In the Making: Space Invaders
Continuing where we left off on Arcade Sushi’s In the Making series, we’re going above and beyond – in space, that is. Taking the spotlight this week is a game that has revolutionized the industry and inspired many others to make their own. If you haven’t guessed what it is already, you’re in need for some In the Making: Space Invaders.
Space Invaders started development at a time when the industry wasn't doing so well. In 1977, the video game crash occurred when Pong clones were leeching into every home and arcade. While this was going on, Tomohiro Nishikado was working on his newest creation, not knowing that the final result would be a breakthrough.
He wanted to produce a game that was unlike any other – a shooting game that would have stages and moving targets with the addition of detailed graphics. Nishikado himself said that his inspiration came from Atari’s arcade title Breakout. Other sources, however, have reported that it came from a dream about aliens attacking children at Christmas or Taito’s 1972 game Space Monsters.
To begin, Nishikado needed to figure out the components for the software. He wanted to take the layout from Breakout but change some change maneuvers. Instead of having a ball attack static objects, he wanted to use projectiles to attack moving enemies. Initially, these enemies were tanks, battleships, and fighting planes. The limited technicalities made it hard to program the flying simulations, though. The idea for human soldiers to be used instead came to mind, but it was quickly dismissed as being immoral.
Around this time, the Star Wars franchise was gaining popularity. When he heard about this, he immediately came up with a new idea that went from the ground up – way up and into space. With a new theme, he needed new enemies. Inspiration came from the 1953 film adaption of The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells for these creatures. Instead of planes, aliens resembling aquatic life forms such as octopuses, crabs, and squids came into play.
The hardware was the most difficult part. Microcomputers, at the time, did not have the ability to handle the design and programming aspects. Nishikado had to create his own hardware and development tools to work with. Using an Intel 8080 central processing unit, a CRT monitor for bitmap images, analogue circuitry, and a Texas Instruments SN76477 sound chip, he developed the hardware system.
When he tested this with his software, he discovered that the homemade system could not handle colors or speedy enemies. If he had fewer enemies on the screen, though, he saw that the graphics rendered faster. The decision was made at that time to keep it that way since it would increase the challenging aspects of the gameplay.
After one year of development, Space Invaders was ready for release. Its debut started in Japan in the form of a table cabinet arcade system where the graphic were in black and white. In the same year, the United States received it in the style of the upright cabinets. These had cellophane over the screens to create colors in which Japan adopted the concept in later releases. The cabinet artwork displayed enemies not shown in the game, which Nishikado claims was due to the artist’s rendition of the game’s initial title – Space Monsters.
Space Invaders was an immediate success. By the end of its first year, over 100,000 units were sold, bringing in 600 million dollars in Japan alone. Within two years of its release, the number of units sold jumped to 300,000 in Japan with another 60,000 for the States. It reached another gross revenue milestone in mid-1981 when it hit one billion dollars. The following year, it hit two billion. Due to this, Space Invaders was named the best-selling video game and the highest-grossing entertainment product of its time.
Along with its own triumphs, Space Invaders has brought good fortune to others. The Atari 2600 benefited more than any other ports. It was the first official licensing of the phenomenal title, helping the console sell over two million units during its first year. In result, Space Invaders became the first title to sell one million cartridges.
It has been also credited with many achievements – the biggest being the game that fixed the video game crash of 1977. People who played it were inspired to learn how make their own games, becoming industry leaders in their future. (Remember Donkey Kong from the last In the Making? Shigeru Miyamoto cites that Space Invaders is what got him interested in video games. Imagine that!) Space Invaders even made it into the Guinness World Records in 2008 for being the top-rated arcade game in technical, creative and cultural impact.
With such a heavy legacy to carry, it’s no wonder Space Invaders has become the icon of video games for decades. It has shaped the shooting genre since its release and the way games are created even to this day. Truly being one-of-a-kind, the recognition is well deserved for one of the greatest arcade games ever made.