Like with any artistic work, the final version of a video game does not resemble the beginning of it. Ideas that seemed great in concept prove unwieldy or not fun in practice. Challenges in design may spark fresh new creativity leading to unforeseen brilliance.
And then there are moments when you discover you've accidentally named a character or a place a bad thing that will get you mocked if you're lucky and piss off a wide swath of consumers if you're not. Usually, the people who make games employ people to tell them when they've done this. Here are five of the bad ideas that were thankfully caught.
Pac-Man: Long before he became the vaguely racist, eyeball-vomiting 3D adventurer that he is these days, Pac and his bow-headed female counterpart were just doing what yellow circles did best in the '80s: wandering electronic mazes eating fruit and killing ghosts in arcades (Ask your parents, kids). But what's up with that name? Batman is Batman because he's a man dressed as a bat, Mega Man is appropriately mega, and Ralph Dibny is highly elongated (Ladies!). What is a Pac?
Originally, Pac-Man was called Puck Man, because his body shape resembled a hockey puck. That changed for an unlikely reason; markers. Creator Toru Iwatani was informed by the people in charge of distributing Namco arcade cabinets that he could expect every single "P" on every single machine to eventually be vandalized into an "F". Thus Puck Man became Pac-Man, and the concept of a hockey puck hero was left free to be used in a loose collection of Canadian stereotypes by Marvel three years later.
Guy (Final Fight): It's common knowledge that most early video games were made in Japan, and that they were translated with varying degrees of accuracy into English. An lo, did stupid memes about bases and who they are belong to did spread far and wide though the world wide web.
In the first Final Fight we had an emo-ninja named Guy, pronounced like "He's an emo-ninja guy" not like the common French name that sounds like a karate gi... which strangely enough emo-ninjas do not wear. Combing through the game's source code you find that at one point the developers believed Guy to be spelled with an "A" instead of a "U". In a tweet, director Akira Nishitani remarked that the developing team weren't "really aware of English spelling and pronunciation conventions."
Or as Chrome translated the tweet for me...
Guy ... GUY of Final Fight. This, I was spell GAY initial development. But, A is so pronounced I Ei common in America anything, w a claim came to change the spelling immediately Gay ...
Story continues on the next page.
Bartz Klauser (Final Fantasy V): For a long time Japan had this really irritating policy about bringing Final Fantasy titles to America that basically boiled down to, "You guys are too stupid to play them." This is why we got a severely dummied down version of IV and Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, a game so linear and boring it technically counts as seventh grade geometry.
So fans had to bring over Final Fantasy V themselves and hand-translate it if they wanted to have a go. When they did, they found that the lead character's name in Japanese (バッツ) Romanized as, he he, "Butz".
Now, in official English-language releases it has since been translated as Bartz, which while still stupid is at least not an ass-joke with energy drink spelling. Still, let that serve as a lesson for future foreign game developers. Don't treat people like idiots or they'll reveal to the world that your game's savior is named after your sit-upon.
Genocide City (Sonic the Hedgehog 2): This is the last failure of Japanese to English understanding, I swear.
When it came time to name this scrapped Zone in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 the Japanese developers were looking for a word that implied danger, and hilariously ended up with "genocide". Thankfully, many uncomfortable questions by curious children as to that word's meaning were avoided when the zone artist in charge, Tom Payne, pointed out how that was maybe a little dark for a Sonic game and changed it to Cyber City instead.
Eventually, the whole idea was scrapped, and leftover concepts made it into the third act of the Metropolis Zone. Hopefully a generation of Japanese video game developers learned a valuable lesson about reminding us about the time their country was BFFs with folks that built actual genocide cities.
Gender Wars (Dead Island): Of course, not every story of a bad original name comes from the understandable differences between different languages. Sometimes it's just good old misogyny, as the makers Dead Island found out to their shame.
Dead Island features a female protagonist named Purna, who can earn the modifier "Gender Warfare" that allows for extra damage against male characters. The thing is, as any programmer will tell you when you first have an idea for something you generally give it a placeholder name while you run with it until someone up the line comes up with a more clever title for the final product.
In this case, the placeholder was "FeministWhorePurna".
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Now, developer Techland caught the wildly inappropriate placeholder pretty quick, and no one would ever have known about it if a non-retail version of the game hadn't been accidentally sent to the Steam store and delved into by one dedicated user who found the original name.
Blazej Krakowiak, Techland International Brand Manager, said in an email to Kotaku, "The line in question was something a programmer considered a private joke. The skill naturally has a completely different in-game name and the script reference was also changed. What is left is a part of an obscure debug function. This is merely an explanation but by no means an excuse. In the end that code was made a part of the product and signed with our company name. We deeply regret that fact and we apologize to all our customers or anyone who might have been offended by that inappropriate expression."
Krakowiak went on to state that the programmer in question had faced professional consequences... which I assume are greater than the consequences of just living life as a meat head.