With time the child draws in
This whipping boy done wrong
Deprived of all his thoughts
The young man struggles on and on he's known
A vow unto his own
That never from this day
His will they'll take away
"The Unforgiven" part II - Metallica
ST SOFTWARE REVIEW: DEFENDER II BY ARC
by Richard Karsmakers
"Oh My God."
These words of doubt and sorrow were uttered by a sprite.
It was by all means an OK looking sprite. It had a couple of
neat colours, and it was generally content being pushed around in
a peculiar world by its system's central processing unit. It was
quite popular among its kind.
It moved over a mountain range.
It was no mountain range as you might normally expect. There
were no snow-capped tops, no glaciers. There were no plants
growing on it. There weren't even any rocks.
It was a mountain range made of a long, thin line.
A red line, of all colours.
"Oh My God."
The words sounded even more full of doubt and sorrow now.
Two blue pixels that the sprite liked to think of as 'eyes'
looked up, and they saw an alien sprite coming towards it at
Almost beyond hearing distance, frantic shooting could be heard.
"Damn," the sprite thought, "that human is too far away to save
me from being abducted."
The sprite was, possibly for the last time in its electronic
life, right. Within seconds it hung under an alien ship and was
slowly taken upward, off the planet.
Ready to be mutated. It always hated that.
A bone-penetrating sound was audible now. The 'humanoid in
danger' alarm. The sounds of shooting ceased, for an instant.
After some seconds, they came nearer.
The pleasant red lines of the mountain range were growing dim in
the two blue pixels when it also saw the Defender space ship
It shot like hell, and soon the alien was zapped to smithereens.
The little sprite was no at all happy with that as it saw the
hopelessly inadequate handling of the Defender craft.
"Oh my God. Beginner."
Sprites are known to have only a small vocabulary and this
particular humanoid sprite was no exception.
The red lines of the mountain range lost most of their previous
pleasantness as they rapidly came towards the little sprite.
"Maybe it will want to play with me?"
The sprite's vocabulary must have doubled by the time it hit the
ground, uttering a terrifying noise that could easily have been
mistaken for that of a cow being pulled through a meat grinder
(rear end first).
Too bad, really.
Prologue-ish foreword. A bit like a introducing prelude
In the mean time, "Defender II" has been out for quite a while
now. This is the latest commercial game from cult game programmer
Jeff Minter (the man with the afghan, beard, Pink Floyd music and
a whole load of sheep, cows, llamas and other similar fauna) -
that is if you don't count the shareware game "Llamatron", of
which a full review can be found elsewhere in this issue.
The last game before "Defender II" was called "Photon Storm"
which was not quite as good as the things we were used of him
("Super Gridrunner" and "Andes Attack"). Even Jeff himself
Is "Defender II" another step on the right path?
My mind is suddenly and quite entirely filled with a deafening
noise of grind-core metal. I instantly recognise it. It is
Although some people prefer to think Entombed sucks (i.e.
parents and Tanis of TCB), I think it is the best hard core metal
currently on the market, together with Obituary of course (which
Tanis also thinks sucks).
Anyway. Their latest CD is called "Left Hand Path", and so it
the title song (which also happens to be the best).
So I'll rephrase the last line before the interrupt.
End of spontaneous interrupt
Is "Defender II" another step on the left hand path?
The history of the shoot-'em-up (well, kind of)
"Defender II" has finally enabled arcade fanatic Jeff Minter to
continue on the principle of "Andes Attack", which was actually a
bit of a souped up "Defender" clone. By combining his incredible
talents with the financial backup of ARC (Atari Research Centre),
he has now finally been able to use the original style of the
original Williams arcade game as well as the name. "Defender II"
comprises the original "Defender", together with the sequel
"Stargate" and Jeff's own unmistakable interpretation, "Defender
All in one program.
In "Defender", the aim of the game is to rescue humanoids that
aimlessly wander over a horizontally scrolling planet surface ("a
virtual universe", I think Jeff calls it, because it's more than
just one screen like in "Space Invaders"), where mean aliens
constantly seek to abduct and mutate them. Abducted humanoids
must be rescued before they get mutated (i.e. when they get to
the top of the screen). This can be done by shooting the alien to
which they are attached and then touch the humanoids with your
ship before they hit the ground. They will hang below your ship
until you put them on the ground. If you don't catch them, they
will drop to the ground and die.
There are also a multitude of other aliens that are designed
just to make this relatively simply task very difficult for you.
"Stargate" was the sequel to "Defender". It was a cult game that
remained quite unknown in Europe. Except for new opponents, it
also had the 'stargate', a gate through which you could fly when
a humanoid was in danger and that instantly teleported you to the
appropriate spot. You could also skip levels with it by entering
it with four or more humanoids dangling under your ship. Also,
"Stargate" included a facility that made you temporarily
Trigger finger testimonial
Jeff Minter has combined the two prequels and mixed an
interesting cocktail of toothpaste lasers, Artificially
Intelligent drones, lightning lasers and God knows what. The
result of this surge of creativity is the actual "Defender II"
game, which is, of course, even more difficult and challenging
(and seemingly more chaotic) than "Defender" and "Stargate".
