15 Video Game Characters You Had NO Idea Were Based On Real People

The world of fiction, whether books, movies or video games, is a reflection of the power of the human imagination. Storytellers can come up with some incredible tales, places, and characters and create entire worlds out of nothing whatsoever. While film and literature have been around for significantly longer, and have been entertaining people for decades and centuries respectively, video gaming has come a long way in the past thirty years.

What was once just pixelated figures performing tasks and jumping around, now travel to different galaxies, end wars and make us feel, much like other forms of media can. With the advances in technology, games being able to show better graphical qualities and hold more memories, character development has improved exponentially. While imagination is indeed powerful and incredible when it comes to writing stories and creating characters, sometimes real life is all you need. This is why many great characters from fiction are taken straight out of real life. While movie characters like Severus Snape (based on a teacher J.K. Rowling met in her early life) and Buffalo Bill (based on serial killer Ed Gein) are obvious examples from the world of film, there are tons in video games.

Some characters are based solely on a celebrity's looks, such as virtually everyone in the Mass Effect games, while, in other cases, characters are inspired by other characteristics like Balrog of Street Fighter being based off Mike Tyson or Lei Wulong of Tekken being quite obviously Jackie Chan. Many examples are obvious and well known, while others are less so. Here are fifteen video game characters you likely didn't know were inspired by real people.

Continue scrolling to keep reading

Click the button below to start this article in quick view

Start Now

15 Wallace Breen

via youtube.com

While any such ranking is subjective, the Half Life games are consistently considered among the greatest of all time. The themes of the story, the gameplay, the characters, and the overall product of both Half-Life and Half-Life 2 are both testaments to the idea that Valve doesn't allow bad games to bear its name. But enough of our drooling over these games, if you've played them, we likely don't need to sell you on these ideas.

That infamous villain of Half-Life 2, the one who sold out humanity to the Combine and essentially enslaved the species, was visually based on a director for a Washington area energy company: Tanner Electric Cooperative named Roger Guay. Despite our best efforts to figure out the the direct connection between Valve and Roger, the director on whose likeness Breen is based, it remains unclear. As far as we can tell, Breen's actions and personality are likely nothing like Mr. Guay.

14 Pagan Min 

via farcry.wikia.com

The eccentric, stylish, slightly creepy and oddly familiar villain from Far Cry 4 is Pagan Min, the brutal dictator of the fictional Himalayan country Kyrat. This character is a polarizing one, alienating some Far Cry fans who were used to the more brutish and maniacal villains such as The Jackal (Far Cry 2) and Vaas Montenegro (Far Cry 3). Many fans, however, welcomed the new character as a decent change of pace, praising the way he was written and how his story plays out in the game.

The name Pagan Min was taken from a 19th century King of Burma who ruled from 1846 until 1853. This man killed several of his brothers to earn the throne of the country.

The voice actor who played Pagan Min is Troy Baker; one of the biggest names in voice acting. If you like video games, you are probably a fan of this guy's work. He's worked on more games than we care to name here, including the Call of Duty series, Mass Effect 3, and most notably a couple of Batman games, in which he played The Joker. When providing his voice for Pagan Min, Baker stated that he wanted to emulate the job that actor Christopher Waltz did when playing Hans Landa; the diligent, hateful, intelligent main antagonist in Inglourious Basterds. 

13 Michael De Santa

via dualshockers.com

Of the three protagonists in Grand Theft Auto V, Michael is the one we aren't too sure whether we should like. Trevor is obviously a violent, unpredictable psychopath, but we can't help but like him. Franklin is a straight shooter and a genuinely decent person, who just happens to commit crimes to get what he wants/needs (just because it is illegal, does not mean it is wrong), but Michael is conniving, a poor family presence, and generally the least savory of the three.

His likeness was based on actor Ned Luke, who put on some weight in order to play the slightly overweight De Santa. His personality and what Luke wanted to portray was the fatherly wisdom and genuine care of Hugh Beaumont as Ward Cleaver in the 1950's show Leave it to Beaver, in combination with the ambition and determined aggression of Al Pacino as Tony Montana in Scarface. 

