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How 13 Classic Video Games Got Their Names

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1. Pac-Man

It’s not easy to create a game based solely on the concept of eating. But Namco employee T?ru Iwatani did just that in 1980 by taking the idea of a pizza with a slice missing, and then having it eat a bunch of dots while being chased by ghosts in a maze. (Iwatani has also said that the shape is a rounded version of the square Japanese character for “mouth.") The name of the game, Pakkuman, was inspired by the Japanese onomatopoeia, “paku-paku," which describes the sound of eating, similar to the English word “chomp." As the game was brought to market, the title morphed into Puck Man.

But when Puck Man made his way to North America there was concern that the arcade cabinets would be vandalized by making the P into an F to spell something entirely different. A compromise was reached and the game became known as Pac-Man instead. Thanks to the American marketing machine, the name Pac-Man was eventually adopted for the game all over the world.

2. Metroid

The name of Nintendo's classic game is actually a combination of two words: metro, as in another word for subway, which is an allusion to the game's underground setting; and android, referring to the game's protagonist, Samus Aran, who appears to be a robot through most of the game. (Really old spoiler alert: Samus is a woman.)

3. Tetris

When Russian game designer Alexey Pajitnov named his famously addictive video game, he decided to combine two words: tetromino and tennis. A tetromino is a geometric shape comprising four squares. Tennis was just Pajitnov's favorite sport.

4. Grand Theft Auto

According to one of the original game's developers, Gary Penn, GTA was initially called Race 'n' Chase. And instead of only playing a car-stealing gangster, the game gave you the option of being a gangster-chasing police officer, too.

5. Wolfenstein 3-D

id Software's Wolfenstein 3-D essentially created a whole new genre – the first-person shooter – but its name is hardly original. The title roughly translates to “wolfstone” and was first used in 1981, when Muse Software released Castle Wolfenstein for the Apple IIe. The object of the game was to find secret Nazi plans and get out of the titular castle alive. But Castle Wolfensteinwasn't a simple run-and-gun action game like its namesake; while the player did occasionally have to kill enemy soldiers, the preferred method of play was to sneak around and evade capture. This makes it one of the first games in the “stealth” genre that has since spawned titles like Metal Gear and Splinter Cell.

Because 1992's Wolfenstein 3-D was heavily influenced by the original game, id Software hoped to use the name if it wouldn’t be too expensive to license. However, Muse Software had gone out of business in 1987, so the name was no longer protected by copyright and was free to use.

6. Doom

After the success of Wolfenstein 3-D, id Software programmer/designer John Carmack was already hard at work on a follow-up. The concept for the new game was said to be Aliens meets Evil Dead II, so the game's working title, It's Green and Pissed, seems pretty self-explanatory. But Carmack admits that a game with that name might have been a hard sell. Instead, inspiration struck while he was watching the Tom Cruise/Paul Newman billiards film, The Color of Money.

http://youtu.be/xa2OAhf0R_g

There's a scene where Cruise's character, Vincent, is holding his custom pool cue case, waiting for the next game on a table. The winner of the current game walks over to him and asks, “Whatchu’ got in there?” Vincent rubs the case and asks, “In here?” He smiles a cocky grin and replies, “Doom.” Vincent then goes on to destroy his opponent, which is what Carmack thought he and his id buddies would do to the industry once their new game hit the market. He was right.

7. Guerrilla War

In 1987, SNK released the top-down view “run and gun” arcade game, Guerrilla War. The game featured two unnamed beret-wearing rebels firing machine guns, tossing grenades, and comandeering tanks as they invade a tropical island in a righteous quest to overthrow an evil king.

That's the American version of the game anyway.

If you lived in other parts of the world, you played Guevara – essentially the same game, except it stars heroes of the Cuban Revolution: Che Guevara as Player 1, and Fidel Castro as Player 2. The game was (loosely) based on real events from the Cuban uprising, and the “evil king” you fight in the game was Fulgencio Batista, the Cuban dictator.

