“The Wizards Have Landed”
Japan Invades the American Arcade.

((( Bill Hicks )))

holly bird

By Sally Stewart
Alligator Staff Writer

Aliens begin marching toward you. Keeping a steady beat, they creep across the 13-inch expanse of a glowing, flashing territory of unconquered space. Their object: to destroy. Your mission: protect your land from being overrun by these invaders from space.

They are getting closer. The tempo speeds up. Lights blink. Saucers whiz by. On the brink of destruction, you fight back. They are out to get you. Panic sets in. Droplets of sweat bead up on your forehead. Your galaxy is desperate. Close encounters are getting closer.

The steady syncopated rhythm speeds up to a disco frenzy. Light explodes as bombs rain from the invaders’ bellies. Hiding behind the ruins of your barricades, you fire away. Frantically, you realize you’re waging a losing battle. With only one laser base intact, you are locked into a doomed, futile, hopeless war.

With a flash of light, they complete their mission. You have been wiped off the face of the electronic screen, the home of the two-bit galaxy.

You pull another frayed dollar from your pocket, and exchange it for more quarters — more ammunition. This time you are determined. This time, you are going to become the gallant savior of the solar system. You are going to exterminate those Space Invaders.

Numbering more than 350,000 machines in the United States, Space Invaders is the most popular electronic video game ever to deck the halls of America’s pinball arcades. In Japan, where Space Invaders was created, there are an estimated 200,000 machines.

The culmination of 25 years of Japanese technology, Space Invaders has succeeded where the Japanese army failed during World War II.

It’s the greatest game in history. There’s no one individual game that surpasses the Invaders record,” said Paul Moriarty, vice president of Taito Ltd., the technological firm that developed Space Invaders.

In its two-year history, Space Invaders has broken all game manufacturing records. Before Space Invaders exploded onto the scene, the most ppopular video or pinball machine numbered a mere 50,000 working units.

Stanley Jarocki, marketing director of Midway Manufacturing, a subsidiary of Bally Co., which is licensed to produce Space Invaders, said the game’s popularity is “unheard of.”

“In this industry, games are manufactured for 90 days, 120 days at most.” Jarocki said. “This September marks the twenty fourth month of U.S. production. The public has jumped on it in a way no other similar product has been accepted.”

Besides breaking records, Space Invaders also has broken some traditions. Smoky pool halls and sleazy pinball arcades were once the solitary havens for coin-operated games. Space Invaders, however, is everywhere, in restaurants, cocktail lounges, movie theaters, hotel lobbies, airports, ice cream parlors, food stores, and fraternity houses.

And soon, Space Invaders may be infiltrating your home, via a cassette recording which is inserted into a television video machine.

Jarocki said the hook up television unit is priced anywhere from $250 to $300, depending on the brand. Along with the basic unit, the cassette can be picked up for $30 to $50 at department stores anywhere.

“The home version is not as sophisticated as the business model, but it does provide the same basic enjoyment.” Jarocki said.

And the home model is a lot cheaper than the $2,500 machine in your neighborhood pinball parlor, grocery store, movie theater, etc. Wherever the retail Space Invaders model is played, people of all ages are inserting quarter after quarter for a chance to zap the Invaders from the screen.

After inserting a quarter for each player, five rows, each composed of 11 video creatures, flash onto the screen. The Space Invaders, the enemy, march horizontally across the screen. When they reach the end of a row, the Invaders move down one row, honing in on the barricades that protect the player’s laser base.

The player presses a “Fire” button which shoots laser beams at the descending rows of aliens. Limited to three laser bases, or weapons that shoot at the Invaders, the player tries to evade the laser bombs the Invaders drop. The player is able to maneuver his laser base across the width of the screen, shooting laser beams as he goes. But the Invaders’ bombs erode the barricades. As direct hits eat away the barricades, the player then becomes a moving target.

Players are awarded 10 to 30 points for demolishing each Invader. At regular intervals, “mystery ships” and or “flying saucers” in Space Invaders jargon, glide across the top of the screen. Hitting a saucer adds 50 to 300 points to a player’s score. A score of 1,500 brings a bonus of an additional laser base and another chance to wipe out the Invaders. If a player demolishes all the Invaders, he is rewarded by a new screenful of Space Invaders. Only this time, the Invaders begin their march one row closer to the barricades, your only protection.

No matter how good you are, those Space Invaders always win. An electronic eye keeps track of your laser base location, and the Invaders shower additional bombs when they are right above your laser base. They always get you in the end.

That said, Moriarity is a champion when it comes to selling the game.

“In this game, there’s no limit to how good you can be. It’s challenging, because it tests your skills.” Moriarity said. “Sure, they always beat you in the end, but you are always the one that goofed. It was a highlight.”

Jack Johnson, president of Fuller Amusements in Gainesville and Ocala, a distributor of coin-operated games, said his company has leased about 50 Space Invaders machines to area businesses. Under a leasing arrangement, Johnson said his company gets 50 percent of the machines’ weekly revenue.

Each machine pulls in at least $50 a week, he said, and Space Invaders machines in popular game rooms, such as the one in the J. Wayne Reitz Union, takes in $100, or 400 quarters each week.

“How about that music,” Jarocki said, laughingly referring to the thump, thump, thump of the marching Invaders. *That was another first — having a pulsating beat. It’s very important. It makes the adrenaline flow. That sound is an interface between you and the game. It takes you that much closer.

The Space Invaders sound effects were so popular that the sounds were captured on three Japanese records, and one release in the U.S.

Besides inspiring a hit song, the game has brought about Space Invaders posters, T-shirts, and books full of playing tips.

Jarocki said Midway would cease manufacturing Space Invaders machines by October.

“I don’t know when the craze will peak here, but we’ve gone on to producing more sophisticated video games,” he said.

One of those “more sophisticated” machines is Galaxian, which Jarocki deseribed as a “kind of super Space Invaders.” In Galaxian, the Invaders are programmed to sporadically fly out of the back-row position and swoop toward the player’s laser base, which does not have the protective barricades surrounding it.

Galaxian has become a big hit an Japan, and one-time Space Invaders addicts are now transforming into Galaxian addicts.

But Jarocki thinks most Americans have a long way to go before they are ready for Galaxian. He points to the fact that the highest reported Space Invaders score in Japan is 400,000 and in the United States, the highest score 60,000.

As the quarters add up, Space Invaders has become big business in America. A few months, and a lot more quarters will show whether Americans can conquer the Invaders, and join the big league of video games.