RPO Replay – Defender

The Ready Player One Replay is an exploration of the games that inspired the novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.


Gunfire wasn’t uncommon in the stacks, but it still shook me up. I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep, so I decided to kill the remaining hours until dawn by brushing up on a few coin-op classics. GalagaDefenderAsteroids. These games were outdated digital dinosaurs that had become museum pieces long before I was born. But I was a gunter, so I didn’t think of them as quaint low-res antiques. To me, they were hallowed artifacts. Pillars of the pantheon. When I played the classics, I did so with a determined sort of reverence.

— Ready Player One p. 13

When I was in the zone on a high-speed classic like Defender, I felt like a hawk in flight, or the way I thought a shark must feel as it cruises the ocean floor. For the first time, I knew what it was to be a natural at something. To have a gift.

— Ready Player One p. 64

Game Play

Defender is a side-scrolling shooter released by Williams Electronics in 1980. In the game, you control a small fighter craft as it zooms across the countryside trying to prevent UFOs from kidnapping humans. Ideally, you want to blast the ships before they can snag someone, but you can shoot them out of the air … and then try to snag the human before they plummet to their deaths.


it’s an exceedingly twitchy game which sees you skimming mountain tops and blasting anything that moves. Like Asteroids, you can do blind hyperjumps to avoid collisions, and you can also quickly flip your ship’s orientation. Because of this, it is also an exceedingly difficult game to play. As a kid, I avoided it in the arcades and instead played it on my Atari 2600. Even then, it wasn’t one of my favorite games because it was so … damn … hard.

High Scores

  • My High Score (Arcade): 7500
    • died after being 1st wave
  • My High Score (Atari): 
    • In Progress


Where to Play

  • Internet Archive: Defender – A free browser-based emulator. Getting it to run requires you to actually read the instructions; you won’t get far without them. Since this is an emulation of the actual game, you need to step through the initial setup/configuration of the virtual machine.
  • Free 80s Arcade: Defender – Actually, Defender II, the 1981 follow-up. It’s a free browser-based emulator.

Featured Image Meta

A screenshot of the arcade version of Defender. Credit: Williams Electronics.

1 thought on “RPO Replay – Defender”

  1. It was my first experience of the Trackball. If you want to see its legacy, check out a few thousand factory workstations ive designed/ implemented where the user interface is screen + trackball……Still obsessed!

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