I remember my first
ever trips to the arcades.
I was eleven years old and had just started
secondary school in the small seaside town of Hornsea.
At that time, you weren't allowed 'down town'
at lunch until you were in the third year. A long two years away.
Me, well I used to sneak out every lunch. I
had an addiction, you see. An addiction that the risk of two detentions
and a letter home to my parents couldn't suppress. 50p lunch money
used to buy me two potato scallops from Sullivan’s chippy
at 5p each. That left me with four credits to feed my addiction.
I'd noticed Defender from the very first time
I visited the arcade. You couldn't really miss it. Most of the
arcade games had sounds that consisted of just simple beeps and
plonks but Defender was different. A laser that sounded as if
it could really scorch your skin… the satisfying echoing
thump when you wasted a bomber… the screams from the Humanoids
when a Lander takes them away to a fate worse than death - mutation…
Oh, and not forgetting a sound I didn't get to experience for
quite some time – the one that signifies you've earned an
An arcade in your pocket. Not
literally, of course. That would be fatal.
Defender scared me. Space Invaders - that was
simple. Left button, right button, shoot button. But the Defender
cab had a joystick, a Reverse button, a Thrust button, a Fire
button, a Smart Bomb button and a Hyperspace button. Plus, the
screen scrolled left and right, and there was this Scanner thing
at the top where you could see things going on outside the main
screen. Defender both looked and sounded like nothing else.
Eventually, after watching a couple of people
attempt to play it, I plucked up the courage to have a go myself.
‘Game Over’ came very quickly. Far too bloody hard,
I thought. I’ll never be able to play that and learn all
those buttons… I returned to Space Invaders. But Space Invaders
was getting boring. I tried Galaxian, but it was just… well,
it was just Space Invaders with swoopy ones. I tried Pac-Man but
that just didn't do it for me.
I always turned back to Defender – the
machine no one really played. Every day, one of my 10p pieces
went into this machine, then two, then three, then finally all
four. Slowly, I began to master it. I learned to use the Scanner,
to rescue the falling Humanoids. I learned to not return them
to the ground, but carry them around with me until near the end
of the wave. I learned when to use the Smart Bombs... I became
THE Defender master, clocking up scores of around 125,000 every
lunchtime. I thought I was unbeatable. People even made a point
of watching me play. Then, one weekend, I went to Bridlington
– a bigger seaside resort further up the road – and
I was brought back down to Earth with a Bomber-style thump.
Here’s a score our publisher
Bridlington had some huge arcades full of the
latest new machines, but I wasn't interested. Defender still had
me hooked, and I soon searched out a machine. Unlike the one in
Hornsea, this one was being played – two guys having a game
of doubles. I noticed the lines around the scanner looked a strange
colour I hadn't seen before… And then I noticed the scores.
One guy had 800,000, the other over 900,000!
I couldn't believe what I was seeing. These
guys were playing Defender like I'd never seen it played before.
They escaped from seemingly impossible situations and went on
to 'clock' the machine whilst I stood there, mesmerised. I watched
and I learned.
Defender had many celebrity fans.
L-R – Jocky Wilson, Richard Briers,
Billy ‘Pac-Boy’ Mitchell, Alan Whicker, Richard Dreyfuss,
Eugene Levy from out of
American Pie, Morgan Freeman, Sickboy’s geography teacher,
Robin Cook, Elvis.
Defender isn't an easy game to learn. In fact
it's one of the most difficult games ever made. There are no set
patterns you can learn like most shooters. Every game is completely
different from the last, and that's all part of the challenge.
After watching the Bridlington guys, and with a lot of practice,
my scores rocketed and I was frequently hitting the 400,000 mark.
Lately, I've been seduced by the manic Japanese
shooters such as Dodonpachi and Ikaruga, with their beautiful
graphics and hidden scoring tricks. But every now and then, I
boot up MAME and have a Defender session. It's one of the few
old games I play regularly. I've still never managed to 'clock'
the bastard but the fact that I’m still trying after twenty-odd
years must tell you something about the timeless design of this
Here. (Its working again).
Things to 'Make' and 'Do'.
We've just spotted that Midway Arcade
Treasures is out in the UK today.
It's got Eugene's Defender, Robotron
and Stargate on it - As well as
loads of other stuff. I only hope that Mr Jarvis still gets a
royalty. Oh, and amazon are doing it with a fiver off too. Click
one of the links below and go play!
Midway Arcade Treasures (PS2) - £14.99
Midway Arcade Treasures (Xbox) - £14.99
(Prices correct at 6th January)