What’s in a name?

When it comes to videogames, the title is literally everything. It must stick inside the player’s head and stay there for eternity ๐Ÿ™‚ย  The title becomes the brand, leading to franchises, sequels, merchandising, and maybe possibly stuffed animals! When I worked at Taito Software in North Vancouver from 1988 to 1990, my American boss Alan Fetzer taught me that videogame titles could only be a maximum of four syllables – no more. Just think about some of the most well-known videogame franchises in the world:

Mario – Zelda – Metroid – Sonic – FIFA – Halo – Call of Duty

Need for Speed – Warcraft – Diablo – Gears of War

ย Metal Gear – Kirby – Pokemon – Angry Birds

I think you get the idea. A successful videogame name is short, sweet, and creates an image that stays with you for a long time.

I had the privilege of creating several titles for published videogames. I can tell you that dreaming up the name for a videogame isn’t easy. There is so much riding on it. A great name that grabs people’s attention creates buzz. A terrible name will hang around your neck like the proverbial millstone. A ton of money gets spent on videogame promotion – it’s critical to have a great sounding title. However, what matters more than anything else is the gameplay.

The first videogame title I created was for the Japanese sequel to The Legend of Kage (pronounced KAGE, not CAGE) for NES, which Taito released in 1987. Some of you might remember the flying ninja who madly rotated his blade like a lawnmower. Taito Japan created an awesome sequel which had four stages and sixteen levels, with beautiful cinematic sequences.. Taito Software decided to release a North American version. I was asked to submit a set of possible titles in 24 hours. I grabbed several sheets of paper and brainstormed 48 different names. From this list, the title Demon Sword was chosen. Later on, I created the titles Wrath of the Black Manta, The Flintstones – The Treasure of Sierra Madrock, and The Jetsons – Invasion of the Planet Pirates.

So, how did Lufia and The Fortress of Doom get chosen? Well, the story goes something like this. It was definitely the burning question with Taito Japan about what to call this game for the North American market. My managers agreed that the Japanese title Estpolis was out of the question. I didn’t like the title; I knew American videogamers wouldn’t get it, either. I was asked to come up with a name. The way I looked at it was that the entire adventure wasn’t about the player – it had nothing to do with you being Maxim’s descendant. That was different for an SNES rpg at the time. The story was ultimately about this young girl named Lufia and her connection to the Sinistrals. I put it to Taito Japan that we simply call the game Lufia. I felt that the name could stand alone by itself and would be instantly recognizable. I believed the title could be the start of a successful series (was I prescient, dear Lufia fans? ๐Ÿ™‚ ) I received the green light to call the game Lufia. Ultimately,Taito America was responsible for approving the name because it was their product. I sent a fax with my recommendation.

Taito America didn’t like Lufia.

To be specific, they thought the name by itself wouldn’t resonate with North American videogamers. I argued that there was already a precedent with Nintendo games like Mario, Metroid, and Zelda. They countered that those games were already well-established Nintendo titles; Lufia was completely unknown to the market. Taito America told me they would reply in a few days. It actually took a full week before they offered their solution.

They wanted to call the game – Lufia and the Fortress of Doom.

My first reaction was that I wanted to gag. Taito Japan was aghast. I recognized immediately that the subtitle was a clear adaptation of the movie title Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.ย  In 1989, Taito Software released the NES title Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The rationale for the subtitle from the American perspective was that the story revolved around the Sinistrals and the Doom Fortress, although I strongly suspected they didn’t play deeply enough into the game to understand the story of Lufia. Taito America felt it would resonate better with the American audience that simply calling it Lufia.

The Japanese taught me that there are times when you must compromise to achieve a larger goal. I succeeded in naming the game Lufia, and we added the subtitle to get Taito America’s buy-in for publishing it. Looking back, I think it was a worthwhile bargain.

Next time – The race to the 1993 Summer Consumer Electronics Show

Doctor ArkanoidDoctor Arkanoid

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