Aug 17 2009

Space Invaders

zorro @ 4:13 pm

In 1978 arcade manufacturer Taito released Space Invaders and a worldwide phenomenon began.  Nowhere was it more popular than Japan, where many retailers closed down their regular businesses and filled the store with Space Invaders cabinets.  Its popularity also triggered a coin shortage there until the country’s yen supply was increased. The game itself was simple in today’s game design terms.  Aliens have decided to invade the earth and the only thing that stands between them and their goal is a lone gun turret and a few shields.  Occasionally an alien mother-ship would cross the top of the screen, affording the player bonus points.

The game was entirely black and white, though some clever post-manufacturing added some colour.  Different colour perspex strips were laid on the screen, granting the illusion of colour (similar to the overlays for the Vectrex).  The image was ‘projected’ onto the screen using a mirror, which enabled the use of a detailed background not possible using conventional computer graphics at the time.

The implacable movement of the alien ‘fleet’ was almost hypnotic and the leaden tones from the machine served to enhance this.  The more aliens the player destroyed, the faster the remaining aliens descended and the faster the ‘music’ tempo became.

Space Invaders was also the first game to record high-scores, though initials would not be recorded until Asteroids a few years later.

The effect of Space Invaders on the arcade industry cannot be under-estimated.  It brought coin-ops out of arcade parlours and into theatres, restaurants and airports and into the mainstream.  Though its success was later eclipsed, it was instrumental in creating the multi-billion dollar industry we know today.

Space Invaders has had many sequels and many conversions to hundreds of systems, though the conversion to the Atari 2600 marked the first arcade conversion for that console and a huge increase in sales during 1980 as millions of families bought one to play the game.  Taito celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2003 by re-releasing the original cabinet along with a number of home conversions.

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