In 1991, a run-of-the-mill scrolling space shooter known as Zero Wing was adapted for the Sega Mega Drive1. Though the game's plot was unremarkable, the subtitles which appeared during the introductory animation at the start of the game were quite the opposite. Considered to be possibly the worst ever translation between Japanese and English to find its way into the world of video gaming, the words 'all your base are belong to us' went on to be the basis of an online phenomenon and are now commonly used on the Internet in various humorous ways, as well as being used to denote a victory in the world of online gaming.
Zero Wing began as a Japanese arcade game in 1989, but was later converted into a video game for use on a Japanese console known as the PC Engine while also being translated for a European release on the Sega Mega Drive in 1991. A handful of animations were added to the game to improve its plot, with the European version requiring translation of the accompanying subtitles. The need to make the deadline of the game's release date meant that the introductory animation contained a number of unusual uses of English, as did a similar cut-scene shown at the game's finale. The opening cut-scene went a little like this:
The year is 2101, and a war has started. The scene is the interior of the command deck of some form of battle cruiser, in which a captain is stood watching an explosion rip around the ship. The captain enquires 'What happen?', to which the ship's mechanic replies 'Someone set up us the bomb.' Next, the ship's operator states 'We get signal' and 'Main screen turn on', revealing to the captain that the perpetrator is none other than the dastardly, borg-like CATS! CATS2 asks 'How are you gentlemen!!' and then tells the captain of his impending downfall - 'All your base are belong to us. You are on the way to destruction.' Finding it hard to take this news, the captain replies 'What you say!!', but CATS simply replies 'You have no chance to survive make your time', following which he laughs rather maniacally and then disappears. Resolving to win despite the odds, the captain orders the operator to 'Take off every Zig3'. The captain instructs the Zig pilots, 'You know what you doing', then repeats to them to 'Move Zig' and states that he fights 'For great justice'.
The player then goes on to play as the pilot of ZIG-01, fighting against various enemies in an attempt to rid the universe of 'CATS'.
As is usual for old console games, Zero Wing went on to enjoy relative obscurity for the next seven years. However, in late 1998 an animated GIF4 depicting the opening cut-scene of the game was posted on a video game quotes website. The GIF slowly started to spread across the Internet, but it wasn't until 2000 that it properly gained popularity. By the end of the year, altered images of various road signs, cereal packets and other photographs containing the words 'All Your Base Are Belong To Us' had started to appear, and by 2001 the phenomenon was in full swing. Parodies of the phrase also became popular, newspapers across the world latched on to the story, and a number of online stores started to cash in on the craze. Other lines from the Zero Wing such as 'Someone set up us the bomb' also appeared in a range of scenarios, and the phenomenon as a whole became known as AYB or AYBAB2U.
One of the more distinctive attributes of the craze was that it was effectively over before it began. As more and more TV channels, newspapers, websites and 'celebrities' began to jump on the bandwagon, it became important for those who wanted to remain credible to reject AYB as old news. Eventually, the fad became commonplace, though parodies such as 'All Your Iraq Are Belong to U.S.' still appear every now and then. The original phrase has since become synonymous with an expression of victory and has found use in online multiplayer games, in which the capturing of the opposing team's base or flag is often the aim. The phrase has also managed to appear in more romantic settings: Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue, All My Base Are Belong To You. Finally, it should be pointed out that the final cut-scene of Zero Wing, which leaves room for a sequel, never really saw the light of day despite being reasonably hilarious:
All bases of CATS were destroyed.
It seems to be peaceful.
But it is incorrect. CATS is still alive.
ZIG-01 must fight against CATS again.
And down with them completely !
1 Released as the Sega Genesis in the USA.
2 It is not clear in the intro whether this 'CATS' is a person or an organisation, but it would seem that the latter was originally intended.
3 'Zigs' are a form of small, green, pod-like spaceships, and have nothing to do with stripping.
4 A type of compressed image file consisting of two or more images which appear one after another in a sort of slideshow.