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How 13 Classic Video Games Got Their Names

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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Pop Culture
The Strange Hidden Link Between Silent Hill and Kindergarten Cop
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

by Ryan Lambie

At first glance, Kindergarten Cop and Silent Hill don't seem to have much in common—aside from both being products of the 1990s. At the beginning of the decade came Kindergarten Cop, the hit comedy directed by Ivan Reitman and starring larger-than-life action star Arnold Schwarzenegger. At the decade’s end came Silent Hill, Konami’s best-selling survival horror game that sent shivers down PlayStation owners’ spines.

As pop culture artifacts go, they’re as different as oil and water. Yet eagle-eyed players may have noticed a strange hidden link between the video game and the goofy family comedy.

In Silent Hill, you control Harry Mason, a father hunting for his daughter Cheryl in the eerily deserted town of the title. Needless to say, the things Mason uncovers are strange and very, very gruesome. Early on in the game, Harry stumbles on a school—Midwich Elementary School, to be precise—which might spark a hint of déjà vu as soon as you approach its stone steps. The building’s double doors and distinctive archway appear to have been taken directly from Kindergarten Cop’s Astoria Elementary School.

Could it be a coincidence?

Well, further clues can be found as you venture inside. As well as encountering creepy gray children and other horrors, you’ll notice that its walls are decorated with numerous posters. Some of those posters—including a particularly distinctive one with a dog on it—also decorated the halls of the school in Kindergarten Cop.

Do a bit more hunting, and you’ll eventually find a medicine cabinet clearly modeled on one glimpsed in the movie. Most creepily of all, you’ll even encounter a yellow school bus that looks remarkably similar to the one in the film (though this one has clearly seen better days).

Silent Hill's references to the movie are subtle—certainly subtle enough for them to pass the majority of players by—but far too numerous to be a coincidence. When word of the link between game and film began to emerge in 2012, some even joked that Konami’s Silent Hill was a sequel to Kindergarten Cop. So what’s really going on?

When Silent Hill was in early development back in 1996, director Keiichiro Toyama set out to make a game that was infused with influences from some of his favorite American films and TV shows. “What I am a fan of is occult stuff and UFO stories and so on; that and I had watched a lot of David Lynch films," he told Polygon in 2013. "So it was really a matter of me taking what was on my shelves and taking the more horror-oriented aspects of what I found.”

A scene from 'Silent Hill'
Divine Tokyoska, Flickr

In an interview with IGN much further back, in 2001, a member of Silent Hill’s staff also stated, “We draw our influences from all over—fiction, movies, manga, new and old.”

So while Kindergarten Cop is perhaps the most outlandish movie reference in Silent Hill, it’s by no means the only one. Cafe5to2, another prominent location in the game, is taken straight from Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers.

Elsewhere, you might spot a newspaper headline which references The Silence Of The Lambs (“Bill Skins Fifth”). Look carefully, and you'll also find nods to such films as The Shining, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, and 12 Monkeys.

Similarly, the town’s streets are all named after respected sci-fi and horror novelists, with Robert Bloch, Dean Koontz, Ray Bradbury, and Richard Matheson among the most obvious. Oh, and Midwich, the name of the school? That’s taken from the classic 1957 novel The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham, twice adapted for the screen as The Village Of The Damned in 1960 and 1995.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in 'Kindergarten Cop'
Universal Pictures

The reference to Kindergarten Cop could, therefore, have been a sly joke on the part of Silent Hill’s creators—because what could be stranger than modeling something in a horror game on a family-friendly comedy? But there could be an even more innocent explanation: that Kindergarten Cop spends so long inside an ordinary American school simply gave Toyama and his team plenty of material to reference when building their game.

Whatever the reasons, the Kindergarten Cop reference ranks highly among the most strange and unexpected film connections in the history of the video game medium. Incidentally, the original movie's exteriors used a real school, John Jacob Astor Elementary in Astoria, Oregon. According to a 1991 article in People Magazine, the school's 400 fourth grade students were paid $35 per day to appear in Kindergarten Cop as extras.

It’s worth pointing out that the school is far less scary a place than the video game location it unwittingly inspired, and to the best of our knowledge, doesn't have an undercover cop named John Kimble serving as a teacher there, either.

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entertainment
8 Surprising Facts About Bubble Bobble
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iStock

by Ryan Lambie

Originally released in 1986, Bubble Bobble is a colorful platform video game with a fiendishly addictive two player co-op mode, which quickly became an arcade hit for Taito. Widely ported to home computers and consoles, Bubble Bobble marked the start of a long-running series of sequels and spin-offs that is still remembered fondly today. Here are a few things you might not know about the '80s classic that started it all.

1. IT HAS ITS ROOTS IN AN EARLY 1980s TITLE.

Before Bubble Bobble, there was Chack’n Pop, a far more obscure platform game released by Taito in 1983. Some of Bubble Bobble’s ideas appear here in nascent form: a single-screen platform game where the player controls a weird chicken-like creature (the Chack’n of the title). The aim is to retrieve a heart from one corner of the maze-like screen before rushing back to the top.

Some of the mechanics are a bit strange: Chack’n’s primary attack is a grenade-like weapon, which is quite difficult to control. Nevertheless, many of the enemies and collectible items are identical to those in Taito’s later classic—the purple enemies called Monstas make their first appearance here, while two levels in Bubble Bobble directly reference Chack'n Pop.

