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Make it a (Virtual) Reality: Space Invaders

VRFocus looks at the possibilities of a bridge once travelled being travelled again in a different direction. Could Space Invaders be the bridge to VR’s acceptance?

You stand alone, a single defender against the tide. You are one but they are legion; the last hope against seemingly insurmountable odds. You pilot your weapon skilfully, ducking and weaving as their projectiles rain down on you. It seems wholly inadequate for the task before you, but, it is all you have. They come in waves, a slow steady decent, almost metronomic at first but accelerating as they move towards you. A simple rhythmic beat echoing in your ears as you shelter from the raining death. With limited options you make the call and begin firing up through your own shield at the aggressors, blowing apart column after column of enemies at the expense of opening yourself up to fire.

This isn’t Call of Duty.
This is Space Invaders.

Space Invaders is of course a classic, one of gaming most classic icons – the arcade granddaddy. If Pong was gaming’s genesis then Space Invaders was, in a way it’s equivalent of exodus as it brought gaming out into the wider world. How important is Space Invaders to videogames? The Invader enemy itself has become the symbol representing the entire industry. It truly defines gaming in a way no other has quite managed.

Space Invaders - Atari 2600
Move down and change direction: The home and arcade classic .

As such, like with all the iconic classics of the time, there is always not just an existing audience but a desire to bring that product to a new audience. Recently Space Invaders was a part of the trailer for 2015 film Pixels, a film starring Adam Sandler which sees aliens copy classic videogame characters (including Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, Galaga and more) in a bit to take over the Earth. There’s always a demand to reinvent the classic. So why could that not be taken to a different level with virtual reality (VR)? Originally designed by Tomohiro Nishikado for Japanese developer Taito in 1978, the title  is now in the hands of Square Enix, who own Taito as a subsidiary. Yes, Square owns Space Invaders – you might want to let that sink in for a moment.

Pixels (2015) - Space Invaders Movie Poster
An Invader looms ominously over the Eiffel Tower in one of the posters for the video game-related film ‘Pixels’.

Square Enix has yet to dip their toe into VR but reinventing one of the most iconic franchises in their locker might just be a good way of introducing them as a company. There’s a lot of benefits from a developing standpoint too. For a start it Space Invaders even in a virtual format would be relatively easy to code, easy to produce equals lower costs which in turn would potentially maximise profitability.

Moreover Space Invaders VR is actually a potentially viable idea. Think of it as the dramatic description above. You are the laser cannon, the last line of defence moving backwards and forwards from cover to cover. The difference would be you’re in a first person perspective – and that changes the feel of the game. It makes it more immersive, this would be a Space Invaders where you don’t just feel the urgency but the danger as well. It’s the difference between a game and an experience; there is a slight detachment from the action in the classic title. There isn’t really a character you identify with. On the other hand when it is very clearly you that changes your mental approach a lot.

In terms of the core design nothing need change.  Why would you? Bunkers can remain neon green, Invaders can remain the same iconic designs – and you can still operate solely going from left to right.  That doesn’t rule out the inclusion of additional alternatives: different skins or iterations. Something Bandai Namco showed off very successfully when producing Pac-Man Championship Edition. Imagine if the wave was staggered or layered and you had to travel across a 3D playing field with bunkers spread out across it as opposed to only travelling along that x-axis? You could even have a version of it using augmented reality (AR).

No, it wouldn’t be a big boundary pushing experience necessarily but the fact is it doesn’t have to be. For those who can’t comprehend VR something like Space Invaders, which after nearly 40 years is engrained in our culture, could be the exactly the introduction people need. Familiarity creates comfort and comfort creates trust and ultimately acceptance. In order to truly make those big boundary pushing strides for the technologically engaged sometimes you need to take baby steps to bring everyone else along with you. You need an introduction.

In 1978 a Japanese arcade title did just that, and maybe, just maybe, Space Invaders could lead the gaming revolution one more time.

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