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Space Invaders

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Space Invaders
A blue arcade cabinet with a screen surrounded by decals. The game controls sit below the screen, while the phrase
Japanese version of the Space Invaders arcade cabinet
Developer(s) Taito Corporation
Publisher(s) Midway
Designer(s) Tomohiro Nishikado
Platform(s) Arcade
Release date(s) June 1978
Genre(s) Fixed shooter
Mode(s) Single-player
Display Monochrome raster, vertical orientation

is an arcade video game designed by Tomohiro Nishikado, and released in 1978. It was originally manufactured and sold by Taito in Japan, and was later licensed for production in the United States by the Midway division of Bally. Space Invaders is one of the earliest shooting games and the aim is to defeat waves of aliens with a laser cannon to earn as many points as possible. In designing the game, Nishikado drew inspiration from popular media: Breakout, The War of the Worlds, and Star Wars. To complete it, he had to design custom hardware and development tools.

Though simple by today's standards, with basic two-dimensional graphics, it was one of the forerunners of modern video gaming and helped expand the video game industry from a novelty to a global industry. When first released, Space Invaders was very successful and popular. Following its release, the game caused a temporary shortage of 100-yen coins in Japan, and by 2007 had earned Taito US$500 million in revenue. Guinness World Records ranks it the top arcade game.

The game has been the inspiration for other video games, re-released on numerous platforms, and led to several sequels. The 1980 Atari 2600 version quadrupled the system's sales and became the first " killer app" for video game consoles. Space Invaders has been referenced and parodied in multiple television shows, and been a part of several video game and cultural exhibitions. The pixelated enemy alien has become a pop culture icon, often used as a synechdoche representing video games as a whole.


Space Invaders is a two-dimensional fixed shooter game in which the player controls a laser cannon by moving it horizontally across the bottom of the screen and firing at descending aliens. The aim is to defeat five rows of eleven aliens—some versions feature different numbers—that move horizontally back and forth across the screen as they advance towards the bottom of the screen. The player defeats an alien, and earns points, by shooting it with the laser cannon. As more aliens are defeated, the aliens' movement and the game's music both speed up. Defeating the aliens brings another wave that is more difficult, a loop which can continue indefinitely.

The aliens attempt to destroy the cannon by firing at it while they approach the bottom of the screen. If they reach the bottom, the alien invasion is successful and the game ends. A special "mystery ship" will occasionally move across the top of the screen and award bonus points if destroyed. The laser cannon is partially protected by several stationary defense bunkers—the number varies by version—that are gradually destroyed by projectiles from the aliens and player.


Space Invaders was created by Tomohiro Nishikado, who spent a year designing the game and developing the necessary hardware to produce it. The game's inspiration is reported to have come from varying sources, including an adaptation of the mechanical game Space Monsters released by Taito in 1972, and a dream about Japanese school children who are waiting for Santa Claus and are attacked by invading aliens. However, Nishikado has cited Atari's arcade game Breakout as his inspiration. He aimed to create a shooting game that featured the same sense of achievement from completing stages and destroying targets, but with more complex graphics. Nishikado used a similar layout to that of Breakout, but altered the game mechanics. Rather than bounce a ball to attack static objects, players are given the ability to fire projectiles at their own discretion to attack moving enemies.

Early enemy designs included tanks, combat planes, and battleships. Nishikado, however, was not satisfied with the enemy movements; technical limitations made it difficult to simulate flying. Humans would have been easier to simulate, but Nishikado considered shooting them immoral. After seeing a magazine feature about Star Wars, he thought of using a space theme. Nishikado drew inspiration for the aliens from H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds—he watched a film adaptation as a child—and created initial bitmap images after the octopus-like aliens. Other alien designs were modeled after squids and crabs. The game was originally titled Space Monsters, inspired by a popular song in Japan at the time ("Monster"), but was changed to Space Invaders by Nishikado's superiors.


