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PILOT/Prototype Williams DEFENDER

Last updated January 11, 2019

Please note that the magazine articles contained herein were written in 2003,
I have gone through them adding hyperlinks to relevant websites,
but the text remains as it was, with any edits properly noted.

May i also point out that the word 'Prototype' was used througout this page, because the machines'
story was not clear at the time. With all the evidence put together, it is clear that it should be
considered as a PILOT machine. These were made in very small numbers (single figures), as Eugene Jarvis confirmed.


here is the machine today in Retrokade. Here is the machine when it first arrived last year.. Another shot of the machine when it first arrived.
  Here is a closeup of the front when we first received the machine.  

See the bottom of the page for more photos...

I had to put this page together to collate the evidence for this machine actually being real. When I first came across it and mentioned it on I got a torrent of nay-sayers who insisted it wasn't made by Williams, and was instead some sort of after-market artwork applied later, probably made by Willis, or the whole machine was a bootleg. They also were quite offended by me saying it was a prototype, while I agree the word 'prototype' indicates something hand-built and one-off, it was clear to me this wasn't strictly speaking one of a kind, but was at the very least, one of a 'pilot run' of the first machines made for trade shows, with some hand-built features etc. So I called it a pilot/prototype machine which sort of works both ways, and then set about showing how I believed it to have come about.

Everytime I came back with more information, I got more people protesting that it wasn't real. So, I put this page together, with side by side photos to actually show the evidence for it being real. Gradually the twits who gave me such a hard time went silent, and here this page remains as an interesting reference for how this machine came about...


The following articles were written by me and published in the now defunct AAM (Antique Amusements Magazine)

issue 119 - July 2003 :


Yes, it could have happened.. Williams could have released a game that featured Star Wars artwork, and they would have got away with it, if it wasn't for those pesky lawyers at LucasFilm limited....

We bagged an incredibly cool machine recently, resulting from a 3 year old lead. By a strange quirk of fate, we were visiting a friend in Holland (on a cab-buying trip of course) when we got to the subject of collectors in Europe. From a brief discussion I ascertained that our mutual friend knew somebody that I had been trying to get hold of for sometime.

About three years ago (or maybe more?) I saw a website which had lots of machines shown, in Europe, that was open for visits... It stuck in my mind because they had an incredible stash of games. The exhibit was only temporary (about 6 months) and then it went into storage. The website remained for a year or more in the same spot, then vanished. At the time I was hoarding any pictures of old arcade machines that I could find, and one particularly jumped out at me and stuck in my mind, this was a Williams Defender, but not as we know it... For this Defender... children, was a strange and magical machine, adorned with artwork not of the standard attire one would expect. Alas no, this Defender was dressed up in, well, strange and funky clothing. I saved the picture and tried to get hold of the owner to ask a little more about it. Sadly, the language barrier thwarted my initial attempts to hold a decent conversation with the owner.

After receiving a response to my e-mail inquiry about the machine as a 3 line reply about the local weather and the preparation of hot-cross buns in the month of November, I decided that his English was as bad as my Belgique and that no sustainable correspondence could be endured. Fast forward 3 years or so to a conversation in the garden of a posh new suburban house in Apeldoorn. Once we realised we were speaking about the same person, things got a bit better. My Dutch friend of course having near perfect English said that he knew the owner in question, and that they spoke fairly often. Strangely, the owner of the Defender spoke Dutch, but not English. This then resulted in a rather lengthy e-mail conversation whereby our English was translated to Dutch and then passed onto the owner who understood it. The resulting Dutch was sent back, translated to English and sent to us :) It was a strange conversation, but fruitful. After a few weeks of bartering, we came to a deal to collect the machine in question.

The deal was, a straight swap for a 'standard' restored Defender. Sounded fair to us, and we went ahead with the deal. Now from which pipe was I smoking when we decided to restore a Defender and drive across Europe to swap it for a beaten up non working Defender I hear you ask. Ahhh, well.. You see, if you haven't worked it out by now, I suggest you put the magazine down and go fishing or something. Yes.. Its... a... PROTOTYPE DEFENDER!!!! Defender is really common in the UK. Every man and his dog has one, it is rapidly becoming one of the most common machines in home use, I would say its nearly competing with space invaders uprights as the most commonly owned arcade machine in the home. I have one. My friend has 6 in his garage. Another friend I know has 5, another has 4... We keep finding them.. Don't ever let anyone tell you Defender is rare, because it isn't, its just in demand, thats all.

