Space Invaders at 40
The theme of this year’s UN World Space Week is “Space Unites the World,” with about 3700 space events happening in 80 different countries. For Hatch’s part, we’ve arranged a special space room of space games to get you in the space mood. Not least of these is Space Invaders Infinity Gene — an evolved take on the shoot-em-up franchise whose influence has united the world’s arcades for the past forty years.
The first thing you should know about the mother of all shooters is that it’s still fun to play — so maybe you should stop reading this and go save humanity from hordes of space aliens.
Now that you’ve done that, here are five more things you should know about a game that probably did more than any other to give us the video game industry as we know it:
- When TAITO first unleashed Space Invaders on unsuspecting Japanese arcades in 1978, there was little indication it would go on to take the world by storm in a way that no video game had before. But by 1981, it had grossed its first billion USD, cementing itself into popular consciousness and heralding games as a part of global entertainment to be reckoned with alongside Hollywood movies and the music business. Later zeitgeist games from PAC-MAN to Angry Birds to Fortnite have Space Invaders to thank for blazing the trail.
- It seems hard to believe now, but a sci-fi aesthetic wasn’t always so synonymous with video games. There had been space-themed games before, but until Space Invaders, the hits were inspired by sports (Pong), racing (Night Driver), military conflict (Sea Wolf) or just abstract physics (Breakout). Space Invaders gave the arcade its look and feel — and the game’s pixelated alien invader has come to stand for the games industry as a whole.
- And that was kind of an accident. According to the game’s designer Tomohiro Nishikado, you shoot at space aliens because the original concept — shooting at waves of human soldiers — was considered too disturbing for the pacifist sensibilities of 1970s Japan. “I realised I could use aliens because no one would complain about shooting them,” he explained to The Guardian newspaper.
- The game also popularised the innovation of saving a player’s score, and in so doing spurred unprecedented player competition. In 1980, Atari held the Space Invaders Championships in New York and drew a crowd of 10,000 — giving rise to what we would today call esports.
- Finally, it may only be four descending notes on a loop, but the spare, rhythmic soundtrack — whose tempo changed depending how close the aliens got — was the first time music had been used to directly connect to gameplay. It’s the final piece of the puzzle in the game’s emotional world, subtly tapping into the player’s primal instincts. And it just might be the moment when video games made the leap from arcade pastime to the stuff of your hopes, dreams and fears — to art. DUM-dum-dum-dum-DUM-dum-dum-dum…