. Monroe's favorites, so it must be vital. ;) I think it's neat that they were able to utilize laserdisc and Don Bluth's superb animation, but it definitely seems more like a gimmick than anything worth playing today. Strange to think it's one of something like three games in the Smithsonian (have to check the sources; been awhile). I only wish there had been more collaborations of this type; I think that cartoon animators have a lot more to offer videogames than Hollywood.

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Mark Vergeer
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Ah.... defender....

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Armchair arcade Editor | Pixellator | www.markvergeer.nl

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