back to article Thirty-five years ago today: Space Invaders conquer the Earth

Tomohiro Nishikado already had a string of almost a dozen arcade games under his belt when he started on what was to become the best remembered - certainly the most played - game he was ever to create: Space Invaders, released in Japan 35 years ago this month. Nishikado was an engineer who had joined vending machine company …


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  1. Dazed and Confused

    Doesn't time fly

    I remember being intrigued by this when I saw a machine in the student common room at collage. I was too mean to spend my meagre beer tokens on playing it though. A mate's Dad bought him an Exidy Sorcerer which had the top half of its character generator in RAM so I wrote a version of Space Invaders in Forth for that. His cassette recorder was too good though so after typing it all in and testing it played OK we saved it to tape only to find it wouldn't reload and neither of us could face typing it all in again.

    1. Martin

      "... in the student common room at COLLEGE..."


      Collage is art with cutout paper and materials.

      College is where you learn things. Or not.

    2. deshepherd

      Re: Doesn't time fly

      I remember being intrigued by this when I saw a machine in the student common room at college

      We had one in our school computer lab to show that computing wasn't just BASIC programs on 380Z's! Also, got the school model railway club to set up a layout using the then "state of the art" Hornby computer controlled system.

      I was too mean to spend my meagre beer tokens on playing it though

      Aha, someone discovered that it you rocked the whole machine from side to side at the right speed something would flip in the coin mechanism and you'd suddenly have 99 credits!

  2. PaulyV


    Antique CODE show. After all these months I just got it. Jeez.

    Good luck finding one of these anywhere. When I venture back to see family on the east coast now every arcade i go into is nothing but fruit machines and an occasional cursory Dance Dance Revolution or Time Crisis 3.

    Are there any good 'retro' arcades in this country, or for that matter anywhere else???

    1. silent_count

      Re: ohh.

      I think the closest you'll get is a arcade-style cabinet with a PC inside running MAME.

    2. Tom 13

      Re: ohh.

      Given that both of the arcades I frequented in the misspent time of my college years went bust about 10 years ago, I doubt it.

      Dave and Busters claims to make a go of it. They will at least have a combination Ms. Pacman/Galaga machine in the joint. Possibly Joust. Maybe Quix. Definitely a Gauntlet II (but never Gauntlet I) machine. But yeah, after that it's all Time Crisis/House of the Dead XX shooters or multi-player road race games. But only in the half of the game room that isn't dedicated to those silly ticket dispensing gambling machines. Okay, skeeball can be fun for a little bit as can the laser shooting gallery, but not the games we enjoyed in our youth. Although I think I did see a Dig Dug machine on my last pass through.

      On the upside, you can at least have a beer while you reminisce. Or in my case, a gin and tonic.

    3. Oscar Pops

      Re: ohh.

      Google PlayExpo and/or check retrogamer forums, there are at least annual exhibitions with old machines set up usually free to play (but the whole venue has an entry fee)

    4. Anonymous Coward

      Re: ohh.

      "Are there any good 'retro' arcades in this country, or for that matter anywhere else???"

      Unlikely. Any original late 70s and early 80s games such as space invaders. pacman, defender etc are worth an absolute mint - some of them are worth more now than when they were new. The chances of the owners letting the general public play on them are pretty slim I would imagine.

    5. Steve Todd

      Disney Quest in Orlando, Florida is full of them

      Free to play once you have paid to get in.

  3. Jason Togneri
    Thumb Up

    What can I say, it inspired a generation. says it all, really.

    1. Cliff

      Re: What can I say, it inspired a generation.

      Good link!

  4. ukgnome

    Ahh happy happy place

    I think the true testament to this game and others of this ilk is the test of time. If you walk up any seafront you will soon stumble upon a true gem like space invaders. I understand what PaulyV means though, as it does seem that a lot of arcades have replaced machines with the quid a go brigade. My advice is to go deeper into the arcades.

    Strangely travelling fairs seem to have a great collection of old games, and council run leisure centres also seem to have them.

