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Tracing the History of the Computer - Space Invaders Video Game


Space Invaders

Here come the aliens!

Space invaders was designed and developed by Toshihiro Nishikado in 1978, while working for the Japanese company, Taito Corporation. Although a simple game with simple graphics, it was a massive success, why? - game play - that essential ingredient that any game needs to be successful.

Originally, Nishikado had planned to use tanks (or airplanes, see below) as the attacking force, but the computers of the time were too slow to let the tanks turn and move smoothly. The familiar aliens were used to avoid the problem.

These days, of course, video games (and the computers on which they run) have come a long way and the speed of graphics is not a problem anymore. We take it for granted when we play online driving games, for example, that the images on the screen will move completely smoothly.

In October 2005, Nishikado commented in an interview that his original intention had been to make the enemies airplanes, but that this had been too technically difficult to render. He was opposed to depicting the enemies as human beings (which would have been technically easier) as he believed the idea of depicting the shooting of humans to be "morally wrong".

The popularity of the game grew very quickly and, in 1980, it was released in the United States in coin-operated arcade machines, the Atari 2600, and the Nintendo entertainment system. To date, it has generated in excess of 500 million dollars in revenue. Coin-operated video games don't really exist these days as the best free games are available on the Internet.


The game itself was an adaptation of a shooting gallery game. In Space Invaders, the player controlled the left and right movements of a shooter across the bottom of the screen. Rows and rows of aliens marched back and forth across the screen, slowly advancing down from the top to the bottom of the screen. If any of the aliens successfully landed on the bottom of the screen, the game would end. The player's laser cannon had an unlimited supply of ammunition to shoot at the aliens and destroy them before they hit the bottom of the screen.

Meanwhile, the aliens would shoot back at the player, raining a hail of deadly rays and bombs that the player would have to dodge lest his cannon be destroyed. The player's cannon could be destroyed three times, and the game would end after the player's last life was lost. Occasionally a bonus spaceship would fly across the top of the screen which the player could shoot for extra points.


As the player destroyed an increasing number of aliens, the aliens began marching faster and faster, with the lone remaining alien zooming very rapidly across the screen. Shooting the last alien in the formation rewarded the player with a new screen of aliens, which began their march one row lower than the previous round.

Video games had existed prior to Space Invaders, and the game Pong by Atari was already a few years old when this game was released. But Space Invaders captured the attention and imagination of the public in a manner paralleled by few games before or since. Its science fiction based action and futuristic setting appealed to a public in the midst of Star Wars mania. The game's design included a touch of horror, as it gave players the illusion that they were in a desperate battle to save the world from alien invaders... a battle that they would eventually lose, as endless waves of electronic aliens would sweep down until they were overwhelmed. The simple background soundtrack to the game, which gave the impression of a beating heart, increased the tension and kept players coming back for more.

As well as having very impressive graphics and sound for its time, Space invaders is credited with introducing the concept of the 'high score' to the world. Most games of this period either had a set time limit, or continued forever without changing. Trying to get the highest score gave players a great incentive to keep coming back for more.


One key feature of Space Invaders was the fact that as more and more of the aliens were shot, the remaining aliens would move faster and faster. The change in speed was minor at the beginning of a wave, but dramatic near the end. This action was originally an unintentional result of the way the game was written - as the program had to move fewer and fewer aliens it ran faster and faster, but was kept after finding favour with the development team.

In the upright version (which most people--especially in America--are familiar with), the actual output of the game was displayed mirror-image on a black and white monitor which sat recessed in the game's cabinet. The image was projected (automatically) to a plastic panel which the player saw. Behind the reflective panel was a lunar landscape which gave the game an impressive background setting. Since the actual video game console itself had a monochrome video image, Taito added color by coating the reflective screen with colored bands. It should be noted however, that the very first version of the game in Japan ("T.T.", or "Table Top" Space Invaders) was a cocktail table with purely black and white graphics (i.e., no color overlay). There was also a version of the game in which the graphics were converted to actual RGB color.

Technical Information

Space Invaders used an Intel 8 bit 8080 microprocessor, running below 1 MHz and a 1 bit per pixel framebuffer mapped from the main CPU address space. The analogue sound effects were implemented individually with discrete electronics.

The game was held on two circuit boards: the first contained the processor, ROM, RAM and other components for generating the video and playing the game; the second contained the sound effect circuitry and audio amplifier.


Although the game has been updated and released several times, the original 2D format has remained. A version with a 3D background and characters was released for the Nintendo 64 in 1999, but the shooter was still in 2D.

1978 Space Invaders
1980 Space Invaders Part II
1980 Space Invaders II
1985 Return Of The Invaders
1991 Super Space Invaders '91
1993 Space Invaders DX
1995 Space Invaders '95
1999 Space Invaders (Nintendo '64)


Toshihiro Nishikado

Taito Corporation

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