Street Fighter 2 defined the fighting game. Grand Theft Auto 3 defined the sandbox game. Doom defined the FPS. Super Mario Bros. defined the platformer. Pac-Man defined the videogame mascot. And Space Invaders? Space Invaders established the very core of videogames.
Space Invaders is not the first videogame. In fact, according to interviews with Space Invaders’ creator, Tomohiro Nishikado, SI started in the same place as a number of other games of yesterday and today: it was a complete rip off. And it wasn’t even a very good idea for a rip off! Anybody here ever play Breakout? It’s that one game where you control a paddle (horizontal line), and you bounce a ball off bricks. It’s basically one-player pong with a slightly destructive objective. But one neat thing about Breakout is the whole “physics simulation” is has going on. You have to negotiate your paddle around the screen to effectively bat that ball back and maybe hit it just right so your next “catch” isn’t completely impossible. If you could completely control the ball, there would be no game here, it would just be, what, point and shoot? Where’s the fun in that?
So, naturally, that’s the game Tomohiro Nishikado decided to make. Never let it be said a bad idea can’t change the world.
Let’s imagine what it had to be like to create Space Invaders (with a little input from various interviews with the man himself). First, you want to make breakout, but you can “control the ball”. Okay, that sounds fun and all, but it would be boring as hell after all of five seconds. So let’s make the “bricks” move! You can control the ball now, but you can’t control the opponents, so that all important bit of randomness has been introduced. Now what are we shooting at? Bricks are fairly slow, so let’s grab something more mobile. We’re already shooting, so how about a war environment? No, that will never work, as apparently it was difficult to properly animate tanks and planes back in the day (wow, where would modern gaming be if we never advanced that technology?). So, partially inspired by that one movie about that farm kid, Nishikado decided to rip off another film: War of the Worlds. Those iconic Space Invaders? They’re supposed represent the vaguely aquatic tentacled aliens of the H. G. Wells Martians. Go ahead and look at the Space Invaders lineup right now.
We’ve got squid kids on the top, octopi on the bottom, and those iconic dudes in the middle are supposed to be crabs. So, in an effort to file the serial numbers off an already established game, Nishikado managed to create
the prequel to Splatoon history.
But we haven’t hit masterpiece yet. On its own, with what was just described, Space Invaders would likely have been a well-liked but inconsequential arcade title. You’d slide in your quarter, bump off a few cosmic horrors, and then head off to hunt a wooly mammoth or whatever the heck people did for fun in the 70’s. Forty years later, some cynical blogger would find the title on Taito Legends, play it for three seconds, and then compare it to a game where Tarzan becomes a pirate. But, no, that isn’t what’s happening in our universe. In this timeline, Nishikado added one important thing: music.
Okay, “music” might be a bit generous here. I don’t see John Williams scoring “Theme from Space Invaders” for his orchestra anytime soon. But Space Invaders does have a theme, and it was the first game of its kind to do such a thing. Ever play Pong? Just beeps and boops. The previously mentioned Breakout? Same deal. Space Invaders added sound beyond “sound effects”, and… Can we call this the music of the invaders? Like, maybe this is their battle cry, and it sounds remotely melodic to our human ears? Whatever the case, the invaders are coming, and they’re coming faster, and their music is speeding up with ‘em. That’s right, Space Invaders didn’t just offer the first bits of videogame music, it introduced dynamic videogame music.
And when that music was released into the wild, when the arcades started hosting Space Invaders, that’s when videogames were truly born.
It’s also the exact moment talking about videogames became bullshit.
