From WIRED: Space Invaders’ Creator 45 Years Later

Back on April 12th, WIRED Magazine published an article about Space Invaders 45 years after its original production. In it they spoke with the creator of iconic arcade game, Tomohiro Nishikado, who now considers it the best game he ever made.

A screenshot of actual arcade Space Invaders, although admittedly without its color overlay.

Despite them including the Atari 2600 version as if it were the original (the two games are similar but ultimately rather different), it’s a nice look back.

The arcade industry existed for six years before Space Invaders, a period that is often forgotten. Two games in particular I think kicked off the meteoric, and short-lived, rise of arcade gaming as a cultural force: Atari’s Asteroids, and Taito’s Space Invaders. Asteroids was actually more popular in the U.S., but Space Invaders was still one of the most successful arcade games ever sold in the States. In Japan, its success was, and I believe still is, unequaled.

Video games at that time were tied to their hardware in a way they almost never are now. Gaming is now mostly done with graphics hardware that is mostly replaceable. Back then, arcade hardware was usually purpose-built, with the capabilities the design required. Space Invaders is an example where the hardware constraints really made the game. It was one of the few games at the time to use framebuffer hardware: a bank of memory that corresponded directly to the display, in Space Invaders’ case, every pixel on screen echoing the state of a dot in memory.

There were a number of reasons that this wasn’t used by most games. Memory was expensive, and a screen-sized bitmapped display needed a lot of it. More colors requires even more memory to be able to depict all the possible states, so Space Invaders’ screen was monochrome with a color overlay.

Possibly the biggest reason of all: it takes a CPU a lot of time to shuffle around all those bits. Computers are fast, but they still have their limits. Space Invaders uses an Intel 8080, the chip they made before the 8086 which was the foundation for the x86 line, but still only an 8-bit processor.

Space Invaders, ingeniously, uses the 8080’s slowness at updating the framebuffer as a strength. As the armada of aliens moves across the screen, the processor is updating them as rapidly as it is able, erasing and drawing each into its new position one at a time. As the player shoots them, there are fewer ships to draw, and so it can get its updating done faster. This naturally causes the fleet to progress across the screen faster and faster as they’re wiped out, with the last alien rushing across with all that CPU power freed up by the destruction of its comrades.

Space Invaders had even more clever ideas in its design than that. It was an early example of a game using a life system, borrowed from the limited balls players were allowed in pinball games. But also, the game had a sudden loss condition: if any alien managed to make it all the way down the screen to the ground, the game instantly ended.

There was considerable strategy in deciding which aliens to shoot first. Wiping out rows from the bottom of the formation delayed the whole armada from reaching the bottom by one pass across the screen, but if the player destroyed a column off one of the sides, all of those aliens would have to travel further before they could descend a level. Or, if the player was prepared to take a bit more of a risk, they could wipe out columns in the middle of the formation, which means the aliens would descend more rapidly, but leaving a hole in the ranks through which to shoot the Mystery Ship that passed by at the top of the screen.

The “trail” bug in action.
(image from Digital Press)

The game even has a couple of secret features, which is pretty interesting considering the game was released in 1978. The points awarded by the Mystery Ship appeared random at first, but was in fact went through a cycle that advanced every time the player fired a shot. And, as documented in Craig Kubey’s The Winner’s Book of Video Games, if a skilled player could annihilate a whole rack of aliens while leaving one of them from the two lowest rows of the board, it would leave a trail behind it. reveals that this was caused by a bug in the code, but later versions of Space Invaders promoted this trick to a legitimate secret.

Space Invaders has inspired many remakes and revivals through the years, the first, Space Invaders Part II, also known as Space Invaders Deluxe, introduced new kinds of aliens that split in two when shot. That’s not to be confused with the later Space Invaders DX, released in 1993. Before that came Return of the Invaders in 1985, and Space Invaders Part IV: The Majestic 12 in 1991. A while after there were Space Invaders Extreme, which got its own sequel, and other games I can’t be bothered to look up right now. Recently, in 2016, arcades have even seen a fairly interesting Space Invaders lightgun game from Raw Thrills, called Space Invaders Frenzy. (I tend to be harsh on Raw Thrills here, but it’s actually pretty interesting!)

45 years. Not bad for an ancient 8-bit arcade game that struggled to shift black-and-white pixels around.

The ‘Space Invaders’ Creator Reveals The Game’s Origin Story (WIRED)

Adam Dawes’ Guide to Bubble Bobble

For 16 years now, Adam Dawes has had a guide to Bubble Bobble on his website that provides precise, detailed strategies for defeating each of the game’s 100 levels, most with a demonstration video (one level’s video I found doesn’t work). Each level has a difficulty ranking, and such is skill that the hardest of them I found, level 91, is only rated as “medium-hard.”

