6 Popular Games That Were Meant to Be Totally Different
We're fascinated by the messy process by which pop culture gets made, mainly because so many iconic movie and TV moments wind up so radically different from what the creators intended. But nothing can hold a candle to video games when it comes to random, haphazard accidents resulting in greatness. There are so many factors at play -- technical limitations, large development teams, cultural differences -- that it's bizarre to see what these games looked like at the idea phase. For example ...
Sonic the Hedgehog Was Originally a Rabbit, Then Just Plain Weird
In the early '90s, Super Mario's popularity had given Nintendo an absurd 92 percent share of the video game market, but then a rival came along and changed everything -- a radical new character with more attitude in his index finger than Mario had in his entire rotund physique. We're talking, of course, about Sonic the ... happy, bow-tie-wearing rabbit.
Who was so afraid of butterflies, even his perfectly round turds turned pale.
Yeah, you can't just arrive at a million-dollar idea like "a hedgehog who runs really fast" without going through a bunch of shitty ones first. When Sega first decided to introduce a new mascot who would defy Nintendo's supremacy, their early proposals included a dog, a clown, and a bizarre Mario/Bart Simpson hybrid ...
"Don't have a mushroom, man!"
... before they settled on the most hardcore of animals, the rabbit. The only problem: Their 16-bit console just couldn't handle the sheer coolness (or hardware demands) of the rabbit's ears, which were supposed to allow him to grab hold of things. Hell, this was 1991 -- it'd probably take a room full of MIT computers to make that happen, and that was a little more than you could pack in a $299 box. So, no rabbits.
After being an armadillo for a while, Sonic (or "Mr. Needlemouse") finally became a hedgehog. With an appetite for bestiality. In a concept that was later rejected by Sega of America for being too "Japanese," the developers decided to give Sonic a sexy human girlfriend named Madonna who would chase him around, implying that she wanted to do unspeakable things with his spiky member.
Yes, all concept art is indistinguishable from the bad Sonic drawings you did in middle school.
Even after the Jessica Rabbit wannabe was told to take a hike, the staff at Sega of America still had to work hard to get rid of Sonic's fangs, while adding a bonkers backstory involving Olympic training gone wrong and a scientist who turned a regular Nebraskan hedgehog into speedy, blue, ring-guzzling Sonic. Oh, and for a while he was in a rock band with other animals.
They split after the drummer slept with the bass player's wife and the keyboardist ate the guitarist.
Basically, if it hadn't been for the Japanese and American branches of Sega getting into a pissing match and deleting each other's terrible ideas, there would be no Sonic today and ... we wouldn't be disappointed by a new game every year. Thanks a lot, assholes.
Doom Started Out as a Licensed Aliens Game
Doom had such a big impact on the gaming industry that, for years after its release, the name of the genre wasn't "first-person shooters" -- it was "Doom clones." In a market flooded with cutesy platformers and crappy licensed games, Doom's creators provided gamers with something no other company was giving them: masses of demons being blown to shit by a tough guy with big-ass guns.
Which describes roughly 71 percent of all games today.
The ironic thing there is that when Id Software started working on the game, they originally had two possibilities in mind: A) a cutesy platformer, or B) a crappy licensed game. In 1992, some members of the team were pretty stoked about using their new 3D game engine (the same one that became Doom) to make a sequel for Commander Keen, a game series starring an 8-year-old boy with serious pigmentation problems. However, this concept was soon displaced by something they were even more excited about: a game based on James Cameron's Aliens (presumably, the rights to The Abyss were already tied up).
As a reminder, an Aliens first-person shooter game is a noble idea that can easily go very, very, very wrong.
"Still can't find the fucking john ..."
Now, we've all said, "Wouldn't it be cool to make an Aliens game together?" to other people/objects while drunk as fuck, but these guys went further than that -- the company actually entered negotiations with 20th Century Fox to buy the rights to make Aliens products. This, of course, would have entailed showing the game to a bunch of executives for approval -- executives that presumably wouldn't have been as excited about all the glorious pixelated gore as the average 12-year-old proved to be in 1993. Fortunately, the developers realized this and pulled out of the deal "at the last minute," probably leaving some poor Fox suit all flustered.
He went home and approved 15 Simpsons Nintendo games.
Rather than ditching the whole game simply because they didn't have the rights to make it, though, the team pulled a Miyamoto and said, and we're quoting one of them here, "What if we did the same thing, except with hellspawn instead of aliens?" So they did that, and gaming history was made.
