The Secret Origins of 11 Famous Video Games

iStock / robtek
iStock / robtek

Secret origins aren't just for superheroes in need of a good backstory. Many of the most popular video games ever to find their way onto shelves have arrived with elements of their development that make a great product even more memorable. Whether it's surprising celebrity tie-ins or random discoveries that went on to define a franchise, these 11 games each have a “secret” origin that adds yet another footnote to the impressive place they hold in gaming history. 

1. Mario Bros.

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After making his Japanese debut in Donkey Kong, the game's mustachioed hero was still going by the name “Jumpman” ahead of the game's arrival on shelves in the U.S. However, while Nintendo of America was preparing the American release of Donkey Kong, the company's landlord reportedly barged into their office, demanding that month's rent. His name was Mario Segale, and his name became the inspiration for Nintendo's jump-happy hero, who went on to headline his own game in 1983's Mario Bros. and become the face of Nintendo around the world.

2. Sonic the Hedgehog

Faced with the dominance of Nintendo and their iconic plumber hero, Sega set out to create their own mascot who would be capable of headlining games and carrying the company's success on its shoulders. The result was Sonic the Hedgehog, a blue-skinned speedster who was originally named “Mr. Needlemouse.”

Along with getting a new name, the character's was colored to match Sega's blue logo, but here's the most interesting part: He has Michael Jackson to thank for his red-and-white shoes. According to character designer Naoto Ohshima, the contrast of red and white on the cover to Jackson's 1987 album “Bad” inspired the choice of colors for Sonic's footwear.

3. Street Fighter II

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The sequel to 1987's Street Fighter proved to be the installment that truly established this franchise as fighting-game royalty, and its innovative use of “combo” attacks was a big part of that success. This came as a surprise to the developers of the game, who considered the “combo” system an easily overlooked, acceptable bug in the programming. The system of timing certain button sequences in order to string attacks together was uncovered while testing the game at a late stage, and the developers decided to leave it in the game as an Easter Egg of sorts. What started out as an accident soon became the hallmark of the games, and future installments of the Street Fighter franchise made combos an intentional, finely tuned element of each sequel.

4. Final Fantasy

One of the most popular role-playing game franchises of all time got its name from almost becoming the last project its creator ever worked on. According to Hironobu Sakaguchi, he named the game he'd been working on Final Fantasy because he planned to quit the video-game industry if it didn't sell well. Despite the small staff of developers he was afforded for the game, it managed to sell—to the tune of 400,000 copies initially and a long list of sequels, spin-offs, and remastered releases in the years to come. Sakaguchi went on to serve for several years as President of Square USA, the company that first took a chance on Final Fantasy.

5. Metroid

BagoGames, Flickr / CC BY 2.0

A fantastic game on its own, 1986's Metroid became the stuff of legends when it saved its biggest surprise for the final moments. After a player completed the game, a short scene revealed that the space-suited, missile-blasting hero was in fact (*gasp*) a woman! This shocking revelation wasn't something that had been planned from the start, and was instead the result of a programmer asking, “Hey, wouldn't that be kind of cool if it turned out that this person inside the suit was a woman?” midway through the game's development. The Metroid team already counted Ridley Scott's female-led, sci-fi horror movie Alien as one of the game's chief inspirations, so they decided to run with that innocent suggestion—and the rest is gaming history.

6. Mike Tyson's Punch-Out

Little Mac's showdown with “Iron” Mike Tyson is the stuff of legends for old-school gamers, but both the hero of the game and his nemesis at the top of the rankings had interesting backstories. The diminutive boxer controlled by players was named after a play on McDonald's signature “Big Mac” hamburger, referencing the fact that he had to be made short enough for players to see his opponents over him. On the other side of the ring, Nintendo of America founder Minoru Arakawa pursued Mike Tyson's likeness for the game after seeing the fighter in an early match that pre-dated his time as champion. An early predictor of Tyson's success, Arakawa reportedly arranged for Tyson to be paid $50,000 for his likeness to be used in the game for three years.

