A barrage of heavily armed military soldiers march
towards you in formation, with rifles pointed and
gunning for you while trying to cross the screen.
Sound familiar? Well, in 1978 this was the initial
idea designed and programmed by engineer Toshihiro
Nishikado which evolved into one of the most influential
videogames of all-time, Space Invaders. Since it was
politically discouraged to harm humans at the time,
the army onslaught was replaced with alien aggressors
looking for global domination.
Invaders was the first arcade game released by the
popular Pachinko manufacturer, Taito. Interestingly,
Space Invaders originated from an evaluation tool
to test computer programmers' skill with hexadecimal
mathematics. Despite a lukewarm response from company
executives, the game emerged and was released to little
fanfare... for the first three months.
coin-operated games had already been circulated prior
to its release in Japan in 1978, it is with Space
Invaders that many truly remember the entire globe
initially going video game crazy.
fact, Space Invaders was so popular in Japan that
it caused a shortage of the 100-Yen coin, the coin
needed to play the game. This shortage affected several
other aspects of Japanese life including the heavy
disruption of the primary form of transportation,
the Subway. Space Invaders had brought Japan to its
knees and the government was literally forced to quadruple
the production of the Yen coin to meet the new demand.
to its intensifying popularity, entire arcades were
opened in Japan specifically for Space Invaders, many
of which held dozens of Space Invader coin-ops and
no others! As hysteria concerning the game mounted,
shop owners of all trades abandoned their goods and
converted their stores to video arcades, some complete
with booming audio systems broadcasting the "thumping
march" of the invaders into the streets. With
the ever-growing demand, other venues starting hosting
coin-operated machines, and Space Invaders had found
a habitat everywhere from pizza parlors, restaurants,
and bars, to drug stores, laundry mats, roller rinks,
grocery stores and even such unlikely locales as funeral
to Space Invaders, a good run for a coin-op release
was a few thousand machines. To give you an idea of
the massive popularity of Space Invaders, a staggering
500,000 plus coin-op machines were sold worldwide
in the first year, seventy percent of which remained
in Japan. In time, more than 100,000 Space Invaders
games had been distributed, and over 300,000 built
if counterfeit versions are calculated. Billions of
coins were pumped into the machines for the first
few years amassing more than $500 million in revenue
for Taito, making the entire entertainment industry
sit up and take notice.
majority of these coins came from frenzied teenagers
eager to play. Unfortunately, many of them engaged
in crimes of theft, robbery, and panhandling to acquire
coins to fill their fix. As a result, these inappropriate
actions led to the first of what would become a trend
of public outcries against the video game industry.
Led by groups of concerned parents and government
organizations that feared that games tainted the minds
of their school children, Texas residents worked their
case to ban the machines all the way up to the United
States Supreme Court.
concept behind Space Invaders was simple in design.
It was an adaptation of carnival shooting galleries.
The player would guide a laser cannon located on the
bottom of the screen from left to right in order to
shoot down wave after wave of marching alien raiders.
The laser cannon could hide behind four buildings
that served as obstructions, defending the laser cannon
from the aliens' rays and bombs. These buildings,
and the player controlled laser cannon, would eventually
be destroyed by the relentless alien invasion that
slowly advanced from top to bottom of the screen.
On occasion an alien spaceship, which could be shot
down for bonus points, would fly across the top of
factor that added to the hopeless tension created
while playing the game was the increasing speed of
the game as more invaders were destroyed. The aliens
would move faster and faster and the audio, reminiscent
of the thumping sound of a beating heart, became more
rapid during their descent. While many identify this
rapid increase as one of the greatest game design
scenarios of all time, they might be surprised to
learn that it was a result of hardware technicalities
and not of intentional devise or fancy programming.
The truth is that the processor was able to update
the screen more frequently as the number of enemies
decreased. This resulted in the ramped up speed of
the aliens and the soundtrack.
licensed Space Invaders from Taito and released the
game within the United States. While it did not create
a quarter shortage, it was unparalleled in popularity.
The coin-op, in a good location, could pay for itself
in less than a month making videogames the most lucrative
equipment a merchant could possess.
the American company with the Japanese name, recognized
the opportunity and licensed the game for release
on the Atari 2600 console. Space Invaders was the
first video arcade game to be adapted to a home console,
and expanded upon the coin-op version by offering
a massive 255 different game play variations. Atari
even focused their advertising budget and marketing
efforts to sell Space Invaders the game, instead of
the VCS console itself. As a result, sales of the
VCS spiked, and Space Invaders became the first killer
Atari console had been released back in 1977, but
it wasn't until consumers starting to purchase it
with a copy of Space Invaders that Atari unit sales
skyrocketed and the company began to empty their warehouse
and excess stock of the 400,000 units. Demand had
become so high that the VCS had to be rationed out
to retailers, and manufacturing production had to
be stepped up. Atari's gross income more than doubled
leading its operating income to rocket to a third
of its parent company Warner Communications. This
in turn caused the stock to rise 35 percent resulting
in Atari becoming the fastest growing company in history.
crude sprite graphics of Space Invaders, although
simplistic when compared to today's standards, were
ground breaking at the time. The alien aggressors
were the first characters to have individual animation
while at the same time moving horizontally and vertically
within the playing field. The creatures have also
become icons for the industry and are widely recognized
symbols of the gaming hobby. Space Invaders is perhaps
the most influential videogame ever created and took
the world by storm sparking a videogame craze that
continues to this day!