2. IT WAS AIMED AT COUPLES.

Bubble Bobble was designed by Fukio Mitsuji, who joined Taito in his mid-20s and initially worked on such games as Super Dead Heat, Land Sea Air Squad, and the (very good) vertical shooter Halley’s Comet. For his next game, however, Mitsuji wanted to create something very different from the experiences commonly found in arcades at the time. Noticing that arcades in Japan were commonly frequented by men, he wanted to create a game that couples could enjoy together.

"Back then, women were rarely seen in Japanese arcades," Mitsuji later said in a video interview for the video game compilation, Taito Legends. "So I thought bringing more couples would help solve this issue. That's why I designed cute characters and included cooperative play in Bubble Bobble."

3. THE GAME WAS AN EARLY CO-OP.

Mitsuji’s concept was unusual for its time. If two-player games existed at all in '80s arcades, they were usually competitive and violent. The four-player Gauntlet, released in 1985, warned that “shots do not hurt other players—yet ...”, while 1987’s seminal beat-'em-up Double Dragon ended with its players fighting to the death over the woman they had just rescued.

Bubble Bobble, on the other hand, had a far lighter atmosphere. While players could compete over the items that appeared on the screen, the game encouraged cooperation rather than aggression. Indeed, the only way to get to Bubble Bobble’s true ending was for two players to work together.

4. IT CONTAINS HIDDEN EXTRAS.

As well as the game’s central concept—which involves spitting bubbles at enemies to capture them before bursting the bubbles to finish them off—Mitsuji packed in all kinds of bonuses and hidden extras among Bubble Bobble’s 100 levels. The hardest to find are the three hidden rooms, which can only be unlocked by reaching levels 20, 30, and 40 without losing a life, and then entering a special door.

Full of jewels to collect, these hidden rooms also contained coded messages, which, when deciphered, gave clues as to how to complete the game. “If you want to get back your love of truth you must help each other until the last,” for example, hinted that you could only complete Bubble Bobble with two players.

5. NUMBERS WERE IMPORTANT.

There are hidden depths to Bubble Bobble that will only become obvious after long hours of play, such as the way items are linked to certain digits in your score. If the two penultimate numbers of a player’s score are identical—so, 5880, for example—then higher-scoring items will appear once the level’s completed. Similarly, rounds ending with a 0 or a 5 will also generate rarer bonuses.

6. THERE WERE MULTIPLE ENDINGS.

Bubble Bobble may look cute, with its cartoon dinosaurs and bouncy theme tune, but it’s also a tough game to crack. Later levels can only be completed by mastering tricky techniques, like riding on bubbles to get out of otherwise inescapable pits. The cruelest twist comes at the end, where a single player will be told, after 100 levels of action, to “come here with your friend.”

Even in two-player mode, the game has to be completed twice in order to see the true ending; get through the first 100 levels, and “Super Mode” is unlocked, where the same 100 levels are made faster and more difficult to complete. At a time where most games either didn’t have a conclusion, or concluded with a simple “Congratulations!” message, Bubble Bobble’s multiple endings were quite unusual. And the ending you’re rewarded with when completing the Super Mode is very strange indeed...

7. IT WAS ALL ABOUT FAMILY TIES.

The plot of Bubble Bobble sees its two brothers, Bubby and Bobby, turned into bubble-blowing dragons, while their girlfriends have been kidnapped by the evil Baron von Blubba. Completing the game once reveals what’s called the “Happy End,” where the heroes are reunited with their girlfriends and turned back into humans. But complete the game’s Super Mode, and you’re treated to an unexpected twist: the huge boss you’ve just defeated—the hooded, bottle-throwing Super Drunk—is revealed to be Bubby and Bobby’s parents, who must have been transformed by the same grim magic that turned the heroes into dragons. It’s a surreal—and even quite dark, depending on your interpretation—ending to a classic game.

8. THE SERIES IS STILL GOING STRONG.

The popularity of Bubble Bobble quickly made it one of the most widely-ported games of its era. It appeared on such computers and consoles as the ZX Spectrum, the Amiga, the NES, and Sega Master System—even the Game Boy got its own monochrome, handheld version of the game. Bubble Bobble’s success also prompted Taito to create a string of loose sequels and spin-offs, including Rainbow Islands, Parasol Stars and Bubble Bobble Symphony. The spin-off series are still going strong, with recent installments hitting the Nintendo DS, Wii, and Xbox in recent years.

But Mitsuji himself only worked on the first sequel to Bubble Bobble, Rainbow Islands (1987), a wonderful single-player platform game that differed wildly from its predecessor in terms of mechanics and pace. Mitsuji also created three other games for Taito— Syvalion, Darius II, and Volfied—before he left the company in the early 1990s. His last game came in 1991—an obscure yet delightful platform puzzler called Popils for the Sega Game Gear, which contained much of the elegant simplicity of Bubble Bobble.

For the remainder of his life, Mitsuji taught game design, before he passed away at the tragically young age of 48 in 2008. It was a sad loss for the video game industry, for sure, but his most famous creation delighted a generation of players with its lighter-than-air action. More than 30 years later, Bubble Bobble remains an out-and-out classic.

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