The 30-year invasion: The making of Space Invaders Infinity Gene

Evolution of a legend

The 30-year invasion: The making of Space Invaders Infinity Gene
In many ways you'd think it'd be easier to work on an existing game franchise.

It's already established, and the name alone is likely to sell the game - that's why publishers like series so much.

But from a designer's perspective, the responsibility is huge; especially on a world altering series like Space Invaders.

But that's precisely the task industry veteran Taito set for designer Reisuke Ishida (pictured, with a plush toy of an Invader).

We spoke with the Japanese developer charged with refreshing Space Invaders for the pocket gaming generation to find out how Infinity Gene evolved into such a critical success.

Pocket Gamer: Can you tell us about yourself?

Reisuke Ishida: Most of my development work has been for mobile phone games.

My major projects include Trance Pinball (a pinball game with club DJ elements), Spica Adventure (an arcade-style action game), and Nijiiro Ensoku ('Rainbow-Colored Field Trip', an action RPG.
Trance Pinball has a 'cool' design aesthetic, while Nijiiro Ensoku and Spica Adventure have a cute, cheerful look. Despite this difference, a strong techno music influence ties all my games together.

Incidentally, the Space Invaders characters show up in all three of these games. Including them in every game wasn’t something I’d planned to do from the beginning; it’s just something I’ve noticed, looking back. Just goes to show what a hopeless Space Invaders fan I am!

Did you play Space Invaders when you were younger?

Yes, even within Taito I’m known as a huge fan of Space Invaders. I don’t just love the game, I also have a great deal of respect for how the franchise and its iconic characters have come to symbolise gaming in general.

Because of this, my love of Space Invaders extends to other games, becoming a sort of affection for gaming culture as whole.

I’m too young to have experienced the original boom first-hand, but I’ve known about the game since I was a little kid. I played NES and PlayStation 2 console versions of the game, but I didn’t have a chance to get my hands on the original arcade game until after I joined Taito; classic games were hard to find in arcades.

Where do you begin when attempting to expand on such a beloved franchise?

My first step was to consider how people from throughout the world view Space Invaders as a game.

The Space Invaders characters are famous as game icons, but how many have played the original game, and which age groups do they belong to? What, specifically, do people like about the game? What impression comes across when seeing Space Invaders for the first time?

I evaluated these and other questions from a variety of different angles before coming up with my concept of a new Space Invaders that would appeal to players.
Infinity Gene manages to look and feel like the original Space Invaders game. Was this difficult to achieve?

Yes, very difficult. I took great care trying to design the graphics in such a way that players would be able to recognise the game’s lineage and see the game as a natural addition to the shooting genre, extending from modern games all the way back to the original Space Invaders.

The key design concepts were 'new, yet nostalgic' and 'retro-futuristic.'

I also took care to ensure the original Space Invaders characters appeared in each and every normal stage.

Compared to the original Space Invaders, Infinity Gene has evolved to an almost unimaginable extent, and I was concerned that omitting the original Invaders would turn Infinity Gene into a completely different game.

I did, however, keep them out of the sixth stage of each level, with the intent of creating a different feel for those stages. I wanted players to see the DNA of Space Invaders in every scene, so I loaded the game with allusions to the original game, tying them both together.

What was the hardest part of designing Space Invaders Infinity Gene?

Creating the evolution system was the most difficult. In my original concept, the evolutionary path created branching forks. There were two main ways this could’ve been handled.

The first would be automatic: irrespective of the player’s desires, whenever certain conditions were triggered the path the game’s evolution took would be determined automatically.

The problem with this system is that players might not be able to evolve the in-game features they hoped for. In order to get the most out of the system, players would need to understand what conditions result in which evolved features and play with this knowledge in mind. I concluded that this would put too much stress on the user.

The second alternative was a selectable branching system, where players could plot their own path along the evolutionary tree, choosing which direction to take whenever the requirements to advance were fulfilled.

The drawback with this is that the players would have to evaluate which choice would be better every single time they have the chance to evolve a new capability. This had the potential to interfere with the tempo of the game, and like the first option, put an undue amount of stress on the player.

Also - and this can be said for both options - but I felt that in the end players would naturally want to play with all of the evolved options rather than just a subset.

I tried to tackle this problem over and over from a variety of angles, and in the end I came up with the evolution system seen in the final game. I felt that this system resulted in a game that could be enjoyed by everyone, around the world.

Space Invaders Infinity Gene also appears to be inspired by RayForce. Is this the case, and are there any other games that helped shape it?

Yes. In fact, the LOCK-ON weapon in Space Invaders Infinity Gene was adapted directly from RayForce. I was also heavily influenced by a number of other aspects from the Ray series: the visuals and algorithms relating to how enemies arrived on-screen, the way the backgrounds scrolled, etc.