7. Mortal Kombat

Peter-Ashley Jackson, Flickr // CC BY SA 2.0

One of the most popular—and controversial—game franchises of all time got its start as a vehicle for martial-arts actor Jean-Claude Van Damme to star in his own game. The original plan was to combine elements of Van Damme's Universal Soldier and Bloodsport movies into a game that featured him fighting a variety of colorful villains. After the deal with Van Damme fell through, the small team decided to continue their work on the game. Mortal Kombat went on to raise the bar for all fighting games with sales that broke nearly every existing record and eventually earned the franchise a Guinness World Record honor as “The Most Successful Fighting Game Franchise” of all time. Oh, and you can probably guess where the team got the idea for the character of Johnny Cage, a movie star looking to prove his fighting talents in the game whose signature movie is a groin-stretching split.

8. Metal Gear

Kevin Winter / Getty Images

One of the earliest examples of stealth games, Konami's 1987 classic Metal Gear didn't start out as an adventure in avoiding enemies and keeping battle to a minimum. Initially conceived as a standard shoot-'em-up combat game, the limitations of the consoles it was being developed for forced designer Hideo Kojima to rethink his approach to the project. He found inspiration while watching the 1963 film The Great Escape and its depiction of 76 soldiers' carefully planned escape from a German prison camp in 1944. Kojima decided to structure the game around the idea of evading detection and capture instead of shooting bad guys, and the game went on to spawn multiple sequels and a critically praised, best-selling franchise of Metal Gear games. 

9. Tomb Raider

SteamXO, Flickr

At its earliest stages, the hero of what was to become the Tomb Raider franchise was eerily similar to a certain gruff, whip-wielding archeologist with a nose for treasure. Wary of a potential lawsuit, the studio requested a change—prompting designer Toby Gard to promote one of the female supporting characters he had created for the game into the lead role.

It was a gamble, but the studio gave the female-led adventure the go-ahead with its new lead, Laura Cruz—a tough-as-nails South American treasure-hunter with a long braid and short shorts. The game's star went through another revision, though, when the studio pushed for a more British-friendly character as a nod to its new parent company, the U.K.-based Eidos. They eventually settled on “Lara Croft,” and Gard's heroine went on to become one of the most recognizable characters in the the industry's history.

10. Legend of Zelda 

iStock / CTRPhotos

Developed concurrently with Super Mario Bros., Nintendo's flagship fantasy adventure made household names out of its hero, Link, and the princess he pursued, Zelda. The latter got her name from the wife of American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. According to producer Shigeru Miyamoto, Zelda Fitzgerald was “a famous and beautiful woman from all accounts, and I liked the sound of her name.”

11. Resident Evil

BagoGames, Flickr / CC BY 2.0

What started out as a remake of an existing horror game (Capcom's haunted-house thriller Sweet Home) eventually paved the way for survival-horror to become one of the industry's most popular genres with the release of Resident Evil. After the game's developers decided to branch out with their own plans for the project—which included changing it from a first-person shooter to a third-person perspective—they sampled some of the best material out there, including backdrops inspired by The Overlook Hotel in the 1980 horror classic The Shining, as well as other notable haunted-house thrillers.

Mental Floss's Three-Day Sale Includes Deals on Apple AirPods, Sony Wireless Headphones, and More

Apple
Apple

During this weekend's three-day sale on the Mental Floss Shop, you'll find deep discounts on products like AirPods, Martha Stewart’s bestselling pressure cooker, and more. Check out the best deals below.

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Apple

You may not know it by looking at them, but these tiny earbuds by Apple offer HDR sound, 30 hours of noise cancellation, and powerful bass, all through Bluetooth connectivity. These trendy, sleek AirPods will even read your messages and allow you to share your audio with another set of AirPods nearby.

