One of the earliest shooting games, Space Invaders was released in Japan on June 19, 1978. Gameplay involves attempting to defeat waves of aliens cascading down from the top of the screen with a laser cannon that moves along a fixed horizontal axis. The only goal is to earn as many points as possible. Designer Tomohiro Nishikado was in charge of planning, graphic design, and programming for the game and drew creative inspiration from such diverse sources as Breakout, The War of the Worlds, and Star Wars. The game’s development cycle lasted for one year, during which Nishikado created custom hardware and software. The game achieved massive popularity upon its release (leading to a temporary shortage of one hundred yen coins), and helped usher in the golden age of arcade video games (circa 1979-1983).
Gameplay in Space Invaders is relatively simple. The player controls a small ship that can only move laterally across the bottom of the screen and fires vertically. Five rows of eleven aliens each advance slowly from one side of the screen to the other, dropping down one space and reversing direction when they reach either side. The player’s task is to acquire points by eliminating enemies and to destroy all of the aliens before they reach the bottom of the screen and complete their “invasion.” As aliens are destroyed, the speed of the remaining enemies increases, as does the tempo of the music. Once all of the enemies are destroyed, the wave resets and the difficulty increases (a cycle that can continue indefinitely).
The Invaders constantly shoot back at the player as they advance from side to side across the screen. To help avoid their attacks, the player can hide behind a number of destructible barriers or “bunkers” near the bottom of the screen (four in the original version). Occasionally a “mystery ship” will appear near the top of the screen and move quickly from one side to the other while making a distinctive klaxon noise. Destroying it rewards the player with a sizeable point bonus.
While working for the Taito Corporation, designer Nishikado was inspired to create Space Invaders by an early Taito electro-mechanical game called Space Monsters, and by the Atari arcade game Breakout. The game was planned to have tanks, planes, and battleships as enemies, but Nishikado was not happy with their onscreen movements. He considered making the enemies human (which would have been easier to animate), but scrapped the idea since he thought it would be immoral for players to shoot them. After he saw a magazine featuring the 1977 film Star Wars he decided to use a space theme, and based his alien enemies on the squid-like antagonists from the 1953 movie version of The War of the Worlds.
Due to the limitations of 1970s Japanese microprocessors, Nishikado was forced to design and build his own hardware and development tools. The arcade board he put together contained a variety of mainly American components, including an Intel 8080 central processing unit that could output raster graphics on a CRT monitor, and monaural sound hosted by a combination of analogue circuitry and a Texas Instruments SN76477 sound chip. In spite of his efforts, Nishikado was unable to program the game exactly as he wanted. The hardware that he had assembled was not powerful enough to display graphics in color and the enemies moved slower than he had intended. Fortunately he discovered that the more enemies that were removed from play, the faster the processor could render those that remained. Rather than attempt to design the game to compensate for the speed increase, he opted to leave it in as a challenging gameplay mechanic.
Originally released in Japan by Taito as a monochrome cocktail cabinet, American licence-holder Bally/Midway created an upright cabinet that used strips of orange and green cellophane applied to the screen to simulate color graphics. The American version of the game also included a painted backdrop of a lunar surface and a starscape, and cabinet art featuring large humanoid creatures that bore little resemblance to the in-game enemies. Nishikado claims that this was due to the artist basing his interpretation on the game’s original title, Space Monsters.
Soon after its release in Japan Space Invaders became a huge success, completely taking over certain arcades and earning Taito a tidy profit. By the end of 1978, Taito had installed 100,000 machines across the country and grossed over $600 million dollars. By 1980, 300,000 cabinets had been sold in Japan and an additional 60,000 in the United States. By 1981, Space Invaders had made Taito more than $1 billion, and continued to bring in over $500 million per year. This made it the best-selling video game and highest-grossing entertainment product of its time. The 1980 Atari 2600 version represented the first licensed port of an arcade game to a home console, quadrupled sales of the 2600 and became the first title to sell one million cartridges (within one year of its release). Ports were also released for the Atari 8-bit computer line and the Atari 5200, as well as the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Recent ports and remakes include Space Invaders Anniversary, released in 2003 for the PlayStation 2 and including nine variants of the core game. Space Invaders, Space Invaders Part II and Return of the Invaders were featured in the arcade compilation Taito Legends (released in 2005), and Space Invaders '91, Space Invaders '95, and Space Invaders DX were featured in Taito Legends 2 (released in 2006). A remake of the game called Space Invaders Extreme was released for the PSP and Nintendo DS in 2008 and on Xbox Live Arcade in 2009. A second remake, Space Invaders Infinity Gene, was released in 2009 on PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade, and iOS devices.
Cited by influential creators like Shigeru Miyamoto and Hideo Kojima as a major inspiration, Space Invaders revolutionized the industry following the video game crash of 1977 (brought on by a glut of Pong clones on the market and the departure of manufacturers like RCA and Fairchild). Proving that video games were capable of competing with movies, music and television, Space Invaders has since become recognized as one of the most influential games ever released. It was one of the first games to utilize the concept of a “ high score,” and was the first to save the player’s score. It was the first shooter that allowed enemies to shoot back at the player, the first to give the player multiple lives and provide destructible cover against enemy fire. Its success effectively launched an entire genre of space shooters, including Atari’s Asteroids, Williams’ Defender, and Namco’s Galaxian series.