Since America was still fighting the Cold War, all mentions of the historic events and figures were removed from the U.S. game, but the rather obvious 8-bit portraits of Che and Castro remain.

8. The Legend of Zelda

Zelda is the princess that the hero, Link, is trying to save. According to the game's creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, the name was inspired by Zelda Fitzgerald, the wife of novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, simply because he liked the sound of it.

As for Link, he was originally going to be named Chris or Christo after Shigeru's godfather, but the name Link was ultimately chosen because he is meant to be a “link” between the player and the fantasy world of the game. Of course if you don't like the name Link you can always give him whatever name you want at the start of a new quest. If you decide to call him Zelda, you'll unlock an Easter Egg that lets you play a harder version of the game.

9. Final Fantasy

The year was 1987. Four years earlier, Hironobu Sakaguchi had left school mid-semester so that he could take a job as a game developer at a company called Square. Now, though, he was starting to wonder if this video game thing was really for him. He decided to give it one last shot with his latest title – an expansive role-playing game - but if it wasn't a hit, he was going back to college to finish his electrical engineering degree. As a sort of inside joke, he decided to call the game Final Fantasy, because he figured it would most likely be his last. It wasn’t. The game sold 400,000 copies for the Nintendo Entertainment System, has gone on to sell millions of copies across nearly every gaming platform in existence, spawned 13 sequels, and more spin-off titles than you can count.

10. Yars' Revenge

One of the best-selling games ever for the Atari 2600, Yars' Revenge, is named after Atari's then-CEO, Ray Kassar. The insect-like alien species, the Yar, is Ray spelled backwards. The planet they come from, Razak, is a phonetic spelling of his last name backwards.

11. Q*bert

When game developer Gottlieb’s Warren Davis and Jeff Lee started to create what would become Q*bert, they initially called their project Cubes after the M.C. Escher-inspired boxes that the main character hops around on. After they added the ability to shoot balls of slime from the character’s snorkel-like nose in order to defend himself, they changed the name to Snots and Boogers. But when it was decided that slime-ball-shooting made the game too complicated, the name didn’t really make sense anymore, so the marketing team started brainstorming.

One idea was to name the game @!#?@!, the curse-word grawlixes that appear whenever the player gets caught by a bad guy. They also thought about naming it after the main character who, until then, didn’t have a name. Someone came up with Hubert, which was later combined with Cubes to make Cubert. But as the art designer made the logo, he changed it to Q-bert, only to later have the dash become an asterisk, resulting in the game’s final name.

12. Halo

The road to the Xbox’s “killer app” was hard for game developer Bungie Studios. After starting life as a real-time strategy game called Solipsis, named after the planet where the game took place, it was eventually retooled as a first-person shooter. It was also christened with many different monikers through these development stages, including Star Maker, Star Shield, Hard Vacuum, The Crystal Palace, and, oddly enough, The Santa Machine and Monkey Nuts. (Monkey Nuts was replaced with Blam! after the company’s co-founder decided he couldn’t tell his mother he was working on a game with a title like that.)

Eventually the simple, spherical planet of Solipsis became a “Halo,” a man-made ring inspired by the Culture novels of sci-fi author Iain M. Banks. Although the company was concerned that the angelic name might be too soft for hardcore gamers as a title, Halo stuck and actually fit in well with the plot focusing on an invasion of alien religious zealots.

13. Donkey Kong

Although “kong” was a common Japanese nickname for “ape," no doubt inspired by the 1933 film, King Kong, how exactly the first half of the name Donkey Kong came to be is something of a mystery. One version of the story says the title was supposed to be Monkey Kong, but there was a miscommunication that led to a misspelling. Another story is that game designer Shigeru Miyamoto was looking up words in a Japanese-English dictionary and found the word “donkey” as a synonym for both “stupid” and “stubborn”. Whatever the case may be, it didn’t matter to Universal Pictures how the first half of the title came to be; they were more interested in the second half.