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2. Sony Zx220bt Wireless On-Ear Bluetooth Headphones (Open Box - Like New); $35

Sony

For the listener who likes a traditional over-the-ear headphone, this set by Sony will give you all the same hands-free calling, extended battery power, and Bluetooth connectivity as their tiny earbud counterparts. They have a swivel folding design to make stashing them easy, a built-in microphone for voice commands and calls, and quality 1.18-inch dome drivers for dynamic sound quality.

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3. Sony Xb650bt Wireless On-Ear Bluetooth Headphones; $46

Sony

This Sony headphone model stands out for its extra bass and the 30 hours of battery life you get with each charge. And in between your favorite tracks, you can take hands-free calls and go seamlessly back into the music.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

4. Martha Stewart 8-quart Stainless-Steel Pressure Cooker; $65

Martha Stewart

If you’re thinking of taking the plunge and buying a new pressure cooker, this 8-quart model from Martha Stewart comes with 14 presets, a wire rack, a spoon, and a rice measuring cup to make delicious dinners using just one appliance.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

5. Jashen V18 350w Cordless Vacuum Cleaner; $180

Jashen

If you're obsessive about cleanliness, it's time to lose the vacuum cord and opt for this untethered model from JASHEN. Touting a 4.3-star rating from Amazon, the JASHEN cordless vacuum features a brushless motor with strong suction, noise optimization, and a convenient wall mount for charging and storage.

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6. Evachill Ev-500 Personal Air Conditioner; $65

Evachill

This EvaChill personal air conditioner is an eco-friendly way to cool yourself down in any room of the house. You can set it up at your work desk at home, and in just a few minutes, this portable cooling unit can drop the temperature by 59º. All you need to do is fill the water tank and plug in the USB cord.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

7. Gourmia Gcm7800 Brewdini 5-Cup Cold Brew Coffee Maker; $120

Gourmia

The perfect cup of cold brew can take up to 12 hours to prepare, but this Gourmia Cold Brew Coffee Maker can do the job in just a couple of minutes. It has a strong suction that speeds up brew time while preserving flavor in up to five cups of delicious cold brew at a time.

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8. Townew: The World's First Self-Sealing Trash Can; $90

Townew

Never deal with handling gross garbage again when you have this smart bin helping you in the kitchen. With one touch, the Townew will seal the full bag for easy removal. Once you grab the neatly sealed bag, the Townew will load in a new clean one on its own.

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FenSens

Parking sensors are amazing, but a lot of cars require a high trim to access them. You can easily upgrade your car—and parking skills—with this solar-powered parking sensor. It will give you audio and visual alerts through your phone for the perfect parking job every time.

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10. Liz: The Smart Self-Cleaning Bottle With UV Sterilization; $46

Noerden

Reusable water bottles are convenient and eco-friendly, but they’re super inconvenient to get inside to clean. This smart water bottle will clean itself with UV sterilization to eliminate 99.9 percent of viruses and bacteria. That’s what makes it clean, but the single-tap lid for temperature, hydration reminders, and an anti-leak functionality are what make it smart.

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Prices subject to change.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. If you haven't received your voucher or have a question about your order, contact the Mental Floss shop here.

14 Facts About International Talk Like A Pirate Day

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iStock

Ahoy, me hearties! As many of you know, September 19 is International Talk Like A Pirate Day, an annual phenomenon that’s taken the world by storm, having been observed by every continent, the International Space Station, and even the Oval Office since it first made headlines back in 2002. So let’s hoist the Jolly Roger, break out the rum, and take a look back at the holiday’s timber-shivering history.

1. Talk Like a Pirate Day was originally conceived of on D-Day.

Talk Like a Pirate Day creators John Baur and Mark Summer (who’ve since acquired the nicknames “Ol’ Chumbucket” and “Cap’n Slappy,” respectively) created the holiday while playing racquetball on June 6, 1995—the 51st anniversary of the invasion of Normandy. Out of respect to the battle’s veterans, a new observance date was quickly sought.

