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10 Fascinating Facts About Space Invaders

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by Ryan Lambie

With its seemingly endless army of aliens slowly marching down the screen, the thump-thump-thump of its sound effects, and its dodge-and-shoot action, Space Invaders was one of the earliest icons in video gaming.

Made at a time when the industry was still in its infancy, Space Invaders could easily have looked and sounded very different. It was a worldwide hit and sparked a moral panic, yet for years, its designer remained anonymous. Here's a look at some of the fascinating facts behind the story of Space Invaders.

1. ITS CREATOR HAD NO INTENTION OF ENTERING THE GAMING INDUSTRY.

Fascinated by science and electronics as a child, Tomohiro Nishikado studied engineering at Tokyo Denki University and graduated in 1968. Nishikado initially specialized in television circuitry, but a year after his graduation, he managed to get a job at Taito, an electronics company just moving into making video games.

2. IT WAS INSPIRED BY BREAKOUT.

Nishikado created some of the earliest home-grown games in Japan, including Davis Cup and Soccer. These were both bat-and-ball games, inspired by the seminal Pong. By 1976, Nishikado became fascinated by Atari's Breakout, itself an evolution of the bat-and-ball mechanics of Pong.

“I was determined to come up with something that was even better than Breakout,” Nishikado told The New Yorker. What if, he thought, the bricks at the top of the screen didn't just wait to be struck by the player's bouncing ball, but actually moved and fired back?

3. EARLY VERSIONS OF THE GAME WERE MUCH DIFFERENT.

With this inspiration at the front of his mind, Nishikado began to devise a dynamic shooting game, with the player hunkered down at the bottom of the screen and an army of enemies slowly advancing from the top. The space theme didn't arrive until later in development.

Nishikado's initial idea had the player shooting down planes, tanks, and soldiers; the latter idea was rejected by Nishikado's bosses at Taito, who did not want a game featuring "the image of war." Nishikado was inspired to use a space setting once news of the popularity of Star Wars began to reach Japan. He also found the idea for the aquatic alien invaders from H.G. Wells's sci-fi classic The War of the Worlds. He modeled his sprite designs on various sea creatures, including squids, crabs, and octopuses.

4. IT FEATURED A NUMBER OF INNOVATIVE IDEAS.

At a time when game design was still in its nascent stages in Japan, Nishikado spent a year building what would become Space Invaders. But while he wrestled with the limitations of technology, he managed to work a number of innovations into his concept: Space Invaders's introduction of barriers which slowly dissolved under enemy fire had never been seen before. It also saved the previous highest score, thus daring the next player to try to beat it.

Even the game's technical limitations positively affected the gameplay: As the invaders are destroyed, the load on the microprocessor decreases and the aliens' movement—and accompanying soundtrack—speed up. For perhaps the first time, a video game didn't just feel challenging—it felt intimidating.

5. SALES WERE INITIALLY SLOW.

Space Invaders's success was by no means assured from day one. Within Taito, management was unconvinced by it; when the game was shown to arcade operators, their response was similarly muted. "The feedback was almost entirely negative," Nishikado recalled. "Very few orders were placed."

6. IT REVERSED A SLUMP IN THE VIDEO GAME INDUSTRY.

Players, as we now know, responded ecstatically to Space Invaders. Popular within months, some 100,000 Space Invaders cabinets were installed in arcades and Pachinko parlors up and down Japan by the end of 1978. An industry which had begun to slump under the weight of Pong and Breakout clones was suddenly revived by Space Invaders, and the game grossed $600 million in 1978.

7. IT SPARKED A MINOR MORAL PANIC.

With any phenomenon comes a backlash. While oft-repeated tales of a coin shortage in Japan are a myth, it was but one story attached to the game at the height of Space Invaders mania. Soon after the arcade game came out, a 12-year-old boy in Japan, armed with a shotgun, tried to relieve a bank of its coins so that he could spend them on Space Invaders. The moral panic spread to the UK, where Space Invaders was blamed for an increase in burglaries. In 1981, Labour MP George Foulkes put a bill through parliament called Control of Space Invaders (and other Electronic Games).

8. MARTIN AMIS WROTE A BOOK ON THE GAME.

While some politicians and newspaper columnists got in a lather over Space Invaders, the game was championed by Martin Amis, author of Time's Arrow and London Fields.