Because microcomputers in Japan were not powerful enough at the time to perform the complex tasks involved in designing and programming Space Invaders, Nishikado had to design his own custom hardware and development tools for the game. He created the arcade board using new microprocessors from the United States. The game uses an Intel 8080 central processing unit, and features raster graphics on a CRT monitor and monaural sound generated by analogue circuitry. Despite the specially developed hardware, Nishikado was unable to program the game as he wanted—the Control Program board was not powerful enough to display the graphics in colour or move the enemies faster—and he considered the development of the hardware the most difficult part of the whole process. While programming the game, Nishikado discovered that the processor was able to render the alien graphics faster the fewer were on screen. Rather than design the game to compensate for the speed increase, he decided to keep it as a challenging gameplay mechanic.

Space Invaders was first released in a cocktail-table format with black and white graphics, while the Western release by Midway was in an upright cabinet format. The upright cabinet uses strips of orange and green cellophane over the screen to simulate colour graphics. The graphics are reflected onto a painted backdrop of a moon against a space background. Later Japanese releases also used colored cellophane. The cabinet artwork features large, humanoid monsters not present in the game. Nishikado attributes this to the artist basing the designs on the original title, Space Monsters, rather than referring to the in-game graphics.

Impact and legacy

After the first few months following its release in Japan, the game became very popular. Specialty arcades opened with nothing but Space Invaders cabinets, and Taito produced 100,000 arcade machines for the Japanese market over the next few years. 60,000 machines were sold in the United States. The arcade cabinets have since become collector's items with the cocktail and cabaret versions being the rarest. A shortage of 100-yen coins—and subsequent production increase—in Japan is attributed to the game. By 2007, it had generated almost US$500 million in revenue. The 1980 Atari 2600 version was the first official licensing of an arcade game and became the first " killer app" for video game consoles by quadrupling the system's sales.

Game designer Shigeru Miyamoto considers Space Invaders a game that revolutionized the video game industry; he was never interested in video games before seeing it. Several publications ascribe the expansion of the video game industry from a novelty into a global industry to the success of the game. Edge attributes the shift of video games from bars and arcades to more mainstream locations like restaurants and department stores to Space Invaders. According to The Observer, the home console versions were popular and encouraged users to learn programming; many who later became industry leaders. stated that Space Invaders showed that video games could compete against the major entertainment media at the time: movies, music, and television. IGN attributes the launch of the arcade phenomenon in North America in part to Space Invaders. Game Informer considers it, along with Pac-Man, one of the most popular arcade games that tapped into popular culture and generated excitement during the golden age of arcades. IGN listed it as one of the "Top 10 Most Influential Games" in 2007, citing the source of inspiration to video game designers and the impact it had on the shooting genre. In 2008, Guinness World Records listed it as the top-rated arcade game in technical, creative, and cultural impact.

As one of the earliest shooting games, it set precedents and helped pave the way for future titles and for the shooting genre. Space Invaders popularized a more interactive style of gameplay with the enemies responding to the player controlled cannon's movement. It was the first video game to have an intermission between gameplay, and to popularize the concept of achieving a high score. Space Invaders is considered one of the most successful arcade shooting games. In describing it as a "seminal arcade classic", IGN listed it as the number eight "classic shoot 'em up". Space Invaders inspired the development of several games. Arcade games, like Williams Electronics' Defender and Namco's Galaxian and Galaga, were modeled after Space Invaders's gameplay and design. In 2002, Taito released Space Raiders, a third-person shooter reminiscent of Space Invaders.

