June 5, 2013 7:39 AM   Subscribe

Thirty-five years ago today, Taito unveiled Space Invaders, one of the most groundbreaking video games of all time.

The game was so popular that as the story goes, it caused a shortage of 100-yen coins that crippled Japan's subway system. 1Up reckons that it was "the first video game as a video game, instead of merely a playable electronic representation of something else." And of course, you can celebrate today by playing it in your browser.
posted by jbickers (38 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Breakout is definitely not representative of something else - it can only exist in the conceptual space of a computer interface. It beat Space Invaders to the punch by two years, and is more abstract in the bargain.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:52 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

When the Pizza Parlor down the street got Space Invaders,
it was the only video game in my town.
Pizza become my favorite food, even more.
posted by busillis at 7:53 AM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

I wasted too many quarters on this.

But I eventually got a hand-held version that was highly highly addictive. I still have it, hidden away. I refuse to let this post encourage me to dig it out and start down that highly self-destructive path again.
posted by cccorlew at 7:55 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I said a few weeks ago that there was little more satisfying than "breaking through to the top with a tiny tunnel and watching it eliminate the upper rows itself" in Breakout; I would also like to include on that list hitting the Space Invaders mothership as it moves across the top of the screen when you weren't even aiming for it.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:56 AM on June 5, 2013

Slap*Happy --- You're just *hoping* that Space Invaders is an abstract game, and not a representation of a real alien invasion.

35 years from now Space Invaders may seem like prophesy. ;)
posted by busillis at 7:56 AM on June 5, 2013

Does anyone else remember playing Tooth Invaders at a dentist's office?
posted by grouse at 8:02 AM on June 5, 2013

Space Invaders is partly a milestone because it's one of the first arcade games to have its own story, artwork, lore. I mean it's pretty thin, but the top panel and side art promised something in a way that Pong didn't. In retrospect it surprises me that the early video game manufacturers didn't lift artwork ideas from pinball machines earlier, but I think the fact that it was a video game was considered sufficient.

But Space Invaders is also famous for being famous. Gun Fight from 1975 arguably had a lot of story elements too, particularly the awesome cabinet header. But it's a two player game, you're not fighting the enemy aliens, different thing.

The MAME database is a good way to explore other early games. Here's links to 1976, 1977, and 1978. Night Driver is lovely, although arguably a representation of something else. Circus is certainly something different. So much creativity in these early games. It's not until 1980, but I love the ugly aesthetic of Wizard of Wor.
posted by Nelson at 8:32 AM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

While I loved Space Invaders, I actually probably spent more of my youth playing the Apple II+ Space Invaders knock-off, Space Cruiser, than I did the genuine game since it was what I had the easiest access to in my house.

Maybe I'm just a bit of a dullard, but to this day, I still prefer Space Invader type games where the object is simple and easy to grasp from your first time playing, without the need to read endless instructions or supplemental strategy guides to have any idea what you're doing.
posted by The Gooch at 8:40 AM on June 5, 2013

I understand why you didn't link to a real arcade ROM, but the gameplay in the clone you linked to seems quite a bit easier than the "real thing".

I didn't recall that in arcade Space Invaders, an alien shot coming down would destroy your shot coming up, for instance. I didn't see this behavior in the browser-based version.

Of course, just because it's what I played, the Atari 2600 version is my canonical idea of what Space Invaders was like. My 7-year-old(?) self could play that all day and not die, though, so the gameplay must not have been that hot.
posted by jepler at 9:02 AM on June 5, 2013

I used to play a lot of of Space Invaders and Asteroids, though Circus was probably the favorite of our family. The duck would eat your bullets!

