Imagine an alternate reality where Mario is packing heat, Link looks like Wolverine and Halo games are all about strategy instead of shooting aliens in the face.
All those things were close to happening but were changed at some point, for better or for worse. You be the judge.
The Game We Know:
If there's one thing Mario does well, it's stomping on shit. Even in his early games, jumping on or over things was always, well, pretty much the only thing he did. But that wasn't always the plan for our dear red-shirted plumber when he got his big NES debut.
Mario showed us how to cut corners. In honor of that, we're not writing a punchline.
But It Was Almost:
Mario was going to shoot the shit out of his enemies. Seriously. In some early design documents and test versions of Super Mario Bros., Mario was going to carry guns.
Oh, and he would also be able to punch and kick his enemies when he was empty-handed. Instead of stomping enemies' heads, he was gonna stomp their asses.
Turns out those Russian bootlegs had it right all along.
And yes, we said "guns," as in more than one: Mario was going to carry a "beam gun," which sounds kind of like what Samus uses in the Metroid games, but then he would also have a freaking rifle. Instead of fireballs, Mario was gonna roll like a gangster and spit out bullets.
"Is he ... is he whistling 'The Farmer in the Dell'?"
Some levels would even have Mario riding on a cloud and firing at enemies in what sounds a lot like the Mushroom Kingdom's version of a drive-by. Earlier in development, he was going to be "flying on a rocket," but clearly a cloud made more sense in that context.
Sweet revenge on that goddamn Lakitu.
Even the classic control scheme would have been different: Mario would jump by hitting the up arrow on the control pad, leaving the "A" button for attacks. All this changed when Nintendo decided to focus more on the jumping (and stomping) aspect, but some elements of these insane early versions did end up in the finished game. The guns became fire flowers, the cloud drive-bys eventually turned into bonus coin stages and Mario finally gained the ability to punch and kick enemies in Super Mario 64. Rifles can't be that far behind. After all, we got Super Mario Sunshine's water cannon ...
He can waterboard 50 Koopa Troopas a minute with this thing.
While it's probably for the best that they simplified the game, we can't help but wonder what a game starring a gritty, badass Mario would be like. He could even roam around an alternate world New York, with realistic Goombas and Koopas and ...
The Game We Know:
It really speaks for a game's content when punching the head off your opponent is considered tame in comparison to the rest of the shit you can do. But Mortal Kombat isn't just about the mindless violence -- OK, it's mainly about the mindless violence, but there were other things that set it apart from all other fighting games of its time. Like its rich mythology, dark sense of humor and extremely realistic graphics.
This is exactly what blood looks like when you drink nothing but Pepsi and "Pixy Stix tea."
But It Was Almost:
A game about Jean-Claude Van Damme. Seriously. Mortal Kombat was originally conceived as a vehicle for Van Damme in which he would fight a selection of digitized opponents -- like Jackie Chan's Action Kung Fu with better graphics. However, the license to use Van Damme's name and likeness was apparently too expensive for Midway Games at the time ... so they started calling him "Johnny Cage."
"If we add a 15 percent Nicolas Cage to his face no one will notice."
Small snippets of Van Damme still remain in the game: Johnny Cage is modeled after Van Damme in the movie Bloodsport, including his signature shorts and, of course, that double groin punch.
It's called a double groin punch because it involves slamming his own against the floor.
However, not having to center the game on Van Damme also meant they were free to go crazy with the characters and the settings -- they kept the photorealistic look that presumably would have reminded people of a Van Damme movie, but used it to feature undead ninjas, lightning gods and cyborgs. There's also a pretty big chance that if the game had been associated with a Hollywood star, they might have been forced to tone down some of the most outrageous examples of violence to avoid controversy, or at least to avoid Van Damme having his spine ripped out of his body. So in addition to some pretty hilarious viral videos, you can probably thank Van Damme's ridiculous ego for the existence of fatalities.
This is how many careers in medical school got started.
So basically, the creation of one of the most influential games ever was governed by the fact that the company didn't want to spend a lot of money on it. This might explain why the controls were so simple (forcing developers to focus on special moves to differentiate the characters) and also why they reused the exact same character model for Sub-Zero and Scorpion, only changing the color.
The beginning of a noble tradition.
Mortal Kombat turned out to be a major arcade hit and went on to have one of the biggest console game launches of all time. And it could have all been lost if Van Damme was willing to sell out for less money.
He was waiting for a bigger fish, apparently.
The Game We Know:
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is often lauded as one of the best games of the Zelda series (or any series), with its innovative and much copied target-based gameplay system and a story that borrowed the best elements of all its predecessors -- except maybe Zelda II, because that one sucked. Zelda II had that side-scrolling stuff going on and had a bunch of boring RPG elements thrown in. It was not very Zelda-like at all.
Yes you are, Zelda II.
But It Was Almost:
Originally, Ocarina of Time was going to be played mainly from a first-person perspective, like a shooting game but without the shooting (presumably). That means the over-the-shoulder lock-on mode the game was known for would have been completely absent. Also, whenever an enemy approached, the screen would switch to a side-scroller -- we're thinking this would have ended up looking like a combination of Wolfenstein 3D and Zelda II. In fact, some of the developers initially set out to remake Zelda II instead of creating a whole new story that didn't suck. In fact, thanks to Radix on the TIGForums, we have an idea what this may look like:
Needs more swastikas.
However, the developers changed their minds when they realized that if they went ahead with the FPS format, that meant that for most of the game, you wouldn't be able to see the Link model they'd spent so much time on. And speaking of Link, he was initially meant to be an adult the whole game and had a "distinctive" button nose and sideburns.
Link gets closer to Wolverine with each update.
That also got dropped when a developer's wife said Link wasn't handsome enough. Link looks like he does today because one Japanese woman happened to find him a little unattractive. Exactly how many bullets did they dodge while making this game?
Hey, listen! It wasn't enough!
As for the lock-on targeting system, that came up because they were initially interested in featuring one-on-one sword fights. So instead of two backflips, throw the boomerang and then a jumping slash, it was more like fencing, with parries and dodges and stuff. That turned out to be too complicated, so they simplified things and added the targeting system that every other game would go on to copy.
Ocarina's enduring legacy. That, and grown men in pantyhose.