Some Aliens elements even stayed in Doom for a while before being cut, such as the multicultural group of space marines that were supposed to be the protagonists instead of the one nameless guy, and the creepy techno-organic atmosphere that pretty much screamed Alie- wait, that's still in the game? Huh.
Capcom Scrapped Resident Evil 4 and Started Over ... Four Times
Resident Evil 4 was the game that reinvented the franchise, which is a polite way of saying that it made RE1 through 3 look like garbage. Gone were the days of wheeling around like a tooled-up drunkard: Now you could shoot zombies (sorry: "infected") from an over-the-shoulder perspective! It changed the entire shooter genre, which might explain why it's often named as one of the best games ever.
All of this is surprising, considering that the developing process of this game could be described as "throwing shit at the wall for five years and seeing what sticks."
"Hey, boss, the darts landed on 'chainsaw,' 'sack face,' and 'suspenders.'"
"Cool, go with that."
The developers at Capcom flushed the entire game down the toilet at least four different times before they arrived at something that didn't suck. Or, at least, something that didn't suck as a Resident Evil product: The first version of RE4, from 1999, was so unrecognizable from the previous games that they ended up adding swords, demons, and blindingly white hair and releasing it as Devil May Cry. The second attempt was known as "the fog version," a name that may bring back traumatic memories of Superman 64 for some, but actually involved some type of weird fog that followed you around and occasionally possessed you, as fog is known to do.
And that's when things turned really weird. The third version was about Leon Kennedy exploring a haunted mansion with his biologically modified dog sidekick while being stalked by a ghostly killer with a hook hand. It was clear at this point that a desperate Capcom had turned to Hanna-Barbera cartoons for inspiration.
A still from the obligatory Scooby-Doo hallway chase scene.
Other highlights from the spookiest, wackiest Resident Evil game never made: a mounted deer head jumping off a wall and attacking you and laughing, knife-wielding babies you have to burn alive.
"Ooga-Chaka, Ooga-Ooga, Ooga-Chaka ..."
Unsurprisingly, the writer who came up with this stuff has since apologized for his deranged offspring, hopefully as part of some 12-step program. By the time they were working on the fourth version, Resident Evil had languished in development hell for so long that it had its own fully furnished apartment there. Few details are known about the fourth version beyond the fact that it contained zombies, not diseased villagers. The fact that they didn't just give up at that point but actually made one of the best games ever is so improbable that it's almost scarier than the burning babies.
Warcraft Was a Warhammer Game (and Still Looks Like One)
When a game called Warhammer Online was announced in 2008, World of Warcraft fans were quick to call bullshit: an RPG set in an elaborate fantasy world where you fight things like Orcs, Goblins, and your ever-expanding bladder? How come WoW's creators at Blizzard Entertainment didn't immediately sue those impudent startups to the Twisting Nether and back? Probably because the Warhammer guys have been making games like the ones we described for about, oh, 32 years. Just not always of the "video" variety.
No, kids, this isn't a 1,000-piece puzzle.
To be clear, we're not saying Warcraft's creators intentionally set out to make a Warhammer ripoff -- nope, in the beginning, they thought they were making a legit one. When Blizzard decided to make a real-time strategy game in 1994, they tried to buy the Warhammer license from Games Workshop to "try to increase sales by brand recognition" and presumably also because they knew that no combination of words they could think of would sound as badass as "war" and "hammer." However, their bad experience making the Death and Return of Superman SNES game convinced them that licensing is for losers, so they came up with their own original fantasy universe instead. Toooootally original.
"Instead of a green Orc with an ax, we'll have a green Orc with two axes."
The Warcraft franchise's popularity eventually eclipsed Warhammer's, but luckily that wasn't the only property they had going on at Games Workshop: There was also their futuristic spinoff about space marines fighting an ancient race with psionic powers and hive-minded giant insects, Warhammer 40,000. In an unrelated note, a few years later Blizzard debuted a futuristic game about space marines fighting an ancient race with psionic powers and hive-minded giant insects, StarCraft. You'll be happy to learn that it, too, became insanely popular.
GW then announced a new game, Eating Shit Is Good and We Do It All the Time, Seriously.
There's a dark, lonely corner of the Internet full of conspiracy theories about why Warhammer's makers never sued Blizzard ... or did they? If so, who won? What were the conditions? How did Hitler manage to escape to his lunar base with the Illuminati at the end World War II? For the truth, scroll down to the comments of this article and look for the posts in all caps.