These anniversaries are a double-edged sword--on the one hand, I can remember these games fondly. On the other, it makes me want to go get my cane and yell at kids to get off my lawn.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:07 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Pleasant memories of wasted youth.
posted by caddis at 9:09 AM on June 5, 2013

This is the perfect place to post something I just found today.
posted by destrius at 9:11 AM on June 5, 2013 [6 favorites]

That 404 is nearly perfect...but why don't the aliens descend?
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:36 AM on June 5, 2013

Correction to my post above: The Apple II+ Space Invaders knock-off was Star Cruiser, not Space Cruiser.
posted by The Gooch at 10:02 AM on June 5, 2013

Not to pick nits, but Star Cruiser was a Galaxian knock-off. There was a very faithful port for the Apple II called Apple Invaders which in addition to the playfield, reserved a little space on the side for a tiny amount of interstitial animation when you finished a level.
posted by plinth at 10:13 AM on June 5, 2013

I've always* thought that Space Invaders was a computerized reskin of the old school carnival shooting gallery.

* just recently
posted by no relation at 10:21 AM on June 5, 2013

cccorlew: I wasted too many quarters on this.

But I eventually got a hand-held version that was highly highly addictive. I still have it, hidden away. I refuse to let this post encourage me to dig it out and start down that highly self-destructive path again.
ccorlew, welcome. Since this is your first meeting, you should feel free to just sit and observe, or to speak about your struggles when it's your turn, but would you like to stand up and introduce yourself now?
posted by IAmBroom at 10:25 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Before Space Invaders, we had Starship 1, which seemed pretty awesome to my ten year-old self.
posted by malocchio at 10:38 AM on June 5, 2013

I was probably about 6 or 7 when I first saw this game after it showed up next to the charity gumball machines at the dry cleaner my mother went to. I would pay cash money for some security camera footage of this event as I am almost certain it's my own personal shot-for-shot remake of the scene where the apes discover the obelisk in 2001.
posted by sexyrobot at 10:44 AM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

The only video game I ever absolutely and totally defeated - as in got so good at it I could make it go around and start again and just play until I got bored.

I did finish Dragon's Lair, though. That was a joy.
posted by Decani at 10:50 AM on June 5, 2013

Yes! Next to the gumball machine at the pizza place! I was like 8 or 9 but also a very duuuuunh duuuuuuuuuuuunh duuuuuuuuuuuuuunh da-da! moment for me.
posted by Mister_A at 10:53 AM on June 5, 2013

Space Invaders was the first Atari cartridge that I wore out. I was about 5 at the time and would play the game in co-op mode with my mother - we would play the game until we "flipped it" - scored up to 9999 and then at that point the score rolled back to 0.
posted by sherlockt at 10:57 AM on June 5, 2013

I don't remember playing this in the arcade, but I do remember it from a co-worker who had the first Atari I ever saw. The thing I remember about that was that you could play all day and Reset the games as much as you wanted without cost. It seemed a little like cheating, but I guess you're just paying up front.
My pizza joint had Asteroids, at which I sucked (and still do). But Galaxian- there I was a viking!
posted by MtDewd at 11:54 AM on June 5, 2013

I remember seeing my first Pong machine - Manuel's Tavern in Atlanta got one
posted by thelonius at 11:59 AM on June 5, 2013

Pix Pix Pix
still think that was the zenith - a video game you play over the phone - on the TV- and every kid in NYC saw how you did as they waited for Scooby Do to come back from commercial.
posted by T10B at 12:00 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

He's hooked, he's hooked. His brain is cooked. He's hooked, he's hooked. His brain is cooked.

Or you could listen to The Pretenders take on it. Which I think is actually pretty good at taking the spirit of the game's music and turning it in to a 3 minute long rock'n'roll song.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:25 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

He's hooked, he's hooked. His brain is cooked.

Or you could listen to The Pretenders take on it.

Beethoven's contribution to video game culture: The Turkish March.
posted by Herodios at 12:35 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sometimes I say "pix pix pix" to amuse myself when shooting things in games and no one ever seems to know what the fuck I'm talking about. Thanks for the validation. I remember eventually playing that game for real (on an intellivision, I beleive) a few years later, and being sorely disappointed. :-)
posted by smidgen at 1:11 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

There was a PC version of Space Invaders that came out in the '90s [Taito's Super Space Invaders] that had a level where the invaders would try to tractor-beam steal your cows. It was pretty cute--a bit like bovine Galaga.
posted by blueberry at 1:58 PM on June 5, 2013

It beat Space Invaders to the punch by two years, and is more abstract in the bargain.

