SPACE INVADERS information, tips & tactics

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Taito Corporation released Space Invaders in 1978. By the end of 1979 it had become a worldwide phenomenon and the first era of video games had begun.

Space Invaders Cabinet (upright)

The game was available in both standard cabinet and table-top format. Controls were left, right and fire. Versions using buttons for movement were later superseded by joystick cabinets, probably due to boards being swapped into newer cabinets. I have always preferred to play with the button configuration as the move-stop-shoot-move rhythm is more intuitive with buttons.

info screen shot

The object of the game is, basically, to shoot the invaders with your laser base (D) while avoiding their shots and preventing an invasion. Amassing a high score (F) is a further objective and one that must be prioritized against your continued survival. Each game screen starts with five rows of 11 invaders. The bottom 2 rows score 10 points per large invader (A), the middle 2 rows 20 points for each medium invader (B) and the top row scores 30 points for each small invader (C). This makes each screen worth a total of 990 points. The score for each screen can be dramatically increased by the tactical destruction of the 'mystery' value spaceships (G) that frequently fly from one side of the screen to the other. Temporary sanctuary can be sought beneath the 4 base shelters (E).

Space Invaders - Identification Parade

10 pointer10 point invader (Bottom 2 rows)

20 pointer20 point invader (middle 2 rows)

30 pointer30 point invader (Top row)

mothershipMystery ship worth 50, 100, 150 or 300 points

laserPlayer's laser base

base shelterBase shelter



The invaders randomly fire missiles down the screen from the centre of their bodies. There are 3 types of missile: slow straight ones, fast straight ones and wiggly ones which are the most powerful. If a missile hits the player's laser it is destroyed. If all the lasers are destroyed the game is over. The missiles also cause varying degrees of damage to the base shelters.

If any invader reaches the bottom of the screen the game ends, no matter how many remaining bases the player has.

Game fundamentals

The invaders travel sideways and each time they touch the side they drop down 1 line. On screen 1 they need to drop 11 lines to reach the bottom and 'invade'. From screen 2 through to screen 9 they start progressively lower down the screen. At screen 10 the game reverts to the screen 1 start position and the cycle begins again.

There is no time limit, except for the fact that if you do not shoot them all before they reach the bottom of the screen the game ends.

The more invaders the player shoots, the faster the remaining invaders move. When the invaders are low enough to touch the base shelters they erase them as they pass. The last invader moves very quickly, but slightly faster left to right than right to left.

Any missiles dropped by an invader on the row above 'invasion' row will not harm the player's laser. This is a very important feature and one that must be fully exploited in order to obtain a high score. This will be dealt with in detail later.

An invader can have a maximum of 3 missiles on screen at any one time. The player can have only 1 laser shot on screen at any one time.

When an invader's missile collides with a player's laser shot, the player's shot is always destroyed but the invader's missile occasionally survives, almost certainly if it is a wiggly missile.

Basic techniques

Many of these basic techniques will be well known to anyone who is familiar with the game. I have included them as an introduction for beginners but also as a reference and possible source of new ideas for the more experienced. Please do not take offence if these basic tips strike you as overly simplistic or patronizing!

The game has a 'heartbeat' rhythm that the player should become attuned to. I was given many insights into the game early in 1980 by a drummer who had found mastering the game much easier due to his natural ability to follow its simple rhythm. After playing for some time, it is possible to move and fire in time with the game by instinct and Space Invader masters have been known to hold conversations and appear completely uninvolved with the game once this higher level of interaction has been attained. It is possible to achieve very impressive scores on Space Invaders without this total immersion in the game's rhythm, however the author recommends that anyone wishing to completely dominate the game should concentrate on mastering the 'heartbeat'. Everything else will come much easier once this is achieved.

The speed with which the invaders descend can be quickly controlled by the player. They only drop when they reach the edge of the screen (right or left) so by shooting away the outer columns before the inner columns the rate of descent can be slowed. Space Invader masters have been known to wipe out almost every single invader on screen 1 before they have dropped a single row. This feat can be achieved by quickly wiping out the rows from left to right. The invaders should always start by moving left to right although I am certain that in some two player games I have seen them begin moving right to left.

Use the shelters to hide behind, timing your movement to avoid missiles while shooting whenever you get the chance. This technique is still useful for more experienced players from level 4 onwards. Beware, however of a volley of invader missiles that can break through the shelter while you are hiding under it. If the center of the shelter is already damaged, shoot a clear hole through it and fire from there. This technique is especially useful at the start of a level using the far left shelter. The first three columns on the left can be safely wiped out almost all of the time by using this method of protected attack.

shooting through a shelter

Player one using the technique of shooting through a protective shelter. Note the invaders are just dropping down a row.

In conjunction with learning the rhythm of the game, you must perfect a move-stop-shoot technique to keep up with the invaders and wipe them out as efficiently as possible. Note: Following a fast moving group of invaders is a very good way to run into a missile! It can be done but a good 'feel' for the game must be achieved in order to avoid disaster. A much better approach for dealing with the final few invaders, in particular the very last one, is to wait in the middle of the screen, firing ahead of the invader while nudging the movement control in the direction it is traveling to avoid a missile dropped directly over the player's laser base.

Every time you fire and miss you must wait until the shot reaches the top of the screen before firing again. Remember this and do not fire wildly at fast moving invaders, especially the last one. You will have time to shoot it if you do not waste time missing! The last invader is usually easier to hit when traveling right to left.

