The Not-So-Blank-Canvas: Where Do Games Developers Take Inspiration From?

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It will come as no surprise to TiX readers that gaming is now bigger  than it has ever been in the industry’s storied history. According to research compiled by the UKIE, the global video games market stood at $91 billion in 2016, with the prevalence of digital marketplaces – themselves being brought to the fore by improved internet speeds and the evolution of mobile phones into smart devices – accelerating the growth of the industry over the past several years. For instance, last year saw an estimated 4,727 new titles released via PC distribution service Steam, making up almost 40 percent of all games available on the platform.

So, with more games – and more people gaming – than ever before, how do developers continue to engage and excite audiences with the content they create? How is it possible to continue to innovate and originate in such a crowded marketplace? It’s the question every studio constantly asks themselves, and thankfully, there are limitless sources of inspiration from which to draw: whether it is existing titles, other popular culture, or the world around us. With that in mind, today, we’re taking a look at just two of the most valuable sources of influence for video game developers.

Popular Culture

Credit: Injustice via Facebook.

Throughout gaming’s almost half-decade history, popular culture has proved to be the well that rarely runs dry in terms of providing developers with influence for their latest title. The entertainment industry is one that constantly has its finger on the pulse of what is hot at the present moment, and gaming developers have never shied away from leaning on it for inspiration. Whether it is direct adaptations of popular movies, such as the seminal Nintendo 64 first-person shooter Goldeneye 007, or more subtle influences, such as the inclusion of numerous DC comic book superhero characters in the upcoming Injustice 2, popular culture has continually provided developers with a wealth of inspiration.

Outside of console gaming, popular culture also has a heavy influence on online-only and social titles. Doctor Who: Legacy, for example, is a popular match-three puzzle game inspired by the hit BBC television show, and is available for mobile devices and via Facebook. Similarly, films and properties including Indiana Jones and animated Disney movies have also spawned their own titles including the likes of Indiana Jones Adventure World and Disney Emoji Blitz, respectively.

It’s not just console and casual titles that use these sources of inspiration, either. Take iGaming operator bgo’s roster of slot games, for example, which includes a number of licensed titles based on popular culture, such as Family Guy, Ghostbusters and Rambo. The IGT-developed Family Guy title features characters from the hit animated TV series, including Peter, Lois, Brian, Stewie, Chris and Meg, as the high-value symbols, while its familiar music and animation style are also recreated in the game. Similarly, other online iGaming hubs also feature games inspired by popular culture, with Mr Smith Casino, for example, including slot titles based on Jurassic Park, the band Motorhead and Game of Thrones.

Nature

Credit: The Witcher via Facebook.

Whether it’s the sprawling open world landscapes of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Skyrim, or the intricate, northern Scandinavian seasonal environments depicted in Unravel, the influence of the natural world around us has long been clear in video games. Take Ash Gaming’s Amazon Wilds slot game, for instance. The iGaming title, which is hosted by operator bgo, is heavily inspired by the beauty of the Amazon rainforest: the region’s flora and fauna feature as the five-reel 100 paylines game’s icons, while its atmospheric soundtrack is also heavily influenced by the wildlife and nature of the South America. Elsewhere, online casino Magic Red features an Egyptian Magic slot game, which is inspired, as you’d expect, by the natural wonders of Ancient Egypt, with the pyramids, sphinxes and ankhs all making appearances in the five-reel title.

But nature’s influence goes far beyond merely informing developers’ design, textures and environmental art decisions; nature can often provide the inspiration for some of video games’ most intriguing core gameplay elements. Take The Last of Us, for example. Naughty Dog’s critically acclaimed post-apocalyptic epic drew praise for many of its thematic elements, including its gripping narrative, sublime visuals and environments that perfectly captured a country being reclaimed by nature. What you might not know, however, is that the title’s trademark enemies, the Clickers, were inspired by a real-life natural phenomenon. The ophiocordyceps unilateralis is a parasitic fungus that infects ants of the Camponotini tribe, taking control of its host’s brain and nervous system. In the Last of Us, of course, the same phenomenon has now evolved to the point where humans are being infected by a similarly disturbing parasite: leading to them becoming the aforementioned Clickers.

Of course, developers take inspiration from many, many more sources than the two we’ve explored today. Whether they’re drawing on their own life experiences, borrowing from folklore, works of fiction or the natural world – or even inventing new ideas off the top of the head – creators continue to surprise and delight us with the diverse range of video games they are able to create. But can you think of any recent examples of video game developers taking inspiration from the unlikeliest of sources? Let your fellow TiX readers know in the comments section below.