I interviewed Jarvis a few years ago, and, even after two decades, he remains mesmerised by the Petri dish world he created back in 1982, comparing its shifting, drifting, sprawling waves of enemies to time-lapse footage of coral, and talking about his favourite bugs - the very best being wave five, where all the Brains are fixated with catching a single Mikey, meaning that, if you can keep him alive, you can score massive points by picking up the wandering swarms of mommies. This is also excellent dating advice, obviously.
Jarvis admitted that the Robotron machine that lurks down in his basement gets a once-a-month kicking from him (although often it's him who gets the kicking). He's not alone. Wherever you look in the industry, Robotron seems to be waiting for you. The team at Ruffian Games, currently piecing together Crackdown 2, light up when you mention the old Williams classic in interviews, Archer Maclean never moves to any studio without installing his own cabinet, and there's even one standing next to a Feeding Frenzy machine at PopCap's Seattle headquarters.
Yeah, PopCap. That's revealing: even the kings of casual see the appeal of such a brutal game. (Apparently, there's one employee who's really, really good at it, but works up a completely disgusting sweat when playing. The cabinet has new joysticks, incidentally, suggesting that it's seen some action over the years.)
And although it wasn't as much of a hit as Defender, it's been causing ripples ever since. There was Smash TV, of course, cementing Jarvis' reputation as the Paul Verhoeven of videogames, and Total Carnage, which is still one of the great white-trash pleasures of the blaster genre. Jeff Minter got in on the action, too, which is never a bad thing, and as soon as control pads started having two sticks, two-stick shooters had a welcome Indian Summer, with Geometry Wars and Mutant Storm and Super Stardust HD leading the way until, finally, everyone was making them and it all got a bit passť.
The 360's controller, with its irritatingly unaligned layout, was never the most ideal way of playing the game, but XBLA's workmanlike Robotron port at least had global leaderboards - and still does, if you nabbed a copy before all of Midway's old games mysteriously disappeared. J Allard's on there and everything, though he probably gets the intern to play for him.
Elsewhere, you can see the game's influence even in titles that aren't as pared down and unforgiving. BioShock 2 turns to Jarvis and DeMar a little bit whenever there's ADAM to gather, Crackdown 2's new range of differently-weighted mutants and impromptu Freak Breaches have clearly been influenced by regular trips to the year 2084, and any time people talk about emergence you can be sure that a Robotron reference, like an ice-cream truck jingle-jangle in a very old summer memory, is never far away.
Of all the games I've played over the years, it's probably the one that I know the best: I have tactics for mastering each of the first 10 or so waves, which I'll be passing on to my children one day, and I was once riding pretty high on the XBLA global rankings, until age, and the fact that most people were actually better than me, knocked me back down into the late hundreds. I like to delight my friends and loved ones with unexpectedly loud interpretations of the key sound effects from time to time. Zoorb-zorb-zub-zbzb! BRAAAANG! It's mostly a special occasions thing: Christmas, Easter, Wednesdays.
Oh yes, and the only proper stranger I've ever chatted to at length over Live was a 40-year-old Italian I met playing co-op Robotron. He was the Robotron king of his village growing up, playing at the laundrette, I think, and while the Xbox belonged to his son, he'd downloaded the arcade game himself. I cut him loose after he broke the million barrier, but I still think of him now and again.
Everyone who writes about games - and everyone who just plays them regularly, or even reads about them enough - has their favourite designers, I guess. I know people who get misty at the mention of Ron Gilbert, or Charles Cecil, or Pajitnov - that sad-eyed, ever-huggable bear - and Miyamoto makes almost everybody a bit wobbly of course. But for me, there's only ever been Eugene Jarvis and Larry DeMar.
And, if I'm honest, there's only ever been Robotron.