#3. Samus Morphs into a Ball Because They Couldn't Make Her Crawl
Metroid is Nintendo's darker, more serious sci-fi franchise. It's famous for the reveal at the end of the first game where the hero, Samus, takes off his armor and turns out to actually be a woman. It's sort of like Alien meets She's the Man.
Being good at games makes a woman strip for you. Just like in real life.
Metroid games are all about exploring the world in search of power-ups, which allow you to access new areas and find even more power-ups, and so on. One of the upgrades Samus picks up is the Morph Ball, which lets her ... wait for it ... morph into a ball. By contracting her bulky space armor into a sphere, Samus can reach new areas, drop bombs, and ram enemies with a special attack. The physical contortions necessary to do this make absolutely no sense, but who cares? Cool but impractical technology is half the reason science fiction was invented. This was just the development team taking advantage of the setting, right?
The Technical Problem:
Metroid had a lot of tight corridors Samus needed to crawl through, but the designers couldn't come up with a satisfactory crawling animation. Frustrated and tired of staring at their colleagues' butts as they crawled on the floor as a visual aid, the designers came up with the idea of contorting her into a position that wouldn't be considered realistic even in pornographic fan art.
If the ball ended up resembling a flaming vulva, that was a total coincidence.
So one of the most famous weapons wielded by one of the most famous female gaming heroes was created because drawing her crawling was hard. It was a clever solution, considering what they were working with back then -- Nintendo's flagship character got bigger by eating mushrooms, so they weren't exactly going for realism in their games. It wouldn't surprise us if the ball was pitched as a joke, and then, after a few solid minutes of laughs, they realized it was actually a good idea.
Just try not to think about how silly the concept is now that we've seen it in modern games -- contracting into a ball half your size shouldn't lead to new avenues of exploration, it should lead to a Game Over screen accompanied by the sound of every bone in your body snapping in half. But the moment you start dropping those little bombs and bouncing the rolling Samus around the level like a rubber ball, suddenly nothing else matters.
#2. Kirby's Design Was Just a Placeholder
The pink puffball Kirby is one of gaming's most lovably simple characters. Everyone recognizes his big innocent eyes, his charming portliness, his stubby little hands and feet, and his perpetual, adorable smile. They also know that underneath those layers of cuteness lies a being with the deeply disturbing ability to swallow whole the bodies of those who dare oppose him, absorbing their powers for his own use like some sort of shape-shifting cobra-vampire hybrid.
Swallower of a thousand unwilling souls.
The Technical Problem:
Do you think Kirby seems like a somewhat, well, lazy design? Like maybe he was just the first thing they could think of? Almost like, we don't know, he was supposed to be a temporary placeholder for the real design?
Because he totally was.
The original Kirby game (Kirby's Dreamland) was to be released on Nintendo's black-and-white Game Boy system. Once again, we're talking about extremely limited hardware (see: lack of all color). So, while they were working on the actual design of the character, they just created a simple round shape to occupy that space:
To name him, they just mashed random keys and hit "Enter."
The shapeless blob was named Popopo, but as time went on, Kirby's creator, Masahiro Sakurai, found himself increasingly charmed by the simple design of his temporary hero, or maybe he was just charmed by the idea of not having to make a more complicated one. Eventually, Sakurai said fuck it and just added some details to the blob to give it a bit more character.
However, since he had only appeared on a monochrome system, Kirby's official color remained up for debate. Sakurai thought Kirby should be pink, while Shigeru Miyamoto pushed for yellow (and a mustache, probably), leaving the fate of Kirby as a choice between an anthropomorphic boob and an anime-ized Walmart smiley face. To make things more confusing, the box art of his debut game made him white (and he got rad sunglasses in this hilarious commercial).
Pink eventually won out and probably prevented a lawsuit from the creators of Pac-Man, but now you know why yellow is available as an alternate color in some Kirby games. And thus the look of Kirby, along with one of the most compelling cases for simplicity in character design ever created, was finalized.
#1. Metal Gear Is a Stealth Game Because It Was Developed for a Terrible Computer
Metal Gear is a franchise famous for its tense stealth gameplay and lengthy, coma inducing cutscenes. It actually helped create the stealth game genre despite the fact that the first game was released in 1987 during an action-packed decade full of Schwarzenegger movies and video games where if you weren't killing everything on screen, you were playing them wrong. We're surprised a game about not killing your enemies wasn't banned for being un-American, but it was certainly an ingenious way to release a game that stood out from the rest of the heavily armed, bullet-spewing pack, and the countless sequels prove that it was a smart choice.
How do you hide in the desert? Stealthily, that's how.
The Technical Problem:
If you're wondering how and why Metal Gear's developers, Konami, decided to make a stealth game, the answer is that they didn't. Metal Gear was originally intended to be an action title that would have been largely indistinguishable from all the other action games out there. But the computer they were developing the game for, the MSX2, wasn't able to handle more than a few enemies and bullets on screen at a time without crashing. Making an action game on the MSX2 would be like trying to win a street race in your grandma's PT Cruiser.
If you can't animate a truck moving, good luck coding a battle.
The bigwigs at Konami grabbed a young developer by the name of Hideo Kojima, said, "Hey, kid, fix this," and ran off to a cocaine karaoke bar, or whatever Japan had in the '80s. Kojima, realizing that an action game with only a couple of enemies on screen at a time would make for a pretty terrible action game, decided to change the fundamental premise of the project.
Under Kojima's direction, the game stopped being about murdering everything in sight and instead focused on sneaking past enemies. But he figured gamers would find skulking around boring if they weren't given a reason for doing so, which is how the first of many needlessly complicated Metal Gear plots was born.
No giant robot dessert till you finish all the philosophical tangents on your plate.
Kojima is a huge movie buff -- the stealth gameplay is inspired by The Great Escape, while the hero, Snake, is based on the protagonist of Escape from New York. And while we can't prove that the ridiculous, overwrought storylines of the Metal Gear games were inspired by access to a time machine and Lost, we're not going to rule it out, either.
Related Reading: Video games can lead to some pretty impressive things, including a mastery of invisible Tetris. For another sobering look at the state of the video game industry, click here. Sexism in video games goes deeper than Laura Croft's breasts. After all that, why not take a look into the future of being screwed over by video games.