Space Invaders – Early Arcade History

1978 was a landmark year in gaming history, as it marked the start of the ‘Golden Age’ of arcade gaming. This is believed to be due to the creation of Space Invaders, which still stands today as an icon of retro gaming, and is still seen as one of the most popular games in the world.

Space Invaders (1978)

Space Invaders is one of the earliest shooting games ever created. It has been said that the idea for Space Invaders came from the 1976 game Breakout and other forms of pop culture such as The War of the Worlds and Star Wars. It has also been believed to be the reason why the games industry moved away from sports games (such as Pong) towards a movement for action games; proving itself as a forerunner of modern gaming and expanding the game industry to be a global phenomenon. Space Invaders became the largest industry since the Great Depression (1930s); Midway selling over 60,000 cabinets!

It is obvious to see why Space Invaders was such a huge success, as it revolutionised arcade gaming to new heights. Introducing in-game lives, being able to gain extra lives, high scores, saving player’s scores and targets that could fire back. Probably the most innovative introduction in the game was the music. As it was the first game to have running background music that was not interrupted by sound effects. Furthermore, the sound would relate to what the player was seeing on screen, possibly creating a further sense of immersion within the game.

The success of the Space Invaders and the ‘Golden Era’ of video gaming was said to be because of the move in the market from American to Japanese manufacturers, who had previously focussed predominantly on driving games (such as Speed Race) and shooting games (such as Western Gun). The creator of Space Invaders, Tomohiro Nishikado, spent a year designing and developing the game; as he had to develop the hardware to produce the game, creating an arcade board from new microprocessors from America.

In Space Invaders, the player controlled a laser-cannon which moved horizontally along the bottom of the screen. The cannon fires at the five rows of aliens, who slid down the screen. The purpose being to defeat these aliens, therefore, the player gains points from shooting them. To add another level of difficulty to the game, as more aliens were defeated, the movement of their descent along-with the music in the game was sped up. Space Invaders additionally introduced levels in games, so when the player had defeated the first phase of the alien attack, another more difficult wave of aliens arrived.

Space Invaders Game
Space Invaders Gameplay

It is clear to see why Space Invaders reached the successful heights that it did back in 1978. Estimates show that there was over 200,000 games in the invader genre entering the Japanese market only a year after the original Space Invaders release in Japan. Moreover, statistics prove that by 1987 the game had grossed over $600 million in Japanese sales alone. And within two years, Taito had sold over 300,000 units in Japan with an additional 60,000 units in America.