With Space Invaders Infinity Gene I wanted a very visually-oriented game that would appeal to non-gamers as well as gamers. The Ray series does an excellent job of balancing game play with appealing graphics, and was a valuable source of inspiration for me.

I was also inspired by Taito classics Metal Black and Darius, but as I’ve been a big shooting game fan ever since I was a child it’s safe to say that I was influenced by just about every shooter out there.

Can you tell us a little about how you designed Infinity Gene's role-playing elements?

I did my best to design a system that would be stress-free for the player and not interfere with the tempo of the game. Evolution is the core concept at the heart of Space Invaders Infinity Gene, and the evolution system is absolutely critical when it comes to expressing that theme.

I adopted a system where new features are added gradually rather than all at once so as to allow casual players to learn as they go and keep them from feeling overwhelmed. Another advantage is that it keeps users motivated to continue playing.

Was it a difficult task bringing Infinity Gene to the iPhone?

I had a tough time bringing about a control system that would be stress-free for the player.

Not only was the menu interface tricky to come up with, but the in-game controls were also difficult to get right. I experimented with a number of different schemes before finally settling on the one that appears in the final game.

I thought about allowing players to select from a number of different methods, including tilt and tap controls, but the control system I adopted in the end - where players can touch and drag anywhere on the screen - was far and away the easiest to use and most intuitive.

The soundtrack for Infinity Gene is superb. What made you decide on a techno soundtrack?

I knew I wanted a solid, cool techno sound right from the start. In fact, I constantly had electronic music in mind when planning the game’s look. Communicating exactly what kind of music I wanted to the sound designer was where things got tricky, however. "Infinity Gene isn’t about protecting Earth from Invaders, the game is the story. So don’t make the melodies very emotional. But don’t make them too emotionless, either!"

My difficult requests put a lot of pressure on sound designer Hirokazu Koshio, but after countless meetings and revisions to get the sound just right we finally arrived at the music heard in the game.

Was there anything you wanted to add to the game but were unable, due to technical or time constraints?

The problem wasn’t technical in nature, but I had to give up on my idea of a maze stage that scrolled up, down, left, and right. It was completely different from any of the other levels; destroying a 'key' enemy would open a shutter, allowing the player to progress to the next screen.

I had to give up on the idea due to time-related reasons and a number of other problems, but the shutters themselves appear in some of the later normal stages.

Can you give a breakdown of the development time and any significant tools you used?

Unfortunately I’m not permitted to talk about how long development took. All of the development tools, from script converters to data compression tools, were created by Taito programmers.

Have you ever met Tomohiro Nishikado, and do you know if he has played Space Invaders Infinity Gene?

Mr. Nishikado is a very busy man, and while I’m not sure if he’s played Infinity Gene I have had the opportunity to meet him.

How successful has Infinity Gene been?

The reaction from players of the original Japanese domestic mobile phone edition was very positive, but nothing compared to what’s been seen with the iPhone/iPod touch version.

The reaction from all over the world has been completely overwhelming, and I’m both honoured and extremely grateful. Thank you!

Which aspects of the game are you particularly proud of?

The evolution theme. Every aspect of the game connects to this theme.

What's your opinion of the iPhone and iPod touch as the games platform?

It’s an extremely attractive platform. Being able to sit at my desk, create a game, and then distribute it throughout the world is appealing, but even more than that I think the general sensibility possessed by iPhone/iPod touch gamers is attractive as well.

Compared to other platforms, I think that iPhone/iPod touch users share a more artistic sensibility.

When it comes to the home gaming consoles, it’s very hard to get players to give your game a chance if it doesn’t have beautiful graphics and an extreme level of detail. Even if a game is a little rough around the edges, iPhone/iPod touch gamers still seem to react positively if it includes fresh and innovative elements.

It’s this acceptance that makes me think that the iPhone/iPod touch is the platform most likely to foster the development of innovative games.

Will you continue to develop games for the iPhone after the success of Infinity Gene?

Yes, definitely!

Can you tell us about any other iPhone or mobile developments you have in the works?

I can’t talk about projects currently under development, but please keep an eye out for them!
Thanks very much to Reisuke for taking the time to talk with, and our gratitude goes out to Scott Blow of Taito for helping us with communication and translation.
Space Invaders Infinity Gene is available priced 99c, €0.79 or 59p. [App Store Link]

And check out our other Making of interviews such as

Doddle Jump

Pocket God

Real Racing


Toy Bot Diaries

Zen Bound

Yes. Spanner's his real name. And, yes, he's heard that joke before.


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