So... you have prototype games, ooh very rare, only made a few, probably because it was a shit game... they are desirable for their rarity alone... but what about the prototype machines that were made for hugely successful mass-produced games? Are they any less desirable? well.. Its interesting, since I know of no prototype Asteroids, Pacman, etc.. in the world. So, how do I know this is a prototype? well there is some pretty damning evidence, and it loops back to the photo I saw on the web from years ago. The artwork is the most supportive for visual proof. Its totally different, its so different, one might say it actually looks quite wrong, but only because we're so used to the production artwork.

OK, so how can I say its prototype with just this funky nonstandard artwork to go on? well, the screen bezel artwork is different too... So? I hear you say,... I think the best evidence that puts it nicely into the proto category is the pre-production photos that were taken of Defender machines with matching artwork... evidence 1 rests on a 'Coming Soon' poster that Williams released which shows the front of a Defender machine, with the obligatory scantily-clad female draped over one side, with front artwork that matches this machine. The sides are not visible on the poster... this poster was made before the game was on sale to operators, it makes sense that at that stage they thought this was the artwork they were going to use... evidence number 2 is from the Williams HyperBall pinball machine flyer. The thinking behind this one is a little more confusing, defender was already a smash hit at this time, perhaps they were just using up an old batch of photographs taken at the same time as the pre production poster, because under the heading "From the makers of defender.... we bring you.. HyperBall" or something like that... they have a picture of a Defender video arcade machine... this time there is no artwork on the front, but the sides are in full view, and once again the artwork matches that of this machine, and both sets of artwork match in theme and content. [edit : Scans of these posters and flyers can be found further down the page]

Now, why did they release 2 pieces of promo material with totally wrong artwork? this is nothing new.. The press department is trying to flog a new game, and don't really know what the final one will look like at the time of the product launch, a lot of games end up looking different to the ones on the sales flyers, there are numerous examples of this, ranging from Galaga to Centipede... its just the way it goes..

OK, so above is the circumstances and results, and the evidence.. Now we need to work out why they didn't go with this artwork on the final machine. Its not like they changed the artwork, they completely changed the way they decorated the machine, changing from full colour sticker artwork to a 2-colour sprayed-stencil version.. that's a pretty drastic change. Now there is a rumour, and you know how I love a rumour, but it has some weight to it. Look at the pictures I have included here and see if you can spot the glaring error in the artwork. Yes, Williams shamefully cashed in on the Star Wars phenomenon by blatantly ripping off certain elements from the Star Wars' film, including Tie Fighters, and X-wings.. They don't seem to have particularly cared much for themed artwork as nothing in the game of Defender even remotely resembles anything out of the StarWars film whatsoever...

So, did they drop the artwork because it looked a bit silly not making sense with the actual game on the screen, or was it because the slightly balding neurotic legal department manager rushed down to the art department frothing at the mouth, screaming "NOOOO!! please god NO!!!!!" and slamming his already sweating brow against the nearest wall, envisioning the almost inevitable court case with the film company who had already ruined several small companies that had dared to copy something relating to Star Wars? That, my friends is something we may never know unless somebody in Williams can give us some straight answers.

My money is on Hell enjoying a respite in the freakishly warm weather they have down there before we hear anything conclusive. So how did this machine escape from Williams, and what the hell was it doing in Europe (bearing in mind most companies withdraw prototypes to the factory and trash them for tax purposes)? Well, on this point too, I have a theory, which although might not be right, does fit the situation. Williams didn't really push this game too hard when they released it, because they thought it would flop. This might explain not withdrawing it from their show stand and replacing it with a production model. I have no evidence to support the assumption that a machine with this artwork was on their stand at the AMOA show in America, but one would assume ex-field tested machines could be. [edit : new evidence suggests that machines of this type were indeed at the AMOA show, see magazine scan below.]

OK, now imagine the exhibition people having to go to the UK for the ATEI show... dragging the sorry-ass star wars artwork defender with them. Now imagine them going to Europe to promote it. Now imagine they are at the end of their tour, they have to pack up and go home to America, they throw out everything else on the stand, posters, banners, carpet etc.. and the machines get returned to the European distributor, it saves money on shipping them back across the pond. The European distributor (or European Williams office? I dunno) gets instructed to dismantle the game for tax purposes.