Nor were the Beatles the first skiffle band.
posted by dhartung at 3:32 PM on June 5, 2013

Veteran by Boulet, an old soldier.
posted by ovvl at 4:45 PM on June 5, 2013

Love this! I played this all the time on my Atari. : )
posted by SisterHavana at 9:17 PM on June 5, 2013

Far, far superior to that lame Pac-Man game.
posted by davidmsc at 12:01 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Smidgen- it is one of those NYC things from days gone past- other little tells you can use: Jans Hobby Shop, Mountain, trash strikes, etc. And yeah, it was a pretty awful game in execution, but the concept was pretty amazing.
posted by T10B at 5:29 AM on June 6, 2013

Veteran by Boulet, an old soldier.

Another perspective: The Invader
posted by homunculus at 11:56 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

meh... It's no Q*bert. Oh, OK, I admit it. I shoved practically every quarter I had into Space Invaders for a while there. Hope they have one at the old folks' home/poor house where I end up in a few short decades.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 1:01 AM on June 7, 2013

Space Invaders the first game that's not a playable representation of something else? The 1UP guys are great and all, but this is not the smartest thing they've ever said. ALL video games are abstract recreations of realistic things, to some degree or other. I know of nothing in Space Invaders that suggests it's different, in this regard, from what came before or after.

How Space Invaders is different is in the style of game, which is for indefinite play; there is no final time limit for the game like almost* all of what came before. ("Almost" because a lot of companies made games and it's hard to make definite statements because of it, but it is definitely the trendsetter in this regard. I think.)

Space Invaders gives you a number of bases and an extra at a certain score. Until that point, you generally played for a specific amount of time and, if you did well enough, earned a time extension. That subtly changed the underlying basis of the game, from something like a carnival booth, something to pass a little time with, to something more simulationist, this is what you have to defend the planet make the most of it. It also had an instant lose condition: the game ended immediately if the invaders reach the surface regardless of how many bases the player has left.

Space Invaders also introduced wider scope for strategy. The fewer invaders there are the faster they go (because of hardware considerations: it takes time for the limited processor to draw all of those ships on the framebuffer). The fewer column widths the formation has the more "frames" it takes for the formation to reach a playfield edge and thus descend a level. And the fewer rows it has, the more such descents until the formation reaches the ground.

Some other things about the game:
- The game actually has a minor easter egg, one of the industry's first, in it. If the last invader is one of those in the bottom row, word is it leaves a trail behind it on the screen. In the sequel Space Invaders Deluxe, there's supposed to be something more that happens if all the last invaders are those in the bottom two rows.
- Like many games from that era, the monitor is black & white. Space Invaders has a colored sheet of cellophane over the screen that colors the graphics. All the color in the game comes from this sheet.
- In Japan Space Invaders was made by venerable arcade manufacturer Taito, who also made Arkanoid, Bubble Bobble, Cadash, Cameltry and many other great games. In the US, Japanese origins tended to be obscured behind American manufacturers, hence my misapprehension, for a while, that the game was actually "made" by Bally/Midway (Pac-Man, developed by Namco, had a similar problem).
- The "Mystery Ship" is the saucer that sometimes passes by the top of the screen. Plugging it with a shot awards a quasi-random number of points. The actual number determined, like with many games from the era that gave out "random" awards, is actually based off of subtle and obfuscated aspects of the game to that point, making it deterministic to an observant player. The award of the Mystery Ship in Space Invaders actually depends on the number of shots the player has fired.
- A popular strategy among advanced players is to open up some columns in the middle of the formation as a window through which to shoot Mystery Ships. It's only for advanced players because the fewer aliens in formation, the faster the remaining formation moves.
posted by JHarris at 2:13 PM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

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