Published in 1982, Invasion Of The Space Invaders offered an essay on video gaming's cultural impact, and also tips on how to get high scores in Taito's hit and other arcade machines. "Advice: position your tank under the eave of a defensive and keep your eye on the aliens," Amis wrote, "not on the bombs."

Now out of print, the book is a sought-after collector's item.

9. FOR YEARS, ITS CREATOR REMAINED ANONYMOUS.

Although Space Invaders was a phenomenon, Nishikado was far from a celebrity as a result. His name was never put on the game, and for many years, he was contractually obliged not to reveal that he'd even made Space Invaders. The New Yorker reported that, sadly, Nishikado's promotion after Space Invaders was released took him away from creating games. "I spent most of my time managing other employees," he said.

10. ITS CREATOR WAS NEVER ANY GOOD AT THE GAME.

While Tomohiro Nishikado was responsible for making one of the most influential games ever, he admits to never being able to make it much further than the first screen. "Had it been up to me," he says, "Space Invaders would have been a far easier game."

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Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
The 10 Wildest Movie Plot Twists
Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

An ending often makes or breaks a movie. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as having the rug pulled out from under you, particularly in a thriller. But too many flicks that try to shock can’t stick the landing—they’re outlandish and illogical, or signal where the plot is headed. Not all of these films are entirely successful, but they have one important attribute in common: From the classic to the cultishly beloved, they involve hard-to-predict twists that really do blow viewers’ minds, then linger there for days, if not life. (Warning: Massive spoilers below.)

1. PSYCHO (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock often constructed his movies like neat games that manipulated the audience. The Master of Suspense delved headfirst into horror with Psycho, which follows a secretary (Janet Leigh) who sneaks off with $40,000 and hides in a motel. The ensuing jolt depends on Leigh’s fame at the time: No one expected the ostensible star and protagonist to die in a gory (for the time) shower butchering only a third of the way into the running time. Hitchcock outdid that feat with the last-act revelation that Anthony Perkins’s supremely creepy Norman Bates is embodying his dead mother.

2. PLANET OF THE APES (1968)

No, not the botched Tim Burton remake that tweaked the original movie’s famous reveal in a way that left everyone scratching their heads. The Charlton Heston-starring sci-fi gem continues to stupefy anyone who comes into its orbit. Heston, of course, plays an astronaut who travels to a strange land where advanced apes lord over human slaves. It becomes clear once he finds the decrepit remains of the Statue of Liberty that he’s in fact on a future Earth. The anti-violence message, especially during the political tumult of 1968, shook people up as much as the time warp.

3. DEEP RED (1975)

It’s not rare for a horror movie to flip the script when it comes to unmasking its killer, but it’s much rarer that such a film causes a viewer to question their own perception of the world around them. Such is the case for Deep Red, Italian director Dario Argento’s (Suspiria) slasher masterpiece. A pianist living in Rome (David Hemmings) comes upon the murder of a woman in her apartment and teams up with a female reporter to find the person responsible. Argento’s whodunit is filled to the brim with gorgeous photography, ghastly sights, and delirious twists. But best of all is the final sequence, in which the pianist retraces his steps to discover that the killer had been hiding in plain sight all along. Rewind to the beginning and you’ll discover that you caught an unknowing glimpse, too.

4. SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983)

Sleepaway Camp is notorious among horror fans for a number of reasons: the bizarre, stilted acting and dialogue; hilariously amateurish special effects; and ‘80s-to-their-core fashions. But it’s best known for the mind-bending ending, which—full disclosure—reads as possibly transphobic today, though it’s really hard to say what writer-director Robert Hiltzik had in mind. Years after a boating accident that leaves one of two siblings dead, Angela is raised by her aunt and sent to a summer camp with her cousin, where a killer wreaks havoc. In the lurid climax, we see that moody Angela is not only the murderer—she’s actually a boy. Her aunt, who always wanted a daughter, raised her as if she were her late brother. The final animalistic shot prompts as many gasps as cackles.

5. THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995)

The Usual Suspects has left everyone who watches it breathless by the time they get to the fakeout conclusion. Roger "Verbal" Kint (Kevin Spacey), a criminal with cerebral palsy, regales an interrogator in the stories of his exploits with a band of fellow crooks, seen in flashback. Hovering over this is the mysterious villainous figure Keyser Söze. It’s not until Verbal leaves and jumps into a car that customs agent David Kujan realizes that the man fabricated details, tricking the law and the viewer into his fake reality, and is in fact the fabled Söze.

