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The Space Invaders Legacy
Robert Berry - 11/17/00


Back in 1978 when arcades largely consisted of pinball and "shooting gallery" style games, it was something amazing when SPACE INVADERS first came out. Though obviously primitive by today's standards, the concept and gameplay were unheard of at the time, and made for one of the more exciting and addictive ways to throw your quarters away the world had ever seen.

With a simple black and white monitor, the early machines faked color by having transparent overlays on the screen. A mind numbing marching sound would play in the background as the aliens advanced left and right, getting closer and closer, the more you shot the faster they'd go, until one little guy would be left, speeding at you ready to kill you.

Sounded simple, but it was quite the quarter eater. According to THE SPACE INVADERS SHRINE, the game was so popular when it first debuted in Japan that is caused a temporary coin shortage.

In 1980, Atari licensed the game for their 2600 system (the first arcade to home translation ever, by the way), and it was amazing. With a whopping 112 different versions of the game on a single cartridge (invisible aliens, wiggly missles, invisible aliens with wiggly missles...you get the idea), it provided hours of entertainment for millions of kids who had to be happy with PONG for years before.

But the influence of SPACE INVADERS didn't stop there. Aside from official sequels like SPACE INVADERS II, SPACE INVADERS DELUXE, and more, other companies came up with SPACE INVADERS style games that evolved the concept further.

GALAXIAN was released by Midway in 1979. At first glance, it just looked like a prettier version of SPACE INVADERS, but once you dropped the quarter in, the rules changed dramatically. These little Galaxians weren't content to slowly march their way at you, they'd divebomb you in groups of threes as well, with an evil high-pitched scream. It was the first arcade game to use true RGB color, too.

Another GALAXIAN style game was Centauri's PHOENIX (1980), which featured bizarre birds that liked to drop deadly space eggs on you. This multi-stage game featured a round with giant birds that you could shoot both of their wings off prior to killing, and a very cool final stage where you had to take out the PHOENIX mothership with tons of laserfire, and eventually peg the evil bird queen inside.

TEMPEST turned it up several notches in 1980, by offering a shooting game that let you rotate 360 degrees while shooting things that came at you from the center of various geometric wireframes. It's superior sound and graphics made it one of the coolest videogames ever made (and my personal favorite to boot). The action was furious and was one of the few arcade games that would make you work up a sweat. If I could buy just one arcade game to have in my house, this would be it.

Even the sign logo for TEMPEST was cool. The designers originally were trying to make a game with 3D monsters similar to those pictured above, but were unable to make it work with the technology available at the time. But for being the first full color vector graphic game, you have to give them props, nonetheless.


GORF was another fun SPACE INVADERS inspired game from 1981, featuring a then unheard of 4 DIFFERENT GAME LEVELS (later made more famous with TRON). According to some of the early product literature, "GORF" stood for Galactic Orbiting Robot Force. GORF even used the GALAXIAN game as one of the levels (which was omitted from the home videogame versions for licensing reasons).

In 1981, Midway took their GALAXIAN game and kicked up several notches with GALAGA. A much more streamlined version of its predecessor, this one was full of colorful space bugs that tried to kill ya. The added twist with this was that certain bugs would shoot down a tractor beam to steal your ship. If you had one in reserve, you could intentionally let them capture you, and if you rescued the ship by shooting that alien when he dove at you, the two would join together giving you double firepower.

GALAGA was also the first game to have bonus stages. These would allow you to work on your target practice, and get extra points for shooting accuracy (while taking a little breather since these ones wouldn't shoot back).

That pretty much did it for shooting games, as games like Pac Man and Donkey Kong started to hog the spotlight, most of the manufacturers all but abandoned the "go back and forth and shoot stuff" style of game, with one noteable exception...

GYRUSS isn't as popular as the games mentioned above, largely cause shooter games just weren't the rage when it came out in 1983, but it was beautiful. You had a freedom of movement that allowed you to rotate and go up and down, while gorgeously rendered (come on, for the time), ships would attack you while you completed stages that let you go to each planet until you eventually arrive at Earth (which was a near impossible task). GYRUSS was also fun to play because of the extremely well done synthesizer music of BACH that would play throughout. If PBS made a videogame, this would be it.

The Space Invaders legacy is tremendous. It was the first major arcade game to spawn sequels and variants. It was the first mainstream arcade game. And the success of the Atari version clearly paved the way for other great home video games to be made.

So take a few moments to think about Toshihiro Nishikado who programmed the first Space Invaders game for Taito 22 years ago when you're playing your Playstation 2 you paid $3,000 for on eBay. And realize that without him, you might not have that.

But then again, his game was the inspiration for this awful film, so maybe you want to take all that thanks back.

-Robert

To play a cool java version of SPACE INVADERS, CLICK HERE