    Even now, I hear Gorf calling to me.

    1. Stevie

      Re: Ahh happy happy place

      You will never defeat the GORF robots, Space Cadet.

  5. Mike Bell
    Thumb Up

    Back in the day...

    Space Invaders featured quite heavily in my early introduction to pub life. Our local had a prize offering for the best score each week, and I'd often annoy regulars by grabbing the £5 cash prize. In those days, £5 could get you 13 pints of lager out in the styx :-)

    Also, when girlies played the game, they would go into a mad panic when the last remaining alien started zipping across the screen. At which point, yours truly would saunter over and casually thump the FIRE button to destroy the little monster. Ah, those were the days.

    1. Khaptain Silver badge

      Re: Back in the day...

      Two gamers were an instant hit at our local pub,

      Space Invaders and Defender.

      Both of those machines took a "thumping", fortunately they were solidly built machines.

      1. Tom 13

        Re: Both of those machines took a "thumping", fortunately they were solidly built machines.

        That's what I really miss. Console games you just can't abuse the way you could a good standup machine in an arcade. Whether it was Space Invaders, Defender, Missile Command, Pacman or even Quix, you could really get into pushing that joystick around. And for the ultimate in frantic joystick jerking, it had to be Robotron.

  6. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Who needs progress?

    The first ideas are usually the most obvious and therefore the longest lasting.

    So the basic concept of see a target and shoot it (before it shoots you) is still the dominant feature of most games today. While the graphics has improved vastly and the "immersion", too. Most video games are still essentially the same as they were back in the 70's

  7. alain williams Silver badge

    Space Invaders in real life ...

    I lived in a large house, 40 - 50 of us. We played space invaders in the long sitting room.

    Most lined up across the room advancing slowly, menacingly shouting ''Boom, boom'' towards the other end where a lone defender hurled cusions & pillows at the invaders.

    Those were the days!

  8. Winkypop Silver badge

    All those 20c pieces!

    All those hours in the local fish and chip shop.

    Ahhhh childhood.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What was that game....?

    A game I saw once when I was a kid, you controlled a rocket missile, taking off from the bottom of the screen, avoiding a set of left/right floating obstacles (a bit like Frogger I guess) and then you had to collide with a small bunch of enemies at the top of the screen. A thrust control gave you some way to time your way through the left-right moving asteroids, but you were always moving a little bit (once taken off) whether you liked it or not - making sure that you crashed and died no matter what, if you weren't bold.

    I've never seen anything like it since. It was in a small arcade area on a cross-channel ferry, late 70s or early 80s :)

    I'd love to know what it was...?

    1. JQW

      Re: What was that game....?

      It sounds like Galaxy Wars, a game that ran on similar hardware to Space Invaders.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What was that game....?

        BRILLIANT!! Thank you so much, that has puzzled me for years and I thought I'd never find the answer :)

        God Bless the internet, solving all Life's mysteries one at a time, LOL

        THANK YOU!

  10. Mondo the Magnificent
    Thumb Up

    Dum, dum, dum dum....

    I recall Space Invaders hitting the UK in late 1978 and early 1979

    I then moved to South Africa and I recall seeing a Space Invaders coinop being wheeled into the local cafe/supermarket.

    The owner was surprised when I said I'd played it, as in 1979 coinops were a relatively new concept in South Africa.

    Soon there was a queue to play it, as well as a crowd huddled around the perspex protected CRT to watch the action.

    The "dum, dum, dum dum" noise always reminded me of the theme to Jaws!

    This was certainly the game that made coinops popular in South Africa and by time we hit the mid 1980's, game arcades everywhere had Space Invaders, Asteroids and other legendary joystick coinops outselling the traditional pinball tables.

  11. ridley

    Dot Matrix

    At university we had a version that played on a dot matrix printer. A page of print out per screen/frame. Timing your shots was really quite difficult

    (Yes it was incredibly wasteful of paper.)

    1. Nuke

      @Ridley - Re: Dot Matrix

      Dot matrix printer? Luxury!

