Derivative Differentiation

Following the leader is ubiquitous in all media. The reasons for this vary, ranging from a desire to attain some of the success of the original work to a desire to pay homage to a work that the creator of the derivative work adores.

This technique can be quite a double-edged sword, however. Some fans stay away from such derivative works, either because they know that most imitations are bound to be bad or because the work is so similar that they feel no need to invest any time into experiencing more of the same, regardless of quality.

So creators of derivative works find ways to make later installments less derivative, either in response to fan reaction or because their storytelling skills have improved to the point that they themselves no longer have to use derivation as a crutch. The work may still have some trappings that hint at its formerly derivative nature, but it's less likely that newcomers will easily be able to discern this.

Related to From Clones to Genre and Growing the Beard. Has nothing to do with calculus.

Examples:

Anime & Manga

Comic Books
  • On his first appearance, the Bat-Man was pretty much The Shadow with wings. Then he got his own backstory, decided he didn't like guns, recruited a kid sidekick, and generally became his own person.
  • Deadpool used to be Deathstroke in red until they made him insane and gave him his own fighting style.
    • And fourth-wall breaking, don't forget that. It's my- err, his most charming trait.
      • You're not fooling anyone like that.
    • ...Shut up, brain.
  • The lead character of Peter David's Fallen Angel was widely assumed to be a lawyer-friendly version of Supergirl from his recently-completed series, but was eventually distinguished.
  • In PS238, many of the background superheroes are obvious walking shout-outs, like Atlas, who is the lone survivor of the doomed planet Argos, rocketed to Earth as a baby, must avoid deadly Argonite, etc. But a story arc revolving around Atlas's origins revealed — to his surprise, as much as anybody else's — that much of his backstory is an invention, and the truth is less Superman-like.
  • The pirates in Astérix started off as straight-up redraws of the characters from Barbe Rouge, apart from art style. Notably, in some of Baba's early appearances, he looks almost exactly like the original, photorealistic one, apart from bright red lips. Then one of them, Erix, got removed from the crew, and the remaining crew got increasingly grotesqued until they all ended up looking really different to their original inspiration, especially Baba.
  • India has a large and thriving comic-book industry, largely depending on original superhero characters such as Nagraj and Shaktimaan. American icons such as Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman have crossed over to Indian comics - but not always in a licenced and approved way. In unauthorised versions, the Indian Superman takes sadistic pleasure in dreaming up prolonged and painful deaths for the villain, while the normally chaste Wonder Woman is allowed active sexual expression (within the limits of Indian moral attitudes). Meanwhile, Shaktimaan crossed over to American comics, but as a minor character representing India in a sort of international League of Superheroes. His portrayal in the American adaptation similarly changed to reflect American taste.

Literature
  • Tales of the Magic Land started off as a loose translation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but later books in the series are original works that use said translation as a basis.
  • The Shannara series started off as fairly derivative of The Lord of the Rings, with the largest distinction being the former's After the End setting. The Sword Of Shannara even took its general plot structure straight from The Lord Of The Rings. As the series went on, however, the books developed more original plots, including an urban fantasy trilogy.
  • The early books in the Sword of Truth series were typical High Fantasy books that borrowed many elements from The Wheel of Time, but developed a unique feel in Soul of the Fire with the introduction of Objectivist themes.
  • For its own part, if you only read the first novel of The Wheel of Time you could be forgiven for dismissing it as Lord of the Rings with some light gender politics. The setting and metaphysics become much more distinct, and the gender politics much more pronounced, as the series continues.

