How Video Games Get Their Names

A player’s first point of call with a new video game is its name. As such, a well chosen name can be a decisive factor in whether a title achieves commercial success or ends up in the bargain bin. The stories as to how different games get their names are as varied as the imaginary worlds they describe. Below we take a look at the, often surprising, processes that led to the naming of some of our best loved and most recognizable video games.

Kirby

Nintendo is home to a plethora of memorable characters and franchises, all with their own unique origin story. While Kirby may not have achieved the same fame or status as his colleague Mario, Kirby has starred in over thirty games since the round pink oddity made his initial debut on the Gameboy in Kirby’s Dream Land in 1992. All told, Kirby’s action platformer games have sold in excess of 38 million units, making him one of the best selling characters in the history of gaming. What many don’t realize, is that Kirby is based on a real person: the American attorney John Kirby

What led to this unassuming lawyer being immortalized in Nintendo’s colorful canon? It all began in 1984, at a time when Nintendo was attempting to break into the American arcade gaming market. Their star game, Donkey Kong, caught the attention of production company Universal Studios. Universal ultimately sued Nintendo for copyright infringement of their 1933 classic monster movie, King Kong. John Kirby was the person hired in to refute the shaky claims and make Nintendo’s case. As the proceedings quickly turned in Nintendo’s favor, leading to a successful defense and win, Nintendo decided to create the character of Kirby as a tribute to John Kirby for his stellar work.

Blackjack

While Blackjack is traditionally a physical card game, and remains the most widely played casino game in the world, a host of increasingly internet oriented gamers prefer to experience the title in one of its popular online variations making it one of the fastest growing video games globally. Blackjack is but one in a long line of card games based around the rule-set of scoring a hand that adds up to 21 points. 

These games, dating back to at least the renaissance, have typically been referred to by the name Twenty-One in their respective languages, such as Ventiuno in Spanish, and Vingt-Un in French. The name of the British variant, Pontoon, is also in fact a corruption of the French name. Many point to the early decades of the 20th century, in the United States, as being the decisive time and place that Blackjack became more popular than other versions of Twenty-one. This is due to a new rule-set that became fashionable in gaming houses. These establishments began to offer special bonuses and payouts for players who won with a hand consisting of the Ace of Spades with either a Jack of Spades or Clubs. As Spades and Clubs are the black colored suits, the term Black Jack began to be used to signify this variant.

Halo

Halo

Sometimes a game’s name is inextricably wed to its core concept and original vision. Other times, that name can be a hard won thing borne out of endless revision and debate. So it was in the case of Halo: Combat Evolved, the revolutionary first person shooter that shipped as the original Xbox’s launch title back in 2001. Halo’s innovative design, storytelling, gameplay mechanics and unique, memorable name, have all contributed to the franchise entering its 20th year with 70 million copies sold and over $5 billion in revenue under its belt. 

Halo: Combat Evolved started life as a real-time strategy game called Solipsis in production for Apple’s macOS platform. From that initial plan a great deal changed as game studio Bungie jumped ship to develop what would become Halo for Microsoft’s upcoming console. The game went through a range of design changes, most significantly morphing from a top-down real-time strategy game into a first person shooter. The original name, Solipsis, was in reference to the then spherical artificial planet the game was supposed to be set on. Then, taking inspiration from the sci-fi works of Iain M. Banks, Bungie revised their setting to become a ring-shaped world, the Halo, instead. Before the studio settled on the name Halo however, the project moved through a range of frankly bizarre working titles, including The Crystal Palace, The Santa Machine, Monkey Nuts, Hard Vacuum and Star Shield.

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