Suppose the European department thinks there's no harm in stashing it (or them?) to one side for future use? If they were a distributor, I doubt they would be too concerned about carrying out the wishes, to the letter, of one of their suppliers. Suppose they just sell it on the side to some chump operator who operates it anyway.. Years later the machine gets found in a warehouse, and saved by the European owner that we obtained the machine from.. ?

There's a lot of suppositions there, but what is obvious, is that this machine was operated for some time. It picked up the usual dings, the usual cig burns on the control panel, the usual screen burn, and had the PCBs swapped out a few times. This means that if it did have an early romset, or a custom romset for the AMOA show, this has long gone. It has been operated, and like most Defenders, PCBs were swapped out with good ones when they went wrong. The machine itself looks pretty much just like a production model, but there are some interesting differences, as mentioned above, the screen bezel, the artwork on the sides and front (of course), the control panel fixings, the internal wood construction, the use of a very early widget pcb with extra power connector, extra mountings for early sound pcb, etc.. There is too much evidence to support this was either a prototype, a field-test, or a trade show machine. Quite often 1 machine could be used in all 3 categories, but it would be nice to get an official word from Williams on the deal.

I'm just so glad the European owner didn't peel off the sideart stickers to see if there was 'real' sideart underneath (as he thought the machine was a bootleg). The machine is undergoing careful restoration and may one day feature in RKD ( for you to play!! So anyway, hope you enjoyed the pictures and the story...


issue 122 - November 2003 :


You may recall an article I wrote on a Prototype Defender that we uncovered recently and added to the Retrokade collection (issue 119)... The circumstances of how it came about and why it resided where we found it were somewhat of a mystery... until last month when I was fortunate enough to come across a stack of Trade magazines that have certainly helped to demystify the situation... (see other article in this issue for more on the trade magazines)..

The Defender machine we have rather unexpectedly turned up on the front cover of a magazine that was issued in January 1981 as an 'ATE Special' I'm guessing it was given away at the ATE show to all who entered, as is the custom... The photo in question was of the Ruffler + Deith stand at that show, where Defender was shown to the public for the first time. Ruffler & Deith seemed to have a habit of employing various dolly birds for each of their shows, and this show was no exception. Two girls in suitably spacey themed silver spandex and accompanying glittery slag wellies (knee high boots to you and me) were draped over the machines for the shoot.

These pictures possibly show *the* machine that we have here, on that stand in 1981.. how cool is that. The description accompanying the pictures is slightly vague though, along the lines of "Two lovely girls, Celia Fox and Della Finch, welcome a newcomer from the United States - the Defender by Williams Electronics of Chicago." Now, what are we to make of this statement? I know the reporter was only reporting what they saw, but the implication is that the actual machine pictured was from the united states, from Williams. This would go half way to supporting my theory that it was sent to England direct from the states as a 'show' machine for the official distributor in this country, Ruffler + Deith.

Please study the photos herein carefully, notice the unmistakable front artwork and the different screen bezel. OK, you can gawp at the birds too if you want, I think that was allowed back then, I dunno if the women's lib are reading, I hope not with all this gratuitous female idolising going on here :)


14/04/05 UPDATE!! - thanks to my good friend Steven Zeuner of NJ who found the front cover of Replay magazine showing the Defender prototype! This was the 1980 AMOA trade show issue from Chicago... Mr Zeuner sent me the page years ago, but via a useless friend it took a year to get to me!... but here it is now ;-)
here is the front cover of 'Leisure Play' magazine from the ATE London trade-show at Olympia in 1981
here is one other photo of the machine on the stand, a couple of pages into the magazine.
Here is a promotional poster of defender (courtesy of the arcade flyer archive) which shows the front artwork.
Here is a Williams HyperBall flyer, this shows the side artwork of a very early defender. (From Internet pinball database)

So there we have it, an actual 'back in the day' sighting of the machine in question, along with flyer/press photographs of early pre-production machines..

1980-82 saw a large number of trade shows in England/Europe, and so far in my research I haven't seen the machine appear in any other press photographs. It seems that the next show to open in Europe was in Switzerland, where Williams are mentioned on a distributor stand, but no accompanying photographs. All subsequent shows that Ruffler+Deith attended appear to have a stock painted defender on show, this prototype mysteriously vanishes... Rather notably a Williams representative visited the French company 'Jeutel' at the 1981 ATE show and served them with an injunction and forced them to remove their bootleg Defender machine.. Remember it was at this very same show that Defender was unveiled and already someone had bootlegged it! How's that for cheek! .

