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One of the most important aspects of any game is the design of its characters. While a title may have brilliant gameplay and an engaging story, players are unlikely to engage with it unless there is an eye-catching protagonist or villain who can initially draw them into the world. Most famous video game characters go through an extensive process of evolution and alteration, with artists constantly changing their creation to come up with the best iteration that they can.

While this is usually a very deliberate method, sometimes other factors can play a huge role in deciding on video game character design. The answer as to why particular characters look the way they do can often come down to a collection of bizarre reasons. Whether it is a strange inspiration for a particular protagonist, an accident that led to the creation of popular villain, or even technical limitations causing certain elements to be introduced to a character, designers occasionally just sort of stumble upon the ideal appearance for their creation. Here, then, are some of the strangest reasons behind video game character design.


Photo:  Nintendo

Although he is arguably gaming’s most famous and popular character, Mario was designed fairly quickly. In fact, certain elements of the character were chosen to allow Shigeru Miyamoto and other developers to quickly render the plumber into the game with relative ease.

For example, Mario wears a hat because Miyamoto didn’t liking drawing hair. The hat also saved designers from having to animate the character’s hair. Mario was also given a mustache, as his original sprite was too small to include a detailed mouth.

Photo:  Eidos

It could be argued that Lara Croft was the first real sex symbol in video games. The Tomb Raider star became infamous for her notoriously large breast size. While you may think this was a design choice from the very beginning, the character only got her huge boobs as a result of an accident by artist Toby Gard.

When he tried to increase the size of Croft’s breasts by 50%, he accidentally enlarged them by a whopping 150%. By the time he had realized his mistake, other members of the team had already seen the model and decided it should stay as is. Thus, an enduring nerd fantasy was born.

Photo:  Nintendo

The pink blob that is Kirby was originally created by Japanese developer Masahiro Sakurai in the early 1990s. However, the character’s final design was initially only intended to be a placeholder sprite so that the team could work on gameplay while a better design was drawn.

As development progressed, Sakurai became more and more fond of the placeholder graphics, and felt the simplistic ball-like appearance served the character and game well. In the end, it was decided that the design would stay in the final version of the game.

The Creepers In Minecraft Were The Result Of A Coding Error

Photo:  Mojang

Out of all of the characters and creatures in the hugely popular Minecraft, perhaps the most dreaded and familiar to players is the Creeper. While they have a very distinctive look, their appearance was largely the result of a coding error by game creator Notch. When trying to insert a pig into the world, he typed in the dimensions incorrectly and that led to the model being disfigured. Liking the look of the new creature, he simply changed the coloring of it and turned it into the Creeper we know today.

“The creepers were a mistake” he said in a documentary. “I don’t have any modeling programs to do the models, I just write them in code. And I accidently made them (the creepers) tall instead of long, so it was like a tall thing with four little feet. And that became the Creeper. As opposed to a pig.”

Photo: Namco

In case you have never noticed before, Pac-Man somewhat resembles a pizza that is missing a slice. This is no mere coincidence, as the creator of the character, Toru Iwatani, explained that he came up with the design while trying to think of something that could be associated with eating – a concept he believed would appeal to everyone. Ironically, this design was suggested to him while he was eating a pizza, noticing the simple appearance of the food when a slice had been removed.

“While thinking about the word ‘eat’ when taking a piece of pizza, I saw that the rest of pizza looked like a character, and that’s how Pac-Man’s iconic shape was created,” says Iwatani. “I realized that although keywords such as ‘fashion’ and ‘love’ would appeal more to women, my opinion is that the word ‘eat’ is universally appealing and would attract their attention as well. That’s why I went with this idea.” What a revealing, if weirdly sexist, look behind the curtain.

Photo: Nintendo

Metroid is one of Nintendo’s biggest franchises, and its initial release in 1986 gave fans a twist ending when it was revealed that the character they had been controlling, Samus Aran, was in fact a woman. This design change in the character only came about midway through development, however.

The creators wanted to include a female protagonist not only due to their love of the movie Alien, but also because the reveal would act as a surprising reward for fans. The fact she appears at the end in a bikini was the result of technical limitations, as the sprite couldn’t be too detailed, so beach wear was the easiest way to show Samus was a woman.

Photo: Naughty Dog

When creators Andy Gavin and Jason Rubin were trying to come up with a new character to compete with the likes of Mario and Sonic in the platform genre, they initially settled on either a wombat or a bandicoot. After going through various different designs, and hiring professional cartoonists from Hollywood, they eventually settled on the design we know today.

They chose the orange color simply due to a process of elimination, as it was the only one not being used by another major video game character that also wouldn’t clash with the levels they had created (or look bad on televisions at the time).

Photo: Sega

One of the most striking things about Bayonetta is that the main character from the series is unabashedly sexy. The designers set out from the very beginning to create an attractive witch character, rather than try to disguise their true intentions.