Do videogames influence people? Can a videogame change a person’s thinking? These questions have been kicking around the videogame blogosphere since well before the word “blog” even existed. Sometimes the questions are posed in relation to “elevating” gaming to a higher level, sometimes it’s a rhetorical posed because “the devil made me do it” can now be pinned on murder simulators. But you know what everyone tends to ignore? That there was a freaking scientific study performed on the human heart and whether or not it is impacted by lil’ ol’ Space Invaders. “Cardiac and Metabolic Responses to ‘Space Invaders’: An Instance of Metabolically-Exaggerated Cardiac Adjustment?” from September of ’83. That’s right, before many of you readers were even born, there was a study that, spoilers, confirmed that Space Invaders had a measurable impact on a heartbeat. Let me say that again for anyone that missed the premise: a videogame can literally control your heart.
On one hand, that seems like a gigantic duh. Theme from Space Invaders gradually gains tempo as the titular invaders pick up speed, so, come on, of course your heart rate is going to rise. The earth is threatened, the invaders are getting closer and closer, and you’re our only hope. It’s a stressful situation! On the other hand, can you think of anything more insidious than a soulless computer game controlling your very heart? You need that organ to live! And let’s consider what is supposed to get your heart a-pitter-pattering. Exercise? Sure. A pop quiz? Indubitably. The very thought of your first love? Absolutely. But a videogame? Your heart is racing because of some gradually advancing seafood? Ugh. We don’t live in Bladerunner, chummer, this is an inconsequential, low-tech waste of a quarter. Why is it getting to you? This game is nothing.
But, even if it took years for people to admit it, we all know that isn’t true. There’s a reason your heart is racing. There’s a reason you care. You’re a triangle trying to destroy oblong rectangles, but it means something. You are repelling Space Goddamn Invaders. You are enjoying the game, but your heart is racing because, on even the most basic level, you understand that this is something more. It’s not Breakout, Star Wars, or War of the Worlds bootlegging, it’s an experience, and, for as long as your quarter lasts, it is everything.
And that’s videogames. That’s every Mushroom Kingdom, Hyrule, or Liberty City. It’s every time you’ve cheered at the death of Sephiroth, and it’s every time you cried at the sacrifice of the twins (I didn’t know they were going to get better. Shut-up). It’s every time your heart raced because this level is almost finished, it’s so close to complete… Dammit, now I have to do it all over again. It’s every note when you’ve sung the battle theme from any given Persona in the shower. It’s every time you’ve scored that final platinum trophy or 101% achievement. It’s all right there in your heart, in every single beat, and that stupid organ doesn’t know the difference between your first kiss and conquering a bullet hell.
And it all started with Space Invaders.
Space Invaders is videogames.
FGC #347 Space Invaders
- System: Every.
- Number of players: Let the world consider it a single player game, but there are two player options available. And competing for the top score is undoubtedly global (or at least as global as your local arcade allows).
- What’s in a name: Yes, they are invaders from space. But they are constantly encroaching on your home base. In other words, they are invading your space.
- Favorite Alien: I prefer the squid kids on the very top row. Also, side note, I absolutely cannot ever nail that damn UFO.
- Best Version? I don’t know, but it ain’t Space Invaders ’95, which somehow managed to make panty shots an integral part of the Space Invaders experience.
Weaponized fanservice strikes again!
- Leaderboards: The top score is 9,990. If you’re wondering why it isn’t the more impressive 9,999, it’s because there is not a single target in this game that provides less than ten points. Artificial score inflation started early, kids.
- Goggle Bob Fact: While Space Invaders has invaded (ha!) my collection in a number of different compilations, I don’t technically own “just Space Invaders” in any physical form other than the original Atari release. And I inherited that one from my grandfather. I’ve never actually bought a physical copy of the game of games! The shame!
- Did you know? Oh yeah, so you (or a version of you with computer experience) could probably code a fresh copy of Space Invaders out of about six if/then statements and friggen Basic. But! Back in the day, our modern resources were not available, and Tomohiro Nishikado had to build his own software and hardware to birth Space Invaders. This, I believe, officially makes the man a hero.
- Would I play again: Yes. Duh. It’s Space Invaders.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Anarchy Reigns for the Playstation 3! Anarchy in the USA! Or maybe some post-apocalyptic version of it! Please look forward to it!