April 20, 2022

A Look Back: Space Invaders

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Space Invaders is an arcade game that was created by Tomohiro Nishikado and released in 1978. The game was originally designed as a horizontal space shooter but that idea was quickly scrapped when the programmers disliked how the graphics moved on a horizontal plane, which was jittery and unappealing. They opted, instead, to create the game vertically where the movements where more in line of aliens coming down from space.

This was the first shooting video game, and it became a major success for Taito Corporation. The key feature of the game is that enemies are represented by small geometric shapes with a limited number of rows and columns in them, which makes it easy to design the game.

The player controls a laser cannon at the bottom portion of the screen while the aliens stay afloat above, with the goal of making their way or 'landing' at the bottom. They must defend Earth from an alien invasion by shooting down enemy attackers which appear one at a time in groups of three. When an alien is shot, it is removed from the playfield and replaced by another appearing progressively faster with each new wave. The game ends when all the aliens either land or reach the bottom of the screen, or if they destroy the player's cannon.

Space Invaders was one of the first video games to achieve international success, starting in Japanese arcades in 1978 and released on the Atari 2600 cartridge format several years later. Many sequels and variations have been released since then. Space Invaders has been ported to most subsequent video game consoles and personal computers, beginning with the Taito Z System arcade system board (Taito 1977), and followed by numerous other systems.

Space Invaders is considered one of the most influential video games of all time and one of the earliest examples of a shoot 'em up game. It inspired many similar games and led to the development of several important subgenres, including fixed shooters and multi-directional shooters aka side-scrolling shooters.

A Few Fun Facts About Space Invaders:

  • The original Space Invaders arcade cabinets were worth $3500 apiece when they debuted in 1978 (roughly $13,000 by today's standards), and the game was so popular that it caused a 100 yen coin shortage in Japan.
  • In 2005, Space Invaders, along with Asteroids and Pac-Man, was one of several video games inducted into the Smithsonian Institution as part of an exhibition on the history of video games.
  • The original name for Space Invaders was "Incoming", but it was changed to avoid confusion with the 1978 film "Invaders from Outer Space".
  • Despite its primitive graphics by today's standards, Space Invaders was one of the first video games to use parallax scrolling, a technique where background images moved past the camera more slowly than foreground images, thus creating a sense of movement and depth.
  • The original gameplay had the invaders moving horizontally, similar to that of Defender, but the slow movement looked primitive and did not receive much support from the development team. It was not until the invaders were placed in a vertical alignment that their movement made it more believable.
  • Space Invaders was one of the first games to introduce high scores and allowed the system to save and display scores for the next person to try and beat. This 'high score' model became an instant hit and led to players crowding around each machine wanting to claim the top spot.
  • The design of the invaders was a tribute to Japan's love of the ocean. The Invaders were then created to resemble ocean squids, octopus, and other sea dwelling creatures.
  • Tomohiro Nishikado, the original creator of the game, was never good at his own game. He would say many, many, years later, "I was never good at the game. If I had designed it from start to finish, I would have made it much easier."
  • The UFO that appears randomly at the top of the screen was created as an afterthought to give more of a challenge to players.
  • The Space Invaders logo was designed to mimic the iconic Star Wars logo (released in 1977) with it's bright yellow lettering and shadowing effect.

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