A moment's lack of concentration and a killer drone appears
right on top of you. A blink of the eye and you're eating a load
of lead. Turn your ship around too slowly and the humanoid has
already been mutated - and mutated humanoids change into homing
"Defender II" is blatantly unsuitable for those who do not like
to zap everything off the screen ruthlessly, quickly and
accurately. Those who are not used to frequent aches in trigger
fingers (or trigger arms, actually) can just forget about it,
too. They had better continue playing a leisure game of "Xenon
II" or "Blood Money" (the fourth world of the latter, of course).
Not quite OK
There is, however, a big disadvantage that clings to the
"Defender II" package - the very same disadvantage that was
attached to "Andes Attack": The rather peculiar mouse controls.
Someone who starts to play the game should not expect to be able
to control the ship like he should within a couple of days -
unless, of course, he has played "Andes Attack" before. The mouse
controls are not very intuitive. When I want to fly to the right
I want to press the right button, and when I want to fly to the
left I want to press the left button, expecting that the ship
will turn around and start slowing down, then moving that way.
Unfortunately, this is not quite the case: Turning around is done
by pressing the right mouse button, and thrusting is done by the
It is also difficult to get used to the keyboard controls whilst
trying to figure out all these unintuitive mouse movements. The
TAB, CONTROL, LEFT SHIFT, ALTERNATE and SPACE keys are used which
occupy all attention of half of your body.
And all this has to be handled within split seconds - otherwise
death by the hand of a ruthless alien will be your share.
Or OK anyway?
After a couple of hours' practising, you slowly get used to the
controls. The game even tends to get more and more playable,
until at a certain stage you wouldn't want to otherwise. The
controls are just as much a pain in the ass as those of "Thrust"
if you're not used to them, but in the end everything turns out
for the better.
I just hope that people will want to invest the time needed to
learn these controls, or that they have already invested the time
in an earlier game the likes of "Andes Attack".
From the moment you handle the controls less awkwardly, the game
starts paying back every second you've put in practising. It
turns out to be extremely playable, and soon the challenge of
completing level after level infects you. New bonuses and even
weirder aliens fly all around you.
Some people say Jeff's nuts. Some say he should try to do
something different for a change. Others say he's not commercial.
One thing, however, is certain: He knows more of playability than
most of the people that seem to be convinced they should earn
their money in the software industry - and isn't playability the
And, along the line, I can assure you that he's not a nutter
(merely 'a slightly talented weirdo', to quote himself). I also
think that the true game fanatics will forever wish him to
continue doing what he does best in the 'less commercial' way.
"Defender II" is a very difficult game that requires quite a bit
of time to be invested in it before it eventually pays off. Only
then does it really become playable and addictive. Once the
controls have been mastered, "Defender" turns out to be a good
challenge, "Stargate" a brilliant sequel, and "Defender II" a
brilliant jewel to top the cream as it were; a tribute to the
games career of guru Jeff Minter that has already taken almost 10
With regard to addictiveness and playability it is one of the
very best of its kind. There's a load of humour in it, and
interest in this game will be long lasting - especially since
there's actually three games in the package that just beg to be
And, of course, it's cult (need I say more?).
Technically, everything's tip-top as well. The whole program is
loaded in memory in one go, and disk accesses are no longer
necessary. There's a neat menu with some nice digital music out
of which you can select any of the three games as well as a
'history' and an 'options' screen. You can even turn off the
sound effects "in case you're a dude that would rather sit
blasting aliens while listening to some good rock music".
The only thing that I do not particularly like about the game is
that it does not save any of the three games' hiscore tables to
disk. I can only suppose ARC told Jeff there were to be no disk
writes to prevent virus infection or something, for all other
Minter games save them normally.
However, this is only an irritating but minor blemish on this
game. It's definitely a game entirely to my liking!
Yeah! Right on, Jeff!
Title: Defender II
Company: ARC (but actually Llamasoft)
Playability after 15 mins 5
Playability after one day 9
Hookability after 15 mins 6
Hookability after one day 9
Overall rating: 8.5
Hardware: Colour monitor
Remark: Difficult controls at first, but
once that's mastered....ZZAPP!!
A kind of epilogue-ish afterword
Please take the trouble of reading the "Llamatron" review as
well. Jeff has finally taken up the courage to get away from
dependence upon the circuit where lots of people drive fat cars
and wear expensive suits because of the efforts of programmers
that don't earn nearly as much.
I would like to send many personal thanks to him for giving the
world courage in a time of mutant turtles and predators that only
want your cash for crap products. I would also like to extend
sincere thanks to Llamasoft (i.e. Jeff's mum and dad) for sending
me the game for review. Cheers to you, honourable predecessors of
the Software Saint!
I'd like to apologize for the miserable introductory novel. I
was kinda thinking not to do one, but regular reviews actually
need one (otherwise one'd think there's regression here and we
don't need that, do we?). Besides, I had never done a small novel
from the viewpoint of sprite before. I know it has been done with
the viewpoint from a whale, but that's sufficiently different.
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.