Category Archives: space invaders

The box to find under the tree in 1977

The 40th Anniversary of the Atari VCS/2600

While not the first programmable home game system, the Atari Video Computer System (VCS), later renamed the 2600 after its model number, was definitely the console that put home video games into the public consciousness. Released in 1977 and bundled with the cartridge Combat , it had a rocky beginning, with production problems and lacklustre sales haunting its launch. Things got so bad that Atari co-founder and CEO Nolan Bushnell dramatically stood up during an Atari/Warner stockholder’s meeting and suggested that the 2600 have its price slashed and be discontinued by the company.  It remained in Atari’s catalog, but Bushnell was pushed out of Atari in 1978.

Image of the prototype for the Atari VCS/2600, 1977

First VCS prototype, assembled in 1975

With the home licensing of Taito/Midway’s arcade smash Space Invaders in 1980, the 2600 went on to become one of the most successful home video game consoles of all time. So wide was its installed base with users that two companies sprang up to become major third-party suppliers of games for the system. Both Activision and Imagic produced some great games, but only the former was able to survive the big video game crash of 1983 – 1984 by pivoting to the home computer market, eventually becoming one of the largest video game manufacturers and remaining so to this day.

The VCS/2600

VCS/2600

The 2600 itself fought off all comers, including game machines from Magnavox and Mattel, until the 1982 release of the ColecoVision usurped the throne with powerful arcade-like graphics. Still, the 2600 held on in budget form as the $50 2600 Jr., until eventually discontinued by Atari in 1991. The system is truly one for the history books.

For more information on the Atari VCS/2600, consult your local Dot Eaters Bitstory entry.

A screenshot of the arcade video game Space Invaders.

Invading the Arcade

Even 35 years later, Space Invaders epitomizes video games. Like the titular creatures who march inexorably down the screen at the player-controlled missile base, when the arcade game was released by Taito in 1978 it marched video games out of the dodgy doldrums of bars, bowling alleys and pool halls and into mainstream venues like restaurant lobbies and supermarket foyers. Thus, the game helped define the idea of video games in the minds of the public.

Taito engineer Tomohiro Nishikado drew his inspiration for the game from classic SF movies such as War of the Worlds, and upon release the game caused near the same kind of commotion as Orson Welle’s famous radio adaptation of that story. Space Invaders was so wildly popular in Japan that shop owners cleared their inventory and lined their walls with game cabinets to cash in on the craze. So many 100-yen coins were dropped into the machines that the Bank of Japan had to triple production to keep the money in circulation.

Space Invaders was met with great success in North America as well, under a license to Midway. Arcade operators were confident when they purchased a cabinet, knowing that they would recoup the cost in quarters within a month. When it became the first arcade game licensed for a home video game console, Space Invaders proceeded to save the struggling Atari VCS and put it on the road to complete domination of the home system market for several years.

Market penetration for the game was such that even the New England Journal of Medicine got into the act in 1981, dubbing a pained wrist caused by constant play of the game as Space Invader Wrist.  Never had coming down with a new ailment been so much fun.

For more information on the history of Space Invaders, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

Valhalla, I am coooominggggg

Visiting Valhalla

Local to me here in Toronto is a great store called Valhalla Cards & Gifts.  Its main trade is a wonderfully eclectic collection of greeting and post cards, most of which owner Chadwick Gendron designs himself.  Accompanying the cards is a wealth of knick-knacks and paddy-whacks on the shelves; Pantone mugs, off-kilter children’s books (Go the F**k to Sleep, why don’t you?), board games, fridge magnets, note books, ect. ect..

Of course, the products that catch my attention are retro game themed.  Here’s a couple of snaps I took of some while visiting the store:

Image of Pac-Man plug-and-play video games

Pac-Man plug-and-play video games

These Pac-Man plug-and-play video games apparently sell really well.  Even though the joystick makes Pac look like he has an orange goiter on his face.

Image of Space Invaders candy

Space Invader candy

An arcade of Space Invader candy.  What’s funny is that, back in its heyday in Japan, storeowners actually did move out all of their stock and installed all-Invaders arcades to ride the game’s immense popularity.  Here, though, Snake Plisskin seems to be scaring the customers away.

Image of Space Invaders candy

Invaders side art

Even the side art on these little guys is great.  Note the Pac-Man greeting card behind the cabinets.

Taking a trip to Valhalla is always pretty cool, with one never failing to find something they didn’t expect.  The store is located at 791 Queen Street West in Toronto, with operating hours between 11am and 7pm on weekdays and 12pm to 6pm on the weekends.  They also have a web store at ValhallaCards.com, as well the Twitter handle @ValhallaCards.

If you want to find out more about the history of the video games featured in these pics, consult your local Dot Eaters articles here:

The History of Pac-Man

The History of Space Invaders

 

 

Visual Cortex: Explosive Invaders

Where we pull a visual bauble out of the treasure chest of images at TDE and examine it with a loupe.

Today in the cortex, a flyer for Space Invaders, which helped solidify video games as popular entertainment.  Invaders’ biggest contribution to the North American video game industry was probably how it brought coin-op games out of bars and bowling alleys, and into restaurants, coffee shops, hotel lobbies and other mainstream venues.  Such did video arcade games move from a smokey niche market and into popular consciousness.  
But that’s nothing compared to how Space Invaders affected Japan when original manufacturer Taito released it there.  The game was so popular, with so much change being dropped into the machine to play, that the Bank of Japan had to triple 100-yen coin production to keep it in circulation.
This flyer sent by North American licensee Midway to distributers is mighty explosive.  A fitting graphic for a game that set the world on fire.  For more information on Space Invaders, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.