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Space Invaders (computerarcheology.com)
140 points by Tomte 9 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 23 comments

> The code makes some dangerous assumptions . . .

In this era, code for games was essentially write-only, by one or two engineers. No one would be confused by the code in later releases because there simply weren't any. Code that was common between games was the exception rather than the rule (at Atari, some of the best debugged and well-structured code was the stuff that operated the coin mechanism, because it had to be right or customers would aggressively exercise the tilt switch mentioned in the article).

Code also had to run on really tiny hardware. ROMs cost real money, and marketing wasn't going to give you more just to make your life easier. If your code ran in 4K, but Joe's code was a complete train-wreck that ran fine in 2K, guess who got the big bonus?

One cow-orker of mine had spent some time writing code for pinball machines at Midway. He said that on one project the hardware engineers wanted to save money by half-populating the board's RAM; unfortunately the way they sliced it was to only provide the bottom 4 bits of each byte.

"The ROM is still 8-bits wide, you can work around the RAM thing in software."

He only got his full-width RAM by pointing out that the processor's stack wouldn't work.

> sliced it was to only provide the bottom 4 bits of each byte.

That’s hilarious. I guess people were not that knowledgeable back then.

You underestimate the cruelty of a hardware team intent on cost reduction. They knew perfectly well what they were asking. IIRC the showstopper was that the CPU wouldn't be able to handle interrupts.

One thing that struck me when I started studying pinballs in more depth is that they really had the same basic technologies in use between the 40's and the 70's, decades spent entirely on finding creative uses of EM relay logic and coils and rubbers. To the extent that those games have memory, it's just enough to count credits, trigger a score reel and serve bonuses.

And that scale of logic translated into a microprocessor makes for some pretty trivial software; the games got to skip over all the intermediate technologies of vacuum tubes and drums and core memory. So part of that initial video game boom - and the corresponding switch to solid state pinball - really was a kind of seeking out of applications for hundreds to thousands of bytes of memory, often supplemented with existing analog tech. It's a fascinating crossover in many ways with a punctuated ending: the '84 games crash and the '85 computers crash precipiated cheaper RAM and in following years, suddenly all the games started having more expansive worlds, full soundtracks, keyframed sprite animation etc. The development shifted from a hardware and manufacturing focus to a software one; and the computing devices became much more convergent and portable. And that is the trend we've been on since in the consumer space - inexhaustible cravings for more memory and higher fidelity, held at bay only by the whims of hardware teams.

But I'm looking at coverage of CES this year and see this long trend as something that's played out, with a lot of companies across the board aiming to pitch new concepts. We're in a space where people have Enough Memory. So things are getting exciting again.

Note this other recent Space Invaders effort. Space Invaders in C. "a memory accurate reimplementation of the 1978 arcade game Space Invaders in C." http://blog.loadzero.com/blog/si78c/

What I would like to know is, how come David Bowie uses the term "space invader" in his 1971 song Moonage Daydream, when the game didn't come out until 1978? They don't seem to me to be words that naturally belong together. Glitch in the matrix?

Many 50's and 60's movies that covered many Sci Fi aspects we reinvented time and time again. Actually most of those involved invaders from space, so expect the term "space invaders" got used in many a movie line by the local towns foke - though I don't believe IMDB allows you to search film scripts, that would be cool.

Space Invader Arcade Equipment from 1954, probably pinball


It's actually a shooting game: https://strangewars.livejournal.com/21891.html

The Oxford English Dictionary has let me down, it doesn't have anything prior to the 1979 game.


Good answers! I feel slightly more confident in the integrity of the universe now.

That’s a great link. And the gun in the shooting game is very very similar to Han Solos ...

Wow, that 1954 issue of "The Billboard" magazine was absolutely fascinating. Industry info on music charts, jukebox sales, pinball machines, TV, radio, film... full of history!

When did the term "space invader" become popular for people that encroach someone else's personal space?

For some interesting trivia on Space Invaders watch this wonderful 40th-anniversary educational demo on C64 by Hokuto Force (running in an emulator):


(alternative YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WU49fpXtUTU)

Great article, but I'm curious about a spelling error in it that I've seen more and more recently:

> Move so you are peaking out of the right edge

Obviously, "peaking" should be "peeking".

I don't recall seeing it much until relatively recently, and it seems to have become very common.

Have I missed something? Was it always a common homophone error? Or is there a reason for it peaking recently?


I might have played a clone as a small child. Or maybe an early revision? I distinctly remember questioning what happens when more than 9 credits are added to the machine. This was because there was only one digit for credits. I found that adding 10 credits only counts as 9. Looking at imagery I am seeing two digits.

Incidentally, 9 credits of space invaders ruins the space invaders experience.

Loved this game. First video game for me.

Don't forget that you can hunt them IRL through the flashivaders app. We need to stop the invasion !

Damn, I noticed a bunch of these when I was in Paris.

That's awesome.

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