The Oddest Origins Behind Popular Games & Gaming Giants

Gaming is overwhelmingly a modern pursuit. Though arcade games have been around for about half a century, and at-home consoles have been standardized since the 90s, the vast majority of popular titles today run on very modern tech. From MMO options to VR headsets, technology has steered modern gaming.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some truly surprising and non-techy origins within the gaming world. In fact, developers don’t discriminate when it comes to conceiving the next ‘big thing’—and there are more than a few shocking stories and intriguing factoids attached to some popular games.

For example, the hugely popular game Counter-Strike is one of the world’s most loved first-person shooter games with leagues active globally. But in reality, this game emerged as a modified version of a previous hit called Half-Life. That’s right—the top FPS today was a fan project that stemmed from a previous horror survival game. 

Let’s dive into a few other examples of popular games that have memorable origin stories.

Roulette & a Failed Experiment

Let’s travel back a few centuries to cover this classic example. Today, players can access games like roulette directly from virtual platforms, which has helped keep this casino game in the spotlight. But around four hundred years ago, one physicist and mathematician in France wasn’t quite focused on roulette—instead, Blaise Pascal had his sights set on creating a perpetual motion machine.

His goal was to use the scientific method to create a wheel that would spin infinitely without an external power source. The theoretical approach failed—but the wheel remained popular. Within a few decades of Pascal dropping his attempt at perpetual motion, gaming houses in Paris were adapting the wheel into the game we now know as roulette.

Ermac & a Series of Mistakes

Mortal Kombat is one of the most recognizable combat games in the world. Since its first release in 1993, MK has gone on to become one of the most lucrative media franchises ever established. But did you know that its beloved character, Ermac, wasn’t intentionally crafted by developers? In fact, much of this ‘red ninja’ was generated accidentally. 

First, there’s the character’s name. MK’s red ninja was dubbed ‘Ermac’ thanks to a shortened term used by developers who were creating the game. This term was ‘Error Macro’, used for diagnostics. Second, Ermac’s coloring wasn’t the brainchild of the creators. Instead, a fan modded a leaked image of Scorpion to have red armor—and other fans became so obsessed with this new outfit that developers decided to use it permanently.

Uncharted & Indiana Jones… Plus, Johnny Knoxville

Early fans of Indiana Jones know that this action hero spawned multiple gaming franchises. In the 1970s and 80s, viewers were treated to a new type of hero from George Lucas—a sassy, mistake-prone, and highly educated one on the hunt for hidden treasure. Along with hits like Tomb Raider, Uncharted took direct inspiration from Indy. 

But that’s not all. Developers at Naughty Dog claim that Indiana Jones wasn’t the full inspiration for Uncharted hero Nathan Drake. Creators also took direct inspiration from the world’s top badass of the time: Johnny Knoxville. Drake’s appearance is directly inspired by the Jackass star.

Nintendo & Hanafuda Playing Cards

If we were to name the most recognizable legacy video game developer, the easy answer would be Nintendo. This Japanese giant has been around since the very start of the arcade era, helping secure its place in the gaming zeitgeist straight from its first release of Donkey Kong in 1981. But that wasn’t the start of Nintendo—neither as a business nor as a gaming company.

In fact, Nintendo was founded in 1889 as ‘Nintendo Koppai’, which specialized in manufacturing and selling hanafuda playing cards. These are similar to Western gaming cards, though there are a few changes in terms of size, color, and denomination. In 1959, the company partnered with Walt Disney to release a line of cards with official Disney characters. Though originally profitable, business stalled. In the 1970s, Nintendo pivoted toward electronic toys in a bid to save itself—which soon led to its focus on video games.

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