I’ve hinted at this. It is time to come clean. On Christmas Eve, 1983, I rolled over the Defender at Maverik’s Country Store in my small, northern Utah town. It took 2.5 hours. We’re talking over a million points. I figured if I scored over a million points, I’d be burned into ROM and show up on the top of the list of that machine forever.
I decided that it wasn’t worth it to save the humans. The game wanted you to feel all helpful toward the humans. These evil capsules would come down from space and try to turn the humans into android capsules that were more aggressive than the regular evil capsules. Once the humans were either turned into androids, or you’d shot them all, you were blown into space. So my strategy was that I’d kill them all and then go to space where the big points were. Defender was a game with about 60 buttons. As a piano player, it was made for my hands. I’d hit the reverse button a million times with my left thumb, forcing the saucer thingies called “Baiters” to hover. I’d get about 20 of them swarming on one screen and then hit the smart bomb with my right thumb. The smart bomb would nuke everything on screen. In space, with all those Baiters, it meant three extra smart bombs and lives. It got to be ridiculous. I haven’t touched Defender since then. I can’t.
A few years ago on the TV show News Radio, a video game called Defender:Stargate was installed for the workers to chill out with. One of the characters walked up to it and said, “Hello. It’s been a long, long time.” The same character then did the voice of the game. It said, “Hello, Dave.”
Once I discovered that Defender didn’t post a score over 1 million points (undoubtedly one of my first usability/info architecture hurdles as a consumer), I walked away from the machine, leaving tons of extra lives and smart bombs. i hoped that my gift would be looked upon by some 8 year old as the best Christmas ever. That didn’t stop the heartbreak. For at least 30 minutes.