Universal sued Nintendo in 1982, because they felt Donkey Kong was too similar to King Kong – in name and in concept. Nintendo hired attorney John Kirby, who was able to show that there were significant differences between the two, but the nail in the Universal coffin came from a 1975 case in which Universal sued RKO Pictures, the producers of the 1933 film, in order to film a remake. Universal claimed they were filming an adaptation of the original film’s novelization, which had fallen into the public domain. In that case, it was determined that the 1933 film’s characters were now in the public domain, though not the film itself. Shortly after, Universal bought some of the rights to the characters, but not all. So when they sued Nintendo, they did so knowing that the characters were partially in the public domain, because they had used that exact argument a few years earlier.

Nintendo won the suit and Universal wound up paying $1.8 million for legal fees and damages. To show their appreciation, Nintendo bought John Kirby a sailboat christened Donkey Kong, and it’s rumored that the bubbly character Kirby from the 1992 game Kirby’s Dream Land is named after him.

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Something Something Soup Something
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This Game About Soup Highlights How Tricky Language Is
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Something Something Soup Something

Soup, defined by Merriam-Webster as "a liquid food especially with a meat, fish, or vegetable stock as a base and often containing pieces of solid food," is the ultimate simple comfort food. But if you look closer at the definition, you'll notice it's surprisingly vague. Is ramen soup? What about gumbo? Is a soy vanilla latte actually a type of three-bean soup? The subjectivity of language makes this simple food category a lot more complicated than it seems.

That’s the inspiration behind Something Something Soup Something, a new video game that has players label dishes as either soup or not soup. According to Waypoint, Italian philosopher, architect, and game designer Stefano Gualeni created the game after traveling the world asking people what constitutes soup. After interviewing candidates of 23 different nationalities, he concluded that the definition of soup "depends on the region, historical period, and the person with whom you're speaking."

Gualeni took this real-life confusion and applied it to a sci-fi setting. In Something Something Soup Something, you play as a low-wage extra-terrestrial worker in the year 2078 preparing meals for human clientele. Your job is to determine which dishes pass as "soup" and can be served to the hungry guests while avoiding any items that may end up poisoning them. Options might include "rocks with celery and batteries in a cup served with chopsticks" or a "foamy liquid with a candy cane and a cooked egg served in a bowl with a fork."

The five-minute game is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but Gualeni also hopes to get people thinking about real philosophical questions. According to its description page, the game is meant to reveal "that even a familiar, ordinary concept like 'soup' is vague, shifting, and impossible to define exhaustively."

You can try out Something Something Soup Something for free on your browser.

[h/t Waypoint]

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Pop Culture
15 Forgotten Video Game Mascots From the 1990s

With the growing popularity of Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog on home video game consoles in the 1990s, it seemed that almost every video game company was set on creating a lovable mascot to give their brand a unique identity. Sometimes these mascots were memorable and iconic, like Capcom’s Mega Man or Namco’s Pac-Man, but other times they failed to leave any lasting impression. Here are 15 forgotten video game mascots from the '90s.

1. ROCKY RODENT

In 1993, Japanese video game developers Irem Software Engineering created Rocky Rodent, an anthropomorphized rodent with a cool attitude and hair to match. This would-be mascot was tasked with rescuing the daughter of a restaurant owner named Pie Face Balboa from the mob. As a reward, Rocky Rodent would get an all-you-can-eat buffet. His bizarre weapon of choice was a can of hairspray, which he used to both defeat bad guys and style his hair.

2. AWESOME POSSUM

Tengen created a rival for Sonic when it released Awesome Possum... Kicks Dr. Machino's Butt for the Sega Genesis in 1993. The game featured the cool and badass Awesome Possum, who would collect empty bottles and cans instead of coins or gold rings, in an effort to clean up the forest. It was sold as an educational game for children with an environmental activist theme, but it never caught on with gamers, despite positive reviews. Maybe kids back in the '90s didn’t want to learn about recycling and Earth science while they were playing video games.

