Their face tells a story
How do you measure the differences in console generations? In the number of bits a machine outputs? The total count of polygons on screen? How many unneeded microtransactions there are? Honestly, those are all too boring. Wed rather judge the generations by how accurately they recreated celebrities like Shaquille ONeal.
Shaq is part of a select group of famous people that have had such sustained popularity, theyve appeared in games for more than a decade. That means you can look to their digital renditions to see just how much in-game visuals have grown over the years, from pixelated mess to photorealism firmly entrenched in the uncanny valley. Will this new generation finally give us the perfect recreation of the former center for the L.A. Lakers? Lets chart his (and other celebs) evolution...
Remember when the world was in love with the phrase Llllllllllllllets get ready to rumble!!! Well, be careful where you say that, because you might be infringing on the copyright of its creator, Michael Buffer. Its been said that the boxing announcer has made more than $400 million on that one phrase--and a good chunk of that has to be the multiple games hes appeared in, starting with his FMV likeness on the Sega CD game, Prize Fighter.
After that, he was all over Ready 2 Rumble, a cartoonish boxing game that has to be the only one in existence where the announcer was more famous than the fighters themselves. The N64 and GBA versions did their best with him, but he basically ended up as a homely pile of polygons/pixels. He got to look somewhat human in the PS2 entry. Should the series ever return, wed hope the art team could make him look at least as good as his announcing brother, Bruce Buffer, looks in recent UFC games.
Ken Griffey Jr.
Were he not so injury prone, Ken Griffey Jr. might've been known as the greatest baseball player of his era, but his spot as sixth highest home run total in MLB history speaks for itself. You know hed have appeared in a ton of video games given his two decade long career, but it really helped that he played for the Seattle Mariners. That team is owned by Nintendo, which made him the star of multiple exclusive baseball titles for the SNES.
Griffey looks alright in pixels, but the sharp polygons werent as kind to him when he entered the batters box on the N64. Just look at that pointy butt. When he reached the end of his career in the PS3 versions of MLB: The Show, he finally started to look human from behind. We never thought we'd be so concerned about Ken Griffey Jr.'s ass until this very moment.
Most Hollywood mainstays that appear in multiple games are major stars, but somehow Willem Dafoe got his mug in a trio of games that span the NES, PS2, and PS3. The gaunt-faced character actor made his gaming premiere in Platoon, the unlikely NES adaptation of Oliver Stones violent film about the Vietnam War. Willems death was a key image from the film, so it got remade (as best as they could) in the NES games intro.
It took more than 10 years before he came back to games, doing his best to voice his digital likeness as the Green Goblin in Spider-Man: The Movie. But the PS2 wasnt powerful enough to handle the many subtleties and lines of Dafoes face. It took the power of the PS3 and the vision of game director David Cage to finally recreate the underappreciated actor in all his gap toothed glory.
Fame is fleeting in the music industry, particularly in the realm of hip hop. But Snoop Dogg (Lion?) has seen one hit wonders come and go since his debut in 1992, making him an icon that can transcend pretty any form of media. Just look at his long career in gaming, where hes been a pro wrestler, an undercover cop, and martial arts master.
Calvin Brodus made his first in-game appearance in the weird hip hop/wrestling fusion game Def Jam Vendetta, and we have to give EA credit for getting his model to look so good in the GameCube original. He didnt fare as well as an unlockable character in True Crime: Streets of L.A., and by the time he appeared in Tekken Tag Tournament 2, he was relegated to a cameo as an average-looking background character (albeit one with his own throne-turned-stage). We can only imagine how accurate he would've looked in the cancelled game Fear and Respect. And let us not speak of the atrocity that is Way of the Dogg.
The late King of Pop was famous for his love of video games, having an on-again, off-again partnership with Sega. As part of Segas massive push to make the Genesis the top 16-bit console, it created Moonwalker, a brawler that saw Jackson take down thugs with his smooth dance moves. Then some stuff... happened with Michael, and gamers wouldnt see much of his likeness till Sega brought him back for a cameo in 2000s Space Channel 5.
