10 Fascinating Facts About Space Invaders

iStock
iStock

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."

10 Sweet Facts About Napoleon Dynamite

© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox
© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

ChapStick, llamas, and tater tots are just a few things that appear in Napoleon Dynamite, a cult film shot for a mere $400,000 that went on to gross $44.5 million. In 2002, Brigham Young University film student Jared Hess filmed a black-and-white short, Peluca, with his classmate Jon Heder. The film got accepted into the Slamdance Film Festival, which gave Hess the courage to adapt it into a feature. Hess used his real-life upbringing in Preston, Idaho—he had six brothers and his mom owned llamas—to form the basis of the movie, about a nerdy teenager named Napoleon (Heder) who encourages his friend Pedro (Efren Ramirez) to run for class president.

In 2004, the indie film screened at Sundance, and was quickly purchased by Fox Searchlight and Paramount, then released less than six months later. Today, the film remains so popular that in 2016 Pedro and Napoleon reunited for a cheesy tots Burger King commercial. To celebrated the film's 15th anniversary, here are some facts about the ever-quotable comedy.

1. Deb is based on Jerusha Hess.

Jared Hess’s wife Jerusha co-wrote the film and based Deb on her own life. “Her mom made her a dress when she was going to a middle school dance and she said, ‘I hadn’t really developed yet, so my mom overcompensated and made some very large, fluffy shoulders,’” Jared told Rolling Stone. “Some guy dancing with her patted the sleeves and actually said, ‘I like your sleeves … they’re real big.'"

Tina Majorino, who played the fictional Deb, hadn’t done a comedy before, because people thought of her as a dramatic actress. "The fact that Jared would even let me come in and read really appealed to me," she told Rolling Stone. "Even if I didn’t get the role, I just wanted to see what it was like to audition for a comedy, as I’d never done it before."

2. Napoleon's famous dance scene was the result of having extra film stock.

At the end of shooting Peluca, Hess had a minute of film stock left and knew Heder liked to dance. Heder had on moon boots—something Hess used to wear—so they traveled to the end of a dirt road. They turned on the car radio and Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat” was playing. “I just told him to start dancing and realized: This is how we’ve got to end the film,” Hess told Rolling Stone. “You don’t anticipate those kinds of things. They’re just part of the creative process.”

Heder told HuffPost he found inspiration in Michael Jackson and dancing in front of a mirror, for the end-of-the-movie skit. But when it came time to film the dance for the feature, Heder felt "pressure" to deliver. “I was like, ‘Oh, crap!’ This isn’t just a silly little scene,” he told PDX Monthly. “This is the moment where everything comes, and he’s making the sacrifice for his friend. That’s the whole theme of the movie. Everything leads up to this. Napoleon’s been this loser. This has to be the moment where he lands a victory.” Instead of hiring a choreographer, the filmmakers told him to “just figure it out.” They filmed the scene three times with three different songs, including Jamiroquai’s “Little L” and “Canned Heat.”

3. Napoleon Dynamitefans still flock to Preston, Idaho to tour the movie's locations.

In a 2016 interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, The Preston Citizen’s circulation manager, Rhonda Gregerson, said “every summer at least 50 groups of fans walk into the office wanting to know more about the film.” She said people come from all over the world to see Preston High School, Pedro’s house, and other filming locations as a layover before heading to Yellowstone National Park. “If you talk to a lot of people in Preston, you’ll find a lot of people who have become a bit sick of it,” Gregerson said. “I still think it’s great that there’s still so much interest in the town this long after the movie.”

Besides the filming locations, the town used to host a Napoleon Dynamite festival. In 2005, the fest drew about 6000 people and featured a tater tot eating contest, a moon boot dancing contest, boondoggle keychains for sale, and a tetherball tournament. The fest was last held in 2008.

4. Idaho adopted a resolution commending the filmmakers.

'Napoleon Dynamite' filmmakers Jerusha and Jared Hess
Jerusha and Jared Hess
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

In 2005, the Idaho legislature wrote a resolution praising Jared and Jerusha Hess and the city of Preston. HCR029 appreciates the use of tater tots for “promoting Idaho’s most famous export.” It extols bicycling and skateboarding to promote “better air quality,” and it says Kip and LaFawnduh’s relationship “is a tribute to e-commerce and Idaho’s technology-driven industry.” The resolution goes on to say those who “vote Nay on this concurrent resolution are Freakin’ Idiots.” Napoleon would be proud.