12 Nathan Drake

via bowshrine.com

This one is pretty easy, isn't it? Nathan Drake is a rare breed among action-adventure video game protagonists. He's a relatively thin dude who looks like he doesn't work out six hours a day, he cracks jokes, even while facing down his own peril and seems to have a perpetual "don't worry, I got this" attitude. This is all very fitting because his appearance and personality were both originally based on Jackass' Johnny Knoxville. The developers have also said that they wanted a bit of Harrison Ford and Bruce Willis in the mix, but looking at Drake and playing through the Uncharted series, he's definitely a Knoxville kind of guy, part of why audiences love him.

11 Mario

via gam3.es

On one hand, Super Mario is just a plumber with a knack for getting the job done, even if there are no plumbing jobs available; he calls his brother and they get the job done. The design for quite possibly the video game world's most iconic character has stayed roughly the same (except for originally being a carpenter in 1981's Donkey Kong), but the inspiration for the name is a story not known to many gaming enthusiasts.

In the early 1980s, Nintendo had rented a warehouse for their American headquarters. They were expecting a major payday after the release of their 1981 arcade game, but were a little short on the rent. Landlord Mario Segale showed up furious one day, demanding payment. Minoru Arakawa, President of Nintendo's American operation, was able to strike up a deal with Segale and because of that landlord's understanding, their character, originally called Jumpman, was renamed Mario.

10 Zelda

via pcwallart.com

It is still funny to meet a casual gamer or someone just unfamiliar to the gaming world and have them think that the blond guy with the green outfit and sword is the titular character of the Zelda series. Poor Link, always being mistaken for a girl. But we digress.

Her name (and to some extent, her overall character) were inspired by Zelda Fitzgerald, the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. His basic rationale for using the name was that he found it to be an interesting and uncommon one, but creator Shigeru Miyamoto also pointed out that Zelda Fitzgerald was also a smart, beautiful and famous woman, and he wanted a name for his character that would reflect these attributes.

9 Andrew Ryan

via bioshock.wikia.com

One of the most important characters in the BioShock universe, Andrew Ryan is a businessman and leader, who founded the underwater city of Rapture and his company, Ryan Industries. He was born in Russia and came to the United States after the communist revolution and became an advocate for objectivist philosophy. His character was, in this way at least, influenced by Russian-American writer/philosopher Ayn Rand and closely mimicked the actions of her character, John Galt, from Atlas Shrugged. His look and some other aspects of his personality were drawn from early aviation innovator turned recluse, Howard Hughes.

8 Sonic the Hedgehog

via deviantart.com

Originally named "Mr. Needlemouse," Sonic the Hedgehog has three notable unique characteristics. The first of these is that he is a blue hedgehog (no kidding, right? I should get awards for writing this stuff). The blue was used as he was Sega's flagship protagonist and Sega's logo was an identical shade of blue. Then there are the distinct red shoes. These were inspired by the boots worn by Michael Jackson on the Bad album. Finally, what the creative team behind Sonic have always called his "get it done" attitude was inspired by Bill Clinton. The key difference is that Clinton "got it done" with an intern while Sonic was busy saving the world from a mad scientist.

7 Larry Laffer

via slidetoplay.com

The Leisure Suit Larry games were good for some comical entertainment and a laid-back gaming experience, but not much else. They followed the misadventures of middle aged creep Larry Laffer as he tried to seduce women far out of his league.

Larry Laffer was based on a salesman who worked for the publisher Sierra Online (now Sierra Entertainment). His last name has not been released, but according to designer Al Lowe, the salesman was named Jerry (some may say his name was Gary: this is incorrect) and would constantly bother the coders at the company with tales of his sexual conquests, to the point at which it became a running joke. This was the birth of the character.

6 Officer Frank Tenpenny

via antagonist.wikia.com

One of the better Grand Theft Auto games, San Andreas tells the story of Carl "CJ" Johnson, a young member of the Grove Street Families who returns home to the city after the death of his mother. While he and his sibling rebuild the gang, they are tormented by a notoriously dirty Los Santos Police Department cop, Frank Tenpenny. Voiced by Samuel L. Jackson, Tenpenny is a nasty character and the final level in which CJ puts him to rest is indeed satisfying.

Rafael Perez was an LAPD cop back in the 1990s and was convicted of a few crimes, including stealing evidence (in the form of cocaine, which he sold), conspiracy, in relation to a shooting he carried out, and perjury. Denzel Washington also used Perez for inspiration when working as character Alonzo Harris for Training Day. 

5 Master Chief 

via ign.com

Believe it or not, Master Chief is based on actor Clint Eastwood. For those of you who just stood up and shouted "whoa, whoa, these guys look nothing alike!" relax, nobody wanted John 117 to look like Clint Eastwood, but Master Chief's demeanor, attitude and lack of dialogue were directly inspired by Eastwood. Playing through the games, it rings true that, while the player is controlling John, he rarely speaks, and even during cut scenes, he may have a line here or there, but more often than not, someone else is taking care of the conversation. The theory behind making him a man (cyborg, whatever) of few words was so that the player, as they progress through the series, can apply their own personality to him, thus forming an emotional attachment to the game and to John himself.

4 Trevor Philips

via pinterest.com

There are plenty of reasons to play Grand Theft Auto V. The story is incredible, the views are nice, the gameplay is fun and there is always something to do, and once you're done with the main campaign, online is addictive and challenging. Of course, the protagonists of this game comprise an eclectic trio; Michael the savvy career criminal, Franklin the street smart young gun, and Trevor, the meth cooking maniac.

Trevor Philips may well be one of the greatest character to ever terrify and amuse us at the same time. His inspiration was drawn from two people. For his look, Rockstar used the actor/voice actor who played him, Steven Ogg. For the personality, however, the creators based him on Charles Bronson. Not the actor, however, the notorious British criminal, now known as Charles Salvador. Bronson/Salvador is well known for being violent and completely erratic, and committed violent crimes to get into the prison system, and continued to be violent, attacking guards, and other workers while in prison.

3 Dr. Robotnik

via bowshrine.com

Eggman Robotnik is one of the most recognizable among early video game villains, as the chronic pain-in-the-backside for Sega's iconic Sonic the Hedgehog. A brilliant man, Robotnik was a master of robots and the science that created them, and wanted to use this knowledge to take over the world. Of course, he was eventually foiled in every plot by Sonic and his pals. While he may just look like an awkwardly shaped character with a crazy mustache, Robotnik is based on early 20th century American President Theodore Roosevelt.

The fact that he's a villain isn't a jab at Roosevelt's legacy however. The character was originally drawn as one of the possible protagonists of the series, but Sonic was chosen for this role and the design for Robotnik was modified to be the evil scientist.

2 Kratos - Edward Norton in American History X

The demigod protagonist of the God of War is about as intimidating a character as has been featured in a video game. His backstory, for those who are unfamiliar, is that he was once a Spartan warrior but, through a series of mishaps, finds out he is the son of Zeus. Of course, Kratos is loosely based in Greek Mythology, but very loosely.

David Jaffe, the creator of this character, once said that his primary inspiration for the "power and aggression" of Kratos was Edward Norton's portrayal of American History X's anti-hero Derek Vinyard, a neo-Nazi. This is likely Norton's most famous role that doesn't involve him and Brad Pitt wailing on each other (Fight Club). The most iconic scene in this movie, and the one Jaffe referred to when discussing Kratos' inspiration, was when Norton (as Vinyard) ruthlessly kills two black men trying to break into his house and then calmly surrenders to police, with a sinister look of satisfied evil on his face.

1 Captain John Price - John McAlesse

via aria.co.uk

We'll admit that this one has not been confirmed by the creative minds behind the Call of Duty franchise, but the similarities between the SAS man in the Modern Warfare trilogy and SAS Staff Sergeant John McAleese. McAleese and Price both have distinct facial hair (different styles, obviously), they have similar facial features and look alike. Of course, they also worked for the same branch of the British Army's Special Air Service. McAleese was one of the soldiers involved in the infamous 1980 assault on the Iranian Embassy in London. He also saw action during the Falklands War and during the Troubles during the late 1980s in Northern Ireland.


More in Lists