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Derivative Differentiation

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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. If the derivative work is too obviously similar, it may even trigger a lawsuit from the creators of whatever work is being aped.


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. Compare to Spiritual Antithesis. Has nothing to do with calculus.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • Dragon Ball was an irreverent retelling of Journey to the West that mashed up Fantasy with Science Fiction elements in its first arc. The second and fourth arcs were a parody of Snake in the Eagle's Shadow (with the third arc being a possible conclusion in case the manga was canceled) with the fantasy elements from its origins left over and even more science fiction tropes. Come the seventh arc (where the anime changed names to Dragon Ball Z), the story became a twisted version of Superman with even more science fiction tropes and then a more supernatural take on The Terminator by the ninth arc. Since then, Dragon Ball as a whole has become less derivative and more of its own beast. Most attempts to continue the series beyond arc ten (Dragon Ball GT, Dragon Ball Online, Dragon Ball Super) either draw on the distinctive elements of the world it created or try to build on said world in ways that do not blatantly draw from another series, and there are several non serial movies which either rehash well known Dragon Ball plots or spin new ones out of Dragon Ball conventions.
  • Gasaraki started out as a clone of Neon Genesis Evangelion, but evolved into more of a spiritual predecessor to Code Geass.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure began as a clone of Fist of the North Star (and Dracula, oddly enough). This changed with the advent of Stands, and the series drifted away from its inspiration. The eponymous Joestar line even grew progressively less like Kenshiro with each generation.
  • PriPara began as Takara Tomy's version of Aikatsu!, but as the show went on and became more popular, it became an idol show that was very different from the other popular ones at the time, doing things Aikatsu! did not including a whole season based on five-person lives, different versions of the idol world in the show existing and even some concepts that are similar to Magical Girl anime such as taking care of a magical baby and the girls getting a magic wand to change their dresses.
  • Pokémon and Yo-Kai Watch are rival mon JRPG series where you play as a Kid Hero fighting with a team of monsters. Their anime adaptations decided to go in two completely different directions. While the Pokémon anime more-or-less adapts the games and is an action-focused series, the Yo-Kai Watch anime ditches most of the game's plot in exchange for a comedic Slice of Life series about schoolboy Nate's life alongside yo-kai. The two anime became even less alike when Yo-Kai Watch ended and was replaced with the Darker and Edgier, more action-oriented spinoff Yo-kai Watch: Shadowside. Unlike the forever ten Ash, Nate grew up. The Yo-kai Watch (or rather, the role as the Yo-kai Watch Holdernote ) was passed onto his teenage daughter. This no longer stands as the revival Yo-kai Watch! reemplazed Shadowside, was latter replaced by the spin-off series Yo-kai Gakuen Y: Close Encounters of the N Kind, and then it got revived again as Yo-kai Watch♪.

