Sunday 6 July 2008

Happy Birthday Space Invaders!

Happy 30th birthday Space Invaders. I Ioved that game, but not with as much ardour as others of my acquaintance.

It was born in Japan in l978 and was immediately so popular that the Japanese had to mint extra 100-yen coins because so many were out of circulation in Space Invader game cash-boxes.

That's the trouble with games. When you start playing everyone's equally hopeless for a short while and then people start getting good. And those who are not so good have to wait such a long time for their turn that they grow beards and get shorter and eventually shrivel and wither away. Either that, or they go and find a cup of tea somewhere and something more interesting to do.

It was a problem with Trivial Pursuit. Some bright spark would hit a successful streak and everyone else would drift away from the board to the kitchen to raid the cupboard for further snacks and open another bottle of wine. The bright spark never noticed. He was too busy collecting cheeses.

And so it was with Space Invaders. Brilliant. I got very hooked - although nothing to compare with Tetris - but less and less interested as I had to wait increasingly long times for my turn as a consequence of DT man getting quite good, good, above average and then bloody invincible.

I blame the BBC. DT man was doing a spot of work for them at the time and they installed a Space Invaders machine in the bar. It was a sensation – so much so that once the local new bulletins was ever so slightly delayed because one of the presenters couldn't be torn away from the console as he was achieving a record score.

Another myth circulating at the time was that one member of staff actually clocked it. I don't know precisely how many levels that entailed but it enshrined him as the definitive Space Invaders superstar thereafter and it was the beginning of the Great Decline In Interest.

Holidays took a different turn if there was a Space Invaders machine in the vicinity. On one holiday in Cornwall there was one installed in a kind of large shed along with a couple of other games. Whatever time of day or night you walked by, the familiar bass “dum-dum-dum-dum” could be heard as Space Invaders continued their inexorable march down the screen to wipe out hapless players who foolishly had destroyed the very buildings which were meant to be their cover.

It was supposed to be for kids but there was often a forlorn little line of six to ten-year-olds queueing up along the path outside the shed as dads – who tended to be quite good and therefore one turn might take half an hour - ended up possessing it for most of the day while mums and the other kids were on the beach.

There's a new version of Space Invaders out at the moment, apparently, for something called PSP whatever that is and DS whatever that is.

I'm almost tempted to find out except that I know that if DT man ever hears that familiar “dum-dum-dum-dum” a maniacal gleam will appear in the eye and he'll be drawn to it once more like a moth to a flame. Civilisation as we know it will end.