They keep coming. Mario might be wealthier, Pac-Man might be hungrier, and Lara Croft might be, uh, curvier, but if video gaming in general has one indelible, iconic mascot, it's a Space Invader.
Created by Tomohiro Nishikado and released to Japanese arcades in 1978, the game-changing vertical shooter was more than just an exercise in alien-blasting action. It broke old rules, wrote new ones, and was tantamount in transforming the fledgling video game industry into a legitimate entertainment force of nature.
If you're over 40, there's a good chance you forked over a few handfuls of quarters trying to protect the planet from the oncoming waves of slow-moving baddies back in the day. But we're betting you don't know everything about the otherworldly critters.
It was the first game to save scores.
There were plenty of arcade games around before Taito unleashed Space Invaders -- Pong, for instance -- but they were missing what would eventually become a key ingredient in gaming's future: high scores. You couldn't save your score in earlier coin-op games, so no matter how well you played, there was no functional record of your achievement.
That all changed with Space Invaders. Shoot up enough aliens and your score would be saved on the machine for all to see. While you couldn't claim ownership by inputting your initials -- that particular trick was pioneered in the lesser-known 1979 game 'Star Fire' -- Space Invaders was the first game to truly give players something to shoot for.
It owes a debt to Star Wars and H.G. Wells.
Were it not for a few famous interstellar fantasy worlds, the game might have been called "Plane" Invaders.
That was designer Tomohiro Nishikado's initial vision: players would shoot down waves of enemy airplanes as they advanced down the screen. Fortunately, the designer had trouble animating the ships, so decided to find inspiration elsewhere. His attention quickly shifted overseas in the U.S., where the original 'Star Wars' was becoming something of a sensation. Once he settled on the new space theme, Nishikado turned to an old standby in The War of the Worlds, basing the design of his invaders on the squid-like creatures depicted in the H.G. Wells novel.
It was console gaming's original "killer app."
What do Halo, Super Mario 64 and Space Invaders have in common? They're all killer apps -- video games that were so stunning, they had a significant impact on the sales of their associated game consoles.
But Space Invaders was the first.
With hits like Adventure and Breakout already available for the system, the Atari 2600 was merrily chugging along by the time Taito agreed to license a home version of its blockbuster arcade game (the first time that was ever done). But forget your shoddy ports -- the 2600 version of Space Invaders proved to be just as awesome as its big brother, capturing the essence of the coin-op while adding a nice burst of color. Sales of the 2600 quadrupled, turning it into a must-have piece of tech and paving the way for the console's early 80's dominance.
It spawned a street art legend.
He might not be a household name, but we're pretty sure you're familiar with the work of French urban artist, Invader.
For over a decade he's been slyly slapping tiled images culled from classic coin-op games in precarious places around the world, from bridges in New York to suburbs in Paris to landmarks in Los Angeles. His inspiration? The blocky stars of Space Invaders, of course, though over the years he's branched out to include characters from games like Galaxian and Bubble Bobble.
Invader isn't the only artist doing amazing things with the iconic aliens. Check out this work by Swiss artist Guillame Reymond, who honored the game in one of the coolest ways possible: by recreating it using us pesky humans.
It may be coming to a theater near you.
Contemporary video games feature rich stories, well-known actors and cutting-edge graphics. In 1978? Not so much -- but where most of us see gloriously simple concepts like "hit the ball" and "blast the alien" as being perfect just the way they are, Hollywood sees dollar signs.
Believe it or not, a Space Invaders film is in the works -- or at least was last year, when Warner Bros. entered serious talks with Taito to produce a movie based on the shooter. The status of the project is up in the air, but should it actually get green-lit, we're imagining it will include aliens, tanks, and squiggly lines. And 3D.
Other movies based on fellow old-school, story-less games Asteroids and Missile Command have also been announced, but like Space Invaders, they're still a ways off from touching down at your local Cineplex.