Space Invaders

Space Invaders is a classic arcade game with many games copying it for decades to come. While Space Invaders is a classic and loved by many, I am not a huge fan the game. That’s not to say that it does not have value as a piece of video game history. Space Invaders was one of the driving games behind the golden age of the video game arcade, which is an era unto itself that goes unmatched for its nostalgia by any other era in gaming history.

Space Invaders was one of the first if not the first mainstream shooter that was and still is widely recognizable. Since the likes of 2D shooters like Space Invaders, the proliferation of 3D graphics have resulted entire new categories of shooters such open world shooters like Red Dead Redeption and the Grand Theft Auto series. Looking back, Space Invaders marked the beginning of the most prolific category of games and has established its place in history.

Old Atari Games

Earlier this week I downloaded Stella onto my computer. This software  allowed me to run and play old Atari games on my relatively new laptop. Lots of the games were classics that I had heard of from my parents when they talk about their childhoods. My mom once told me about a Pac-Man arcade game that her parents had in their restaurant. It cost a quarter per game and they made enough for her to go to a private college from the money that people put in the machine to play.

In some ways it is hard to think that such a simplistic game could have been so widespread and as popular as it was. The graphics are obviously pretty poor and in all of the games the instructions are simple even if the end goal is hard to reach. However, I think these characteristics are also what contributes to the interest people have in the games. They aren’t complex and allow for renewed challenges every time you are in front of the game even if it is at a different location. Your competition when playing these games was everyone else who had played them before with your goal being number one on the high scores list. These games have passed the test of times and there are even several restaurants around Atlanta, that I went to growing up, that house refurbished Pac-Man and Galaga games for their guests to play. I remember having to wait in lines to play the games at the arcades in the restaurants. It is clear that there is still an interest in playing these games, even from people like myself who grew up playing far more sophisticated and complicated games than these.

Space Invaders (1980) (Atari)
Space Invaders

One of the games we were instructed to play was Space Invaders. Unfortunately this was one of the games that I experienced some technical difficulties while trying to play. I was able to move around in the game, but not always able to shoot. Sometimes after pressing random buttons on my keyboard to try to get the game to switch so that I could shoot, I would get to a level that worked fine. Other times this same method would turn the whole screen black and I would have to hit escape and try to start again. I wasn’t able to appreciate all of the intricacies of Space Invaders due to the technical problems, but this did give me additional appreciation for how truly old this game is and how far technology has come.

Reaction To Playing Space Invaders on Stella

No doubt, you have come across to play, or at least seen, the the 1978 classic Space Invaders game.  If the name doesn’t ring any bells, then the picture below surely will.

New PictureIf this looks familiar, but not quite 100% like you remember, that is because this is an alternative version to the original that I played on Stella – a computer emulator that lets you revisit classic games from the Atari 2600.  Having grown up in a generation when video games become more sophisticated advanced, and the industry was starting to become more widespread and recognized, I was unsure as to how I would react to such a simple game as Space Invaders.  After moving past my initial frustration of knowing how to start the game (*cough* *cough*- F2 key -*cough*), I went through the motions of shooting down aliens and dodging their lasers.  Although my level of satisfaction was neutral at first, I started to become more and more attached to the concept of defending, what I assume to be, planet Earth.  There are no visual cues on screen to suggest that in fact, I am defending Earth, or any sort of planet of base for that matter. There is simply a flat landscape of which you are the sole inhabitor of. I think there is something interesting to be said here.

Space Invaders sends this subliminal message that we MUST defend and fight any and all creatures which appear to “invade” our territory. One could argue that after waiting for some time, the invaders open fire on you, regardless if you shoot first or not, and therefore implies they are hostile.  But what if the invaders never opened fire?  What if they had no way to communicate with you? These questions change the narrative, purpose, and meanings behind Space Invaders and, more so, say something about our intuitive nature – shoot first, ask questions later.

Using Stella

Here are a few tips on using Stella, the Atari 2600 emulator you need to install on your computer in order to play a few of the required games this semester, such as Combat.

  1. First you need to get Stella (it’s open-source and free). You can find Stella for Windows, Macs, or Linux operating systems from the project’s download page.
  2. Once the file is downloaded, open the installer just like you would to install any other program.
  3. Accept all the default settings.
  4. Once Stella is installed, you’ll need a game “ROM” — this is essentially a tiny piece of software code that mirrors the code on the original game cartridge. There are plenty of places online to find ROMs. Atari Age is the premier Atari site, and in addition to scans of the original packaging and instruction manuals of different games, you can find many ROMs there. Go to individual game pages and look for the “Download ROM” icon (it looks like a white Pac Man in a blue circle). Experiment with different games. You might especially try playing the following classic Atari games:Combat, Pac-Man, Air-Sea Battle, Yar’s Revenge, Asteroids, Demon Attack, Space Invaders, and Frogger
  5. The ROMs at Atariage are often compressed as .zip files to speed up downloading (even though they are already extremely small files). Once the game is downloaded, you’ll have to “unzip” the file to extract the .bin file inside. This .bin file is the actual ROM. Most Macs and PCs can uncompress the games without any problem. Remember where you’ve placed the unzipped .bin file that is the game ROM, and you’re ready to load it up in Stella.
  6. Run Stella. When you first open the program you’ll see a DOS-like directory. Navigate through here to find where you saved the various .bin files you’ve downloaded.
  7. You might have to experiment with the different controls and functions keys. In general, press F2 to begin the game.
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