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“All Your Base Are Belong to Us” is a popular catchphrase that swept across the internet at the dawn of 21st century as early as in 1998. An awkward Engrish translation of “all of your bases are under our control,” the quote originally appeared in the opening dialogue of Zero Wing, a nostalgic 16-bit shoot’em up game released in 1989. Marked by abundance of poor grammar, “All Your Base” phrase and the dialogue scene went viral on popular discussion forums in 2000, spawning thousands of image macros and flash animations featuring the slogan both on the web and in real life.
The phrase and game footage used in the meme come from the 1989 side-scrolling arcade shooter Zero Wing. The quote is from the introduction sequence of the game in which the player’s enemy, the leader of CATS, appears. The following conversation happens:
Captain: What happen ?
Mechanic: Somebody set up us the bomb.
Operator: We get signal.
Captain: What !
Operator: Main screen turn on.
Captain: It’s you !!
CATS: How are you gentlemen !!
CATS: All your base are belong to us.
CATS: You are on the way to destruction.
Captain: What you say !!
CATS: You have no chance to survive make your time.
CATS: Ha ha ha ha …
Operator: Captain !!
Captain: Take off every ‘ZIG’!!
Captain: You know what you doing.
Captain: Move ‘ZIG’.
Captain: For great justice.
The poor grammar present is an example of Engrish; phrases originally written in an Asian language but translated poorly into its closest English approximation.
Its first appearance on the internet is hard to pinpoint due to sites closing down. It was popularized in 1998/1999 on the Rage Games forum, which has now become Classic Gaming powered by IGN. It also was popular on Zany Video Game Quotes, archived here with a Zero Wing image on their main page.
In June 2000, Overclock.org posted their Zero Wing Dub Project, featuring a dubbed version of the introduction with Wayne Newton’s voice. This was most likely the first instance of a response video.
In late 2000, there was a large thread on the TribalWar forums. At this time, the trend also hit SomethingAwful. According to Frogstar.com, the first photoshop thread began in November 2000. It had over 2000 images. It has since been lost due to hacking. This thread also led to the song Invasion of the Gabber Robots, by The Laziest Men On Mars.
After the Bad_CRC music video was released, the meme was propelled into the mainstream, and shortly after Wired wrote an article on February 23, 2001. That month, mention of “All Your Base” also appeared on the San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian, Memepool and Metafilter. On March 7, 2001, USA Today picked up on it as well.
Salon.com reported in February 2001 the the US Military had borrowed the phrase and incorporated it into their marches.
“All Your Base” even appeared on a Chicago Fox news station, uploaded to YouTube in 2006, where Greg Lindsay from Inside.com compared repeating the phrase to people saying “WAZZZUP” from Budwiser commercials.
The rise of All Your Base phenomenon also coincided with the advents in image-editing software like Photoshop, practically establishing photoshopped image as the classic medium of internet memes. Most of the early derivatives took the form of image macros and Flash animations, although it has spread to Youtube videos as well.
- 1989: English version of Zero Wing is released in Europe, featuring a variety of Japanese translation errors.
- 1996: Steve Caires, an American expat living in Tokyo, begins posting pictures of poorly translated commercial signs and designs on his website, which evolved into a unique genre of internet humor known as Engrish.
- Early 1998: An animated GIF version of Zero Wing’s opening cutscene is posted on Rage Games’ quote page (now defunct), then later reposted to Zany Video Game Quotes.
- June 5, 2000: OverClocked releases the ‘Zero Wing Dub Project’, adding home-rolled voiceovers and sound effects to the dialogue, suggesting what The Captain, CATS, and The Operator game characters might sound like.
- September 2000: All Your Base infiltrates the highly active Something Awful forums, a community well known for the users with pro-photoshop skills. The discussion thread explodes, growing to over 30 pages, spawning more than 2000 images.
- November 14, 2000: SA regular JRR releases “Invasion of the Gabber Robots”, a remix featuring some of the original soundtrack with Dub project voiceover. The song would eventually become the official unofficial All Your Base Belong To Us anthem.
- Spring 2001: The viral catchphrase hits the mainstream with coverage on CNET, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Register, and the Daily Mirror, one of the first instances of a web meme with major mainstream recognition.
- February 27, 2001: “All Your Base Are Belong to Us” makes its debut at #46 on the Lycos 50.
- March 2, 2001: The Dutch railways website is hacked to display the phrase, “ALL YOUR TRAINS ARE BELONG TO US.”
- 2003: The meme quickly crosses into the real world. Universities are bombed with leaflets declaring that all their bases now belong.
- April 1, 2003: In Sturgis, Michigan, a group of teenagers placed All Your Base signs all over town, interpreted by unwitting officials as a “borderline terrorist threat”.
- 2004: North Carolina State University students hack the phrase onto the news ticker of a live television news broadcast, FTW.
Half-Life 1/Scientist Slaughterhouse remix April 2006, 230,000+ views
All Your Snakes Are Belong To Us (Snakes on a Plane mashup), June 2006, 1,900,000+ views
All Your Base music video July 2006, 220,000+ views
All Your Base Are Belong To ORLY? (Owl remix) August 2006, 84,000+ views
All Your Pokemon Belong To Us remix February 2007, 82,000+ views
Toontown Mashup June 2007, 250,000+ views
All Your Chocolate Rain Are Belong To Us (Tay Zonday mashup), August 2007, 320,000+ views
Team Fortress 2 remix June 2008, 42,000+ views
For Great Justice!
In addition to the macros and videos, the meme also spawned a catchphrase of its own: For Great Justice. It is mainly used as a motto to encourage someone in carrying an action right to the end.
Oh Internet describes it as:
[…]everyday tasks are made more humorous by adding the suffix “…for great justice” to a directive, invitation, or announcement. It is generally assumed that a person using this phrase (or any other meme) has nothing of real value to express.