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Tracing the Influence: Stolen Images in Games

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by derboo - October 2012; special thanks go to Tatsujin, who collected many examples over at the Assemblergames.com forums, giving me the idea to gather more stuff, but unfortunately couldn't be reached anymore at the time this page was compiled. Other sources include a Japanese Geocities page, tvtropes, Recorded Amiga Games, Game Front, The Amazing Archipictor and the Silent Hill Heaven forum. Contributions by, in no particular order: Ryusenshi, Paul, Lord Toon, Alejandro Curini, Glen, Nedflandeurse, Larry Bundy Jr, Jake Quickel, Trickless, Gilder, ReyVGM, stefanl, lanceboyle94, Snarboo, The Green Herring, starscream, Sketcz, nickz, MP83, spirasen, DPB, corsair, drsparkle, sogetsu, saucedupone, gboukensha, diebussy, acidonia, youlote, kjn, Lee, Weasel, Probable Muppet, veggieh8r, bluemoon, DerZocker, imhotep, BulletMagnet, cafeine, Gendo Ikari, hereforbrendabakke, soleyu, retroman, cowboyrocket, wxbryant, PooshhMao, freegamer, barbarus, johnmoran, cowboycrocket, adaml, 00agent, tenfresh, BdR, Derek Yu, Alex Rushdy, Phil Theobald

Imagine you're a game producer in the late 1980s, a week before the deadline and you still haven't got a cover for your game. Exhausted from crunchtime, you tell your illustrator to just rip off some Schwarzenegger action movie to get the job done. Careful, your subordinate might take the order all too literally! When artwork in video games seems to look too realistic to be actually drawn by the artist, then it actually might be too realistic, as many vintage games have stolen images from movies, album covers, paintings and even other games. The subject here aren't simply inspired designs or characters (in that case, we'd be here all day just counting the games influenced by Nausicaä, Hokuto no Ken or Alien), but actual specific images that might have been traced, digitized or just used as direct reference. Many of them come from print material that went with the games' releases (covers, flyers, manuals, etc.), but the last two pages are reserved exclusively for in-game references. Some of these are well known, others more obscure, but they all have something in common: They would likely have gotten their artists sued if the original images' copyright holders had ever seen them; a gallery of litigations that could have been, so to speak.

Part 1: Schwarzenegger and Stallone

The Terminator vs Metal Gear

Technically, this isn't a Schwarzenegger shot. But it is from a Schwarzenegger movie, and as the classic example almost everyone has seen before, it is the perfect image to start the gallery. Solid Snake on the cover of the original Metal Gear is all too obviously traced over a still of Kyle Reese for the movie The Terminator.


Arnold Schwarzenegger vs Contra

Aside from the H.R. Giger Alien in between them, the two bad dudes on the cover of Contra for the NES seem to be obviously inspired by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Silvester Stallone. Surprisingly, they're actually both trace overs from Schwarzenegger's poses in Predator.

Afterwards Rambo became a more frequent source for the series, but Arnie wasn't forgotten entirely: His title pose from Raw Deal (known in Japan as Gorilla) was used for the Japanese cover of Contra III, and in the game his Commando persona appears with a ridiculous extra machinegun in the other arm. Even one of the original Contra's title poses from Predator is reprised.


Arnold Schwarzenegger vs Amiga Covers

Arnie's poster pose for his classic action flick Commando is so ridiculously iconic, it got copied for at least two Amiga box covers. Here are NARC and Navy Moves. Especially the latter has quite an interesting take on the image...

The famous Commando still from above returns in Astro Marine Corps - this time on a sitting character. The guy to the right on the Crack Down box seems to be a rather loose interpretation of the Predator one (his partner could actually be a bastardized John Rambo). The box for Crime Wave also definitely shows Arnie's face. The pose is somewhat similar to the poster for True Lies, but it isn't the same shot - especially since the game was released four years earlier.


Arnold Schwarzenegger vs Mercs

Of course Capcom's sequel to Commando (whose equal naming to the movie appears to be a coincidence, seeing how both got released in 1985) couldn't go without a number of Schwarzenegger references. The profile pictures for both player characters are taken from his movies - Joseph Gibson hails from Commando, while Howard Powell is once again taken from the poster of Raw Deal/Gorilla


Commando vs Bloody Wolf

After all those big guns, a machete (once again from Commando) feels like a real breeze of fresh air. Also see the guy next to him? He's the reason we shall see this cover again...


Conan vs Rastan & Xyphoes Fantasy & Galdregon's Domain & Golden Axe & Blacksilver & Arabian Magic

Taito's Rastan series is so shamelessly cobbled together from elements of the Conan saga, it doesn't even surprise anymore to see any stills from the Schwarzenegger movies cloned. The second pose was also used for the home computer games Blacksilver and Galdregon's Domain, Golden Axe III (bet you were wondering when this series would show up here) and Taito's Arabian Magic. The most shameless ripoff, however, was featured on the cover of the early Silmarils title Xyphoes Fantasy, which, just in case someone wasn't quite sure of the reference yet, added a smaller rendition of Arnie with his war painting on. None of the game barbarians is stupid enough to grab the sword by the blade, though.