5. Napoleon was a different kind of nerd.

Sure, he was awkward, but Napoleon wasn’t as intelligent as other film nerds. “He’s not a genius,” Heder told HuffPost. “Maybe he’s getting good grades, but he’s not excelling; he’s just socially awkward. He doesn’t know how much of an outcast he is, and that’s what gives him that confidence. He’s trying to be cool sometimes, but mostly he just goes for it and does it.”

6. The title sequence featured several different sets of hands..

Eight months before the theatrical release, Fox Searchlight had Hess film a title sequence that made it clear that the film took place in 2004, not in the ’80s or ’90s. Napoleon’s student ID reveals the events occur during the 2004-2005 school year. Heder’s hands move the objects in and out of the frame, but Fox didn’t like his hangnails. “They flew out a hand model a couple weeks later, who had great hands, but was five or six shades darker than Jon Heder,” Hess told Art of the Title. “If you look, there are like three different dudes’ hands—our producer’s are in there, too.”

7. Napoleon Dynamite messed up Netflix's algorithms.

Beginning in 2006, Cinematch—Netflix’s recommendation algorithm software—held a contest called The Netflix Prize. Anyone who could make Cinematch’s predictions at least 10 percent more accurate would win $1 million. Computer scientist Len Bertoni had trouble predicting whether people would like Napoleon Dynamite. Bertoni told The New York Times the film is “polarizing,” and the Netflix ratings are either one or five stars. If he could accurately predict whether people liked the movie, Bertoni said, then he’d come much closer to winning the prize. That didn’t happen for him.

The contest finally ended in 2009 when Netflix awarded the grand prize to BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos, who developed a 10.06 percent improvement over Cinematch’s score.

8. Napoleon accidentally got a bad perm.


© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

Heder got his hair permed the night before shooting began—but something went wrong. Heder called Jared and said, “‘Yeah, I got the perm but it’s a little bit different than it was before,’” Hess told Rolling Stone. “He showed up the night before shooting and he looked like Shirley Temple! The curls were huge!” They didn’t have much time to fix the goof, so Hess enlisted Jerusha and her cousin to re-perm it. It worked, but Jon wasn’t allowed to wash his hair for the next three weeks. “So he had this stinky ‘do in the Idaho heat for three weeks,” Jared said. “We were shooting near dairy farms and there were tons of flies; they were all flying in and out of his hair.”

9. LaFawnduh's real-life family starred in the film.

Shondrella Avery played LaFawnduh, the African American girlfriend of Kip, Napoleon’s older brother (played by Aaron Ruell). Before filming, Hess phoned Avery and said, “‘You remember that there were no black people in Preston, Idaho, right? Do you think your family might want to be in the movie?’ And that’s how it happened,” Avery told Los Angeles Weekly. Her actual family shows up at the end when LaFawnduh and Kip get married.

10. A short-lived animated series acted as a sequel.

In 2012, Fox aired six episodes of Napoleon Dynamite the animated series before they canceled it. All of the original actors returned to supply voices to their characters. The only difference between the film and the series is Kip is not married. Heder told Rolling Stone the episodes are as close to a sequel as fans will get. “If you sit down and watch those back to back, you’ve got yourself a sequel,” he said. “Because you’ve got all the same characters and all the same actors.”

This story has been updated for 2019.

Harry Potter Fans Are Waiting 10 Hours or More to Ride Hagrid’s Roller Coaster

Universal Orlando
Universal Orlando

Muggles will do anything to be a part of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Universal Orlando opened up its newest ride this week at its version of Hogsmeade, the village that surrounds Hogwarts castle. Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure takes wannabe wizards and witches on a twisting, high-speed flight through the mystical Forbidden Forest.

Diehard fans began waiting overnight outside the park in anticipation of the ride, and it looks like just about everyone had the same idea. At 8:30 a.m. on opening day, the line was already eight hours long, and quickly stretched to 10 hours long by 10:30 a.m., CNN reports.

The line is worth the wait for many fans of the franchise. As Potterheads already know, Rubeus Hagrid, beloved friend of Harry Potter and the gang, has a special affinity for mysterious creatures. So who better to see the beasts of the forest with than the half-giant?

Participants on the ride can choose to sit in Hagrid’s sidecar or in the driver’s seat. The winding track includes appearances by some of our favorite wizards, like Arthur Weasley, and creatures benevolent and otherwise, such as Cornish pixies, massive spiders, and the three-headed dog, Fluffy.

Fans aren’t the only ones wanting to experience the ride. Some of the stars of the film series had a little reunion in Orlando this week to celebrate the opening, including Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) and Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood).

Unlike the fans, however, they have magic (fame) to keep them from having to wait in 10-hour lines.

Happy riding, Potterheads!

[h/t CNN]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER