Scores of voice actors now not only provide vocal work but also motion capture so they look just like their video game characters. Yvonne Strahvoski in Mass Effect 2, Kristen Bell in Assassin’s Creed, the list goes on. Thus, it’s pretty clear when a game character is influenced by their actor. But what’s more interesting is when a character is inspired not by a real person but rather someone else entirely.
It goes back a long time as scores of famous characters have inspirations from intriguing sources. Some are rather obvious and easy to spot as an obvious homage. Others are more interesting as the source of inspiration is not as obvious or famous yet still very interesting. Sometimes it’s an actor or a character but real-life political or historical figures have also inspired games in various ways. Here are 20 video game characters based on real people.
20 Kratos: Edward Norton
When one looks at the star of God of War, it can be assumed he was based on some powerhouse. Maybe a pro wrestler or NFL star or at least a guy famous for action films. Instead, the inspiration for Kratos came from Derek Vinyard, Edward Norton’s character in American History X. While a Neo-Nazi inspiring a Greek warrior sounds bizarre, the developers were struck by the black and white aesthetic, Norton's bald head, and his attitude to craft this brutal PlayStation favorite.
19 Dr. Robotnik: Teddy Roosevelt
Rough Rider, New York Governor, President of the United States... mad scientist? Yes, believe it or not, Teddy Roosevelt was the inspiration for Sonic the Hedgehog's long-time arch-enemy. This wasn’t meant as an insult however as the original plan was for Robotnik to actually be the protagonist of the series and so Roosevelt’s large build and thick mustache made more sense. It was still kept when Sonic was chosen instead. Not only is Roosevelt on Mount Rushmore but he made a huge mark for Sega fans as well.
18 Lara Croft: Neneh Cherry
She’s been played on screen by Angelina Jolie and Alicia Vikander and countless gorgeous models have posed at her at conventions. So it may be surprising that the original model for Lara Croft was not some actress or supermodel. Rather, it was Neneh Cherry, the Swedish singer best known for the 1980s hit “Buffalo Stance.” There was also the comic book character of Tank Girl inspiring Lara’s attitude. Most have forgotten the singer’s career, but she left an undeniable mark on gaming.
17 Samus Aran: Sigourney Weaver And Kim Basinger
Classic NES fans still remember the shock when the ending of Metroid revealed that Samus Aran, this incredibly tough armored bounty hunter, was actually a woman. It was a big twist and the character has remained a Nintendo icon ever since. The developers based this on Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley from Aliens, loving a tough woman in the lead. For her look, Kim Basinger was the idea with her knockout form. The combined inspiration created a legend.
16 Sonic: Bill Clinton And Michael Jackson
Some might do a double-take on this one but it’s true. The obvious inspiration of Sonic was a hedgehog, but there were other touches as well. Naoto Ohshima confirms in interviews that President Bill Clinton helped inspire Sonic’s “go to” attitude to help others. Meanwhile, Sonic’s trademark boots were taken from those Michael Jackson wore in his “Bad” and “Smooth Criminal” videos. It’s a bizarre pairing that somehow worked as Jackson even helped create the music for Sonic 3.
15 Mario: Mario Segale
Today, Mario is the icon of Nintendo, the fun guy whose adventures are still hailed as the greatest platformer series ever made. One might wonder who the inspiration was and think it was some sort of comic of the past. Instead, he was based on Mario Segale, the landlord for Nintendo’s president when the game was created. All they did was slap on that big mustache and the character was set for life. Seagle distanced himself from the role, but it’s fun to think of the origins of the character.
14 Officer Tenpenny: Rafael Perez
Memorably voiced by Samuel L. Jackson, Tenpenny is the true villain of Grand Theft Auto San Andreas. This brutally corrupt cop uses blackmail and threats to force CJ into his plans and has no issue framing the guy for shooting a cop Tenpenny actually took out. As it happens, Tenpenny was based on Rafael Perez, an LAPD officer who made headlines for being arrested for massive corruption and other crimes. Perez also inspired Denzel Washington’s Oscar-winning performance in Training Day.
13 Master Chief: Clint Eastwood
Naturally, there will be some claiming that the iconic hero of the Halo franchise bears no resemblance to the iconic Hollywood actor/director. But this is a case where it’s not the looks that were the inspiration but the attitude. The developers wanted to capture how, in the classic “Man With No Name” Westerns, Eastwood rarely speaks and when he does, it’s a tough rasp. That fits Master Chief who lets his actions speak louder than his words to match the famously tough Eastwood.
12 Zelda: Zelda Fitzgerald
Most video game fans of the 1980s, especially kids, may not have been serious literary types. Thus, they could have missed the origins behind the name of "Zelda." The princess has been the namesake of one of Nintendo’s greatest franchises and her name sounds like it belongs in some far off kingdom.
It was actually taken from Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of acclaimed author F. Scott Fitzgerald as creator Shigeru Miyamoto was taken by her beauty and thought the name sounded wonderful. He was sure right as Zelda Fitzgerald is more famous for this namesake than anything else.
