What do you get when you combine Star Wars, The War of the Worlds, Breakout, two-dimensional graphics, and a genius Japanese programmer?
One of the most iconic games in all of gaming history, that’s what.
In 1978, Japanese game developer Tomohiro Nishikado used movies like Star Wars, Breakout, and The War of the Worlds as his inspiration to design a two-dimensional shooting game with a simple (yet brilliant) “us” versus “them” premise. Space Invaders is one of the earliest of what’s known as the “shooting games,” and was originally intended for play in arcades. The game was an instant success, (actually causing a brief shortage of 100-yen coins in Japan) and would soon be licensed for production in the United States. In 1980, Atari released its version of the game, and in true “me too, right guys?” fashion, Texas Instruments would follow with its version “TI Invaders” a year later.
The structure of the game is simple and widely known so here’s what everyone already knows about this video game classic. Choose your level, “merely aggressive” or “downright nasty”, then shoot as many aliens as you can before they shoot you. At the “merely aggressive” phase, the aliens fire at you slowly and sporadically, but when it’s time to get nasty, they do, and they fire quickly and right at you. The aliens come in red (spaceship shaped) purple (amoeba shaped) and green (spade shaped) and they bear down on you as they move across the screen, left to right, right to left, left to right, and so on. In both levels, a yellow spaceship occasionally goes flying across the top of the screen. Shoot it. If you kill all the aliens, you move on to the next level. But if they win, then one lucky alien performs “clean up” before they all do a victory dance over your three missile corpses. Good times.
The TI version is almost identical to the original, but there are a few minor differences. First, there’s the “bonus round.” In the TI version, there is an interlude between levels where you have the opportunity to shoot at a red spaceship that looks like the yellow spaceship that flies across the screen in each level. Shoot this as many times as you can for bonus points. Second, TI’s version offers 1 point for each time your fire hits alien fire. And finally, in TI world, with each level the aliens look the same, but are allocated a bit differently. With each passing level, the bottom most row of aliens disappears, the remaining rows move down, and a new row is added to the top.
By today’s standards, the graphics are almost silly, the sound is something you can probably duplicate with your own vocal chords, and there isn’t much to do besides move right or left and fire. But even if the TI version is almost an exact clone, the original is such a classic and a cultural icon that to dismiss the simple genius of this game in any form would be to not understand video games on the whole at all.
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