A screenshot of the arcade video game Space Invaders.

The Invaders arrive

Space Invaders - Panic in the Streets!


Taito/Midway 1978

They’re here! You’re next!

Taito Corporation (pronounced Tie-toe) is a struggling Japanese manufacturer of jukeboxes and Pachinko games (players drop balls down into a colourful playfield and try to direct them into holes for points). They also dabble in the videogame market, with entries in the early 70’s PONG goldrush like Elepong, as well as Western Gun, the source game for Midway’s groundbreaking Gun Fight. In 1978, Taito engineer Tomohiro Nishikado, inspired by Atari’s Breakout and the 50’s classic SF movie War of the Worlds, designs and programs a video game. Utilizing the microprocessor design created by Taito’s U.S. partners Midway for Gun Fight, Nishikado wants to portray animated human characters involved in a war-time setting, but the idea of shooting people is nixed by upper management. He changes things to a cosmic venue and so Space Invaders is born.

Space Invaders arcade video game cabinet with alien background

Bomp-bomp-bomp-bomp… you hear it in your head now, right? Space Invaders, 1978

In the game, players are charged with protecting the planet from relentless hoards of aliens marching single-file down the screen, with just a single-shot moving gun and four shot-blocking bunkers as protection. The more aliens you shoot, the faster they move, accompanied by an ominous, thudding marching sound that ratchets up speed as you progress. Once you clear a screen, another block of 55 aliens appear, this time starting one row closer to the bottom and the player’s ship. Once three of your rolling gun platforms are destroyed, or even one of the invaders reaches the bottom of the screen, it’s game over. The game’s display is black and white, with screen overlays giving the appearance of colour. Adding to the festivities is an entertaining attract mode, featuring the little critters fixing on screen typos like running out to replace an inverted “Y” in “PLAY SPACE INVADERS” or shooting away the extra “C” in the game’s request to “INSERT CCOIN”. The competitive spirit is promoted heartily in Space Invaders, as it is the first game to display a high score, although it doesn’t allow the victorious player to save their initials with it.

Full-Scale Invasion

When Space Invaders is released on June 16, 1976, it practically causes riots across Japan, as well as being responsible for a nationwide coin shortage that forces the Bank of Japan to triple the production of 100-yen coins to keep up. To cash in on the craze, shop owners clear out their merchandise and set up all-Space Invaders arcades overnight; some establishments line the walls with up to 200 of the machines. A thriving black-market of stolen game cabinets surfaces just as quickly. By the end of 1978, there are 100,000 arcade units installed in Japan, pulling in over $600 million for Taito. By mid-1979, the intense popularity of the game has inspired a kind of Reefer Madness-style mania across Japan, with media such as the vaunted Mainichi Daily News printing distressing stories of Japanese youth fully corrupted by their insatiable passion for Space Invaders. These tales include a senior high school girl in Okayama who reportedly engages in prostitution to feed her electronic habit. Other horror stories: a group of seven junior high school students in Higashi Sumiyoshi-ku break into their school to steal ¥45,000 (about $230 USD) to feed their Invader addiction, and an enterprising gang of Tokyo junior high school students who establish a shoplifting ring to finance their blasting of the alien menace, to the tune of ¥400,000 (about $2000 USD). Things get so crazy that the National Police Agency institutes a national fact-finding survey to establish the connection between this delinquency and the arcade game, municipal school boards issue edicts to districts prohibiting playing of the game, and the Japan Amusement Trade Association puts forth a plan to combat the menace: only businesses with on-site caretakers can install the game, players under the age of 18 must not be allowed to play after 11pm, no prizes be offered for Space Invaders high scores and any children under 15 must be accompanied by an adult.

In a smart bit of foresight, Midway, licensing the game for North America, begins production of Space Invaders in October of 1978, before its introduction at the AMOA coin-op trade show a month later. The game becomes a sleeper hit at the show, with long lines waiting at the Midway booth to play it by the end of the show. Unleashed onto the public, Midway soon finds itself in possession of the biggest arcade video game hit in America up to that point. Released in the U.S. in November of 1978, the game transcends the regular video game ghettos of pool halls and bars, popping up in department stores, restaurants, and other mainstream venues; within a year, 60,000 units have been installed in the U.S. Arcade operators scramble for the machines, aware that within one month, income from the game at prime locations will have paid off its $1,700 price tag. Even after 16 months of production of Space Invaders, distributers are faced with a five-week back order for the game.