2. September 19th also happens to be the birthday of the ex-wife of the holiday's co-creator.

“[September 19th was] the only date we could readily recall that wasn’t already taken up with Christmas or the Super Bowl or something,” the pair later claimed. Summers claims to harbor no ill will toward his former spouse, who has since stated, “I’ve never been prouder to be his ex-wife!

3. Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist Dave Barry is largely responsible for popularizing the holiday.

Dave Barry was so smitten with the holiday after having been introduced to it via email in early 2002 that he dedicated an entire column to its publicity that September, turning an inside joke into a global sensation. He later went on to make a cameo appearance in one of Baur and Summers’s buccaneer-themed music videos in 2011 (look for him in the video above at the 3:25 mark).

4. Real pirates spoke in a wide variety of dialects.

Despite some extensive “English-to-Pirate” dictionaries that have cropped up all over the Internet the idea that all pirates shared a common accent regardless of national origin is historically absurd, as National Geographic pointed out in 2011.

5. Actor Robert Newton is hailed as the "patron saint" of Talk Like a Pirate Day.

So where did the modern “pirate dialect” come from? Summers and Baur credit actor Robert Newton's performance in Treasure Island (1950) and have accordingly dubbed him the “patron saint” of their holiday. Tasked with breathing life into the scheming buccaneer, Newton simply exaggerated his native West Country accent and the rest is history.

6. John Baur's family was featured on a pirate-themed episode of Wife Swap.

The reality show’s highly-anticipated 2006 season premiere pitted the Baurs (in full pillaging regalia) against a family which, according to John’s wife Tori (a.k.a. “Mad Sally”), “behaved as though ‘fun’ was something that had to be pre-packaged for their protection.”

7. John Baur was also on Jeopardy!

Baur was described to the audience as “a writer and pirate from Oregon” in his 2008 appearance. “I didn’t win,” Baur said, “but the introduction made Alex blink.”

8. International Talk Like a Pirate Day has become a cornerstone of the Pastafarian movement.

Bobby Henderson, founder of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, cited Earth’s dwindling pirate population as the clear source of global warming in his 2005 open letter to the Kansas school board which established the religion. Since then, Talk Like A Pirate Day has been observed by devout Pastafarians worldwide. 

9. A Florida mayor once ignited a local controversy for making an official Talk Like a Pirate Day proclamation.

In 2012, Lake Worth, Florida Mayor Pam Triolo lightheartedly urged her constituents to embrace the holiday last year, writing, “The City … is known to possess a spirit of independence, high spirits, and swashbuckling, all traits of a good pirate.” Her actions were criticized by the city’s former commissioner, Jo-Ann Golden, who took offense to the association with murderous seamen.

10. Day of the Ninja was created in response to Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Not to be outdone by their hated rivals, the pro-ninja community was quick to execute the first annual Day of the Ninja on December 5, 2002. For Summers and Baur’s take on the warring factions, see the clip above.

11. Astronauts once celebrated Talk Like a Pirate Day aboard the International Space Station.

In a 2012 interview, Summers recalled being “informed that the astronauts on the International Space Station were awakened to ‘A Pirate’s Life For Me' and joined in the pirate talk from space.”

12. President Obama once celebrated with a costumed buccaneer in the Oval Office.

In 2012, Barack Obama tweeted this image on Talk Like a Pirate Day with the caption “Arr you in?”

13. A congressman later used the holiday to slam President Obama's tax plan.

In 2011, Florida’s 12th congressional district representative Dennis Ross used the festivity as a political punchline after Obama made a speech detailing his tax plan, tweeting, “It is TALK like a pirate day … not ACT like one. Watch ye purses and bury yr loot, the taxman cometh.”

14. It's an official holiday in the state of Michigan.

On June 4, 2013, state senator Roger Kahn’s proposal to grant International Talk Like A Pirate Day official acknowledgement from the Michigan government was formally adopted, to the chagrin of some dissenting landlubbers. 

This story originally ran in 2013.