Space Invaders’ aliens based on War of the Worlds

The aliens from Space Invaders are easily the most famous icons of video-gaming, if not of the entire 80s. They’ve been ported to all manner of modern art, ranging from street installations to superb block-prints by my artist friend El Rey. So you have to wonder: How did Tomohiro Nishikado, the designer for Space Invaders, decide on the alien design?

In their October 2005 issue, writers at The Edge magazine published a superb Q&A with Nishikado in which they asked precisely this question. As it turns out, Nishikado originally thought of making the enemies airplanes, but they were too hard to render realistically. Human beings were easier, but — and I just love this — he thought it would be “immoral” to have a game in which you shot virtual humans. Eventually he drew inspiration from the recent success of this weird new movie called Star Wars, and decided to use aliens.

But the best part? He based his aliens on the Martians from H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds:

In the story, the alien looked like an octopus. I drew a bitmap image based on the idea. Then I created several other aliens that look like sea creatures such as squid or crab.

That’s just excellent. Those are pictures of Nishikado’s workbook above. It’s funny — after all those years of playing Space Invaders, I never thought of connecting the lowermost “grunt” aliens onscreen to octopi. I did dimly think that the uppermost ones looked like squid, but never in my wildest dreams would I have figured they were based on Wells’ aliens.

As a sidenote, I recently discovered that Edward Gorey once illustrated a version of War of the Worlds. Now, a Gorey-animated video-game version of Space Invaders? I would pay good money for that.

(Thanks to Joystiq for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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