Retro Game Designers: Tomohiro Nishikado

Tomohiro Nishikado (Osaka, March 31, 1944) is a Japanese video game designer author of Space Invaders, published in 1978 by Taito.

After attending Tokyo Denki University and earning a degree in communications engineering, starting in 1969 he began his long professional career with Pacific Industries, a subsidiary of Taito that was involved in the development of electromechanical games.

In 1973 he made Davis Cup and Soccer, two games derived from Pong. The first, inspired by tennis, had the variant of being able to be played in teams of two players and the second had a play area similar to a football field, with two doors and a green colored background.

In 1974 he created Speed Race, a racing game seen from above where you have to drive your car avoiding collisions with obstacles on the course. This game, to which Nishikado is very close, has numerous records: It is the first Japanese game to have been distributed in America and the first video game to use sprites and a collision detection system. Even the cabinet attracted attention: instead of the classic controls, all the driving elements of a car were present: steering wheel, speedometer, odometer, gears and pedal.

In 1975 he designed another great success: Western Gun (Gun Fight in America), inspired by the world of cowboys. Two challengers are found on either side of the screen, face to face, and can move up or down. Their purpose is to hit the opponent by shooting bullets. Western Gun is the first video game to show, even if with minimal graphics, violence between two human beings. The game was so successful in America that it finally opened the doors of the foreign videogame market to Japan.

1978 is the year of great success: Space Invaders is born. This project was so complex for the time that Nishikado was forced to design the necessary hardware from scratch, using a motherboard equipped with an Intel 8080 CPU with a Texas Instruments audio processor. To complete the prototype, many pieces – never used before for making a video game – had to be purchased by mail.

While designing the game, Nishikado immediately thought of tanks as the first solution for his opponents. He then tried ships and finally bombers. But their movement and very limited animations did not match well with the frenetic style of play. He was then advised to insert ranks of soldiers who were advancing slowly towards the player, but in the end he also discarded this idea, because he did not want the game to be too violent. The perfect solution came suddenly thanks to his passion for science fiction: The enemies would have been alien monsters, vaguely inspired by those of the War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells.

The hardware limitations did not allow the use of colors. For this reason the aliens were drawn white on a black background. When distributing the game in the USA, Taito applied a series of colored films on the protective glass of the screen to simulate a colorful graphic. The game became such a hit in Japan that it caused a shortage of coins. 360,000 game cabinets were sold, of which 300,000 in Japan and 60,000 in the rest of the world. By 1981, Space Invaders had made over $ 1 billion in revenue.

Nishikado never thought that his creation would leave such a marked mark on popular culture. His goal at the time was only to push the interactivity of video games beyond the limits. And today, almost forty years later, we can say that he succeeded fully. Space Invaders was the first video game to show on the screen a ranking of the best scores. This created in the player a strong sense of positive competition, a stimulus to outdo oneself and friends, in a competition for those who beat more waves of opponents.

Tomohiro Nishikado collaborated with Taito until 1996, participating in numerous arcade and console successes: Chase HQ II, Darius II, Darius Twins, Parasol Stars III, Sonic Blast Man 2, Bust a Move 2 and many others.