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.

Tom Hiddleston Says Disney+ Loki Series Is a 'New Departure' From the MCU Films

Tom Hiddleston as Loki in Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Tom Hiddleston as Loki in Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Disney/Marvel

Since first appearing in 2011's Thor, Tom Hiddleston's Loki has won the hearts of Marvel Cinematic Universe fans. Despite originally being a villain, Thor's brother has warmed up over time and become one of the MCU's most beloved characters. Which is why fans have been desperate to hear any shred of information about the God of Mischief’s upcoming live-action series on Disney+.

Hiddleston had yet to comment on his role in the series—until now. "All I can tell you is that it is called Loki. It is a new departure ... but I can't explain why," the 38-year-old English actor told The Hollywood Reporter earlier this week.

Digital Spy reports that the show will follow the trickster as he weaves his way through a number of real-life historical events, doing what he does best: influencing the outcome. Though Hiddleston is keeping pretty tight-lipped about the project, he didn’t hold back when it came to expressing his gratitude for being part of the franchise—or for Loki himself—while speaking with THR:

“It is a constant source of surprise and delight that these films have connected with people. I knew [Loki] was a complex figure. Intelligent yet vulnerable. Angry and lost and broken and witty … I thought it was an amazing opportunity and it's grown into this network of movies. I could never have expected it. I feel very fortunate that this character has connected with people.”

Disney+ launches on November 12, 2019. While Loki does not have an official release date yet, we can only hope it premieres soon after.

[h/t The Hollywood Reporter]

New The Walking Dead Series Is Casting Extras in Richmond, Virginia

Frank Ockenfels 3, AMC
Frank Ockenfels 3, AMC

Watch enough episodes of The Walking Dead on AMC and you may start to wonder how you would fare in a zombie apocalypse. If you live in the Richmond, Virginia area, you now have an opportunity to act out those fantasies in real life. As WTKR reports, Kendall Cooper Casting is seeking extras to appear in a new spin-off series of The Walking Dead.

The yet-to-be-titled series set in The Walking Dead universe will be the show's second spin-off following Fear the Walking Dead, which is currently in its fifth season. Filming begins in Richmond and the surrounding area in July 2019 and will continue though November.

Ahead of filming, the show is seeking background actors. The casting call posted on Kendall Cooper Casting's Facebook page states that the production is looking for "people of all ethnicities, ages, genders, and types to play various characters throughout the series." Actors with experience in movement and dance are preferred. The job description doesn't specify whether actors will be playing people fleeing from the undead, the zombies themselves, or some other type of character on the show (though that note about experience in movement might hint at the need for some extra walkers).

SAG-AFTRA members as well as non-union actors are encouraged to submit their information, but only SAG-AFTRA actors are invited to the open casting call that's being held on Saturday, June 29. Union members can email OpenCallDetails@gmail.com for more information. Regardless of your union status, you can send an email with your contact information, measurements, experience, and schedule flexibility along with three current photos to RVAextras@KendallCooperCasting.com.

For many shows, background acting isn't complicated work, but being an extra on The Walking Dead requires some training. Actors have to attend "zombie seminars" where they must perfect the walk of the undead before graduating to the makeup chair.

[h/t WTKR]

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