Live-Action Television

Role-Playing Games

Tabletop Games

Video Games
  • Nintendo's Donkey Kong arcade game was born out of this kind of serendipity; Nintendo, still trying to get their foot in the American game market in 1981, tried releasing a standard Space Invaders clone called Radarscope in the arcades; while it did well overseas, it completely flopped in the US and left them stuck with thousands of unsold cabinets. This prompted them to place Shigeru Miyamoto in charge of improvising another game to replace Radarscope (while converting the unsold cabinets into new games) and, instead of making another cookie cutter maze or shoot em up, created one of the earliestnote , and certainly one of the most important platformer games in history.
  • Banjo-Kazooie never tried to hide its similarities to Super Mario 64, but fans didn't mind too much because the game was pretty good anyway. As gamers started to get tired of the formula set up by Super Mario 64, however, Rare decided to go in a different direction with Banjo-Tooie. The sequel contained more interconnected areas to make it resemble a Metroidvania more than anything. Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts abandoned the Platform Game trappings altogether, introducing customizable vehicles as the central gameplay concept instead.
  • After Sega tried to directly compete with Nintendo by copying the NES with their Sega Master System, only to fall flat on their face, they decided to go in the opposite direction and become Nintendo's antithesis with the Sega Genesis, aiming for older audiences and darker games with slicker graphics, action and very lax censorship policies. Even their headlining mascot, Sonic, was a unique contrast from the Mario series in art and gameplay, and also a contrast to Sega's own Mario-derivative Alex Kidd, who was quickly abandoned by the company. Unsurprisingly, it worked.
    • The Sonic series was unmistakably inspired by Super Mario Bros., but in contrast to Mario's strategic, defensive platforming, Sonic's gameplay usually leans more towards casual, heavily streamlined platforming romps with rollercoaster/pinball like physics and design with emphasis put on maintaining speed and precision timing more than anything else, with occasional standard, slower platforming, combat, puzzles and minigames sandwiched in.
  • SNK's Art of Fighting was perceived by gamers to be a cheap cash-in of rival company Capcom's Street Fighter. Despite this, Art of Fighting set itself apart by introducing several new gameplay mechanics such as taunting, the addition of a spirit gauge to regulate use of specials, along with supers and desperation attacks. The game's scaling feature also became a series trademark.
    • Capcom later incorporated these same features, beginning with Super Street Fighter II: Turbo, the first game in the series to feature supers and a secondary meter for regulating them. Super Street Fighter IV adds revenge moves, which can only be used after the character has sustained enough damage, making them the SF equivalent of desperation attacks.
  • The Metal Gear series was initially just a tongue-in-cheek take-off of American spy and action films, but Metal Gear Solid was where the series started to establish its own identity (as the Sequel Displacement can attest to).
  • Saints Row started out as a pretty straightforward Grand Theft Auto clone, with the only caveat being Saint's Row's focus on gang violence. Each game has dialed up the Denser and Wackier aspects (Saints Row IV even features an Alien Invasion), with Grand Theft Auto IV dialing down the same. Putting Grand Theft Auto IV side by side with Saints Row: The Third shows that the two bear very little resemblance to one another at this point, aside from gameplay involving stealing cars.
  • Having also been made by Squaresoft, Super Mario RPG naturally has a lot in common with Final Fantasy games and other Square Role Playing Games of that era, albeit with Action Commands and the obvious Super Mario Bros. trappings among other things. After Square partnered with Sony and left the Mario RPGs in Nintendo's hands, however, Nintendo gave its Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi games a different focus from typical Square RPGs, such as with a much heavier use of intricate Action Commands, simplified battle stat calculations, fewer party members on screen at a time, and Pre Existing Encounters with enemies that can be attacked for some damage at the beginning of a battle. Super Paper Mario in particular is a mix between Platform Game and Role-Playing Game.
  • The Great Giana Sisters was such a blatant clone of Super Mario Bros. 1 that Nintendo successfully sued to get it off shelves. So Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams comes along and introduces mechanics such as Dual-World Gameplay and heavier emphasis on melee abilities. Numerous critics noted the irony that a game that started off as a knock-off ended up becoming one of the most original platform games of 2013.
  • KC Munchkin for the Magnavox Odyssey 2; the first installment is an obvious clone of Pac-Man (although there are a fair amount of differences between it and it's inspiration already, most notably the ability to create your own maze), enough that a year after it was released, Atari, who had just released their own port for the 2600, successfully sued to get it pulled from shelves. To continue the series, a sequel, KC's Crazy Chase, was released, which redesigned the lead character, and revamped the gameplay to where your goal is to chase and eat a giant centipede throughout the maze to get power ups and win (not only distinguishing it from Pac Man, but also serving as a sly jab at Atari). It also supports the Odyssey 2 voice module.
  • League of Legends took the simplification path after breaking away from Defense of the Ancients: All-Stars. The old Warcraft 3 main stat system was removed and replaced with direct manipulation of the underlying stats: attack damage, ability power, attack speed, movement speed, HP, mana, armor and magic resist. The standard ability kit of three powers and an ultimate was replaced by one passive, three abilities with or without passives, and an ultimate. The "Blue Pill", the equivalent of DOTA's Town Portal Scroll, was removed and made into a long Recall that can be performed any time without limits. The Blink Dagger and the Ancient Pocket Watch were made into the summoner spells Flash and Teleport. Then the champions started to be designed around the standard roles of tank, fighter, mage, marksman, assassin and support — six roles, as opposed to DOTA's hard carry, soft carry, disabler, support, lane support, initiator, jungler, durable, nuker, pusher and escaper. The barracks were replaced by inhibitors that regenerate over time. Roshan was replaced by Baron Nashor, which is much stronger and usually requires at least three champions at late game to be killed. Other mechanics such as creep denying, neutral creep luring, hit dodging, turn rate or terrain height were removed. The result? After these and much more differentiation changes, Blizzard decided that League of Legends was different enough to not count as a derivative work — unlike Dota2, which put Valve into a trademark scuffle with Blizzard on account of being basically Defense of the Ancients: All-Stars on the Source engine, with Serial Numbers Filed Off, and a few cursory mechanic changes.
  • The first two installments of Sidewinder were heavily derivative of Ace Combat, their main point of differentation being features that weren't in the first Ace Combat (such as analog controls, cockpit view, landing sequences, and the ability to equip different type of missiles) and minor concessions toward realism. Sidewinder MAX shifted the flight model toward realism, and the last two installments (titled Lethal Skies in the west) changed the setting from the present to a futuristic, post-global warming Earth.

Webcomics

Web Original

Western Animation
  • The Looney Tunes prior to the mid to late 30's started off as standard gag and music cartoons in the vein of other studios of its day, such as Fleischer Studios and Mickey Mouse (the latter being the most understandable connection, since the early Looney Tunes were made by former Disney artists in the first place). By the 1933 to 1935 period, the studio really tried hard to imitate Disney's cutesy cartoons, but that got them nowhere. By 1936, Tex Avery and Frank Tashlin (and eventually Bob Clampett) got their place in the studio as directors and slowly started leading them into a more humorous direction. Early entries of theirs such as I Love to Singa and Now That Summer is Gone superficially resemble the cutesy stuff Disney was doing, but their humor and tone was unmistakably irreverent, street smart and contemporary for their time. By the 1940's (especially by the end of the war) the studio finally crystallized its art style, rich cast of characters and brand of humor into its iconic form.

Other
  • BBV's Direct-to-Video sci-fi series The Stranger featured Doctor Who star Colin Baker as a mysterious stranger obviously based on the Doctor. Over the course of the series, the character's backstory was revealed, distinguishing him from the Doctor in the process.
  • BBV's follow-up audio series, featuring Baker's successor Sylvester McCoy and his co-star Sophie Aldred, did all its differentiation in a single unsubtle lump, to avoid the onset of legal trouble arising from the fact that its leads were practically indistinguishable from the roles McCoy and Aldred had played in Doctor Who.