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Tomohiro Nishikado created Space Invaders, a shoot ’em up arcade game released in 1978. Taito made and distributed it in Japan, while Bally’s Midway subsidiary licensed it for international distribution. Space Invaders was the first fixed shooter in the shooter game genre, and it set the standard for the genre. To win as many points as possible, you must kill wave after wave of falling aliens with a horizontally moving laser.
Breakout (1976), Gun Fight (1975), target shooting games, and science fiction storylines such as The War of the Worlds, Space Battleship Yamato, and Star Wars were all inspirations for designer Nishikado. He had to create new hardware and development tools in order to finish the game. Space Invaders was an immediate commercial success when it was released in 1982, grossing $3.8 billion (equivalent to approximately $13 billion adjusted for inflation as of 2016) with a $450 million net profit. This made it the best-selling video game and highest-grossing “entertainment product” of the time, as well as the all-time highest-grossing video game.
One of the most influential video games of all time is Space Invaders. It ushered in the golden era of arcade video games by helping to transform the video game industry from a novelty to a worldwide enterprise. It has been ported and re-released in many ways, and has served as inspiration for other video games and game creators across multiple genres. The Atari VCS version from 1980 doubled VCS sales, making it the first killer software on video game systems. The pixelated enemy alien has become a pop culture image in general, frequently representing video games as a whole.
Space Invaders is a stationary shooter in which the player fires at aliens overhead by moving a laser weapon horizontally across the bottom of the screen. The aliens start out as five rows of eleven that move left and right in unison, moving lower as they approach the screen’s edge. The aim is to shoot all of the aliens and exterminate them. The game finishes quickly if the invaders reach the bottom of the screen, even though the player has three lives. The aliens fire projectiles towards the player’s cannon in an effort to destroy it. The laser cannon is partially shielded by fixed defense bunkers, which are progressively destroyed by the aliens from the top, and from the bottom if the player fires while beneath one.
As the aliens are eliminated, the game’s music and movement both accelerate faster. Defeating all of the aliens triggers a new wave that begins from a lower level, in a loop that can go on indefinitely. If you demolish a special “mystery ship” that moves over the top of the screen, you’ll get additional points.
Tomohiro Nishikado, a Japanese designer, worked on Space Invaders for a year, conceiving the game and constructing the necessary hardware. The game’s idea is said to have come from a variety of places, including a dream about Japanese schoolchildren waiting for Santa Claus when they are assaulted by invading aliens and an adaptation of Taito’s electro-mechanical arcade game Space Monsters from 1972. Nishikado cites Atari’s arcade game Breakout (1976) as his inspiration for the game’s design, claiming that he wanted to adopt the same sense of accomplishment and anxiety from eliminating targets one at a time while including features of target shooting games. The game has a similar structure to Breakout, but the game mechanics are different: instead of bouncing a ball to assault static objects, players may fire projectiles at moving foes.
Nishikado included several interactive elements that he felt were missing from previous video games, such as the ability for enemies to react to the player’s movement and fire back, as well as a game over triggered by the enemies killing the player (either by being hit or enemies reaching the bottom of the screen) rather than simply a timer running out. He substituted the timer, which was common in arcade games at the time, with descending aliens that essentially performed the same purpose, with the closer they got, the less time the player had left.