JUMP: Space Invaders video playlist

Taito follows up Space Invaders with Space Invaders Part II in 1980, licensed again by Midway who sell it as Space Invaders Deluxe the same year. The sequel hews closely to the original in gameplay, with a few twists: there are two flying saucers worth different points, as well as Invaders who are dropped from a UFO as reinforcements during a round, and ones who split into two when hit. Thanks to its various video creations and imports, Midway’s profits skyrocket by fifty percent in 1980. Hoping to replicate this success, numerous other imitators and sequels such as and Invaders Revenge are released in the original’s wake, and Space Invaders becomes a huge force in the home videogame market in 1980 as the first arcade game licensed for a home console, the Atari VCS. This home version of the game, complete with 112 variations of gameplay, moves over one million cartridges in its first year of release and develops into a huge system-seller for Atari’s console. Other companies eventually release their own Space Invader clones for their home consoles, when it becomes apparent to lawyers at Mattel that the original copyright for the game has not been properly protected, with only a change of the trademarked “Space Invaders” name required to avoid litigation. This allows the company to release Space Armada in 1981, which becomes a big hit on the Intellivision with 931,000 copies sold.

It’s In the Wrist

Space Invaders also creates a new physical ailment. Discovered by University of Arkansas College of Medicine student Timothy McCowan, the symptom is a stiff and pained wrist, due to the “large number of rapid, repetitive arm movements” required in playing the game. Called Space Invader Wrist, it is written up in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1981.

In spite of our tortured wrists, in its various official incarnations, Space Invaders has pulled in billions in revenue over the years. By 1980, there are 360,000 units installed world-wide… a global record broken only by that year’s Pac-Man phenomena. 40th U.S. president Ronald Reagan gets in on the craze, making a perhaps slightly dated reference when he talks about video games as possible military training tools in 1983 while addressing a crowd of 500 teenagers at EPCOT center, Walt Disney World, Florida:

I recently learned something quite interesting about video games.
Many young people have developed incredible hand, eye and brain co-ordination in playing these games. The Air Force believes these kids will be outstanding pilots should they fly our jets. Watch a 12-year-old take evasive action and score multiple hits while playing ‘Space Invaders,’ and you will appreciate the skills of tomorrow’s pilot.

And what would a classic arcade game be if it wasn’t the target of a seemingly superfluous modern updating? In Space Invader‘s case, it comes at the hands of game developer Z-Axis and distributor Activision, releasing their revamped Space Invaders on the Nintendo N64, Sony PlayStation and Windows gaming platforms for Christmas 1999. Along with the obligatory graphics enhancement, the new game throws power-ups, multiple weapons and end-level bosses into the mix. logo_stop


Sources (Click to view; inert links are kept for historical purposes)



They’re here! You’re next!
Developing Space Invaders
Space Invaders Shrine – www.spaceinvaders.de/
KLOV: Space Invaders – www.klov.com/S/Space_Invaders.html”
Taito Corporation Official Homepage – Corporate Profile – www.taito.com/company/info/history.html
Space Invaders [Taito 1979] – article @ Retro Trauma – www.zx.ru/www.fortunecity.com/victorian/delacroix/184/mm012.htm
Winnipeg Free Press, “Adventure galore – with no risk – for 25 cents”, by Dave Haynes, pg. 28, Nov. 15, 1979
 
