The 30th Anniversary of ‘Space Invaders’ will play a major part in promoting the Taito empire over the coming months – the AOU show in Japan will be awash with celebrations. But before the corporate historians ‘whitewash’ the brand beyond recognition, The Stinger Report wanted to share the compiled time line that charts the meteoric rise of this important title.
By 1978 the video amusement industry had moved from its infancy in 1972 with Nutting Associates Computer Space, and grown into a serious competitor to the electro-mechanical amusement market with games like PONG! While American attempted to control the market, the Japanese amusement scene worked hard to establish a video amusement market of their own, seeing this as a logical successor to their mechanical coin-op scene.
Space Invaders (1978)
Japanese manufacturer Taito launched under their Taitronic range this phenomena; first released as a table top game (designated T.T. in Japan) – the game was designed by Tomohiro Nishikado. The creation of the concept has fallen into video game folk law with Nishikado-san attributed as claiming the game idea came to him from a dream where he saw Santa Clause replaced by aliens steeling presents, later in a interview also attributing the game to descriptions of aliens attacking in H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds – in reality the game bore more to the electro-mechanical coin-operated game Space Monsters released in 1972
The game was a phenomenal success unlike any other that snowballed – popularity with players caused a shortage of Yen coins to feed the cash box; while young players were blamed for a wave of petty crime to feed their SI habit. Within the emerging amusement scene the game become one of the most bootlegged and copied of the classics. To address this Taito licensed the game to Bally Midway who they had already established a relationship with their previous video arcade products (such as Gun Fight) – this however would cause confusion as Midway did nothing to correct the perception that the game was developed by them.
In 1979 Taito attempted to embrace new technology and produced a new version of the game that used a colour monitor that replacing the need for the colour film overlay of the original machine.
Space Invaders Part II (1980)
Taito was still finding its feet in the development of video amusement and proved slow to create a major sequel to the originals meteoric success. This next release used a colour monitor in Japan, but mainly a superficial enhancement on the original game play. Launched by Bally Midway as Space Invaders Deluxe in America the company was cutting corners by using the old colour overlay than employ a colour monitor – the game was proving a great cash-cow which they could not get enough of.
Space Invaders II (1980)
The confusion of the linage of the SI series is blurred by the confusion between Part II and this title. The Japanese manufacturer had licensed SI to Bally Midway – the Midway division had started to create its own programming resource. This game was actually developed by Midway and not a Taito creation. At the time Midway defended the move saying that they had requested a sequel to the smash hit, but Taito’s development time was too glacial. The legality of using the SI brand in this game is another grey area – a subject airbrushed from most Taito and Midway histories.
Space Invaders The Pinball (1980)
The use of the SI franchise gained momentum, along with a hoard of bootlegs and the appearance of foreign grown copies, other genres of products wanted to cash in. Bally (the pinball and electro-mechanical parent of Midway) launched a pintable that used the SI name, but did not use any of the iconography or brand elements – purely jumping on the bandwagon.
Return Of The Invaders (1985)
For Taito they had established their presence as a major amusement factory and built on their influence to develop a wide selection of games. However they did return to the SI concept creating a reworking of the original concept changing the aliens and create an enhanced playing experience.
Super Space Invaders ’91 (1990)
Also known as Majestic Twelve (MJ-12), named after the secret UFO government agency; this weird release offered major graphical update of the original concept far more than the 1985 release and also built on the use of the latest PCB technology a factor shaping the amusement scene.
Space Invaders DX (1993)
A faithful representation of the original game but on a JAMMA board with different variations of the series. A homage product that allowed operators to drop this game into their JAMMA compatible cabinets; the ability for the SI franchise to still earn not lost on the Japanese manufacturer.
Space Invaders ’95 (1995)
The game having the tag-line “The Attack of Lunar Loonies” this was a zany reinvention of the original SI concept. The game featuring stylized cartoon aliens and a fast and uniquely Japanese representation of the play-field. This game marked the last time that the original creator, Tomohiro Nishikado, would be linked to the franchise, leaving Taito that year to set up his own development studio (Dreams).
Space Invaders Anniversary (2003)
Another compilation product that mixed strange new versions of the original concept with a more traditional representation of the game. The title was launched not just to milk the franchise, but also to offer credibility to a new game board system that Taito was launching to try and keep relevant in a changing market.
Space Invaders Silver Anniversary / Qix (2004)
By 2004 Taito are a shadow of their former self, with hardly any international representation – but hunger for the machine in America continued, avid rec-room builders and traditional arcade operators are running short of servable SI cabinets. The opportunity to create a reliable supply of traditional SI machines saw Namco America undertake the development of a SI machine to coincide with anniversary celebrations – after a laborious license the cabinet was released in both upright and tabletop and once again was a success.
Unofficial hunger for SI has not diminished, fueled by the MAME revolution, there have been a number of amusement game packs such as the Ultimate Arcade Space Invaders Game Software Upgrade Pack (2006) that offered classic versions of the original for home and amusement use – though was soon scorched by Taito lawyers.
Space Invaders place in the hall of fame is more than just its meteoric success and iconic stature – it is the game that made the world look at video amusement and gaming as more than a flash-in-the-pan after PONG!, seeing video amusement take off. Also the game proved a important license for consumer, with the Atari 2600 version would sell thousands representing the first ‘official’ video amusement license for home.
With the 30th Anniversary, the Square-ENIX ownership of Taito allows more funding to support the anniversary, with mobile phone and console versions planned. Sadly as of yet there is no news of a new amusement outing.
Finally, the ability to research the life and times of an arcade title has been made much easier than when we at the Stinger first started reporting on amusement. Excellent websites such as Killer List of Videogames (KLOV), Arcade Flyer Archive and System16 offer a detailed and compelling archive of the arcade scene – this supported by the web resource Wikipedia that attempts to compile a effective encyclopedia. Thanks to all these resources for their help in compiling this feature.