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EGM Feature:
The 5 Most Influential Japanese Games
Day One: Space Invaders

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Posted on October 31, 2011 AT 12:00pm

1978: The Aliens Invade from Space

All this week, EGMNOW.com takes a look at our picks for the five most influential Japanese videogames ever released. These titles not only shaped us as players—and had dramatic, long-lasting impacts on the entire industry—but also transcended videogaming to become cultural icons.

The Game: Released in 1978 by Japanese arcade and vending-machine producer Taito Corporation, Space Invaders was the brainchild of designer and programmer Tomohiro Nishikado. Spending a year developing the game’s concepts and hardware—and taking gameplay inspiration from Atari’s successful arcade hit Breakout—Nishikado crafted a new arcade game where players piloted a spacecraft tasked with destroying a race of strange alien creatures (based on familiar sea dwellers such as crabs, squids, and octopi).

The Effect It Had: It’s hard to imagine that Taito had any idea of the true impact Space Invaders would have upon its release. Within months of the game launching in its home territory of Japan, so obsessed were players with the new arcade release that the country found itself—according to some stories, at least—suffering from a shortage of 100-yen coins required to play the game. Restaurants and bars complained of patrons spending too much time standing at Space Invaders machines and too little time sitting down buying food, so Taito created “cocktail” versions of the game that could double as tables. Space Invaders became the highest-grossing entertainment product of its time, and comparisons of its success were made to that of Star Wars—fitting, as Nishikado is said to have taken inspiration from George Lucas’ cinematic endeavor in deciding to use a space setting for the game.

Its Lasting Influence: When thinking about games directly influenced by Space Invaders, it’s easy to instantly go to such examples as Galaxian and Galaga. Look closer at the shooter genre, though, and you’ll see just how deep the game’s influence still runs even today. Take the concept of a long ship flying into space to hold off an invading alien armada—it’s an idea that seems totally common to us today, but it may not have become the staple that it is now had Space Invaders not made such an impact. Think traditional titles like Gradius or R-Type are the only shooters to feel Space Invaders’ influence? Think about this—as players around the world now enjoy the epic action of Battlefield 3, concepts like taking cover from enemy fire and destructible environments were first introduced in Space Invaders.

In fact, there’s virtually no genre of videogaming that Taito’s now-legendary project didn’t touch in some way. High scores? Multiple lives? Background music? All areas in which Space Invaders was a pioneering effort in a hobby that was still trying to figure out if it would ever be more than simple electronic parlor games.

Of course, we also can’t forget the influence Space Invaders has had not only on videogame-related art, but also the work of pop culture as a whole. Whether it’s street graffiti, tattoos, ice-cube trays, or even EGM itself, the game’s iconic characters and their inspired likenesses still stand to this day as some of the most recognizable and understood symbols of the rise of electronic entertainment.

What do you think of Space Invaders being one of our top choices? How do you feel it’s influenced the world of videogames—and do you have any special memories or experiences with the game? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

EGMNOW’s Five Most Influential Japanese Games

Day 1: Space Invaders

Day 2: Game #2 (Coming Tuesday)

Day 3: Game #3 (Coming Wednesday)

Day 4: Game #4 (Coming Thursday)

Day 5: Game #5 (Coming Friday)

Eric L. Patterson, Executive Editor
Eric L. Patterson got his start via self-publishing game-related fanzines in junior high, and now has one goal in life: making sure EGM has as much coverage of niche Japanese games as he can convince them to fit in. Eric’s also active in the gaming community on a personal level, being an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming and consumer rights. Stalk him on Twitter: @pikoeri. Meet the rest of the crew.

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