=================== END OF MAGAZINE ARTICLES



Michigan warehouse discovery... ?
look on the far left hand side of this picture, you can see the a pilot defender in a very sorry looking way, as are all the games in this place.

Here's a nice picture of the side, you can see the mold starting on it though... I don't think this machine was saved, or if the place was saved from being bulldozed... see the link below for the guys page of sad warehouse photos...

[update : this machine may well have been saved, i'm trying to track the new owner down now.]
[update: this link is now dead]


Comparisons with Production models.
Here I have pasted the production next to the pilot. Notice that I had to mirror the image on the production model to show the comparison. The only artwork that they seem to have kept is the green dude recoiling from the explosion, and the flames in the bottom left hand corner..
There isn't a great difference between the pilot and repro control panel artwork. I think the copyright notice is missing the 'TM'.
The artwork on the front has been scored out by hand. You can even see where the scoring with a sharp blade has gone too far in some places, its also not all that tidy, definitely cut by hand. The photo gives some idea of what i'm talking about.
These are two tags inside the machine, one on the control panel harness, one on the main loom behind the widget board area. 209 and 143 are the numbers.. I'm not sure how to interpret those numbers.
The main difference in the marquee is once again the 'TM' logo is missing from next to the R of 'DEFENDER'.
The screen bezel is quite different, the 'TM' logo is once again absent from all text, the instruction card is sadly missing though. The window for the instruction card is much smaller and in a different position to the production model. Also you will not that there are no blue 'lightening streaks' on the bottom of the bezel..

This is one of the best bits of evidence I managed to spot. The artwork is 'signed' by CONSTANTINO.. This is the same signatory that has left his mark on the Robotron marquee, and whose full name is Constantino Mitchell follow the link there to see how many pinball machines for Williams he has done work on.. This proves that the artwork was made by Williams for sure.


NEW STUFF 26.02.04

Previously thought to be a bootleg, here is another picture of an Italian Geltronics Defender. This one appears to be unhacked. In an email from Alessio from Italy, I get the following information. This is a licensed version made for the Italian market - VideoGElectronicGames built the cab but all the other stuff (bordset, cp, marquee, bezel, sideart etc,) came from Williams US The early boardset was used in this version and the bezel has a license agreement.

Click the picture to the left so see the sales flyer for this machine, showing it to be a licensed version.

I received some more detailed pictures of this machine that you can see here

the usenet thread can be viewed here.

Yep, somebody managed to query Eugene Jarvis about this artwork, and here is what he had to say :

Ladies and Gents, I contacted RawThrills Inc. The new VG company headed by Eugene Jarvis, the creator of Defender. This was my question;

"Recently a collector that I am in contact with acquired a Defender cabinet with artwork much different than what is normally seen. This artwork has tie fighters and x-wings as well as near full-color graphics unlike the black/yellow/red scheme of other cabinets we have seen.

You can see on his site he has acquired pictures of some promotional flyers with the same artwork. Here is the rub, others in this debate contend that this is a rip-off cabinet and not one that was ever produced by Williams at all. Some have gone so far as to say that the promotional flyers themselves were doctored to aid the ruse. My question for Mr. Jarvis is simply, "Does he have any recollection of Defender being released either as a pilot, prototype, or limited edition by Williams in a cabinet with this "Star Wars" artwork?" While I realize he cannot verify the authenticity of this particular cabinet, if he can verify that Defender was released in this cabinet at some point for some reason (assumed to be before the lawyers caught wind of it) , I think it would settle this dumb little debate." I have just received this reply direct from both Eugene Jarvis who spoke to Connie Mitchell -

"Hi James, You win! :) - Talked to Connie Mitchell the artist, and he confirms its the real McCoy. The first 4 or 5 protos had full color art stickers as opposed to the cheap-ass stencil that was produced. I remember being somewhat indignant about the switch at the time. - Jarvis"

Yours, 1HookedSpaceCadet (James)



The cabinet at Retrokade is marked with VI-373 painted on the rear of the cabinet sortof on the top.. It is unclear whether this is an operator mark, or made by Williams, probably the former though.

