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The Original Idea Behind Space Invaders That Could Have Changed Gaming Forever

There are few games in history as influential as Space Invaders, which has an impact so wide and deep that the video gaming industry would look very, very different without it. 

For example, Shigeru Miyamoto, best known for creating the Super Mario Bros. games and The Legend of Zelda games, credits the game with convincing Nintendo to enter the industry. And he's not the only one who found it motivating: Hideo Kojimi told IGN that Space Invaders inspired the Metal Gear series and John Carmack, who co-created Doom, has pointed to the game as an influence as well. 

Along with motivating these gaming titans, however, the game also did some truly innovative things. It introduced a new kind of gameplay, which featured enemies shooting back. The game also incorporated destructible cover and an adaptive soundtrack, and had a difficulty curve caused by the fact that the aliens got faster the fewer there were. It also popularized the idea of high scores in arcade games, which allowed for competition even in single-player titles. Basically, Space Invaders informed modern gaming in multiple ways.

However, Space Invaders could have looked much different, if the designer had gone with the original idea. Here's a look back to explain.

The original ideas did not involve aliens

Tomohiro Nishikado, the creator of Space Invaders, was working for Taito in the late '70s. When trying to come up with a new game idea, he looked to the popular brick-breaking games of the day for inspiration. He told the BBC he wanted to create a shooting game along that vein.

"Initially I started with tanks, then tried warships and warplanes — but the movement and animation didn't match the game," Nishikado said in The Guardian. "After much trial and error, by far the best match were soldiers, but shooting people was frowned upon. It was at this time, while I was stuck for an alternative, I chanced upon Star Wars and realized I could use aliens because no one would complain about shooting them."

For the actual design of the aliens, he chose to emulate the octopus-like Martians in The War of the Worlds. The result was the first fixed shoot 'em up (or schmup), providing a template for many titles to come.

Without Taito's restriction on human targets, Space Invaders might not have happened — or at least, not in the form that fans recognize. Space Invaders went on to revitalize a sagging home console market in 1980 and kickstart the industry as (arguably) its first true phenomenon.