Why was this game called Space Invaders when it looks like you’re shooting squid?
Octopuses, actually – well, at least the main invader. Keen to make a game to surpass Breakout, Space Invaders creator Tomohiro Nishikado hit upon the player taking on legions of tanks. Sadly they looked rubbish, so he switched them for people. But managers were nervous about gamers killing humans – how times change! – so, inspired by The War of the Worlds, Nishikado settled on blasting alien sea life instead… and laid the foundations for a $4 billion smash hit.
Sorry, what? But it’s so basic. Were people really that bored back in 1978?
It’s easy to forget how revolutionary this game was. It dropped timers – then popular in shooting games – in favour of a lives system. You could lurk behind destructible shields. And a processor quirk meant the game sped up as you downed invaders. Then there was the ‘music’. Earlier games offered the odd jingle, but Space Invaders played an ominous four-note loop alongside shots and explosions. The tempo increased with that of the game, coming across like a heartbeat and matching the tension as it ratcheted up.
Alright, get a grip. You wouldn’t want to play it now, though, would you?
You kind of have to by default, because Space Invaders DNA runs through shooters from Galaxian and Defender to modern Japanese bullet-hell efforts. Its sequels impressed too, such as the high-octane Extreme and the artsy Infinity Gene, with its journey through the evolution of a genre (played out to thumping techno beats). Yet even the original remains tense, strategic, and far more than an artifact – as dismissive modern gamers might realise on discovering they can’t get through a few levels without losing a life.