These tactics should get any beginner through to screen 3 or 4 if they are perfected and applied consistently. Once a player can regularly reach screen 4 without losing a life it is time to learn how to really master the game. I am talking about 'clocking' it past 9990 over and over again, always scoring 300 points for a mystery ship, hitting 8 and more mystery ships per screen, hitting the mystery ship (almost) every time it appears, and reaching the 10th screen...and beyond. For that, you will need to know:

The Ultimate Space Invader tricks and tactics

How to always score 300 points for shooting the mystery ship.

The score for a mystery ship is not based on any random event, it is controlled by the number of shots fired by the player before the mystery ship is shot. On every screen the mystery ship is worth 300 points if hit with the 23rd shot and on every 15th shot until that screen ends. I will clarify this, as I have had people ask me to explain it many times and it is good to be able to put it in writing once and for all.

At the start of a screen, count your shots. Once the game's rhythm is understood this becomes second nature. If you find yourself consciously counting and your play suffering as a result, leave this technique alone until you have mastered the basics of the game. Count 22 shots. It does not matter if they hit or miss the invaders, in fact if you can hit 22 consecutive invaders you are doing very well! Wait until the mystery ship appears. Fire one shot at it. If you hit it, you will score 300 points. If you miss, well, there is always next time. Now, count your next 14 shots (not including the one you fired at the mystery ship!). Wait for the mystery ship and continue to use the '14 shots, 1 shot at the mystery ship, 14 shots' counting technique until the end of the screen. The next screen will follow the same pattern: 22 - mystery(1) - 14 - mystery(1) - 14...

This counting pattern works on every screen. Don't ask me how many shots you need to fire to get 50, 100 or 150 points for hitting a mystery ship as that is just not worth knowing and no, I don't know. If you want to find out, try counting shots and then mail me with the answers and I'll post them on this page. But really, there are better things to be doing with your time. Like maxing out your scores!

How to (almost) always hit the mystery ship.

If the mystery ship is traveling left to right, move to the right hand side of the screen and fire when the mystery ship is directly under the 'C' of player two's score. If it is traveling right to left, move to the left hand side of the screen and fire when it is directly under the last digit of player one's score, e.g. if player one's score is 9990, fire when it is directly under the zero. The mystery ship appears at regular intervals of roughly 25 seconds.

How to survive beyond screen 4

There is a tactic in space invaders that no-one believes until they see it in operation, and many still do not believe until they try it for themselves. It is known as 'the wall of death' or 'death row' depending on who you talk to. At a very specific time in the game the player's laser base seems to become impervious to the invaders' missiles! When a line of invaders is on the last but one row (i.e. the one before they invade) their missiles cannot harm the player's base. There may be a technical reason for this, originally it was assumed to be a bug in the program, but I am fairly sure it was a deliberate feature, maybe the first ever video game 'hidden secret'. Who knows? And more importantly, who cares, because it is a vital feature of the game and it is one that you simply must exploit if you are to reach level 10 and beyond.

Of course, simply knowing about this anomaly will not really help you, as you will lose all your ships before the invaders reach 'death row' unless you leave a gap where you can stay while they work their way down the screen. Shoot the invaders to leave a formation similar to the one in the screen shots below. This is the classic 5 + 1 formation, workable on almost every screen. The trick is to travel with them when the last row is hurtling across the screen, shooting them in turn from right to left and hitting the last one as it overtakes you. Of course, if you miss him it is GAME OVER, but then that is the risk you have to take!

Death wall technique fig. 01

Player one in the 'safe place' while waiting for the invaders to reach 'Death row'.

death row technique fig 02

The first hidden secret in video games? Player one, apparently immune to missile fire traveling left to right to begin shooting the bottom row while moving right to left back to the 'safe place'. This is also a very good time to implement the 'counting' technique and rack up lots of points from the mystery ships.


death row fig 3

Five 10 pointers down, only 4 rows to go.

Reasons why you need to use this technique.

1) It slows the pace of the game from frantic to leisurely, giving you lots of time to blast mystery ships. If you can combine the 'counting' technique with the wall of death you will amass some pretty impressive scores. I would go as far as to say that unless you are a phenomenally adept player you will never clock the game past 9990 without using and mastering these two techniques. If you doubt this, just try clearing level 5 onwards without using the death row technique or a version of it!

2) The adrenalin rush as the last invader races for the finish line and you know you only have one shot... well, just experience it and you will know what I mean.

3) It impresses people and they go, "Ooh, what are you doing?" Of course, blowing it by missing the last invader is not an option!

Problems with this technique.

1) It is an all or nothing situation. If you miss the last invader, it's game over. However, if you don't use this technique it will be game over anyway, just sooner.

2) Sometimes the invaders will be traveling the 'wrong way', but it is hard to tell at the beginning of the screen if this is the case. I have found various methods of sorting out this problem, but if you have reached the point where it happens to you I am sure you will already be proficient enough to extricate yourself from it! This situation usually arises in a two player game when one of the screens starts differently with the invaders moving right to left. Keep awake and spot this and you can set your safe place up on the right hand side rather than the left.

3) Once the novelty of the wall of death wears off, other people who are watching you play will find it boring and, in an arcade situation, people used to get pissed off if they were waiting for a game. Some arcades actively discouraged the practice when players were able to keep a game running for over an hour. This was obviously not a good way for the machines to make money. 

Along with the 'counting' technique, the 'death row / wall of death' method is the main advanced technique in the game, however I would stress that these two methods of play will not guarantee high scores on their own. The player really must master the basic principles and the rhythm of the game and then use these 'cheats' to maximize their achievements.

Good luck with Space Invaders, I hope these tips and techniques help you to fully enjoy the game. But remember, no matter how good you get, you will always end up seeing the two worst words in the world...

game over

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