While 2010 saw a huge mainstream celebration of Pac-Man’s 30th Birthday, between a Google tribute to a birthday party at the International Video Game Hall of Fame’s event, another arcade icon is celebrating the same milestone.
In 1980, pinball giant Williams Electronics dove head-first into the booming video game market with Defender, a side-scrolling space shooter. While arguably not as well remembered in pop culture as Pac-Man or Donkey Kong, which is preparing for it’s 30th anniversary in 2011, Defender has as long of a list of video gaming impact as either of them.
* Defender and Pac-Man debuted at the same AMOA show in 1980, and were both predicted to be flops. Midway’s Rally-X was predicted to be the next big hit.
* While Pac-Man was more popular in merchandising and sold almost twice as many arcade units as Defender (100,000 for Pac VS 55,000 for Defender) several game magazines such as Play Meter and Joystik reported that Defender actually earned more money per machine on average throughout 1981 than it’s dot-gobbling counterpart.
* Designer Eugene Jarvis would go on to become perhaps the most successful arcade game designer in history. After his success with Defender, Jarvis went on to drive the creations of other hits, including Stargate, Robotron: 2084, Narc, Smash TV, the Cruis’n USA series, and more. Today he heads up his own studio, Raw Thrills, which is responsible for most of the modern-day arcade hits, including the Big Buck Hunter, Target Terror, and Fast and the Furious game series.
* Competition on Defender can be considered responsible for creation of competitive video gaming. After a gamer gained nationwide press for a Defender high score, another gamer went to a small-town arcade in Iowa and beat it. When the arcade owner called around to find out if this score was indeed the new record score, he discovered that there was no central scorekeeping organization in the booming video game industry, so he decided to start one. This arcade owner was Walter Day, and the arcade was the original Twin Galaxies in Ottumwa, IA. Today, Twin Galaxies still exists as the only officially recognized scoreboard for all of video gaming, and the small Iowa town is establishing the first hall of fame for video gaming.
* The famed LIFE Magazine photo shoot from 1982 in Ottumwa, IA that has now been featured in several films contained Defender as one of it’s six machines. Of the six, Defender was the oldest game title featured in the photo. Pac-Man, Asteroids, Space Invaders and Galaxian, all smash hits around the same time as Defender’s release, did not appear in the photo.
* Defender is right up there as one of the most released game titles ever for home consoles. Versions of Defender or it’s sequel Stargate (later renamed Defender II) have appeared on everything from the Atari 2600 to the Nintendo Entertainment System to the original PlayStation to the XBox 360. It was one of the very first video games to ever gross over $1 Billion.
Spread this article around and remind the world that Pac-Man isn’t the only gaming icon to turn 30 years old in 2010. Happy birthday, Defender.