Related: Henry Cavill Is An Apex Nerd
Conker's Bad Fur Day Was Supposed to Be an Innocent Kids' Game
With its onslaught of bad language, elaborate pop culture references, and one notably well-endowed lady sunflower, Conker's Bad Fur Day turned every 10-year-old who accidentally got it for his birthday into the coolest kid in the fifth grade.
All because it actually looked, at first glance, like just another colorful, family-friendly Nintendo game about forest critters -- it was almost as if the developers had started it as one and changed their minds halfway through!
Mainly because that's exactly what they did.
Someone, somewhere, looked at this and thought, "We need to add a giant, singing shit monster."
When Rare Studios first showed off the game (originally called Conker's Quest) at E3 1997, IGN called it "an amazing Disney-esque romp into Super Mario 64 territory." The plot followed Conker and his sweet, innocent girlfriend, Berri, as they went out to collect a hundred house-warming gifts that had been stolen by some magical beings called "The Hoodlums." Contrast that Smurfs bullshit with the story of the final game, in which Conker wakes up with a brutal hangover and goes looking for the missing Berri, who is about twice as tall and half as dressed.
And thrice as Bugs Bunny-esque, which is ... causing confusing feelings, we're not gonna lie.
However, not everyone was as enthusiastic about the original version as IGN: Others criticized the game for being too cute. Rare basically went, "Oh, you don't like cute? Fuck you. See if you like this." Three years and two name changes later, the game emerged in its final, offensive form. Not everything was scrapped in the translation from E to M-rating, though: They've still got all those adorable, talking inanimate objects ...
Wait, these are actually shots from the gritty reboot of Thomas the Tank Engine.
The bit with the scarecrow:
Admittedly, the scene on the left looks to be the product of stoners.
And who could forget those adorable dinosaur companions?
The gore on the right is still less creepy than the pterodactyl's sex-offender stare.
But hey, maybe the game would have been just as (if not more) popular if they'd gone with the original concept? We'll never kn- wait, nope, they did release a family-friendly Conker game for Game Boy Color, and you'd never heard about it until now, so there's your answer.
Related: 6 Baffling Video Game Deleted Scenes
Pikmin Was Almost the Most Insane Mario Game Ever: Super Mario 128
When you think about it, Pikmin is one of the most bizarre game concepts ever: You play as a little alien who crash lands on a strange world that may or may not be a dystopian Earth, where your only means of survival involves plucking animal/plant hybrids straight from the ground and forcing them to obey your every command.
Leave it to Nintendo to make slave labor, animal cruelty, and colonization child-friendly in one fell swoop.
How do you even come up with that shit? The answer, apparently, is you start with an even weirder game and whittle it down to something palatable. Pikmin's first incarnation was as a demo called Super Mario 128 that was designed to show off the capabilities of the then-new GameCube -- the only console capable of displaying 128 Marios at the same time. No, seriously, that's what the "game" was about:
Sony started frantically counting how many Crash Bandicoots they could fit into their presentation.
Not a whole lot is known about how Mario 128 would have played. All we've got to go on is some crazy-ass, nonsensical footage of a bunch of strung-out Marios running around a huge disc-shaped platform with a board-game like surface. At one point, one of them starts rolling other Marios around like barrels, which actually looks kind of adora- OH, DEAR JESUS.
"Mamma mia! Sweet release! I welcome you, oblivion!"
Wait, were we just accidentally given a glimpse into the holding pen at Nintendo HQ where they keep all their cloned Marios? Or, worse yet: Is this how Marios reproduce? Looking at it all from the outset, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was part of a rather adult kind of Mario Party.
"Here we gooooOOOOOOHHH!"
In the end, the entire stage turns into a giant pizza, which sort of makes sense, because Mario is Italian and all (in case you'd never noticed). Unfortunately, things go from delicious to tragic when said pizza implodes into a giant cone, sending every last one of 'em to their deaths.
"Why, how do they usually make pizza in America?"
After being asked about this game for years (we're assuming most of the questions were simply "Why?"), Shigeru Miyamoto of Nintendo eventually confirmed that it served as the basis for Pikmin -- specifically, the part about having a shitload of characters on screen at the same time. As for the vegetable-plucking mechanics, presumably those came from another demo where a million Donkey Kongs pull fetuses from an asteroid shaped like Richard Nixon.
David is an author of books that aren't even about video games, but you could follow him on Twitter or Facebook anyway. Michael is a pop culture enthusiast with an appetite for livin' 'n' learnin'. Do follow him on Twitter @FinalBossaNova.
For more bizarre pop culture facts, check out 4 Insane Unknown Backstories Behind Famous Movies and 5 Classic Games You Didn't Know Had WTF Backstories.
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