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Essays 15 November 2022, 15:54

author: Darius Matusiak

The Unusual Inspirations Behind Famous Video Games

What does a Coca-Cola vending machine have in common with NieR? Or Pac-Man with GTA? What was Stray before it was a cat game? Here are the most interesting inspirations behind the creation of famous games.

It's said that the best ideas come to you while bathing, or taking a walk. According to scientists, this is facilitated by the mental and physical relaxation we experience during these moments. And history, even a very distant one, seems only to confirm this research. This would be evidenced by anecdotes like Archimedes making groudbreaking conclusions in the bathtub or Newton doing quite the same while resting under an apple tree. Inspiration is also of great importance in artistic works, computer games included.

Some copy ideas, others steal them, and still others take only a piece of a proven solution and turn it into something completely unique. A work, in which the original idea is barely tracable. Believe it or not, a great many video games were made in exactly this way, without being called "remasters," "remakes," nor "sequels." Here are the most interesting cases of famous games that were, to a different extent, based on interesting and surprising sources and inspirations.

GTA – the new incarnation of Pac-Man

  1. Genre: action game
  2. Release year: 1997
  3. Developer: DMA Design

Nowadays, the abbreviation "GTA" brings to mind almost exclusively three-dimensional action games, epic stories about gangsters set in huge cities full of life, and extremely realistic graphics. Only the most experienced gamers still remember that the origins of the Grand Theft Auto series were top-down, 2-D games. We admired the roofs of buildings and cars as we shot them from a drone, and we made our first thefts and daring escapes from the police in this, today rather outlandish, perspective. The creators, then still from the Scottish DMA Design, weren't interested in making a video-game version of, say, Scarface. One of their main inspirations was actually... Pac-Man!

What do the following games have in common: one is a classic arcade game with an amusing pizza ball that eats dots in a maze full of deadly ghosts, and the other is about bank heists and escaping from the police through the streets of a metropolis? It turns out they do share quite a few commonalities, and the story behind the creation of GTA is really interesting. One of the methods of making games is to create a "toy" first, and then build the game proper around it. The toy should be great fun itself, and the game proper is just a set of more complex goals and rules related to it. DMA Design did a similar thing with their iconic game, Lemmings. First, they created funny, little creatures in their microworld, and only then did they figure out what type of game would suit it best.

With the prototype of Grand Theft Auto, at a point when that name hadn't even been conceived and nobody knew how the game would look, the first thing to get done, i.e. the "toy," was the city itself. Once the developers were done working on the basic premise, they realized they were basically looking at a huge maze.

Grand Theft Auto was not developed as Grand Theft Auto yet at that point. Once the “medium” was developed, and the team could see that it was a fun toy, they had to decide what game to build with it.

GTA came from Pac-Man18×16 svg. The dots are the little people. There’s me in my little, yellow car. And the ghosts are policemen.

David Jones – producer at DMA Design; quote from The Art of Game Design. A Book of Lenses by Jesse Schell

The Scottish studio took their maze-city, borrowed the mechanics to power their toy, and gave it a gangster setting. Although there were different concepts for the game, and some members of the team even wanted to leave due to conflicting ideas about what the city was ultimately supposed be, the pac-man gangster game turned out to be a bull's eye, changing the gaming world forever.

  1. Grand Theft Auto in our encyclopedia

Darius Matusiak

Darius Matusiak

A wannabe fighter pilot, racing driver, and a spec-op; an adventurer and a space marine – hence, a gamer. I’ve been playing games since Wing Commander, and writing since Destiny.

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