Adam’s guide provides the details of finishing each specific level, but it doesn’t explain all of the weird secrets that lie buried deep in the game’s code. For that, check out the previously-linked Bubble Bobble Info Pages!

Adam Dawes’ Guide to Bubble Bobble

Classic Game Dev Andrew Braybook On Computer Conversions

Andred Braybrook is a legendary computer game dev from the Commodore 64 age, and before and after. In addition to the classic C64 games Uridium and Paradroid, which perform feats of scrolling that machine are really not designed for, he went on to many several other games, including the excellent computer ports of Taito’s sequel to Bubble Bobble, Rainbow Islands.

(Although Braybrook mentions that Taito hadn’t told him about the three secret islands that can appear at the end, so they got left out. They didn’t know about them either!)

Image from Braybrook’s blog

He has a blog post that details many aspects of he and his co-workers’ process back then that is fascinating to anyone with knowledge of these platforms, and even someone who doesn’t. Thanks to for the link!

Andrew Braybrook: How We Made Computer Game Conversions, from his blog

Video: “Bub” Plays Pac-Attack

“Bub’s Broadcast” is a YouTube channel put out by Taito, mostly to promote various Taito properties in Japan. “Bub” is a mascot character based off of Bub, a.k.a. Bubblun, from Bubble Bobble. It’s low-key, yet entertaining, fare.

This particular video is of interest though because Bub steps outside his usual stomping grounds, and plays Namco’s Pac-Attack, that Tetris-style puzzle game where you have to create paths out of falling blocks to guide Pac-Man to eat ghosts.

It’s in Japanese, but there’s English subtitles, and of special interest is that Bub reveals some possibly-unknown codes for the game. If you point at Hyper difficulty and hold L and R down when selecting it, the game will begin at Level 300 instead of 100. And if you hold Down and Right on the control pad while also pressing L and R, you begin near the highest possible difficulty, at level 900! Also revealed is that, if you charge up the Fairy meter all the way and a fairy comes out, but you don’t wish to use her ghost-clearing power, you can hold Up and press B repeatedly to cancel it, causing her to fly away and giving you 10,000 bonus points. It’s always interesting when these unknown game elements are revealed long after the games release!

Replay Burners: Bubble Bobble True Ending

Replay Burners, a Japanese-language YouTube channel that hosts runs of various well-played games, especially arcade games, is a true gem. Unlike other channels like MamePlayer, World of Longplays, or (especially) Old Classic Retro Gaming, the plays on Retro Burners are done without invincibility cheats, save states, or tool assistance, all these things I find greatly annoying. A Replay Burners playthrough is played as it would have in a real arcade, which is what makes it interesting to me: you aren’t watching a hypothetical run by someone with theoretical infinite reflexes, or someone who can just throw themselves at enemies without fear. You’re watching someone who has developed real strategies approach the game in realistic ways, and frequently the difference is huge.

That is what makes this one (well, two) credit playthrough of Bubble Bobble good watching. It’s not that they play “perfectly,” they lose their first life on Level 58 and go on to lose a number more. But they’re not just playing for survival but for score, a mode of play often neglected in this era of cheap points and speedrun celebrity. They play through every level: they don’t skip levels with umbrellas or the warp door on Level 50, even though they’re eligible for it.

They do use a couple of codes, but the great difficulty of Bubble Bobble is such that one can hardly begrudge them that. One of them, to play “Super” mode, actually makes the game much harder in the early going, and is necessary anyway to get the best ending. The total length is 62 minutes, but of course you can skip ahead if you just want to see the end. Most of the game is solo, but they bring in a second player at the very end since it’s required for the best ending.

YouTube, Replay Burners: 1986 [60fps] Bubble Bobble True Ending ALL

The Bubble Bobble Info Pages

There was once a time where game information was really hard to find on the internet.

Before Fandom née Wikia started automatically generating wikis for everything in existence, before even GameFAQs, which started in 1995 and is still chugging away after all these years, became sorta-big, there were the shrines sites. Some enthusiast (obsessive?) would build a website to document literally everything about the game they could find. Early free hosting site Geocities was a haven for that kind of thing.

Geocities is gone now, although much of its content has been preserved through the efforts of Archiveteam. By the way, if you’re feeling nostalgic for those days, or wasn’t around then but think it sounds like something you’d like to get involved with, I will just drop here this link to Neocities.

Not all of these sites were on Geocities, or other host short-lived free host. Some of them survive today. I personally think these sites are an essential part of the soul of the World Wide Web (yes, I’m old enough to call it that), and proudly link to some of them from our hard-wrought Links page.

One of my favorite of these shrines is the Bubble Bobble Info Pages, created back in 1998, and its companion site the Rainbow Islands Info Pages. It’s not just their old-school web design that I love, although that’s hugely charming to me. It’s that it’s the source of a great quantity of information on a couple of extremely opaque games.

