Thursday, September 11, 2014

Shades of Resonance: Fond Reminiscence - Memory Log #6

Space Invaders

The more I reflect on my personal history with video games, the larger my list of regrets grows. One of them is that I never got to experience Space Invaders initially in arcades, which is where the game made its biggest impact. Its omission from my résumé probably wasn't due to a lack of the game's availability; rather, I think I was of the mindset that I just didn't need to put much time into arcade games that were already available to me in some other form, which if true was a shameful level of shortsightedness on my part. My first taste of Space Invaders, instead, was on our 2600.

By the standards of older enthusiasts, I suppose that I was being weened on a "lesser" version of Space Invaders, but I never got that sense. It wasn't because Space Invaders was one of the first games I'd played or that I was wide-eyed and blindingly accepting of anything I was given (I could tell, for instance, that something was off with the 2600 version of Pac-Man). No--I never at all perceived Space Invaders as something technically restrained or primitive. I felt from the moment I saw it in action that it was as a big deal--a flagship title that defined for me the magical concept of playing games on a TV!

Even back then I wasn't a particularly big fan of shooters, but Space Invaders was always worth a few minutes of my time, whether I was on a 2600 binge or interested in a solo session. It's one of the best exemplars of my mantra: "Truly great games transcend their genre."

Like Pac-Man, Space Invaders inspired a sea of imitators whose quality greatly varied. Most of the them flat-out ripped off the formula of neatly arranged alien marauders slowly advancing toward the well-defended surface, but the industry's truly inspired creators used its rock-solid foundation as the template for sincere, realized works like Galaga, Megamania and Gorf, which in addition to being some of my favorite space-themed shooting games are definitely among those that prove that truly great games are capable of transcendence. I wouldn't continue to play them otherwise.

Considering the platform's limitations, the 2600 port of Space Invaders actually did a good job of looking the part, but parts of it were still rough enough to where I had to apply my imagination. I didn't know that the three orange objects hovering above my ship were properly defined as defense shields, so I instead interpreted them as highly absorbent floating barns. The ship itself, I thought, was a mobile Christmas tree (maybe these invaders hated farmers who celebrated the holiday season?). And the UFO that would occasionally happen by was a purple skull head, because, really, what else would it be?

It had dozens of different modes whose modifications included any combination of faster and maneuverable enemy projectiles, moving and invisible shields, and even invisible invaders, but I liked just plain old Space Invaders and instead dreamed up my own challenges, like trying to take out all top-row invaders before hitting any other or trying to obliterate every pixel of my own shields before engaging the enemy. I regret not giving the co-op multiplayer a try, but there weren't many opportunities--my brother was more interesting in hanging out with his friends than spending more than a few minutes placating me (Crowd: "Awwwwwwwwwwwww!").

What I did see of Space Invaders was enough to convince me that I was playing one of the greatest video games of all time, no matter its form.

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