11 Lei Wulong: Jackie Chan
For decades, martial arts fans have adored Jackie Chan’s films. The actor is famous for breaking nearly every bone in his body doing his own stunts and mixing some comedy into his fighting. It’s clear he was the inspiration for Tekken’s master fighter and not just in looks. Lei’s detective background references Chan’s Police Story films while his drunken stance is obviously based on Chan’s Drunken Master classics. Chan himself has noted being honored by the obvious homage.
10 Nathan Drake: Johnny Knoxville
Fans of Uncharted have contended for years that Nathan Fillion is the only person who can play Nate Drake (Fillion even starred in a fan film to prove he could pull it off). But the actual inspiration for the maverick adventurer is surprising. He was actually based on Johnny Knoxville, known for his insane daredevil stunts and wild attitude that the developers thought perfect for the maverick Drake. While the final Drake was toned down, he does share a few traits with the original source.
9 Ellie: Ellen Page
This is a visual reference so amazing that it’s no wonder folks initially thought Ellen Page was playing the role of Ellie. While she starts off young, the character of The Last of Us grows into a fine woman whose resemblance to Page is stunning. In reality, Ashley Johnson voiced the role and Page actually criticized the developers for using her likeness without her permission. Still, it can’t be denied that if a Last movie were made, casting Page would only make sense.
8 Balrog: Mike Tyson
Mike Tyson is no stranger to video games, having been the namesake and final boss of the original NES Punch-Out. When Street Fighter II was crafting characters, they based the beefy boxer Balrog on Tyson. At the time, Tyson was still known as one of the most feared boxers alive, capable of easily destroying opponents in the ring. Incredibly, Tyson claimed in mid 2019 that he had only "just learned" he was the inspiration.
7 Liu Kang: Bruce Lee
Mortal Kombat’s creators openly acknowledged that the game was inspired by the martial arts masterpiece Enter the Dragon (a secret tournament on an island) with supernatural additions. So who better to model hero Liu Kang on than Bruce Lee? The icon of martial arts wore the same black pants Liu does in the game and even inspired the same loud yells. The resemblance was even stronger in the sequels.
6 Sonya Blade: Cynthia Rothrock
When crafting the first female Mortal Kombat character, the developers had to look for a female martial artist believable enough to beat up guys. They needed look no further than Cynthia Rothrock. A multiple times world champion, Rothrock was well known as the queen of the 1990s B-movie action genre. Sonya clearly resembles Rothrock at the time with her short hair and build (albeit a few inches taller,) and her leg flips were taken from Rothrock’s trademark “sting kick.” Some still insist Rothrock should have played Sonya in the movie to pay off on the likeness.
5 Johnny Cage: Jean Claude Van Damme
When the Mortal Kombat movie was being cast, a major rumor was that Jean-Claude Van Damme would play Johnny Cage. That proved false as Van Damme instead took on the part of Guile in Street Fighter. But it’s understandable as the MK developers have acknowledged the cocky Hollywood star was based on Van Damme. The most obvious connection is the split-legged move that JCVD used in numerous films combined with the fact that MK was to be a JCVD video game. Cage owes his very existence to the “Muscles from Brussels.”
4 Niko Bellic: Vladimir Mashkov
Grand Theft Auto IV may be overshadowed by GTA V but it still remains a fantastic experience. It's all thanks to the exploits of Niko Bellic, a Russian immigrant who falls into a life of crime. The developers had modeled the character on Russian actor Vladamir Mashkov, best known for roles in Behind Enemy Lines and Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol. In fact, Rockstar literally begged Mashkov to voice the role but he turned them down. Yet he acknowledges he enjoys having inspired a memorable game character.
3 Bruno Dellinger: Bruce Willis
According to reports, Sega was trying to get the Die Hard license for a Dreamcast game but couldn’t pull it off. Instead, they created Dynamite Cop which had a pair of cops taking on a high-rise of terrorists. The main character, Bruno Delinger was obviously a total double for Bruce Willis to the point you could hear one of John McClane’s wisecracks coming from his mouth. In a bizarre twist, the game was released in the U.S. as Die Hard Arcade after all and Bruno has appeared in a sequel as well as Project X Zone.
2 Solid Snake: Take Your Pick
No gaming character has had so many inspirations for his look than Metal Gear’s tough hero. The original NES Snake was modeled after Michael Biehn for his role in The Terminator and the sequel based its Snake on Mel Gibson. When Metal Gear Solid was created, Hideo Kojima based the physique of Snake on Jean Claude Van Damme while the facial features were modeled on a young Christopher Walken.
1 Andrew Ryan: A Mix of Famous Figures
BioShock is loved for its amazing FPS action mixed with super-powers along with some great plot twists. It focuses on Andrew Ryan, a millionaire who crafts his own city underwater in hopes of creating the perfect society. The obvious inspiration is author Ayn Rand, whose famous philosophies mirror Ryan’s. But the developers also drew from Citizen Kane’s Charles Foster Kane (the ego), eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes, and even Walt Disney (creating a whole city). They all combine into a classic video game character.
Sources: Wikipedia, Gamespot.com, youtube.com