There was a time when spacer shooters absolutely dominated the video game landscape. And although the genre dates back to the early 1960s, its popularization can be traced directly back to Space Invaders, released to enthusiastic arcade-goers in 1978. The brainchild of Tomohiro Nishikado, the game is responsible for helping Taito cement its place in the video game industry after decades of experience in vending machines, jukeboxes, etc.
Space Invaders‘ gameplay design was inspired by Breakout, which itself was an attempt at creating a single-player Pong-style game. But rather than bouncing a ball upward at blocks, as seen in Breakout, the player controls a laser cannon that can pan left or right across the bottom of the screen. Waves of pixelated enemies – visually inspired by squids and crabs – descend from above while the player shoots upward to eliminate them. Be careful though, because they shoot back. In fact, Space Invaders was the very first game where targets could fire back at the player, one of many important firsts claimed by this legendary title. Four blockades are spaced out just above the player’s area, providing refuge from enemy fire, but the barriers are destructible and chip away when shot at. The fewer enemies remaining on screen, the faster they come at you, an incidental effect due to computer limitations. This was intentionally left in for added challenge, ultimately inventing the concept of a difficulty curve.
Players were hooked! The game was unbelievably successful, going on to become the best selling arcade cabinet just a year after its release. Several early home console ports quickly appeared including an Atari 2600 version; dozens of ports and reiterations have followed in the years since. Its innovative gameplay paved the way for countless shoot ’em up games and helped shape gaming as a whole.