Conan vs Ninja Commando

The moves from Arnie's sword practice choreography for Conan the Barbarian have been copied in various games, like Korr from Weaponlord, but are usually distinct enough to avoid ending up on this page. Well, swift and stealthy ninjas are not exactly the first thing that comes to mind when seeing the Austrian Barbarian in action, but whatever gets the shurikens flying, I guess...

The same pose was also reproduced more faithfully by Attic's Spirit of Adventure, but that was only one of many references in that game. More of that on the last page.


Arnold Schwarzenegger vs Jim Power

While the original cover for the Jim Power games is based on Jean Claude van Damme (see page 3), the Japanese somehow thought Schwarzenegger to be the better fit for this game. Once again the drawing seems taken from the cover of Raw Deal/Gorilla, but his arm has been changed to a different angle. We don't know who is female companion is, though...


Arnold Schwarzenegger & Christopher Lambert vs Mechanized Attack

Now Schwarzenegger in his Terminator 2 persona is teaming up with a young Christopher Lambert, not exactly a ripoff poster favourite. Poor chap didn't even get a single decent game for his Highlander movies...


Rambo vs Just about every other Japanese run-'n-gun from the late 1980s

Rambo was so incredibly popular in the island nation that its theme and imagery got copied in dozens of games. Among them, Ashura is one of the most interesting, cause it was similar enough to be actually made an official tie-in for its Western release. The right guy on the box is obviously John Rambo with his bow in First Blood Part II. The same pose - though without the bow - also appears on the box of the Japanese computer adventure game Mephist. It seems likely the other guy on the Ashura cover is also from Rambo, as the title screen continues the trend with two more obvious clones from movie stills.

By this point Contra would almost disappoint if it didn't have some poses as well, and it starts right there on the flyer for the first arcade game. The exact same pose was also used for the aforementioned Bloody Wolf (the top-down view run-'n-gun is very obviously inspired Rambo altogether) and Thunder Zone, and even made it into an in-between-levels slide in Contra 3: The Alien Wars, alongside others.

Super Contra didn't miss its turn, either, so the flyer just downright takes the poster from First Blood Part II as reference. The other guy with the gargantuan gun kinda seems to be taken either from the same movie or from the rocketlauncher scene in Schwarzenegger's Commando. Although no matching still could be found, the exact same image is also copied in the title screen of Daisenryaku 88.

Garuka or Devastators is another Konami game with Rambo-lookalikes as main characters, this time building the entire game on the over-the-shoulder sequences from the original Contra. On the title screen the two heroes make their best Stallone impressions. Their versions on the flyer may also have counterparts in the movie, but if that's the case they couldn't be found yet.

Here are two more examples from Japanese home computer games. One of the very first games the famous Wolf Team ever created, Final Zone reproduces the rocket launcher shot from above, and the soldier on the top could be inspired by the still to the right (or an alternative shot of the same scene), judging by the bent of the arm and the fingers. NCS' Maidum - oddly not an action game, but an RPG with a North African setting - brings back the bow stance seen in Ashura. The central characters on both covers seem to be taken from other movies, though.

Of course SNK's original Rambo adaption, Ikari Warriors, also delivers, right next to it the cover on SEGA's Cabal clone Double Hawk, which funnily uses the exact same two stills. The left shot was also used as reference for the title screen of another Cabal-inspired title, Riot by NMK. This exemplifies the difficulty in distinguishing it from the very similar Commando pose above, but Sly's angry face over Schwarzenegger's more laid-back look, the angle of the munition-feeding arm and the nozzle fire give this one away, regardless of the more Arnie-like hair.

Once again all the reference comes from the second movie, Rambo III came out too late for most of these games. As the years went on, plagiarizing Western movies grew rarer in Japan (with anime influences on the rise), but one shot from the movie still made it into several games: Rambo getting ready and putting on his bandana has been the subject of countless imitations and parodies, and video games sure as hell were among them. To the left is Bare Knuckle 3, whose intro got excised from the American release Streets of Rage 3, to the right is the TurboGrafx-16 CD title Last Alert, another top-down run-'n-gun similar to Capcom's Commando.

But not only Japanese artists borrowed from Sly. The Covers for the C64/ZX Spectrum title Rapid Fire and the European computer versions of Guerilla War share the same angled shooting pose, while GI Hero imitates the side view shot.


Rocky vs Streets of Rage

Now this might seem just a little bit far-fetched, especially since we haven't got Sly's full pose, but Rocky just had to fit in there somehow...


Arnold Schwarzenegger & Jean Claude Van Damme vs Bare Knuckle II

But the Streets of Rage series sure has a tradition of borrowing from action movie stars. On the Japanese cover of the second game Axel very much looks like Jean Claude Van Damme in one of his usual poses. But that's not even the most awesome part of this illustration: The disembodied head in the background is apparently inspired by Arnold Schwarzenegger's appearance in a commercial for the Japanese energy drink ArinaminV. In one of the spots he even appears as a disembodied head.


<<< Prior Page

Next Page >>>

Page 1:
Schwarzenegger and Stallone

Page 2:
Frazetta and Vallejo

Page 3:
Illustrators and painters

Page 4:
Other: Boxart and ads

Page 5:
Other: In-game graphics

Page 6:
Character portrait galleries

Back to the Index