Even for creative types, it can be hard to come up with a good title. (Trust us – we make books for a living.) Here are some of the original names proposed for some of the most popular video games of all time…which might not have been so popular had those names been used.
Sonic the Hedgehog
This flagship title of the Sega Genesis starred one of the most famous video game characters of all time, a blue hedgehog who can run at lightning speed. When the game was in production in Japan, designers had called it Mr. Needlemouse. Why? “Needlemouse” is the translation of the Japanese word for “hedgehog.”
This series pioneered the “first-person shooter” genre of games, in which the action takes place as if it’s from the player’s actual point of view. Creator John Carmack started designing the game in the early ‘90s, about a “space marine” who had to kill angry, bloodthirsty monsters. He floated the titles It’s Green and P***** as well as Attack of the Attackers. Carmack didn’t like either one much, but he was inspired while watching the 1986 movie The Color of Money. In one scene, Tom Cruise’s character is holding his custom pool cue case, waiting for a game to start. Another player asks him what’s in the case, and he responds, “Doom.”
Trying to re-create the success of the puzzle game Tetris, in 1990 Nintendo released another puzzle game called Dr. Mario, in which players had scored points by correctly stacking and matching two-colored pill capsules. Before the company decided to brand it with their most popular character, the Italian plumber Mario from Super Mario Bros. who had somehow found the time to get a medical degree, it was just going to be a generic puzzle game, but with the ominous title of Virus.
“Paku-paku” is a Japanese onomatopoeia phrase which mimics the sound of eating. (Similar English onomatopoeia: crunch or gobble.) Since the game was about a yellow circle eating white dots and ghosts, developers at Namco decided on the title Pakkuman for Japan, and Puck-Man for the U.S. But then some executives worried (probably rightfully) that arcade cabinets bearing that title might be easily vandalized to change the name into something naughty. Puck-Man became the meaningless (but safe) Pac-Man.