      Where I worked we played our games with a golf-ball printer (Startrek actually, on a PDP-11). After each move it hammered away for half a minute on green-ruled sprocket-hole line printer paper. We used it back and front, and then (as less than half the width was used) in the opposite direction.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Undergraduate exercise

    I get my first year computing science students to program Space Invaders and similar complexity game emulations as a coursework exercise which encourages them to learn how to program while having some fun doing it.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    "and The Ridge Racer in 1982"

    Erm - dunno if this is some sort of pedant trap but I really don't know of a scrap of anything like that until namco's 1993 Ridge Racer. Did one perhaps mean to refer to Pole Position?

    1. The Serpent

      Re: "and The Ridge Racer in 1982"

      All attempts to play Pole Position go the same way:

      Insert coins, foot down, 8-bit engine noise 'eeeeeEEEEEE', change gear, 'eeeeeEEEEE', Game Over

      All in about the time it took you to read that

      1. Tom 13

        Re: Pole Position go the same way:

        Yep. I could get one, maybe two time extensions on that one. It generally turned me off to those kinds of games forever. Yeah, I'll join in if the company has one of those team-building events at Dave and Busters, but only because it's required.

        Spy Hunter was much more satisfying. In fact, I'd say the only one I played that was as bad as Pole position was something called Space Wars. It was two little ships that let two players shoot at each other. There was a star/black hole obstacle in the middle that could also blow up your ship. But at least on that one you knew up front you were only going to play for one minute and 30 seconds per coin.

        1. The Serpent

          Re: Pole Position go the same way:

          I vaguely recall some game which involved taking into account spinning round what might have been a black hole. I seem to think that if you took your mind off that task long enough to think about shooting your opponent, you instantly died.

          I think I had to wait for Outrun and Roadblasters before I trusted driving games of that display perspective again.

          For overhead ones like Spyhunter was, I don't think I ever found anything better than APB. Still love that game. Maybe Antique Code Show can take that one up some time?

  14. Peter Simpson 1

    Back in the day

    In my first job out of university in 1978, I was a member of the team which developed the Dasher D200, Data General's low cost, microprocessor (MC6802) based serial terminal. I wrote the assembly code which scanned the keyboard.

    As this was a microprocessor-based product with a display, the bright minds on the team were looking for interesting things to do with it. We added a pair of control sequences which would allow you to download and execute code (downloaded as S1/S9 ASCII hex files) from display memory. This was done for our own amusement, and made it into the release ROMs. Of course, malicious hacking was far in the future and we gave not a thought to the fact that this feature could be misused in any way.

    Now that we had the ability to run random code on the processor, we needed some "tests". One of these was an implementation of Pacman, another was Space Invaders. We tried (and failed) to make either of these games fit into the amount of display memory on the final product (our prototype units had 2x the standard amount of display memory, so the games fit easily). If we had been able to fit the either of the games in standard display memory, the terminals would have shipped with the code stored in an unused part of system ROM, accessible with some secret keystroke sequence. It was only because we were a few bytes too big for display memory that this didn't happen.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Back in the day

      "As this was a microprocessor-based product with a display"

      Interesting post. The phrase "dumb terminal" I've always felt is a bit of a misnomer since apart from some early TTL based terminals most of them actually weren't that dumb and were essentially 8 bit computers in disguise. In fact a lot of them had built in software that wasn't directly related to simply chucking data back to a mainframe or mini. Eg - wyse 60 terminals had a built in calculator and clock. Others had more advanced stuff. In fact I vaguely remember some model of terminal had BASIC built in but I can't find it.

  15. Colin Critch
    Thumb Up

    I miss the invader's sound

    I remember playing Space Invader with my mates through the night like until 5am and the next day just hearing space invaders all the time. The Tron and Star Wars arcade games that popped up later got lots of attention from me too.

    Now there was a video disc arcade game on Margate Pier, I can’t remember the name of ( leading edge at the time ) that was fantastic, but not as profit generating as the penny tilt machines ;-)

    1. PaulyV

      Re: I miss the invader's sound

      The sound was a huge part of it - it was really bassy and carried across the arcade.

