Game designers are like any other artists in that they draw inspiration from the world around them. Plenty of very famous video game characters owe their existence to celebrities. Master Chief is meant to embody the Man With No Name played by Clint Eastwood, Gordon Freeman was inspired by a slightly less badass scientist named Freeman Dyson, and we did a whole article about characters especially named after Guns n' Roses guitarist Slash.
But some of the most iconic characters weren't Xeroxed from Hollywood templates and rock and roll archetypes. No, they were just regular people that the designer or artist happened to know, and somehow or another they ended up linked to characters that have sold millions of titles.
So if you want to live large in the hivemind of gamedom you have six options. One, become a world famous personality that designers will seek to shamelessly copy rather than originate. Or you could be like...
5. The Fanboy that Became a Godlike Supervillain
It's kind of hard to explain to younger gamers what life was like back when arcade cabinets were the "real" game and consoles didn't have so much power that the United States Army bought them to back up their supercomputers. If you wanted to get in on the action surrounding the fighter craze of the '90s, you went to the arcade or to the grocery store to lose hundreds of quarters. Home versions were for peasants.
One of the most enthusiastic fighters was a guy named Seth Killian, who played Street Fighter II obsessively and began organizing tournaments locally. Thinking that this kind of community interaction might interest Capcom, he got in touch with them to see if they might like to endorse the tournaments. They did not, because Capcom was apparently run by people that thought free labor and product loyalty gave you cooties.
Eventually, though, Capcom changed its mind and made Killian part of its marketing department, and an across-the-board consultant on fighting games. Oh, and they named the main boss of Street Fighter IV after him. Seth, the character, is a genetically grown perfect fighter capable of mastering the moves of all the warriors... something you would expect of professional tournament winner like Killian.
4. The Lawyer that Became a Beloved Hero
If you had to pick one person to hold responsible for Nintendo's success, it would be Shigeru Miyamoto, the man behind Mario, Link, F-Zero, Kid Icarus... basically the best of Nintendo's own games. However, if not for another man all his work would have been for nothing.
See, Miyamoto wanted to make a Popeye game, but was unable to secure the license. Instead he went with Donkey Kong, based obviously on the fictional giant ape King Kong, but Universal Studios sued Nintendo over the game, which was a big deal for the still young and not very powerful company.
In steps lawyer John Kirby, who went on to prove that Universal had already argued against RKO Pictures that King Kong was in the public domain to get out of an earlier lawsuit, making Universal's lawsuit both null and hamfistedly ridiculous. Donkey Kong went on to be one of the most popular games ever, birthed the character of Mario, and Nintendo has been awesome ever since.
In addition to giving Kirby a boat as thanks, along with the exclusive rights to name any boat Donkey Kong, it's long been rumored that the small pink hero Kirby was named in his honor.
3. The Designer's Wife that Became a Major Antagonist
Speaking of Nintendo games, one of the most memorable enemies since Super Mario Bros. 3 has been the Boos. Boos are ghosts. Whenever you look at them they cover their eyes and freeze, too afraid to approach you. However, when you turn your back they rush at you with their tongues out to attack. Basically, they're Weeping Angels except cute and not pants-crappingly terrifying.
The Boos are the creation of Takashi Tezuka. Tezuka was a married man whose wife was incredibly shy and quiet... normally. Tezuka, as a major force in one of the top name game companies in the world, is obviously a very busy man, and it wasn't uncommon for him to stay out at work trying to finish various projects.
Apparently one night was one night to many and he arrived home to find his usually mild-mannered spouse in an explosive rage. Since that incident, the creation she inspired has appeared in close to a hundred titles, and even serves as the main boss of the Luigi's Mansion games.
2. The Bloodhound that Became a Badass Zombie Killer
Resident Evil 2 wanted a male hero that was a little less of a burly meathead, and more like a pretty boy Final Fantasy character. What they ended up with was Leon S. Kennedy, rookie cop and eventually BAMF zombie killer. Surely, somebody who gets to invade infected villages with suitcases full of weaponry had to be derived from someone stellar like Leon from the Professional.
Well, it's like this. You know how we all have that co-worker that is just a little too fond of their dog or cat? Not like super cray cray, but definitely has more pictures of them on their cubicle wall than is socially acceptable? Capcom's version of that guy was in charge of drawing Leon.
Isao Ohishi was working on early character sketches. He was doing pretty good by basing the look of Annette Birkin on Jodie Foster, but when it came time to birth our hero, apparently Ohishi looked at a picture of his beloved bloodhound and was inspired. So remember when you're taking on the undead hordes in Resident Evil 6 next week, you're controlling a Japanese guy's snuzzy wuzzlekins.
1. The Landlord that Became the Greatest Game Icon Ever
Mario is the biggest name in gaming. Period. No one else even comes close. He has single-handedly moved over 200 million games in the course of three decades. Have you ever wondered, though, why the hell some Japanese guy would choose an Italian plumber from Brooklyn as his star?
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For starters, Mario didn't start out as Mario. He started out as Popeye, then he became Mr. Video, then Jumpman. Slowly though, Mario evolved over the course of his game appearances. His blue collar roots came about because he started life fighting Donkey Kong on a construction site. His mustache, cap, and overalls were really clever animation tricks designed to save time animating hair or mouths. But what about the name?
Legend has it that in 1981 Nintendo of America was renting warehouse space in preparation of the Donkey Kong launch from realtor Mario Segale, when they fell behind on their rent. Angry, Segale burst into Nintendo of America President Minoru Arakawa's office demanding his dough. Arakawa managed to placate Segale with promises, and allegedly named the hero of their game after him in thanks for his patience.
The story has appeared in numerous books and articles, though Nintendo has never formerly confirmed it. Segale himself is fairly close-mouthed on the subject as well, and is a famously private man. He did a rare interview on the subject for the Seattle Times around the release of the live action movie, stating, "You might say I'm still waiting for my royalty checks." So it's clear that he does consider himself at least somewhat responsible.
Or maybe he's just pissed because it turned out Mario was the bad guy in Donkey Kong.