Few moments are so conversation-halting as when the Generation Gap rears its ugly head. A jovial discussion can be ruined when a middle-aged woman makes a joke about “Dark Side of the Moon,” only for her pre-teen son to furrow his eyebrows and ask “What’s that?” On the other hand, when that same woman mentions an arcade game she played in high school and receives a quite positive reaction, something magical happens. You know that that arcade game has to be something special in order to bridge two generations.
Space Invaders had the player control a fixed craft which could only move in one dimension and fire up and the invading space-men, or ‘space invaders,’ if you will. This play style came to be known as “shoot-’em-up,” or “shmup” for short, with the “one-dimension”-type game called a “fixed shooter.” Space Invaders was followed by waves of imitators and clones, although many were good on their own merit. Prominent examples include Galaga, Centipede, and later on, titles that branched out into different sub-genres like scrolling shooter (Gradius) and rail shooter (Star Fox).
The gameplay feature that stood out the most was also an accidental quirk. After a certain number of ships were destroyed, the remaining ships would increase speed. This was a result of the processor no longer being bogged down by the high number of sprites and instead making the remaining ones move with greater alacrity. Since this had the side effect of increasing the difficulty, the developer had no reason to change it. Many a young gamer learned the painful lesson of judging distance, since one had to determine where the ships were going to be in order to hit them with the projectiles. Of course, some gamers never learned.
Space Invaders has a legacy that endures today because it, among other things, inspired Shigeru Miyamoto to make games, was the first blockbuster arcade game, established Japan as a serious player in the industry, and has directly or indirectly affected every shooter around today. Not only did its success revive the industry after the video game crash of 1977, it also famously led to a shortage of ¥100 coins. The game grossed four billion quarters in the US and continued to be wildly successful well into the eighties. Not bad for a game, especially considering that “Star Wars,” released a year earlier, grossed $200,000,000 less. Not bad at all.