The real-life inspiration behind our favourite video games: Overwatch, Destiny, Assassin’s Creed, and more

I’m a sucker for concept art. Seeing where a game came from and witnessing the creators’ imaginations working overtime often makes the inspiration behind some games immediately obvious. You could drown in the Norse mythology and fairy tale references in The Witcher, and God of War is of course an amped-up reworking of Greek legends, gods, and monsters, more or less. But did you know Destiny was based on a science-fiction French version of Dungeons & Dragons? Or that you could experience the same genetic memory as Desmond from Assassin’s Creed? Neither did I. Read on for revelations galore!

Destiny: inspired by Dune, Star Wars (surprise surpise) and...Thundarr the Barbarian?

In an interview with Glixel, Christopher Barret, the game director of Destiny’s Rise of Iron, listed off the numerous inspirations behind Destiny. Unsurprisingly Star Wars is in there, as well as Dune, the best-selling science fiction novel by Frank Herbert which is kind of like Game of Thrones, but set in space, with a lot of drugs. But what on earth is Thundarr the Barbarian? From the way Barrett describes it, it sounds like a mix between Fallout and Dungeons & Dragons, set in a “post-apocalyptic world in the future with fantasy elements”. Getting even more niche, Barrett also says that an animated science-fantasy French movie called Light Years was a big inspiration. The entire film is on YouTube, so check it out if you want to take a trip back to the ‘80s.

Overwatch’s Zarya: inspired by Blizzard’s real-life 3D artist Tamara

I’m sure I’m not alone in having the sudden urge to chop all my hair off and dye the resulting pixie cut pink after seeing Zarya from Overwatch mow down foes with her particle cannon. Turns out even if I did that to my luscious locks right this second I wouldn’t be the first, as Zarya is actually based on Tamara Bakhlycheva, one of Blizzard’s 3D artists. Take a look at the picture yourself to see the resemblance! 

Assassin’s Creed: inspired by the real case of genetic memory (or transgenerational epigenetic inheritance)

Got an irrational fear of the number 5, or find you heart beating a little faster when you sniff cherry blossom? You might be experiencing the same trip down genetic-memory-lane as Desmond does in each Assassin’s Creed game, as researchers have determined that you can inherit phobias based on traumatic events which might have happened to your ancestors. So if you’ve got a special fear of geese, it might turn out that your great-grandmother got chased by a pack when she was young, and the memory of this was passed on to you. The real question is, could more than fear be stored in our heads? What if, like Desmond, we could relive our ancestors’ lives by accessing these hidden strands of DNA? Hopefully no ominous multinational corporate conglomerate like Abstergo would appear at the same time. 

BioShock Splicers: inspired by the first WW1 skin grafts

In the damp and dingy docks of Rapture, you can hear the religious mumblings of the Wader splicer reverberate off the walls. Armed with a pipe, bombs, or those creepy hooks Spider Splicers use to swing about on the walls, if you pause a moment to take a look over his corpse once you’ve pumped him full of electricity, lead, or bees, you’ll notice that his eyes are covered by what looks like a mask made of skin. The inspiration behind the Splicer came from the soldiers who came back from World War One with severe facial injuries. They were treated with a pioneering plastic surgery technique in the form of skin grafts, with the sailor Walter Yeo as the first to get this treatment. 

The Last of Us: inspired by zombie fungus

You’ll have to take a deep breath if you want to pronounce this all in one go: ophiocordyceps unilateralis. Sound familiar? Probably not, but it might look familiar. This is pretty much the same zombie fungus from The Last of Us, which infects people and turns them into Clickers and spore-spewing mushroom heaps. The fungus controls the infected ant and makes it abandon its nest for the forest floor, where the ant will find a leaf, sink its teeth into it, and then expire, leaving the fungus able to soak up all the delicious humidity around the corpse. Don’t worry though, as it only infects ants in Thailand and Brazil. So far, that is.

Kratos from God of War: inspired by American History X

We all know that God of War is a riff on Greek legend - and no wonder, because Greek legend is brutal and makes for a great action game - but did you know that Kratos’ design was based on Ed Norton in American History X? Neither did I. In an interview, designer David Jaffe said that the idea came from the scene where Norton is arrested. In Jaffe’s own words: 

“ just see how buffed and built he’s gotten. I showed that to the artist and I said, ‘Okay, that sense of power and aggression that you just see in his face, can we somehow take that, the essence of what he’s exuding, and somehow turn that into a character that fits into this Greek mythology world?”. 

Lo and behold, they did. Kratos, with all his roaring and glorious rage, was born.

Zoe Delahunty-Light

While here at GamesRadar, Zoe was a features writer and video presenter for us. She's since flown the coop and gone on to work at Eurogamer where she's a video producer, and also runs her own Twitch and YouTube channels. She specialises in huge open-world games, true crime, and lore deep-dives.