Remakes and sequels

Space Invaders has been remade on numerous platforms and spawned many sequels. Re-releases include ported and updated versions of the original arcade game. Ported versions generally feature different graphics and additional gameplay options—for example, moving defense bunkers, zigzag shots, invisible aliens, and two-player cooperative gameplay. Ports on earlier systems like the Atari home consoles featured simplified graphics, while later systems such as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and PlayStation featured updated graphics. Later titles include several modes of gameplay and integrate new elements into the original design. For example, Space Invaders Extreme, released on the Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable, integrated musical elements into the standard gameplay. A spin-off for WiiWare, Space Invaders Get Even, allows players to control the aliens instead of the laser cannon. In 1980, Bally Midway released a pinball version of the game. However, few elements from the original game are included, and the aliens instead resemble the xenomorphs from the film Alien; Bally Midway was later sued over the game's resemblance to designs by H. R. Giger. Different ports have been met with mixed receptions; the Atari 2600 version was very successful while the Nintendo Entertainment System version was poorly received.

Taito has released several arcade sequels that built upon the basic design of the original. The first was Space Invaders Part II in 1980; it featured colour graphics and new gameplay elements. This version was released in the United States as Deluxe Space Invaders (also known as Space Invaders Deluxe), but featured a different graphical colour scheme and a lunar-city background. Another arcade sequel, titled Space Invaders II, was released exclusively in the United States. It was in a cocktail-table format and featured a competitive two-player mode. During the summer of 1985, Return of the Invaders was released with updated colour graphics, and more complex movements and attack patterns for the aliens. Subsequent arcade sequels included Super Space Invaders '91, Space Invaders DX, and Space Invaders '95. Each game introduced minor gameplay additions to the original design. Like the original game, several of the arcade sequels have become collector's items, though some are considered rarer.

The game and its related games have been included in video game compilation titles. Space Invaders Anniversary was released in 2003 for the PlayStation 2 and included nine Space Invader variants. A similar title for the PlayStation Portable, Space Invaders Pocket, was released in 2005. Space Invaders, Space Invaders Part II and Return of the Invaders are included in Taito Legends, a compilation of Taito's classic arcade games released in 2005 on the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC. Super Space Invaders '91, Space Invaders DX and Space Invaders '95 were included in Taito Legends 2, a sequel compilation released in 2006.

In popular culture

A photograph of an orchestra on a dimly lit stage. Above the group is a projection screen with a black, white, and green image of pixel art. The pixel art is of an oval object wearing headphones with eyes and four tentacles. Below the pixel art is the phrase
A pixelated alien graphic used at the concert event Video Games Live

The game—and references to it—has appeared in numerous facets of popular culture. Multiple television series have aired episodes that either reference or parody the game and its elements; for example, Danger Mouse, That '70s Show, Scrubs, and Robot Chicken. Elements are prominently featured in the "Raiders of the Lost Arcade" segment of " Anthology of Interest II", an episode of Futurama. Many publications and websites use the pixelated alien graphic as an icon for video games in general, including video game magazine Electronic Gaming Monthly, technology website Ars Technica, and concert event Video Games Live. Video Games Live also performed audio from Space Invaders as part of a special retro "Classic Arcade Medley". In honour of the game's 30th anniversary, Taito produced an album titled Space Invaders 2008. The album is published by Avex Trax and features music inspired by the game. Taito's store Taito Station also unveiled a Space Invaders themed music video.

In 2006, the game was one of several video game related media selected to represent Japan as part of a project compiled by Japan's Agency for Cultural Affairs. In the same year, Space Invaders was included in the London Science Museum's Game On exhibition meant to showcase the various aspects of video game history, development, and culture. The game is also a part of the Barbican Centre's traveling Game On exhibition. At the Belluard Bollwerk International 2006 festival in Fribourg, Switzerland, Guillaume Reymond created a three minute video recreation of a game of Space Invaders as part of the "Gameover" project using humans as pixels. The GH ART exhibit at the 2008 Games Convention in Leipzig, Germany, included an art game, Invaders!, based on Space Invaders's gameplay. The creator later asked for the game to be removed from the exhibit following criticism of elements based on the September 11, 2001 attacks. A French street artist known as Invader made a name for himself by creating mosaic artwork of Space Invader aliens around the world.

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