      As for laser disc games apart from the usual Space Ace and Dragon's Lair the only other two i recall playing were Firefox (based on the Clint Eastwood film and using the same control yoke as the Star Wars games) and Astron Belt, which I played only once in Great Yarmouth - it was a sit down affair with a vibrating seat and pretty trippy background graphics. Stunning at the time and on the surface a world away from Invader which had only preceded it by five years or so.

      1. Colin Critch

        Re: I miss the invader's sound

        Thanks PaulyV. It was Astron Belt. As you say stunning only 5 years after Space Invaders. Now does anyone remember that 3D film Treasure of the Four Crowns a bit later that blew me away at the time.

        Well now stuck on Crysis 3, but still enjoying Skyrim at level 51, off to write some code now.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: I miss the invader's sound

      "Now there was a video disc arcade game on Margate Pier, I can’t remember the name of ( leading edge at the time ) that was fantastic, but not as profit generating as the penny tilt machines ;-)"

      Laser disk games were fantastic - for 5 minutes. But once the novelty of the movie style graphics wore off and you realised just how much the game was on rails it soon became tedious. Or at least it did for me and my friends. Though to be fare there wouldn't have been any other way to do something like Dragons Lair back in the day. Even today for that sort of game using pre rendered/filmed graphics - albeit stored in flash RAM - might still be the best solution rather than generating them on-the-fly.

  16. Captain Hogwash


    Liam & Noel? Yes, aliens walk among us.

  17. Michael Habel

    Citation needed...

    Was their actually a Game called "The Ridge Racer" released back in 1982. Google... and Wiki seem to agree that the first Ridge Racer came out in 1993 on Namco's System 22.

    As for me I practically grew up with this sh... And my memory may be fading with the effects of aging. But I personally can not ever recall seeing this Game in the arcades before then.

  18. werewolf

    Fedora user? quick open source space invader blast...

    I wrote this little memorabilia game in C type: yum -y install dsi


    Smooth scrolling

    High scores

    5 Levels

    Linux desktop integration

    Simple controls

    Sound effects

    Fast paced game play

    Clean code base for coders

    Tiny foot print

    Music selection command line options

    Configuration file

    Joy stick support

    (To use High Scores remember to add yourself to the games group; usermod -G games)

    If you don't use Fedora and can compile it is a standard GPL code base with a Makefile, spec and so on:-) Alien package converter works too.


  19. Matt Bradley

    Images of War

    Seems to me perfectly plausible that a 70's Japanese company might shy away from making a game which represented modern warfare (as opposed to a one on one cowboy shootout) - Hiroshima would still be in living memory for a lot of that generation of execs. I could understand why they might not have a desire to represent warfare even in a heavily pixellated form. They would also perhaps have the understandable and probably accurate fear that a lot of their domestic customers and customer's parents, might shun such a game.

  20. Graphsboy

    You can go back in time!

    Run a copy of Gridlee on an iPad.

    Get classic games ROMS from Rom-World.

    Use a copy of iFunBox to install the ROMs into Gridlee.

    Invest in an Ion iCade games cabinet:

    Relive your youth!

    I've had an absolute blast with my set-up running games that I haven't played in years. Well worth the cash I've lashed out.

  21. David Schmidt

    No computer? No problem.

    "Yeah, we didn't really have microcomputers in Japan - so, you know, I MADE ONE. FROM SCRATCH." Epic geek badassery.

  22. sysconfig

    35 years, blimey. I remember too well playing Space Invaders, Pac Man, Chopper Command and other titles on my uncle's Atari Console as a young boy. He later gave it to me, and now my younger brother has it. Should really dig it out and fight some of those classic aliens again.

  23. Stevie


    And the reason the iconic Space Invaders were so hard to duplicate on home systems was that Taito had turned the CRT through 90 degrees - those invaders were really scrolling up and down. making them move and sound right was easy, but the aspect ratio was all wrong on a telly unless you set it on its side (not recommended).

