While the average geek has probably never heard the name Tomohiro Nishikado, almost all of you
are familiar with his work. In 1978, Nishikado worked as an engineer for Taito,
then a manufacturer of Japanese Pachinko games (hybrid pinball/slot machines).
Given that almost nobody outside Japan plays Pachinko—nor has likely even seen
a Pachinko machine—it’s safe to assume that Taito and Nishikado ventured into
other enterprises to make their fame.

Drum roll, please: In 1978, Nishikado designed Taito’s first
and arguably most famous video game: Space
. The rest, as they say, is history.

Space Invaders
became an international phenomenon, joining hands with Pac-Man to create the arcade video game sensation of the late 1970s
and early 1980s. Japan actually had to increase its circulating supply of coin
yen to meet the demand caused by Space

(Preemptive counter-quibble: For all those arcade
aficionados out there who remember Space
as a Midway or Bally product, you’re right. Taito licensed Space Invaders for U.S. release to
Midway, which was a division of Bally. The distinctions don’t stop at the
nameplates, however. The original Japanese Taito arcade uprights had joystick
controls, while the original U.S. Midway uprights had directional button
controls. For anyone looking to score a classic Space Invaders upright on eBay, the Trivia Geek endorses the Taito
joystick version due to its superior gameplay, side-panel art, and display.)

What you probably don’t know about Space Invaders is that when Nishikado originally set out to design
the game, it wasn’t actually about invaders from outer space. Nishikado’s first
plans for the game involved shooting down conventional airplanes or tanks, but
rendering recognizable war machines with the available graphics technology—an Intel 8080 processor
running at 2 MHz powered an original Space
upright—proved infeasible.

Instead, Nishikado decided to use easily pixilated alien
monsters as his game targets, and he based their initial designs on the
extraterrestrial antagonists featured in a classic work of science fiction.


What classic work of science fiction did game developer Tomohiro
Nishikado draw upon as a reference for his alien monster designs in the classic
arcade video game Space Invaders?

In a 2005 interview with Edge magazine, Nishikado divulged
that H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds inspired the
alien antagonists in Space Invaders:

“In the story, the alien looked like
an octopus. I drew a bitmap image based on the idea. Then I created several
other aliens that look like sea creatures such as squid or crab.”

When looking at a screenshot
of the original Space Invaders
graphics, the aquatic reference is noticeable. Still, if this doesn’t jive with
your cherished arcade recollections, there may be a reason.

Much of the original Space
panel art
depicted decidedly non-marine alien beasts. Nishikado threw in
another bit of trivia to perhaps explain why that was the case (no pun

“Perhaps it was made that way because
the game was originally titled Space
. The graphic designer was probably inspired by the sound of it.”

While the literary allusion within Space Invaders may have been lost on the public, it did nothing to
stifle the game’s popularity or cultural impact. More than a dozen Space Invaders ports, parodies, revamps,
and sequels have appeared since the original’s 1978 release, with some
incarnation of the game appearing on virtually every major personal computer or
gaming platform released in the last three decades.

Indeed, Space Invaders
has proven to be such a cultural touchstone that not even the complete computer
gaming universe can contain it. A guerilla street artist named Invader has inspired a legion of Space Invaders fans to fashion mosaic
tile homages to the games’ pixilated aliens (as well as characters from other
contemporary video games) and foist them upon walls and structures within
public spaces around the world.

The practice has evolved into something of an urban
counterculture sport, all of it documented on the Invader’s Urban Invasion Web site.
That’s not just an overachievement of fandom, boys and girls, that’s
avant-garde Geek Trivia.

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Geek’s online journal of rants, opinions, crazy ideas, half-baked notions,
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The Quibble of the Week

If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of
this week’s Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article.
Every week, yours truly will choose the best post from the assembled masses and
discuss it in the next edition of Geek Trivia.

This week’s quibble comes from the April 12 edition of Geek
Trivia, “Shedding
some (laser) light.”
TechRepublic member David.kolb busted me for claiming Einstein only wrote four physics
papers during his legendary “Year of Wonders.”

“The correct number of papers
from 1905 is five, not
. Einstein published a fifth paper that is often overlooked on
molecular dimensions.”

Toss me (and Wikipedia) in as
being guilty of overlooking the molecular dimensions paper. Thanks for the
correction, and keep those quibbles coming.

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The Trivia Geek, also
known as Jay Garmon, is a former advertising copywriter and Web developer who’s
duped TechRepublic into underwriting his affinity for movies, sci-fi, comic
books, technology, and all things geekish or subcultural.