9 Things You Might Not Know About Defender

by Ryan Lambie

When Defender arrived in arcades back in 1980, nothing looked or sounded quite like it. The controls had a steep learning curve, and its shooting action was intense and relentlessly difficult. Yet Defender's boldness made it stand out in arcades full of Space Invaders clones, and gamers quickly fell in love with it.

Created by a designer pushing the boundaries of early '80s technology, Defender's development wasn't without its drama. Here's a look at Defender's making and its lasting effect on the games industry.

1. DEFENDER WAS WILLIAMS'S FIRST PROPER, ORIGINAL ARCADE GAME.

With its foundations tracing back to the 1940s, American company Williams specialized in making pinball machines. When Pong ushered in a new age of electronic games in the 1970s, Williams knew it had to break into the same market, but its first attempt was tentative, to say the least: 1973's Paddle Ball was, for the most part, a straight replica of Pong's bat-and-ball action. Fortunately, a young programmer named Eugene Jarvis had a more pioneering spirit.

2. IT WAS INSPIRED BY SPACE INVADERS AND CHESS.

Jarvis joined Williams in the late 1970s, where he initially worked on the software for the company's pinball machines—titles included Airborne Avenger, Gorgar, and Laser Ball. But even as those machines were making their way into arcades, they were being roundly upstaged by a new game on the block—the coin-guzzling shooter, Space Invaders. The game immediately inspired Jarvis to make his own sci-fi shooter, though one which also took in the vector graphics of the seminal Spacewar (a game he'd played while in college) and a hint of chess. He wanted his game, he later told WIRED, to be a "rich, tactical and strategic experience."

3. THE TITLE CAME FROM A 1960s TV SHOW.

As Jarvis's ideas for his game began to develop—and it moved further and further away from the straight "blast the aliens" scenario popularized by Space Invaders—he began to think about an objective that involved rescue and defense rather than straight-up shooting. And early on, he adopted the name Defender, derived from the '60s courtroom drama series, The Defenders.

"I kind of liked that show," Jarvis said in Steven Kent's book, The Ultimate History Of Video Games. "You know, if you're defending something, you're being attacked, and you can do whatever you want."

4. IT WAS ONE OF THE FIRST SIDE-SCROLLING GAMES.

Jarvis and his small team of programmers and designers, which included Larry DeMar and Sam Dicker, worked up a game design which, for its time, was hugely ambitious. Back then, most games took place on a single, static screen. What Jarvis proposed was a game which scrolled smoothly and rapidly along a map that was far larger than the display. At the top of the screen, a small mini map showed the player's current position. Both ideas were groundbreaking, and the mini map is a ubiquitous design feature in the games of today.

5. IT WAS COMPLETED JUST IN TIME FOR AN IMPORTANT TRADE SHOW.

As months of development passed, Jarvis was put under increasing pressure to get Defender finished in time for a trade show called the Amusement and Music Operators Association Expo. Jarvis worked feverishly to meet the deadline, but on the evening before the trade show, he had a horrifying realization: the game lacked an attract mode—the demo designed to show would-be customers how the game looks in action. An all-night coding session began, which, following another terror-inducing moment where the game refused to load up properly, the finished Defender was ready on the morning of the expo.

6. PLAYERS WERE INITIALLY INTIMIDATED.

Defender cut a strange and unnerving figure at the AMOA trade show. Where most games of the time had a joystick and one button, Defender had a joystick and five buttons—something which, Jarvis later suggested, left some people wary of even trying it. At first, though, Jarvis wasn't concerned, saying in an interview on the Williams Arcade's Greatest Hits game disc that the team was "proud that it intimidated everyone."

7. IT BECAME ONE OF THE HIGHEST-GROSSING GAMES OF THE GOLDEN AGE.

Everything changed when Defender appeared in arcades. Williams's first game of the '80s was also its biggest, selling 55,000 cabinets and reportedly making more than $1 billion in revenue. Players, it seems, couldn't get enough of Defender's speed, color, and sheer challenge.

8. A STRANGE BUG OCCURS WHEN YOU SCORE 990,000 POINTS

While Defender became famous for its vertical difficulty level, a certain breed of gamer rose to the challenge. The game's most dedicated players even discovered a bug: reach 990,000 points, and an error in the game's algorithm results in a sudden shower of extra lives and smart bombs. Yet even the bug added to Defender's absorbing challenge; as Jarvis told US Gamer, "Some of the richest elements of Defender [...] were bugs, things that I never even in my wildest imagination could have coded."

9. IT'S STILL INFLUENTIAL TODAY.

Defender's groundbreaking design paved the way for an entire generation of scrolling shooters, including Jarvis's 1981 sequel Stargate, Konami's Gradius series, and many more. Even today, Defender continues to inspire 21st-century game designers. Finnish developer Housemarque's side-scrolling shooter Resogun draws directly on the mechanics in Defender. In 2017, Jarvis teamed up with Housemarque to develop the game Nex Machina, which released to overwhelmingly positive reviews.

More than 30 years later, Defender's audacious design is still making an impact.

Game of Thrones's Kristian Nairn Didn't Learn the Meaning of Hodor's Name Until the Very End

Isaac Hempstead Wright with Kristian Nairn in Game of Thrones
Isaac Hempstead Wright with Kristian Nairn in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

Actor Kristian Nairn officially left the Game of Thrones universe in 2016, but viewers have hardly forgotten about him. Nairn’s character, Hodor, was Bran Stark’s loyal servant for six seasons before tragically dying while holding the door shut to hold off the Army of the Undead, allowing Bran to escape.

Nairn recently reflected on the role, admitting that though he only ever repeated one line, Hodor was a difficult character to portray.

“The key to playing Hodor is just being real—you really have to put yourself into the situation because you don’t have words to express yourself,” Nairn told Star 2. “You really had to immerse yourself into the reality of the scene and put in your body language with having just one word.”

Most surprising about Nairn’s portrayal of Hodor is the fact that not even the actor knew the meaning of his character's name. In his final moments, fans finally find out that “Hodor” came about from Bran warging into Hodor as a youth at Winterfell at the same time they were being pursued by the undead. As Meera yelled at Hodor to "hold the door," a young Hodor seemed to see Bran at Winterfell. Then it seems that Bran also wargs into young Hodor, who suffers a seizure, which leaves him unable to say anything but the shortened version of his dying words.

Fans were shocked by this revelation, and it turns out that Nairn was, too.

“I remember over the years, I have asked the showrunners and George RR Martin what Hodor meant, but they would never tell me,” Nairn said. So he created his own theory for where the name came from, guessing that Hodor was a Clegane due to his unusually large size—but obviously that theory didn’t pan out.

“I was surprised just like everyone else when I found out what Hodor meant. But I never expected the reaction that came from all over the world,” Nairn said, commenting on the collective depression that fans fell into after his character’s death.

While a character who only ever utters one line over six seasons might not be an enticing role to every actor, Nairn said that showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss assured him the part would be worth it.

“It was challenging in some ways but David and Dan told me, ‘You’re gonna be one of the fan favorites of the show,' and this was before we even started. I didn’t really understand; I was like ‘Really? But he just says one word, guys.’ But they turned out to be right,” Nairn shared.

Nairn has taken a break from acting in order to focus on his DJ career, but he knows he’ll return to television eventually. “I love fantasy roles, sci-fi stuff. But I am up for anything. I will never do a part like Hodor again … I definitely have too much to say,” he said.

A Swedish Film Festival Is Screening a Sci-Fi Film from Inside Sealed Coffins

iStock.com/iphotographer
iStock.com/iphotographer

There will be no reclining seats or super-sized cupholders at screenings of Aniara at the Göteborg Film Festival in Sweden. Instead of maximizing comfort, the showing is designed to intentionally put viewers on edge by locking them in a coffin for the duration of the film, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The so-called "sarcophagus screenings" are one of the less conventional events on the program for the 2019 festival. For 33 showings of Aniara, eight moviegoers at a time will be led to special coffins with screens and speakers built in. The boxes will also come with air vents and panic buttons in case viewers want to bail out before the credits roll.

Aniara, based on the Harry Martinson poem of the same name, is a Swedish-language sci-fi movie about a spaceship that is knocked off course on its way to Mars while fleeing the apocalypse on Earth. The festival staff collaborated with the directors Pella Kagerman and Hugo Lilja to create a viewing experience that enhances the sense of isolation and claustrophobia portrayed in the film.

The Göteborg Film Festival won't be the first group to mix live interment with entertainment. During the 2018 Halloween season, Six Flags St. Louis invited guests to spend 30 hours in a coffin in exchange for season passes. This time around, viewers just have to make it through Aniara's 106-minute runtime.

The sarcophagus screenings kick off with the Göteborg festival premiere of Aniara on January 27, and will continue through the end of the month.

[h/t The Hollywood Reporter]

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