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2600 Defender - awesome alternative or heretical hackjob?


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I wrote before how I believe that Atari, at least during the black-label era, seemed determined to give games for the Atari 2600 their own distinct identities. It seemed the goal was less "make a port of the arcade game" and more "make an Atari 2600 version of the arcade game", a subtle but important difference in wording. I can't say for sure that this was a conscious effort, but there were some policies in place, such as how code had to be dedicated to color cycling and, at least at first, to providing B&W-exclusive color palettes, that helped give each black-label game that common early-2600 "charm". This wasn't a problem as long as that motivation still resulted in a good game. For Space Invaders, Missile Command and Berzerk, it did. For Pac-Man... not so much. Defender is somewhere in between. It's different enough to offend the purists, but taken on its own terms, it's an engaging little game, more so than Pac-Man. Ultimately I like it.

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I liked 2600 Defender back in the day. I played it a lot, and basically mastered it.

 

That said, its deficiencies were plain for anyone to see. After I got the 5200 version of Defender, I didn't go back to 2600 Defender very often. When I got 2600 Stargate, there was even less reason.

 

I do get a nostalgic kick out of playing 2600 Defender. I do sometimes pop it in for old time's sake. But it's definitely not a particularly good port. It's a perfect example of a game which was OK for it's time, but that time is now long over.

 

I don't hate it. I don't regret my time with it. I have many fond memories of playing it. I can't imagine not having it available in my 2600 collection of games. But I can readily admit I only liked it because I was 12 and had no other home option for the game available.

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I wrote before how I believe that Atari, at least during the black-label era, seemed determined to give games for the Atari 2600 their own distinct identities.

 

Just to air my particular opinion on this point again, I don't think it was just an Atari thing. Ports of arcade games meant something different in the pre-2600 Pac-Man world. Arcade ports were merely inspired by their arcade counterparts rather than having any real meaningful similarity. It wasn't until the Colecovision and it's centerpiece of Donkey Kong that there was a movement to have home games be carbon copies of their arcade parents.

 

Which is funny, because Colecovision Donkey Kong has a lot of dissimilarities to the arcade game, but it LOOKED arcade perfect at the time, and that was what was important. But after that you saw a lot more attempts to copy look and/or feel, and a lot of talk about bringing the arcade experience home.

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Which is funny, because Colecovision Donkey Kong has a lot of dissimilarities to the arcade game, but it LOOKED arcade perfect at the time, and that was what was important.

 

True. I think that was the first time I ever dealt with that..i.e. . a home game that really did look "perfect" on a home console. It was like a nuclear bomb had gone off in my brain :lol: We were just so blown away by the fact that it looked the way it did, that we were perfectly happy to discount the differences. But then again we were used to differences with all our previous arcade gaming on the VCS so it was also the norm, and expected.

 

For me personally I think the first time I thought we had finally hit that point of "perfection" (or close enough) to arcade gameplay in the pre-emulation days was getting Galaga on the NES.. many years later.

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I guess I'm a bit biased on the subject. because 2600 Defender was the first video game I ever played back in 1989. I like almost everything about the game except the ship disappearing when firing. I didn't even know about the arcade version until much later, and when I finally decided to give it a try in an emulator i was lucky to last a minute or two due to the higher difficulty level. Maybe I just suck at Defender, but I prefer playing the 2600 version with it's more relaxed difficulty.

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Just to air my particular opinion on this point again, I don't think it was just an Atari thing. Ports of arcade games meant something different in the pre-2600 Pac-Man world. Arcade ports were merely inspired by their arcade counterparts rather than having any real meaningful similarity.

 

Well, most "ports" at the time were unauthorized clones, and so it was in the makers' best interests not to make it too close to the arcade game. Even Atari was guilty of this, with a lot of early black-labels like Dodge 'Em and Circus Atari being ports-in-everything-but-name of arcade games. Then, starting with Space Invaders, Atari started making efforts to "legitimately" port games to the 2600. But even at that point they were still making them more 2600 entities than faithful conversions. Old habits dying hard? An effort to stand out from any competition that might do the same? Whatever it was, it worked up until the point buyers decided a game having that "2600 charm" but not much else wasn't enough to make them like it!

 

For me personally I think the first time I thought we had finally hit that point of "perfection" (or close enough) to arcade gameplay in the pre-emulation days was getting Galaga on the NES.. many years later.

I didn't reach that point until I saw Out Run on the Sega Saturn. :)

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Everything Atari is way before my time, but even I can understand that arcade-to-VCS games weren't so much ports or adaptations as they were "representations." The main goal was to sell it as "Look! It's that cool arcade game, but now you can play it at home!" and the novelty of that was huge.

 

I mean, the whole reason arcades kind of died out (to my knowledge) is because eventually, home consoles capability did catch up, and so the novelty of having arcade classics at home wore off. It wasn't just "convenient" to have a home console anymore, it was better.

 

In my twenty years on this Earth, I don't think that I have ever seen a stand-alone arcade. I've only seen them as side attractions to some other front, like the popular restaurant-arcade hybrid "entertainment centers". Chuck E. Cheese, Dave & Busters, etc. - but I'd hardly call the former's skee-ball abundance and the latter's surplus of hunting games and slot machines a proper "arcade." Fortunately there's a really cool place in Chicago called Logan Hardware, a record store and general nostalgia shop with a free arcade in the back for paying customers. I've only been once, two years ago, but I wonder if my high score is still on their Donkey Kong machine...