Space Channel 5 played off Michaels dancing ability (and vaguely alien appearance), but his turn as a boxer in the aforementioned Ready 2 Rumble made almost zero sense. Armed with one white glove, the hitmaker danced his way across the ring with little care for getting punched in his very expensive face. After that strange facsimile, Jackson didnt return to games until the posthumous Michael Jackson: The Experience, and we have to give Ubisoft credit for making fairly accurate recreations of Michaels ever-changing appearance.
Jackie isnt starring in many movies these days--no doubt thanks to a condition known as aging--but the action star has a fairly random selection of video game appearances. Not counting all the imitators out there, Jackie Chans Action Kung Fu brought the Hong Kong film star to the NES and MSX systems. He looked best on the start screen, with his features transitioning well into a cartoony sidescroller.
It would take another decade before Chan was famous enough in the US to get his own title, Jackie Chan Stuntmaster. The developers did a good job recreating some of Jackies signature moves, but during gameplay he looked insanely nondescript, while in cutscenes he looked like a funhouse version of himself. That cel-shaded look worked much better in the PS2 title based on Jackies kids cartoon of the mid-90s.
Shaq (Part 1)
Shaquille ONeal might just be my favorite famous person of all time. He was a great basketball player for years, but the gentle giant soaked up his fame when away from the court. He starred in movies, he rapped, he goofed around with the cast of Jackass, and he even got his own fighting game, Shaq Fu. And thanks to an exclusive deal to appear in that SNES game, he didnt come to traditional NBA games until the PSX era, as you can tell by his appearance in NBA Hangtime above.
Each new year saw Shaqs polygon count increase as he slowly morphed into an increasingly human shape--but most games still made him look like a gigantic mannequin that came to life. The later NBA Live games got pretty close ( as seen in the above image on the right), but it wouldn't be until the 360/PS3 years that gamers would finally get the Shaq they deserved.
Shaq (Part 2)
ONeal was entering the twilight of his career when the 360 rolled around. That was poor timing, because game engines were finally strong enough to capture his massive, sweaty frame in HD clarity. 2K Sports' NBA games did the best job of recreating Shaq, all the way up to his final pro year appearance in NBA 2K11. But retirement doesnt mean this is the last time well witness the digital evolution of Shaq.
Shaq latest side gig involves making random cameos in games he simply has no business being in. Perhaps the silliest was ONeals appearance as a UFC fighter in UFC Undisputed 2010, or as an unlockable soldier in Delta Force: Black Hawk Down. I sincerely hope that Shaq keeps up this trend into the next generation and beyond. Who knows--maybe hell star in the next David Cage game.
If youve ever had the misfortune of watching his reality shows, you likely just remember Gene Simmons as a gross old letch that rarely takes off his sunglasses. But rock fans know Gene as the Demon of Kiss, the clownish rock band thats currently known more for merchandising themselves than actually playing music. That merchandise includes the PSX original Kiss Pinball, a pretty terrible game that did a good job of recreating Simmons demonic, freakishly long tongue.
The PC version of Kiss: Psycho Circus - The Nightmare Child, didn't do as good of a job, but you shouldn't lay all the blame on the developers, who were just dealing with the comic book adaptation they were handed. Then there was the very weird cameo Gene made in Tony Hawk's Underground for the PS2. Were guessing that recreation of the demon has more to do with Simmons love of monetizing his image and less about a love for skateboarding.
Iron Mike is burned in the memories of boxing fans and lovers of psychotic, self-destructive celebrities, but kids of a certain generation know him as the hardest boss they ever faced on the NES. Tysons incredible dominance in the ring got him his own Nintendo-developed game, Mike Tysons Punch-Out. By NES standards, Id say Tyson look was pretty accurate, and thanks to some personal and legal troubles, it would be the prevailing in-game version of Mike for some time.
The real Tyson was a shadow of his former self when he returned to the ring, but Codemasters virtual version of Mike hadnt lost a step. Entries in Mike Tyson Boxing for both the PSX and PS2 envisioned Tyson as the unbeatable brute we want to remember, but when he appeared in EAs Fight Night titles, he was regrettably closer to the sad, face-tattooed reality. I much preferred remembering him for his brief appearance in pro wrestling, which was perfectly recreated in WWE 2K13.
As you can see, gaming visuals grow and change over the years just as a celebrity's careers and personalities morph over the decades. How will this new generation define the likes of Snoop Dogg and Gene Simmons this time? And will any of today's famous people still be starring in games 20 years from now?