Backed by a thudding bass beat, dozens of invaders from another world descended on our planet in 1978. Within months, Space Invaders was one of the hottest fads on the globe, helping propel the video arcade into a multi-billion dollar industry.
The invasion began in Japan when programmer Toshihiro Nishikado took the classic sci-fi riff of alien invasion and transported it to the video screen.
The game was straightforward enough – rows of green aliens would wobble slowly back and forth across the screen, dropping down one row every time they reached the edge of the screen. The player had to shoot them.
You controlled a lone laser base, defending the planet by firing back at the invading aliens. You could move left and right and use four convenient shields to play a dangerous game of fire and retreat as the aliens unleashed their own laser assault.
When the game first started, the computer’s weedy CPU struggled to move all of the aliens at once and they crawled across the screen while you moved across the bottom of the screen at a reasonable pace – certainly fast enough to avoid the sluggish alien bullets.
It was only as you started to eliminate aliens (thereby giving the CPU less work to do) that the invaders began moving at a challenging pace.
When the giant Taito Corporation first released Space Invaders in Japan, the game caused a national furore. Hundreds of thousands of Space Invaders machines were produced, and the game’s popularity caused a shortage of 100-Yen coins. When restaurants complained that customers were playing instead of eating, Taito simply supplied them with sit-down cocktail cabinets, further fueling the Space Invaders hysteria.
Space Invaders also helped popularise home gaming, turning the Atari 2600 from a little-known novelty into the must-have toy of the late ’70s. Atari won an exclusive license to market a home version of the Taito game, and 2600 sales skyrocketed.
Eventually, Space Invaders was replaced by a whole new generation of “first-person shooter” games, such as Galaxian which took the same concept but added multi-directional movement, speed, colour and entertainment to the mix.
Contestants at the 1980 Space Invaders Championship, sponsored by SEGA.