 

There's another place by me called Headquarters which is a spectacular beercade. I turn twenty-one in just about two months, and that's where I plan on celebrating. I practically drool every time I pass the place, since you can see all the classic machines through the windows.

Edited by Sharkham
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Everything Atari is way before my time, but even I can understand that arcade-to-VCS games weren't so much ports or adaptations as they were "representations." The main goal was to sell it as "Look! It's that cool arcade game, but now you can play it at home!" and the novelty of that was huge.

 

 

Missile Command was the first "port" of an arcade-game during the black label aera.

 

IMO it made more sense to have a city-scene (2600) for saving "humanoids" from aliens than an "mountain-scene" (arcade-defender).

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I was only a nipper when my parents bought me a 2600, so had no concept of just how close the likes of Missile Command/Moon Patrol/Defender etc to the Arcade games they were converted from, i just knew i loved the artwork on the cart/box of the game and the game itself, it had me hooked and at that age, the sheer fun of gaming was all that mattered.

I've never gone back to the 2600 since moving on all those years ago, so what i'd make of it now is something else again, but for the impact it had on myself at the time, it was great.
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I was only a nipper when my parents bought me a 2600... I just knew i loved the artwork on the cart/box of the game and the game itself, it had me hooked and at that age, the sheer fun of gaming was all that mattered.

 

 

This is a nice point that I connect with. The games were fun because they were new and nobody expected arcade perfection/duplication. But also, the box art went a long way to fueling my imagination, too. I used to use sticky "fun tack" to hang all my 2600 boxes on the one wall of my bedroom. Too bad I never took a picture of that. I loved the box art , especially Atari's box art. Defender's was really cool!

 

post-37-0-83912500-1460467078_thumb.jpeg

 

post-37-0-36041800-1460467244_thumb.jpg

 

More on Atari artwork: http://www.polygon.com/2014/3/26/5482198/the-art-of-atari-a-celebration-of-game-packagings-golden-age

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This is a nice point that I connect with. The games were fun because they were new and nobody expected arcade perfection/duplication. But also, the box art went a long way to fueling my imagination, too. I used to use sticky "fun tack" to hang all my 2600 boxes on the one wall of my bedroom. Too bad I never took a picture of that. I loved the box art , especially Atari's box art. Defender's was really cool!

Agreed! I love the Atari artwork. I've got a 2600 Defender box (among others) on display here in my office, in fact.

 

For anyone who isn't already aware, an entire book on the "Art of Atari" is now available for preorder!

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In some ways, the absolute fidelity of ports -- especially classic-era ports -- has become a lot less relevant to me since the advent of MAME, Arcade Treasures/Classics collections, and so forth.

 

It's true that if a system should be able to pull off an arcade-perfect port, it irritates me when unnecessary compromises are made -- for example, the embarrassing EA port of Marble Madness for Genesis, vs. the Tengen one which is infinitely better. But generally speaking I'm far more irritated by inaccurate emulation than I am by inaccurate porting.

 

In cases where arcade perfection was never going to happen, maybe it's profitable to think of these ports more like "arrangements". If I want to listen to a Bach cello suite or a Brahms symphony, nothing will supersede the original -- but it's still interesting to hear them played on an electric bass, or arranged for synthesizer by Rick Wakeman (respectively), even though compromises have to be made in both cases.

 

If all you care about is technical perfection and absolute fidelity to the original, then sure, nothing but the original or the closest possible copy will suffice, and that's fine. I suppose that's the hardcore arcade gamer's perspective, and in some ways I sympathize: I can't abide home ports of Robotron, for example, because the loss of impact is just too much.

 

But in most cases, for me, the variations and compromises can be interesting in and of themselves. Each console is like a musical instrument: each one has its own world, its own rules, strengths, and limitations.

 

(Sometimes seeing a creative artist -- whether a musician or a programmer -- work within strict limitations is interesting in and of itself: Bach cello suites are boring on a keyboard, but interesting on a bass, because a keyboard can play nearly anything with ease and a bass has more innate resistance. Many creative artists find that, as soon as the thing "limiting" them is taken away, the quality of their work tanks fast, which is why record store bins are filled with bad solo albums from band members who sought freedom, but found out they needed an adversary to keep their self-indulgence in check.)

 

So I can enjoy VCS Defender in its own right. It's not one of those crappy, low-framerate ports that the Tandy CoCo and other 8-bit computers sometimes got, many of which really aren't enjoyable unless you're in a very forgiving and archaeological mood. Taken for what it is, VCS Defender is a smooth-scrolling shooter with decent aesthetics and solid gameplay. If it's not a perfect port of the arcade original, well...arcade perfection isn't the main reason I fire up the VCS anyway. :)

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This is a nice point that I connect with. The games were fun because they were new and nobody expected arcade perfection/duplication. But also, the box art went a long way to fueling my imagination, too. I used to use sticky "fun tack" to hang all my 2600 boxes on the one wall of my bedroom. Too bad I never took a picture of that. I loved the box art , especially Atari's box art. Defender's was really cool!

 

attachicon.gifDefender 2600 box art.jpeg

 

attachicon.gifDefender 2600 artwork.jpg

 

More on Atari artwork: http://www.polygon.com/2014/3/26/5482198/the-art-of-atari-a-celebration-of-game-packagings-golden-age

 

The Defender artwork is awesome and very reminiscent of StarGate, perhaps the artist knew of the connection and was inspired by the Defender art:

 

post-30777-0-42260800-1460482603_thumb.jpg

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