6. PRIMAL FEAR (1996)

No courtroom movie can surpass Primal Fear’s discombobulating effect. Richard Gere’s defense attorney becomes strongly convinced that his altar boy client Aaron (Edward Norton) didn’t commit the murder of an archbishop with which he’s charged. The meek, stuttering Aaron has sudden violent outbursts in which he becomes "Roy" and is diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, leading to a not guilty ruling. Gere’s lawyer visits Aaron about the news, and as he’s leaving, a wonderfully maniacal Norton reveals that he faked the multiple personalities.

7. FIGHT CLUB (1999)

Edward Norton is no stranger to taking on extremely disparate personalities in his roles, from Primal Fear to American History X. The unassuming actor can quickly turn vicious, which led to ideal casting for Fight Club, director David Fincher’s adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk novel. Fincher cleverly keeps the audience in the dark about the connections between Norton’s timid, unnamed narrator and Brad Pitt’s hunky, aggressive Tyler Durden. After the two start the titular bruising group, the plot significantly increases the stakes, with the club turning into a sort of anarchist terrorist organization. The narrator eventually comes to grips with the fact that he is Tyler and has caused all the destruction around him.

8. THE SIXTH SENSE (1999)

Early in his career, M. Night Shyamalan was frequently (perhaps a little too frequently) compared to Hitchcock for his ability to ratchet up tension while misdirecting his audience. He hasn’t always earned stellar reviews since, but The Sixth Sense remains deservedly legendary for its final twist. At the end of the ghost story, in which little Haley Joel Osment can see dead people, it turns out that the psychologist (Bruce Willis) who’s been working with the boy is no longer living himself, the result of a gunshot wound witnessed in the opening sequence.

9. THE OTHERS (2001)

The Sixth Sense’s climax was spooky, but not nearly as unnerving as Nicole Kidman’s similarly themed ghost movie The Others, released just a couple years later. Kidman gives a superb performance in the elegantly styled film from the Spanish writer-director Alejandro Amenábar, playing a mother in a country house after World War II protecting her photosensitive children from light and, eventually, dead spirits occupying the place. Only by the end does it become clear that she’s in denial about the fact that she’s a ghost, having killed her children in a psychotic break before committing suicide. It’s a bleak capper to a genuinely haunting yarn.

10. MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001)

David Lynch’s surrealist movies may follow dream logic, but that doesn’t mean their plots can’t be readily discerned. Mulholland Drive is his most striking work precisely because, in spite of its more wacko moments, it adds up to a coherent, tragic story. The mystery starts innocently enough with the dark-haired Rita (Laura Elena Harring) waking up with amnesia from a car accident in Los Angeles and piecing together her identity alongside the plucky aspiring actress Betty (Naomi Watts). It takes a blue box to unlock the secret that Betty is in fact Diane, who is in love with and envious of Camilla (also played by Harring) and has concocted a fantasy version of their lives. The real Diane arranges for Camilla to be killed, leading to her intense guilt and suicide. Only Lynch can go from Nancy Drew to nihilism so swiftly and deftly.

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Hollywood's 5 Favorite Movie Villains
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Movie villains are meant to bring out the best in a hero, but with the right script, director, and performer in place, these bad guys can sometimes steal the show from their clean-cut rivals.

Take any horror movie, for example—chances are you’re not watching Friday the 13th to root for the absentminded teenagers down at Camp Crystal Lake. And Steven Spielberg certainly didn’t become a household name by directing a shark movie titled Three Guys on a Boat Drinking Narragansett.

The Hollywood Reporter set out to celebrate these iconic agents of evil by surveying 1000 professionals in the entertainment industry (directors, producers, entertainment attorneys, etc.) on their favorite movie villains. A rogues' gallery of murderous AI, mafia bosses, and a diabolical fashion magazine editor all made the top 25 list as the worst of the worst, and while they’re all deserving, the top five are the gold standard. They include:

5. Nurse Ratched: Played by Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
4. The Joker: Played by Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008)
3. The Wicked Witch of the West: Played by Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz (1939)
2. Hannibal Lecter: Played by Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Hannibal (2001), and Red Dragon (2002)
1. Darth Vader: Played by David Prowse and James Earl Jones in the Star Wars movies (Prowse 1977-1983, Jones 1977-present)

That top spot might not come as a surprise to most, unless you’re still in your twenties: According to The Hollywood Reporter, survey respondents in that age group put Darth Vader in the sixth spot—behind Regina George from Mean Girls.

To check out the entire list, head to The Hollywood Reporter.

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