Williams Classics Part I:

Defender, Joust and Robotron

by e-glide

Continuing our series on classic arcade video games, this month I'm gonna talk a bit about three truly classic vids from the 1980-84 era: Williams Electronics' Defender, Joust and Robotron. These games are perhaps Williams' most successful and widely-known games to date. Still played in many arcades everywhere, all three are simple to learn and quite difficult to master. Of the three, Defender and Robotron follow scifi plotlines (defending the earth's remaining population against invading alien ships and robots run amok, respectively) and require pretty stellar coordination and reflexes to master, particularly when the machines are set on the higher difficulty settings. As with all Williams game s, the thing that really makes these games outstanding and exciting is the sound. Working with quite limited programming power and resources (early-80's microprocessor technology, to be precise), Williams programmers managed to create incredibly ef fective synthesized sounds for various characters and actions of these games, which really involve the player. These, combined with the excellent, smooth playability of all three games (and of Williams games generally, in fact) made these games irresistible to a generation of arcade-goers.

Defender, the first of these games to be released (in 1980), puts you in control of a small, one-person spaceship, crusing above the earth's surface. Here you engage a variety of alien ships in combat, while trying to prevent them from picking up the humans roaming the surface and converting them into "mutants" (evil, flying hybrid alien/human ships), all the while avoiding weapons fire from enemy craft. As it happens, this is quite difficult to do, particularly as the game progresses to the higher "waves". The aliens get quicker and more aggressive (particularly the Baiter, a superfast rectangular green enemy ship which is usually nearly impossible to out do), and appearing in relentless numbers. Allow all humans to be snatched by aliens, and the planet below explodes, thrusting you into space with a suddenly multiplied bevy of aliens awaiting you. Game play quickly reaches an intensely manic pace where all but the most hardboiled "Defender-heads" are doomed to a quick death at the hands of ruthless aliens.

Defender is classic Williams; exciting and extremely addictive. Its sounds are very good and contribute immensely to the overall quality of the gameplay. One of the all-time greats.

Joust is an imaginative and engrossing game of skill and coordination wherein you control a lone rider atop a large bird (ostrich or stork, depending on whether you are Player 1 or 2) engaging opponents in jousts amongst protruding rock ledges. Collide with an enemy, and the highest lance wins the joust. Losing a joust costs you a life; you start with either three or six lives at the beginning of each game (this is actually adjustable over a very wide range, but most arcade operators chose three or six.) Each time you win a joust, your opponent turns into an egg which drifts down toward the ground or a ledge (if one is directly below.) You must pick up these eggs to prevent them from hatching shortly into a more aggressive opponent. The more aggressive opponents swoop up and down at very steep angles and at high speeds, making them extremely difficult to defeat.

As you progress through the higher waves, you face larger numbers of more aggressive opponents, as well as the "unbeatable?" pterodactyl, a screeching, prehistoric bird which is fairly difficult to defeat. In order to kill this creature, you must collide with it at a specific angle, while facing it, which turns out to be a quite tricky. The game takes place above a pit of fiery lava, which is inhabited by the "lava troll", a beast which reaches up and grabs birds swooping too close to the lava's boiling surface. In the case of enemy birds, they are simply held immobile for a short time. If you are caught by the lava troll, however, it's goodnight; you are pulled down into the lava and immediate extinction.

Joust shares some of Defender's sounds, and is equally exciting, albeit in a completely different way. It is rarely as manic as Defender, but just as challenging. Not a monster hit of Defender's proportions, but another Williams home run nonetheless.

Robotron 2084 is one of Williams fastest-paced and most dense games. You are charged with the super-heroic task of "saving the last human family" from hordes of man-made robots run amok. These come in a variety of flavors; Grunts, Quarks, Spheroids, Tanks and others appear and either eliminate or "reprogram" humans running about the playfield into sinister "progs", mutant humanoids which kill if you touch them. You "save" humans (speci fically pink-dressed Mommies, suit-clad and-briefcase-toting Daddies and small children) by running into them (they disappear, replaced by the number of points you just earned), while avoiding the menacing robots approaching from all directions. You are a rmed with an eight-way blaster, which will dispatch most of your foes immediately, with the exception of the Hulk Robotrons, whose progress it merely slows.

Robotron also borrows a few sounds from Defender, with the addition of some new ones. This game gets difficult pretty quickly, especially if the machine is set on a higher (>5) difficulty level. As with the other Williams games, the number of lives you start with depends on the generosity of your local arcade operator, but is usually three or six.

You can see a quick n' dirty digicam shot of my Robotron here.

It's interesting to see the current rekindling of interest in these older games, particularly since they are all very crude by today's Killer Instinct and Mortal Kombat standards. One reason for this renewed popularity might well be the fact that these games give you more precise moment-to-moment control over your character during the game (requiring a high level of skill and quick reflexes) than many of the current fighting games, in which you simply control when pre-programmed moves take place, rather than actually maneuvering your character about. Of course, a large part of this craze might be simple nostalgia (I admit that this plays into it heavily in my case), but these old games have a quality which still proves challenging and addictive to many.

If you are thinking of getting into collecting older arcade machines, you'll probably want to check out the rec.games.video.arcade.collecting newsgroup, and possibly the Video Arcade Preservation Society WWW Page for more info. Here's a couple of links to some interesting collector's classic games pages as well.

Sean Riddle's Williams Games page- well happening, indeed.

Next Issue: Williams' Sinistar

Big Up to Marc Mandeltort at Marco Specialties for help and info.

Defender, Joust and Robotron are 1980,1982 Williams Electronics Games, Inc. All Rights Reserved