Full-Scale Invasion
Space Invaders Released
span>Bueschel, Richard M., and Steve Gronowski. “Space Invaders Floor Video Amusement Machine.” Arcade 1: Illustrated Historical Guide to Arcade Machines. Comp. Hubz. Wheat Ridge, CO: Hoflin Pub., 1993. 297. Print. So, starting in October 1978, Midway began making the game in order to have an inventory on hand once the game was introduced at the November AMOA industry show… ;By the next day the game was catching on with long lines waiting to play by the show’s end.
Rossi, Rosalind A. “‘Space Invaders’ – The Game That Can’t Be Beat.” Fort Lauderdale News (UPI News Wire) 23 Sept. 1979: 9E. Newspapers.com. Web. 11 June 2021. Space Invaders, an electronic game from Japan which first hit the United States in November…
Pacific Stars and Stripes, “‘Space Invaders’ capture Japanese coffee sippers”, by John Needham, pg. 12, Jul. 20, 1979
Hutchinson News (UPI), “Newest electronic game craze: ‘Space Invaders’, pg. 5, Sept. 21, 1979
MacDonald, John A. “Space Invaders: An Electronic Game That Zaps Japan’s Youth.” The Courier-Journal [Louisville, Kentucky] 19 July 1979: A-A2. Newspapers.com. Web. 12 June 2021. …according to the Mainichi Daily News, “Children who have become infatuated are known to have spent more than 10,000 yen” ($50) at one time. ;And so some have resorted to shoplifting, theft and at least one case of prostitution to pay for their habit, …the National Police Agency is concerned enough to have ordered a nationwide fact-finding survey concerning the games and a rise in juvenile delinquency. ;In Higashi Sumiyoshi-ku, seven junior high school students were found to have sneaked into an elementary school and stolen 45,000 yen, which they spent playing the game. In Tokyo, the police took 32 junior high school age boys into custody for shoplifting so they could get money to play “Space Invaders”. ;In Okayama, a senior high school girl reportedly engaged in prostitution for money to spend on the game. ;Meanwhile, municipal boards of education in several cities…advising school districts to either prohibit the games or require youngsters playing them to be accompanied by a parent. ;…the Japan Amusement Trade Association… announced a four-point plan “to protect children… [etc etc]
Creative Computing, “Random Ramblings – The Consumer Electronics Show – Electronic Games and Craziness” by David H. Ahl, pgs. 16-18, Sep 1980. “Space Invaders was introduced in 1978 in Japan by Taito Inc. Within one year there were over 100,000 Space Invaders coin operated games which pulled in over $600 million. The Bank of Japan had to triple its production of 100 yen pieces to meet the demand of Space Invaders players.” Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Creative Computing collection, Oct 21 2015.
“Invasion of the Video Games.” News-Press (NYT News Wire) [Fort Myers, Florida] 12 Nov. 1980: D. Newspapers.com. Web. 11 June 2021. Editorial cartoon Cosmic Debris, by Jim Mazzotta
Reddicliffe, Steven. “Bossed in Space: Invincible Invader.” The Miami Herald 07 Dec. 1979: D-15D. Newspapers.com. Web. 12 June 2021. None of this comes as a surprise to Stan Jarocki, marketing director for Midway Manufacturing…” It’s a game that, after 16 months of production, even today we are five weeks back-ordered.”
Oney, Steve. “Notes of a Galaxians Junkie.” The Atlanta Constitution 22 Mar. 1981: 14+. Newspapers.com. Web. 11 June 2021. Larry Burke, director of sales for Midway Amusements…told me that his company’s profits jumped fifty percent in 1980 solely because of computer games.
“Can Asteroids Conquer Space Invaders?” Editorial. Electronic Games Winter 1981: 31-33. Electronic Games – Volume 01 Number 01 (1981-12)(Reese Communications)(US). Internet Archive. Web. 07 Feb. 2016. …the Bank of Japan had tripled production of 100-yen pieces…
“Can Asteroids Conquer Space Invaders?” Editorial. Electronic Games Winter 1981: 31-33. Electronic Games – Volume 01 Number 01 (1981-12)(Reese Communications)(US). Internet Archive. Web. 07 Feb. 2016. …the Bank of Japan had tripled production of 100-yen pieces…
The Montreal Gazette (Gazette News Services), “Those video invaders can so be disarming”, pg. 2e, May 23, 1981
Electronic Games, “Can Asteroids Conquer Space Invaders?”, pgs. 30-33, Winter 1981. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Electronic Games magazine collection
 
Arcade Sequel and Home Adaptations
Adilman, Glenn. “Videogames: Knowing the Score.” Creative Computing Dec. 1983: 224-31. Creative Computing Magazine (December 1983) Volume 09 Number 12. Internet Archive. Web. 27 Feb. 2016. Midway’s Space Invaders, the first massively popular video game, sold more than one million cartridges in its first year.
Intellivision Lives! – intellivisiongames.com/gamepage.php?gameId=88
The Old Computer – www.theoldcomputer.com/index.php
 
It’s in the Wrist
Space Invaders Wrist Ailment/Continued Legacy
Fitzgerald, Jim. “Teaching Our Teenagers to Kill for Fun and Profit.” Detroit Free Press 21 Mar. 1983: 12F. Newspapers.com. Web. 11 Apr. 2021. Speaking at Disney World to 500 teenagers, President Ronald Reagan said: “I recently learned something quite interesting about video games. Many young people have developed incredible hand, eye and brain co-ordination in playing these games. The Air Force believes these kids will be outstanding pilots should they fly our jets. Watch a 12-year-old take evasive action and score multiple hits while playing ‘Space Invaders,’ and you will appreciate the skills of tomorrow’s pilot.”
Activision: Corporate Info: Press Releases: Space Invaders N64 Ships – www.calltopower.com/investor/pressreleases/147.html

Marks, Michael N. “Van Halen’s Michael Anthony is a Vidiot!” Vidiot Oct. 1982: 11. Print. Image of Michael Anthony
Kondorito. “Nintendo 64 3D Boxes Pack (Real Version).” EmuMovies. N.p., 25 July 2019. Web. 23 Aug. 2020. Image of the game box of Space Invaders for the N64
 
Unannotated, Uncategorized or I Just Don’t Damn Remember!
Gamearchive – www.gamearchive.com

Videotopia – Arcade Games – www.videotopia.com/games.htm

Referenced Books (Click to view)



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.