3. CROC

Originally developed for the SNES, Croc: Legend of the Gobbos was created as a 3D platformer starring Yoshi from Super Mario World. However, when Nintendo rejected the game, the developers at Argonaut Games changed Yoshi from a lovable dinosaur into a lovable crocodile named Croc, who tried to rescue furry creatures from the evil Baron Dante. Argonaut then pitched the mascot to Sony, who loved the gameplay and released it for the original PlayStation in 1997.

4. RISTAR

Released in 1995, Ristar was developed late in the Genesis's life cycle by Sonic Team, the same production company that created Sonic the Hedgehog. The mascot was a cute star who had the ability to stretch his arms in any direction to climb, swing, and grab enemies, as he explored a number of planets.

Since the character and game came out just before Sega released the 32-bit Saturn, the mascot never grew in popularity. Ristar managed to gather a cult following for its mechanics and strong gameplay, and the character has since made cameos in other Sega games, such as Shenmue, Segagaga, and Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing.

5. GEX

In 1994, the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer console was released with the promise of high-end 32-bit gaming. To compete with established consoles like the Nintendo 64 and Sega Saturn, 3DO needed a cool mascot like Mario and Sonic to bring more attention to their video game system. Enter: Gex.

Released in 1995, Gex featured a wisecracking gecko (four years before the first appearance of the now iconic Geico Gecko) with a cool attitude and a penchant for watching TV. The game followed Gex as he tried to find remote controls hidden in TV show-themed levels to get home, but the evil Emperor Rez stood in his way.

While Gex received critical and fan acclaim, it wasn’t strong enough to bring the 3DO into the mainstream against tough competition. The 3DO was eventually discontinued two years after it was released, and Gex was then ported to the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn.

6. CONKER THE SQUIRREL

While he first appeared in Rareware’s Diddy Kong Racing (along with Banjo-Kazooie) for N64 in 1997, Conker the Squirrel received his own spinoff game for the Game Boy Color in 1999. Conker's Pocket Tales was a lighthearted game that followed the adventures of Conker, a cute squirrel who has to rescue his girlfriend Berri from the Evil Acorn. In 2001, Rare released Conker's Bad Fur Day, where the character went from a cute and cuddly mascot into a hard-drinking and foul-mouthed squirrel who would constantly break the fourth wall during gameplay. The game was remade in 2005 for the Xbox, under the name Conker: Live & Reloaded and later included in the Rare Replay compilation game for Xbox One in 2015.

7. BONK

While the NES and the Sega Genesis were the two systems at the center of the console wars of the late '80s and early '90s, NEC’s TurboGrafx-16 was a modest console from Japan, where it was known as the PC Engine before it was rebranded in America. The console’s mascot was Bonk, a prehistoric caveman kid whose main attack was a fierce headbutt. The mascot and game series—the first game was Bonk's Adventure released in 1990—were quite popular in Japan and Europe, but didn’t gain the same success in the U.S. due to the popularity of Mario and Sonic.

8. POCKY AND ROCKY

Released as a sequel to the 1986 Japanese arcade game KiKi KaiKai (it was called Knight Boy in limited release in the U.S.), Pocky & Rocky was developed by Natsume for the SNES in 1992. The sequel followed a young Shinto shrine princess named Pocky and her sidekick, Rocky the Tanuki, as they try to save small and cute creatures called Nopino Goblins in a top-down co-op adventure game. Pocky & Rocky received good reviews from critics and even got a sequel for the SNES in 1994, but the characters were never elevated to mascot status.

9. BATTLETOADS

Rare’s Tim and Chris Stamper created Battletoads, a co-op beat-'em-up game for the NES that featured three musclebound toads named Rash, Zitz, and Pimple as a rival to the widely popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video games of the early '90s. Battletoads was mostly known for its fun stage design and heart-stopping speed and difficulty level. The characters even crossed over with brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee from Double Dragon in an ultimate beat-'em-up action game.

While the games spawned a short-lived cartoon series and comic strip, Battletoads could never escape comparisons to TMNT. The warrior toads have not been featured in their own video game since 1994.