The arcade game Bubble Bobble is absolutely filled with mysteries, most of which are practically undiscoverable without diving into the game’s code, and it’s known that even its manufacturer Taito lost its source code many years ago. This leaves BBIP as nearly the sole source for a lot of important game data.

My favorite of these facts is the information on how Bubble Bobble decides which special item to generate each game. These are not random but chaotic, influenced by unseen patterns, that gives a kind of sense of them. Some items tend to be generated on certain levels, but they’re not hard-coded that way, so that the player’s actions can influence them without relying on them.

The game keeps count of a huge array of things that the players can do or cause during the game. The number of times they jump, the number of times they shoot bubbles, the number of times the pop bubbles, the number of times they jump on bubbles, the number of steps they take, the number of times they wrap the screen, and so on.

At the start of each level, the game goes down the list, finds the first value that exceeds a certain limit (which generally increases with the game’s difficulty, both explicitly-set and dynamically-rising), will set that item to generate during that level, and resets the counter. Some of these things can only happen in certain levels, like screen-wrapping or popping water bubbles, and that gives the history of generated powerups throughout a game a shape, that the players can influence, even without knowing exactly how. These counters are not even reset when the game ends! They carry on to the next, and in fact a few of the counters probably won’t trigger for several games.

It’s a significant factor in what makes Bubble Bobble so much fun, but interestingly, it means it’s more fun when played in an arcade setting, where the actions of past players contribute to add uncertainty to the powerup schedule. This is a terrific design pattern that I don’t think nearly enough developers know about, and one of the few places in the world where you can find out about it now is the Bubble Bubble Info Pages.

Famicom Prototype of The Fairyland Story Discovered

Dylan Mansfield at site-favorite Gaming Alexandria tells us that there is now preserved an unreleased Famicom port of Taito classic arcade game The Fairyland Story! Fairies are rife around our offices, I have to tell you, they’re everywhere, getting underfoot and in the way of closing doors. Oh? This game is more to do with a more generic kind of fantasy world? I knew that.

Young witch protagonist Ptolomy clears a number of successive screens of enemies using her magic that can turn them into cakes! Released to arcades in 1985, it’s kind of an intermediate game between 1984’s Chak’n Pop and classic 1986 arcade hit Bubble Bobble. If you’re a fan of the arcade game you should check into this one, as many of the level layouts are different! The announcement post and rom is at Forest of Illusion. Unfortunately-named YouTube channel Hard4Games has a short video about the find:

Forest of Illusion: The Fairyland Story (Japan) (Prototype) via Gaming Alexandria.

Link Roundup 5/12/22

“We scour the Earth web for indie, retro, and niche gaming news so you don’t have to, drebnar!” – your faithful reporter

Greetings to all humans down there on planet Glorb-III, also known as Earth. Let’s get started, drebnar!

A lament from Reddit on how Streetpasses are impossible to get now. If only Nintendo had thought to include them on the Switch. Probably it’ll take another ten years before they realize what a good idea they had.

Chris Moyse from Destructoid tells us this week’s Arcade Archives release is Taito’s Fighting Hawk!

Kate Gray from Nintendo Life writes about the thing that all video game journalists are someday destined by fate to write about: Earthbound. It’ll happen here too someday, you can rely upon it. And Alana Hauges frpm Nintendo Life has some words to say about its sequel Mother 3!

From Polygon, Michael McWhertor enthuses about how great is the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game, Shredder’s Revenge.

Chris Friberg of Den of Geek tells us his picks for the 15 best NES RPGs. #1 is Dragon Quest III! (What do you mean, don’t spoil it? I’m an alien, I spoil everything drebnar!) He also ranks Wizardry pretty high, he has great taste!

Over on Hackaday, Robin Kearey tell us about a reimplementation of the classic Tamagotchi using modern hardware!

Blake Johnson of asks if a collection of the DS Castlevania games could ever be released? While the fan favorite remains Symphony of the Night, the DS games are excellent and retain many of its greatest elements.

The image in question, from History of Hyrule’s Twitter feed. Hi Melora!

Go Nintendo’s rawmeatcowboy points to the discovered female Link art from Japanese guidebooks that History of Hyrule uncovered! Hey, that image looks familiar! Meanwhile,’s Connor Casey tells us that professional wrestlers Steve Austin and Cody Rhodes disagree as to which is the best Legend of Zelda game, respectively, Breath of the Wild or Ocarina of Time. This may be the only time in my entire life that I’ve agreed with the opinion of earthling Steve Austin, although admittedly I’m a unicellular organism filled with an iridescent goo.

And Jules Wang at Android Police tells us that Chromebooks should be getting better Android support later, improving their game-playing experience. Between that and Steam Support, who needs a Steam Deck? (Answer: ME I DO YES I WANT ONE PLEASE SEND IT TO MEEEEEE)