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Blog: Forty Years Of Space Invaders

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On Saturday I was back at Kings Cross Station, ready to catch a train to Cambridge for the '40 Years of Space Invaders' event I was due to take part in. Over the course of my travels durning the preceding week my trains had all been pretty good, but that was probably because I hadn't had to use Thameslink, who are notoriously in the middle of a gigantic cock-up over their timetables (short version for posterity: they changed loads of routes, forgot that they'd need to train drivers in the new routes, so suddenly have not enough drivers to drive the trains). My train was logged as being ten minutes late... until ten minutes had passed and then they cancelled it. Did they think someone was going to magically turn up in those ten minutes? It's RIGHT annoying when they do that - just TELL us it's flipping cancelled then at least we know what's going on!

It all worked out OK in the end, as I just waited for the next Great Northern train which a) was faster anyway and b) had a driver, then got a TAXI (featuring a driver who claimed to be "a champion at Space Invaders" but, when questioned, turned out just to be "better than his friends at Space Invaders") to the Museum. Here I met Mr J Fitzpatrick, who would be chairing the panel, also several other of the DELIGHTFUL people who run the centre.

It really is a GRATE place - after speaking to Jason I DASHED into the main room to play on some of their machines, and was pleased to see 'Space Invaders' running on the first one I saw, also the second one, also the third, fourth, fifth... it took me a while but eventually I realised they had set up MOST of their machines - forty of them, in fact - to play Space Invaders especially for the event!

Back in the extremely early 1980s my Dad had owned a games console which had a version of Space Invaders on it. When I'd seen him the previous weekend the pair of us had got precisely NOWHERE in working out what machine he'd actually owned, so it was a delightful surprise to wander round and suddenly see a machine playing EXACTLY the version of Space Invaders I remembered. It was a Prinztronic, and though I'm not sure it's precisely the version Dad had, it was DEFINITELY the version of the game that we played. It had an amazing 16 versions of Space Invaders on it... although that was various combinations of 1 or 2 players, "guided missile" (it moved as you did), and of course NIGHT ASSAULT, when the screen turned BROWN.

Until this event was in the offing I hadn't thought of that machine at ALL for YEARS, and yet as soon as I saw it I knew it like an old friend, especially when i started to play the game and all the SOUNDS and idiosyncrasies of this particular verison came back to me. It really was a dead good version of the game - LOADS better than most of the others I'd had a go at!

Eventually it was time to tear myself away and go and speak to some actual humans again, including Aidy from The British IBM and Mr Magnus Anderson, fellow panellist and all round good guy. We all shuffled into the room where I've done all my previous GIGS in - it's officially labelled "80s Classroom" because it has a Domesday Machine and loads of BBC Micros in it - where we were joined on the panel by Mr Gary Antcliffe, Games Designer, and began to CHAT.

BLIMEY but it was INTERESTING! I didn't really realise how much of a GROUNDBREAKER 'Space Invaders' had been e.g. it was the first programmed arcade game, the first game with a non-human opponent, and in today's terms it was as big in popular culture as The Avengers films are now. There was some FASCINATING stuff about how the machines were made to LOOK good, with mirrors, cardboard backdrops, and COLOURED FILM to make the monochrome display look like it was colour, and lots about the cultural impact and various TRANSMEDIA items like annuals, cash-in singles and TINNED PASTA!

Jason, Magnus and Gary knew A LOT about their areas, and I'd been worried that I'd look a bit of a CHUMP sitting there occasionally saying "I wrote a song about something vaguely related, nearly 20 years ago", but I think I did all right. Jason had sent me a transcript of a Parliamentary Debate about Space Invaders, which I managed to edit down and read out in Mildly Humorous Accents, and I also took on the job of Examining It Artistically i.e. I banged on about the constant search for NARRATIVE in the other media adaptations and said "The Third Space" at one point. Magnus nodded and then replied by saying "Liminal" so I think I'd said it in the right place!

Afterwards we all retired to the temporary bar for a PINT and a CHAT, before it was time for me to HIKE back to the station, getting the traditional TRAIN BEER on the way. As ever with my visits to the Computing Centre I had had a LOVELY time, and it was the perfect way to end my week-long TOUR!

posted 4/6/2018 by MJ Hibbett

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