RPO Replay: Galaga

The Ready Player One Replay is an exploration of the games that inspired the novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.

About the Game

Gunfire wasn’t uncommon in the stacks, but it still shook me up. I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep, so I decided to kill the remaining hours until dawn by brushing up on a few coin-op classics. GalagaDefenderAsteroids. These games were outdated digital dinosaurs that had become museum pieces long before I was born. But I was a gunter, so I didn’t think of them as quaint low-res antiques. To me, they were hallowed artifacts. Pillars of the pantheon. When I played the classics, I did so with a determined sort of reverence.

Ready Player One p. 13

I found myself standing in an old video arcade, playing Galaga. The game was already in progress. I had double ships and a score of 41,780 points. I glanced down and saw that my hands were on the controls. After a second or two of disorientation, I reflexively began to play, moving the joystick left just in time to avoid losing one of my ships. Keeping one eye on the game, I tried to make sense of my surroundings. In my peripheral vision I was able to make out a Dig Dug game on my left and a Zaxxon machine to my right. Behind me, I could hear a cacophony of digital combat coming from dozens of other vintage arcade games.

Ready Player One p. 175

Notable within RPO because of how it kicks off a chapter focused on the movie WarGames, the Galaga (1981) is pleasantly addictive. I was never particularly good at the game – my friend Dave was the reigning champ when we were kids – but I still had plenty of fun playing it.

A classic of the age, and every bit as challenging as when it was released. It’s the game that David is playing at the start of WarGames, and it’s even featured 30 years later on the SHIELD helicarrier in The Avengers (“That man is playing Galaga. Thought we wouldn’t notice, but we did.” – Tony Stark).

The game is a sequel to Galaxian (1979), itself inspired by Space Invaders.

Game Play

Endless waves of insectoid invaders face off against a lone starship in this classic arcade game. Reminiscent of Space Invaders, the game features alien spacecraft of differing classes that sweep onto the screen in choreographed moves before settling into a fleet formation at the top of the screen. From there they launch additional attacks, swarming toward their solitary opponent in a series of loops and rolls.

Pilots can double their chance of surviving (or at least getting a high score) by allowing the insectoids to capture their ship with a tractor beam. Destroying the villainous vessel lets you recover your ship, which then fights alongside your existing one.

A big part of that is the enemies themselves; there’s something visually appealing about the colorful Galagains and their swirling attacking patterns. Even though I knew I was doomed, I could never resist plunking a quarter or three into the machine when waiting for pizza or taking a break from bowling.

Playing the game 30 years later was an experience. I can’t say I’ve gotten any better at the game but the most amusing thing about playing is that my then-11-year-old son loved this game. For about a week, I found him firing up the emulator and playing Galaga rather than going upstairs to hang out on the Xbox. Granted, he’d only play it for 15-30 minutes (rather than the hours that my friends and I would spend playing classic video games at home) but the fact that he played it at all – and enjoyed it! – speaks worlds about the game.

High Scores

  • My High Score: 20830
  • Shots fired: 314
  • Number of hits: 166
  • Hit/Miss Ratio: 52%

Resources

Where to Play

Commentary

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