One day, back in 1979, my brother Matt went to Pizza Hut with his friends (all riding Schwinn bikes, of course). While waiting for the pan pizza to get cooked, Matt beheld a new blue game in the corner. It was the original Space Invaders... It took quarters... and it had the heaviest bass sound that could be recalled since Led Zeppelin's Lemon Song.
My own personal memory is one of walking with my brother and friends to a dark, crummy two-lane bowling/beer joint on the east coast that had been around since at least the '50s. The place was filled with smoke, dank smells, the sound of bowling pins being knocked over, and bassy analog eruptions from games like Asteroids, Donkey Kong, Star Castle, and of course, Space Invaders.
Its eerie, glowing cabinet, painted with menacing black aliens towered over my nine year-old body. It sat there quietly as the attract mode displayed an army of marching alien figures (the front-projected images suspended ghost-like in the air on mirrored glass), and a lone fire-base frantically firing and weaving back and forth to protect its cratery moon-planet. With curiosity, I put a quarter in, hit the start button, and the silent machine abruptly came to life. Its deep thumping sound was intimidating; the shrill laser blasts added to the sense of urgency; and the sudden approach of a UFO caught me off guard. I fired off a few desperate shots, some managing to wipe out an occasional invader. But it wasn't long before my base was repeatedly left a crumbling smolder and my few quarters were gone.
We left this dark cave of strange new entertainment with empty pockets and lasting impressions of arcade coolness in our minds. Since those days, Space Invaders has become a historical icon not only to us, but to the entire world of video games.
For a few years, we had the idea of finding and restoring one of the classic arcade games and keeping it within the warmth of our own home. Somewhat unexpectedly, that dream came true on November 22, 1997. We went up with a group to the arcade super auction in Fullerton, CA. The huge warehouse was filled with games, dust, and memories. We saw several Pac-Mans, Trons, Centipedes, and Battlezones. And tucked in the third row - there stood the first of the classic arcade machines, like a shrine that stood proud with years - enough to cause people to gather and stare in wonder: Midway's Space Invaders. The cabinet was dirty, the images on the screen were warped, and the sound was gone. But overall it had withstood the years and locations such as the above-mentioned very well. And to add to the coolness, the circa 1978 game had not quarter slots, but the original dime-slot coin door. To us, this game was the most valuable of all.
It took over an hour and a half before the auctioneer got to the Space Invaders game. Most people were content to get NBA Jam, Street Fighter III, and all the other lame games that carry little sentimental or even creative qualities with them. Because of that, it was almost no surprise when no one bid higher than $250 after Matt raised his auction ticket in the air. But we were still amazed and excited to get our first game, especially since it had gotten a significant amount of attention from those who likewise remembered feelings of awe towards it.
And, within a short time, the game was ours to take and make anew. Matt took care of the cleaning and cosmetic care, while his roommate, Chris Bell, repaired the sound board. All it took was a little diagnostic testing and the replacement of a small capacitor and an amplifier chip. The game was again restored almost as good as new. With one or two minor cosmetic blemishes, it still felt the same as it did almost 20 years ago. Its moon and star background was perfect, the sound was perfect and so were the memories. We certainly look forward to the next auction...
Addendum: August 15, 2000
It has been a few years and several auctions since this story. Matt has since become an avid collector and self-taught restorer of classic video games, and is particularly partial to those with vector graphics and/or emotional resonance of days gone by. He repairs games and game parts for his own collection and for others as well. The personal arcade has reached a count of 17 (with some in storage for now - a familiar notion to those bit by the collecting bug), including near-pristine editions of Tempest, Battlezone, Ms. Pac-Man, cockpit Star Wars, Space Fury, Solar Quest, Armor Attack, and others. His ties to the collector's community has enabled him to purchase games such as Defender, Gauntlet, and cocktail Pac-Man for his workplace and also the neat opportunity to work on (and of course, play) rare games that others bring to him, like Bandido, Boxing Bugs, and Cosmic Chasm. We also look forward to other potential projects, including Death Race, Discs of Tron, Firetruck and others.
So what ever happened to our first beloved Space Invaders, you ask? Well, it is with some regret to admit that it is no longer with us. Collectors will also understand that sometimes games, for various reasons, come and go from one's possession. But this particular machine has a good new home. Matt had the chance of selling the game to Activision, Inc. as they were preparing to do their updated remake of the arcade classic, so that they could capture "the feel" of the original.
We've learned a bit about games since that first purchase, and so it was with confidence and a mere $75 that Matt recently purchased a grimey, non-working cocktail version of Space Invaders Deluxe, which has since gotten the "deluxe" restorative treatment and is a fun addition to the now rumbling noise of our garage arcade.