  24. Stevie


    Classic Stevie prediction upon viewing my first Galaxian machine:

    "It's hard to see where they can go from here".

    Right up there with Bill G's 65K and that bloke who let the Beatles walk out of Decca unsigned.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I think MicroFocus used to have a version for the PC written in COBOL ...

  26. Stevie

    My Classics List

    1) Space Invaders. The Original. The First. The Best.

    2) Asteroids - even when you had a strategy it was hard. Must've spent hundreds of quid on this game.

    3) Galaxian - Wait WHAT? Those mosquito things are dive bombing me!

    4) Pac Man - Nomnomnomnomnom

    5) Pengo - great game with killer cut-scene animations and a sound track by Beethoven

    6) Burning Rubber - a daft game but fun

    7) Spy Hunter - though it could get a bit samey after a bit.

    8) Mad Planets - Stupidly pointless but addictive

    9) Clowns - a very early Pong-era game that was very challenging

    10) Donkey Kong - spawned a bunch of imitators, only the one with the boxing kangaroo came close

    Honorable mention: Joust. Lost out because there was a secret to "beating" it that involved not using the one thing that differentiated the game from anything else - flying.

    My anti-list: 1 through 10)That stupid cartoon laser disc-based swords and sorcery thing that had no instructions or tutorial splash screen. Game play was: put coins in slot, grab joystick, get killed by something you didn't understand even after watching the death scene re-run because the intercuts were so choppy.

    1. Tom 13

      Re: My Classics List

      I'd never be able to get it down to 10. Hell I can't even remember the names of them all. I played a fair number of them. Space Harrier was another of my favorites.

      On your anti-list I believe you are thinking of Draon's Lair. Cool graphics, lousy play. I watched other people play, It was 5 to 10 long seconds of staring at the screen, then a single sudden joystick move one way or the other to make it to the next interlude.

    2. Jim 59

      Pengo ++

      Also works a treat in MAME

      (Durham railway station, since you ask)

  27. Stevie

    Double Bah!

    I forgot to list Centipede and Missile Command, two games that fought each other for my not-so-small change.

  28. LesC

    TTL Heaven!

    Jeezus look at all that LS / TTL decode logic, 74154 and all these latches, counters and w.h.y. It's been a very long time.... had me reaching for the manuals, um, Google as i'd forgotten what a 74166 and what not did! Excellent.

  29. Tony Pomfret

    I met Tomohiro Nishikado while working at Software Creations (Manchester) in 1990... he was a polite, humble small gentleman but I still bowed to him as if he was a god!

    Space Invaders was a game that set the stage for future gaming creations and Tomohiro was quite simply a genius of his time and in my heart and mind he still is.

  30. Eaten Trifles
    Thumb Up

    Boot Hill

    I remember seeing the cowboys and cactus one in an amusement arcade in Porthmadog, circa 1980.

    It wasn't called "Western Gun" though. It was called "Boot Hill" and was brilliant.

    1. slime

      Re: Boot Hill

      Thanks! I was struggling to remember what it was called, remember playing it with my dad at Mannings in Felixstowe. It was the only one he'd play, other than Pong.

    2. JQW

      Re: Boot Hill

      Boot Hill was the sequel to Gun Fight/Western Gun. The main difference was the display, which on the sequel was backlit.

  31. Jens Tingleff

    They're still everywhere!

  32. ecofeco Silver badge

    Dun dun, dun dun, dun dun, dun dun, dun dun


  33. john41

    Original and the best

    Played this in City Poly college bar in '78, never got as good as the experts but still managed some reasonable scores. Counting shots was the key to getting maximum points from downing the mystery ships at the top (was it 21, then 13?).

    Never really liked any of the other versions - this was perfection.

  34. Trustme

    A pint for all the happy memories :)

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Some Space Invader pretenders could never...

    ...get them to move properly! If they only studied the game even slightly they'll realise that one moves every frame, making the speed up natural when their numbers decrease.

    And the bass movement sounds are four semitones around D! ( Oh crap, I never thought I would actually write that down ;) )

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