Defender 8-??-82


Talk about a surprise out of nowhere.  While doing research for his new book Atari Corp: Business is War, Curt Vendel came across some source code files for a few Atari 8-bit games.  While most of the source code was for released games, one contained a completely new and unknown version of Defender. This version was written by Michael Colburn (who later went on to do the 1200XL self-test demo) and looks completely different than the version by Steve Baker that was eventually released.  Why Michael Colburn decided to do his own version is currently unknown, but the source code indicates that he finished his first revision (rev. 0) sometime in August of 1982 which was the same time as Steve Baker’s version was finished (the 5200 adaptation was done by August 15th so the 8-bit version was finished slightly earlier).  Some possible explanations are that Michael was working on a competing version which was not picked (a similar occurrence happened with the 2600 port of Millipede), was working on a his version not knowing that it was also being worked on by someone else (a la 2600 Battlezone), or simply decided to do his own version for fun.  Whatever the explanation, this version ended up being shelved and forgotten about.  Until now that is.


The first thing you’ll notice about this version is that the graphics and colors are much simpler. Not only are the enemies much smaller and less detailed, but everything is uses the dreaded orange/green/blue color scheme that was very common in early Atari 8-bit programs.  Next you’ll see that the reserve lives counter, smart bomb indicator, and score font are very simplistic looking, but they may just be placeholders at this point.  Ok, so the graphics aren’t as flashy as the released version, but how does it play?  The answer? Alright-ish. 


While Michael’s version of Defender isn’t as polished looking as Steve’s, it runs much smoother and some of the explosion graphics are actually better looking.  Michael’s version also doesn’t have all the annoying flicker that Steve’s version suffers from when too many objects are on the screen, but only because it is sacrificing detail.  The sounds in this version are also more simplistic and there is a constant 'engine noise' in the background whether your ship is moving or not.  The enemy bullets in this version are also very tiny and appear to 'stick' to the screen sometimes rather than move (much like the mines in later levels) which makes them hard to avoid. There also seems to be a long pause before all the level starts which isn't nearly as noticeable in Steve's version.  As valiant of an effort as this alternate version is, it’s obvious that Steve’s version is the superior.  And much like in Highlander, when it comes to an official port there can only be one.


As it stands, the game seems complete with only a few little glitches here and there (such as the 'dash' that appears at the bottom of the screen).  However as the source code indicates that this is revision 0, the game is obviously still a work and progress.  So Michael would have spruced it up a bit and fixed the remaining bugs fixed before being releasing it.  However even in this early state it’s interesting to see how another programmer would have gone about programming the game.  So sit back and take a look at the Atari 8-bit Defender we *almost* had.



Notice the 'dash' at the bottom of the screen




Simple, but it gets the job done

Here's the released version for comparison


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