The cabinet serial number is stamped 438733 in the normal place on the rear right upper above the door. The monitor carries a Williams serial number sticker marked with the same number as the cabinet. It is unclear whether this was a serial number from Williams at the time the machine went out, or whether it might have been added later in order to sell the machine off at the distributors.

The monitor is a G07 and is dated Oct 07 1980.

An interesting parallel pointed out by Pat D I think... not only was the art ripped from some sort of StarWars promo material, but the dude on the right was ripped off from a comic :)


UPDATE 11/1/2019 :

Scott Guenther contacted me with the following info :

"Ran across this old article [this defender proto story] today. Caught my attention, as I've been an avid comic reader and collector for many decades, and the prototype art is clearly Jack Kirby art (Kirby is the king of comic artists and has a very recognizable style) The article states that Mitchell was the artist, and shows where someone else pointed out a comic where Mitchell ripped off a character. That comic was drawn by Jack Kirby. The lower half of the side art is very clearly ripped off from 2001: A Space Odyssey comic drawn by Kirby in 1977. Here's the page so you can see for yourself."

How cool is that? A total rip off!



Yes, since this page was put up (I think at first in late 2003), some other machines have now been found.
If you know of any more, rumors or whatever, let me know!

Serial number Owner Location details / links


Oliver Moazezzi South Coast, UK

Obtained from the States, has pilot marquee, pilot sideart, no front art and regular bezel. Monitor dated August 28 1980. Control panel tag says 174.
CLICK HERE for a directory full of pictures

438733 Domonic Escott (Retrokade) South Coast, UK As featured on this page, it has the pilot marquee, bezel, front art, sideart. Obtained in Belgium.
438776 Q*Bert
(forum nick)

view the thread here at
has pilot marquee, pilot sideart, no front art and regular-ish bezel. This is now for sale and the owner has put pictures on Flickr, click here to see!

439642 MattX Tuscon, AZ This machine was for auction in Charlotte, NC and seen on ebay in 2004 (i think?) where the serial number was incorreclty noted as 438642. It was apparently seen on ebay a year before that too. It has headphone sockets, and it has side and front art, the front art is not closely scored out like the others....
??? Mark
USA ?? Rumored to exist, no contact with owner, it is thought this might be the same machine as pictured in the kzoo warehouse pictures seen elsewhere on this page. I've never had any confirmation of this in years.


Serial number explanation :

So, what do these serial numbers mean? no, it doesn't mean that the difference between 438776 and 439642 means there must be 134 pilot machines, serial numbers with Williams do not work like that.

So why do they start so high? why 438xxx? well.. Williams was a big pinball manufacturer, one assumes they would have built this new venture (a videogame, something they hadn't done for a while) using the same paperwork and procedures that they made their pinball machines from, and hence, the numbering system was also adopted. The number actually just relates to just when the machine rolled off the line.

From looking at pinball serial numbers at the IPSND we can see that the pilot Defender numbers fall in between the time that Blackout was rolling out the factory, you can see there's a gap in its serial number sequence, where the pilot run falls. Unless somebody knows more about Williams serial numbers than I can find on the net, and the precise spacing of numbers between these machines, its difficult to say how many were made, other than the figure that Eugene Jarvis quoted at 4 or 5. My own personal guessed limit on numbers produced has to be < 10 machines, and Eugene has to be somewhat close to the mark seeing as he was there ;-)



This is another Geltronics defender that was converted, the previous owners' website was available on this link but now appears to be dead.
the wiki entry for Defender
ok, here's the entry on the KLOV, inaccurate as ever, but nothing new there.
Some worthy defender restorations, nice to see people putting in the effort.



With the confirmation that the artwork was signed by a pre-existing Williams Artist, and with Eugene Jarvis commenting that 4 or 5 machines were made with this artwork originally.. This is definitely genuine artwork and should dispel any myths surrounding 3rd party, or Willis artwork.


to the various people that have emailed me over the past few years helping to assemble this page, a lot of who I didn't make a note of, but those recently include:
- Kevin Mullins
- Alessio Aminotti
- Oliver Moazezzi
- Domonic Escott



enjoyed this page? good :) I will continue to add more information when I get 5 minutes to do so, I will..

This page was entirely written by and is (C) Andy Welburn in 2003-2006 no ripping it off thankyou! :-)


If you need to send me one of those email things, the first bit is andy, and the other bit is this domain
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