The fantastic origins of your favorite games

Militarized Team Fortress, BioShock with Nazis and Banjo starring a boy


The recent American cultural phenomenon of playing plastic baby guitars set to pumpin’ music all began with the development of the first Guitar Hero, developed by RedOctane and Harmonix. We all know Harmonix created GH2, then went on to make the Rock Band series, while Activision continues to pump out the GH releases. But how did it all start?


In 1999, Kai Huang and Charles Huang formed RedOctane and started the very first online gaming rental service. Eventually the Huangs began making game peripherals like dance pads, drums and joysticks. According to the Cleaveland Plain Dealer, the Huangs were heavily influenced by Konami’s GuitarFreaks – which never made it out of Japan – and decided to make a game based around their own plastic guitar. A number of investors turned them down, citing how weird the concept was.

At the same time, Harmonix – founded by two friends from MIT – were looking to make another music game when approached by RedOctane. With a budget of roughly a million, the two companies identified the three key aspects of the game: note-matching, showmanship and star power. Harmonix even used GuitarFreaks’ controllers for development until RedOctane created the prototypes.

According to an MTV report, the original guitars had pressure-sensitive fret buttons to match actually playing a guitar, but that was too hard. In fact, the whammy bar wasn’t even added until about a month before the game finished. From there, certain software used enabled Harmonix to appropriately adjust and modify a song’s track to adjust difficulty levels.

As for the music? The track list was whittled down and added to in terms of whatever licensing deals could be struck. WaveGroup Sound – an audio post production center - was entrusted to handle covers of the songs, while former Drist and Hellbilly guitar player Marcus Henderson handled the lead tracks for many of the covers. Then the game was released and millions of dollars were made.

…game designer Satoshi Tajiri loved to collect insects when he was a child and that love became the basis for the Pokemon series.

…Metal Gear Solid was originally intended to debut on the 3DO.

…the idea for The Sims came from when Will Wright lost his house and possessions in the Oakland fires of 1991.

…the boss fight with GLaDOS at the end of Portal once included laser-dodging, redirecting rocket fire and a chase sequence.

…some of the sound effects used in Dead Space came from the BART stations and trains in the San Francisco Bay Area.

…Tim Schafer’s Psychonauts was originally intended to be published by Microsoft but was kicked to the curb because of underperforming platformers. Majesco published instead and interestingly, Psychonauts is an Xbox Original on XBLA.

…Nintendo wanted to create a 3D version of Zelda for the N64 and indeed they did.

Feb 12, 2009


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