One of the elements of Bayonetta’s design, though, resulted from the fact that the protagonist needed to be taller than most other women who appear in action games (due to game mechanics and design restrictions at the time). This forced Mari Shimazaki to alter Bayonetta’s proportions, so her arms and legs are much longer than they would normally be.

Photo: Rare

Many platformers feature some sort of double jump or glide that lets the player reach areas that would otherwise be inaccessible. When Rare were first developing Banjo-Kazooie, they wanted to have a similar system. This flutter jump was integral to the gameplay, but they couldn’t think of a logical reason for the bear to be able to jump again in the air.

After toying with the idea of adding folding wings into a backpack, they eventually settled on the idea of adding a secondary bird character that could help Banjo on his adventure.

Video: YouTube

The titular hero from Rayman is best known not for his fighting ability or heroic deeds, but rather his lack of limbs. This lack of arms and legs haven’t stopped him from going on to become an important figure in gaming, with his distinctive design doing some heavy lifting to make him an instantly unique character.

Interestingly, the appearance of Rayman was never intended to lack limbs. The truth is that developers were having difficulty in animating his limbs in proportion to the rest of his body. While experimenting with a lack of arms and legs, they stumbled upon the idea of limblessness allowing Rayman to throw his fists much further. They decided to keep the new design in place for the final product.

Photo: Sega

Hardcore fans of Sega will know that the Michael Jackson had something of a long history with the company, contributing to multiple projects over the years. One of these connections is less well-known, however. Jackson is directly behind the fact that Sonic the Hedgehog wears red shoes. The red shoes worn by the singer on his album Bad inspired the team to use a similar design for their new mascot.

“His shoes were inspired by the cover to Michael Jackson’s Bad, which contrasted heavily between white and red – that Santa Claus-type color. I also thought that red went well for a character who can run really fast, when his legs are spinning,” according to character designer Naoto Ohshima.

Kingdom Heart’s Sora Original Chainsaw And Sword Were Too Violent For Disney

Photo: Square Enix

One of the defining characteristics of Sora from Kingdom Hearts is his giant keyblade, which acts as his signature weapon throughout his adventures. That wasn’t the original intention, however, as series creator Tetsuya Nomura wanted the character to have a giant chainsaw or sword to battle enemies.

Considering how the franchise was a crossover with Disney and featured a number of their most famous cartoons, the company objected to the overly-excessive nature of these weapons. This led to the compromise of using the keyblade as a weapon. It was still needed for gameplay purposes, but it was less offensive to Disney’s sensibility than a chainsaw.

Photo: Nintendo

When Shigeru Miyamoto began working on his first video game for Nintendo in 1981, he had no intention of creating a love triangle between a gorilla, a plumber, and a princess. In Power Up: How Japanese Video Games Gave the World an Extra LifeChris Kohler writes,

“…Nintendo was working on obtaining the Popeye license from King Features Syndicate. Miyamoto envisioned a game where Bluto took Olive Oyl away from Popeye, who made his way over obstacles, acquired his spinach—and BAM!—knocked Bluto out to end the round. But Nintendo was unable to get the license after all, and Miyamoto set to work on his original characters.”

When the Popeye game fell through, Miyamoto didn’t want to scrap all the work he’d done on the story. So, instead, he just replaced the characters. Bluto became Donkey Kong, Popeye became Mario, and Olive Oyl became a princess named Pauline.

Photo: Capcom

One of Mega Man’s primary designers, Keiji Inafune, really didn’t want to make the character blue. In fact, at PAX Prime in 2013, he called the idea of a blue character “gross.” But the NES had a limited color palette; there were only 54 options to choose from and there were slightly more blue shades than any other color. Making Mega Man blue gave the designers more shades to work with, which meant a more detailed design overall.

Freddy Fazbear Is A Response To Criticism Of One Of Creator Scott Cawthon’s Previous Games

Photo: Scott Cawthon

Scott Cawthon is a veteran video game designer. Before releasing Five Nights At Freddy’s in 2014, he had created and designed dozens of independent games. One of those was Chipper & Son’s Lumber Co., which features what was supposed to be a happy-go-lucky beaver chomping down on some wood. Instead, when Cawthon released the game, reviewers called the beaver terrifying. Cawthon explains,

“…when I tried to put it online it got torn apart by a few prominent reviewers. People said that the main character looked like a scary animatronic animal. I was heartbroken and was ready to give up on game-making. Then one night something just snapped in me, and I thought to myself- I bet I can make something a lot scarier than that.”

Realizing that many people find animatronic animals creepy, Cawthon decided to lean into the criticism  and use it as fuel for his next game. In Five Nights at Freddy’s, you play as a security guard trapped inside a pizza parlor with four homicidal, life-size animatronic animals. Without that criticism of Chipper & Son’s Lumber Co., Cawthon would never have created the terrifying creatures of Five Nights at Freddy’s.

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