10. BUBSY

In 1993, a cocky bobcat with a cool attitude named Bubsy was positioned to usurp the video game mascot throne from Mario and Sonic. However, Bubsy's games didn't live up to the hype, despite being available for the Sega Genesis, SNES, PlayStation, and Atari Jaguar, where he eventually found a home as one of the console's short-lived mascots.

Bubsy in: Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind followed the titular bobcat trying to get back the world’s largest yarn ball from a fabric-stealing race of aliens known as the “Woolies.” A sequel was released in 1994 with an exclusive follow-up for the Atari Jaguar called Bubsy in: Fractured Furry Tales released later in 1994. The game series lasted for one more game with the release of Bubsy 3D: Furbitten Planet for the Sony PlayStation in 1996.

11. GLOVER

In 1998, Interactive Studios and Hasbro Interactive released a platformer called Glover, which followed the adventures of a sentient four-fingered right-handed glove, for the N64. The object of the game was to get a ball to the end of each level, while trying to solve puzzles, dodge enemies, and find lost crystals to restore the Crystal Kingdom. Glover’s life was tied to the ball, so if it fell off the platform, the glove would also die.

The gameplay was a little ahead of its time and would probably do better with motion-control consoles like the Nintendo Wii or touchscreen Android or iOS devices. As a result, Glover had poor sales and low critic ratings, which led to the cancellation of its sequel.

12. ALEX KIDD

Before the advent of Sonic, Sega had a different mascot named Alex Kidd, a small boy with big ears and monkey-like features who lived on the planet Aries, which was also known as Miracle World. The games started out in the arcades, but made their way to the Sega Master System as a mix of platforming and puzzle solving games.

Alex Kidd was featured in six games throughout the late '80s and early '90s, but never rivaled Nintendo’s Mario in popularity. Sega needed a different mascot to represent the company, so video game designers Yuji Naka, Naoto Ohshima, and Hirokazu Yasuhara created Sonic the Hedgehog in 1991.

Sega stopped making Alex Kidd games and focused all of its resources into making Sonic more popular than Mario. However, Alex Kidd still made cameos in various Sega games, such as Altered Beast, Sega Superstars Tennis, and Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing.

13. TITUS THE FOX

Created by French video game developers Titus Interactive, Titus The Fox: To Marrakech and Back (Lagaf': Les Aventures de Moktar) was released for the Amiga and Atari ST personal computers in 1991. The video game followed the titular fox on a quest to rescue his girlfriend Suzy. He must complete 15 levels through the Sahara Desert while dodging dogs, construction workers, and giant bees to save her. It was also eventually ported to the Game Boy and Game Boy Color later in the '90s.

Unfortunately, Titus The Fox received poor ratings from critics and fans alike, and Titus Interactive ultimately filed for bankruptcy and folded in 2005.

14. BANJO-KAZOOIE

After the pair first appeared in Diddy Kong Racing for the N64 in 1997, Rare released a spin-off game starring a bear named Banjo and a bird named Kazooie in 1998. The puzzle-solving 3D platformer followed Banjo-Kazooie as they tried to stop the evil Gruntilda from stealing Banjo's sister's beauty. The game was praised for its non-linear level design, as well as its immersive graphics and deep sound design. A sequel called Banjo-Tooie was released for the N64 in 2000.

Fun Fact: The video game was originally developed as a role-playing game called Dream: Land of Giants for the SNES before it was re-developed.

15. ZERO THE KAMIKAZE SQUIRREL

In 1994, Iguana Entertainment and Sunsoft released Zero The Kamikaze Squirrel as a spin-off game of Aero the Acro-Bat, where he appeared as a sidekick. Zero’s mission was to stop an evil lumberjack named Jacques Le Sheets after he kidnapped Zero’s girlfriend (or should I say “squirrelfriend”) and started to tear down the forest to make counterfeit money.

While it received favorable reviews, Zero The Kamikaze Squirrel never caught on with gamers due to its sloppy controls, while the perception that the character was a blatant rip-off of Sonic the Hedgehog persisted.

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