    Comic Books 
  • In his first appearance, the Bat-Man was pretty much The Shadow with wings, with a bit of Zorro mixed in as well. Then he got his own backstory, decided he didn't like guns, recruited a kid sidekick, and generally became his own person.
  • Similarly, Green Arrow, was straight-up Batman (that is, the guy Batman had become by then.) Rich playboy, check; Arrowcave and Arrowcar (yes, they were really called that) to go with the Batcave and Batmobile, check; red-clad Kid Sidekick adopted by the hero, check; every single gadget Batman is known for but with an arrow theme instead of a bat theme, check. He became his own person by becoming more playboyish and more political, and seldom becoming quite as isolated and brooding as Batman even when his stories were just as dark.
  • Martian Manhunter is an alien hero with a cool cape, a ton of powers that can vary from "ten humans could probably do the same thing" to "could take out the Death Star with his pinky" levels Depending on the Writer, one thing that can weaken him, and is sometimes the Last of His Kind. That doesn't remind you of anyone, does it? This results in a lot of writers not knowing what to do with him, but in many versions, the reason he and Superman aren't the same character is all down to personality - dead-serious (sometimes The Comically Serious), sometimes more overtly "alien" with a more formal way of talking, using his shapeshifting powers to maintain multiple human identities while his true self is definitely his hero persona (it's been a very long time since Clark Kent was considered just a disguise to let Superman find out about crimes before the general public) and, if Justice League Unlimited and Supergirl (2015) are any indication, more comfortable giving orders. Even in the beginning, their stories were quite different, with a greater focus on detective work. In any work where they appear together, the only thing Ma and Pa Kent's farmboy and the imposing alien soldier will probably have in common is "likes capes."
  • Deadpool used to be Deathstroke in red until they made him insane to the point of fourth wall–breaking and gave him his own fighting style.
  • 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. For example, Ron's father Atlas is obviously Superman, down to be raised by an older couple on a farm...until it's discovered that, to his own surprise, he's not the Last of His Kind, he's a Hidden Backup Prince. His personality also winds up being rather different as he becomes more aloof and distant from his family, culminating in a divorce from Ron's mom and him taking the throne of his home planet.
  • Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons was based on Alternate Company Equivalent of Charlton Comics. In the course of writing, Moore and Gibbons moved away from their inspirations by careful reinterpretation and altering the characters:
    • The Peacemaker was a US diplomat and Martial Pacifist who believes in peace so much he fights for it, and works with government authorities to take down warlords and dictators. Moore found the idea bizarre (believing in peace and pacifically subverting foreign governments and passing it off as diplomacy) and so made him The Comedian who thinks everything is a joke and nihilistically serves the US Government's foreign policy even if he's entirely cynical and indifferent to its idealistic and political justifications.
    • The Question, as Moore noted in interviews, was Ditko's self-created audience-friendly whitewash of Mr. A. Where Mr. A was outright propaganda for Randian ideas, the Question subscribed to objective ideas but had a civilian and superhero work/life balance working as an Intrepid Reporter who had a smart-guy scientist create the chemicals that gave him his face-mask, which made his adventures work like a traditional superhero story with Randian subtext that audiences could take-or-leave. Moore made Rorschach a full-time superhero without a civilian identity, while also making him a Small Steps Hero interested in seeking the truth like the Question and Mr. A, which meant that Rorschach became a hobo and the only avenues for "truth" he would be interested in are extremist publications that validate his biases (like the New Frontiersman).
    • Ditko's Ted Kord Blue Beetle was a Legacy Character to Dan Garret's Blue Beetle (civilian alter-ego created by Will Eisner) and he was intended to be athletic, energetic, and enterprising compared to Garret. In Moore's version on account of Dr. Manhattan's arrival ending the costume superhero age just at the moment that Dan Dreiberg aka Nite Owl II wanted to get in, the dynamic is reversed. Hollis Mason or Nite Owl I is a fit-for-his age handsome older man who has a sense of achievement and contentment about his life, while Dreiberg or Blue Beetle II is a mid-life crisis pot-bellied Jaded Washout.
    • Captain Atom or Allen Adam as he was called in the Charlton Era was a lab technician who accidentally got atomized during a nuclear rocket launchnote  and then somehow reformed his own atoms and became a being of pure energy who needed to wear special outfits to shield people from radiation. Moore updated this very obvious I Love Nuclear Power origin (a Silver Age Excuse Plot made without any real awareness of actual particle physics and radiation) with Quantum Mechanics Can Do Anything, noting that reforming oneself into matter would not happen on the atomic but on the smallest possible level and rather than an excuse plot, the quantum understanding of the universe fundamentally changes and alters Jon Osterman's personality and understanding of life. This also allowed Moore to do away with radiation and with that a need for a special outfit to shield others, hence why Dr. Manhattan walks around nude.
    • Nightshade was a woman who was the daughter of a US Senator and a woman with magical powers and teleportation abilities. Moore and Gibbons didn't find her especially interesting so they borrowed from the Black Canary who had Golden and Silver Age versions. However, Nightshade's dad being a US Senator informs Laurie's revelation that her father is The Comedian, a government operative and black ops assassin.
    • Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt created by Peter Morisi (a former NYPD cop turned writer) was a Charlton acquisition that had traits common to Doc Savage and Bruce Wayne, namely in that he was an orphaned child of philanthropists who traveled around the world and became a McNinja. He was also known for using "the unused portion of the brain" and being super-intelligent with the ability of clairvoyance and anticipating future outcomes. Moore kept the "unused portion of the brain" pseudo-science and played it straight (since it allows Adrian Veidt, Ozymandias to be a compelling villain) but played up the entire clairvoyance and idea that he could predict the future as an expression of an overly deterministic and utilitarian mindset, and likewise leaves it ambiguous and uncertain if what Veidt did averted an apocalypse, if it was All for Nothing, and also revealing in the end an entirely uncertain and unsure man behind the facade of superhuman intelligence.
  • The pirates in Asterix 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 Womannote  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.
  • X-Men started out as a pretty naked copy of Fantastic Four: they had matching uniforms and origins, the team included a goof with element powers, a rough-edged strongman, a serious-minded genius leader, and a profoundly useless woman, they battled a cloaked Large Ham archvillain, and there was an emphasis on the group being unpopular in society as they went on weird science adventures. After the revamp of Giant-Size X-Men, the team more or less went its own way: the matching uniforms vanished, the roster changed significantly and many characters were altered (particularly Magneto, who went from a cackling loon to an Anti-Hero), and the series developed its signature focus on prejudice and soap opera dramatics.

  • The 1954 film Gojira had plenty of unique elements to set it apart from the earlier Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever stories which inspired it such as King Kong and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. The use of People in Rubber Suits instead of Stop Motion to portray Godzilla was unusual at the time, while the grim, allegorical destruction of Tokyo and the then-unique-in-The '50s anti-nuclear message could only have come from post-Hiroshima Japan. Nonetheless, it still clearly followed the formula set by those other giant monster movies: monster causes havoc in a city, humans brainstorm a way to stop it, and the monster is thus killed, imprisoned, or otherwise neutralized. Godzilla Raids Again and King Kong vs. Godzilla barely diverged from this formula by introducing other monsters to both fight Godzilla and cause more trouble for humans. Mothra vs. Godzilla saw the beginnings of major divergences from the formula both by turning the Godzilla films into a Shared Universe with other Toho creations (starting with Mothra) and having at least one of the monsters being clearly on the side of the humans. Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster saw the biggest divergence yet, turning Godzilla into a good guy and having him team up with other monsters against a greater threat. Since then, the franchise's focus has usually been on Godzilla doing most of the work to take down the bad guys while humans help him out.
  • Gamera began his life as a very obvious cash-in on the success of Godzilla. Exactly like Godzilla (1954), Giant Monster Gamera has a giant reptilian monster with a fiery Breath Weapon awakened by a nuclear blast and then destroys Tokyo while the humans try to stop him, although while Godzilla was a little more grounded, Gamera was a little more out-of-the-box, being able to fly with rocket jets and instead of being killed, he's trapped in a rocket and sent to Mars. The sequel, Gamera vs. Barugon, continued this copy-cat trend as it's basically Godzilla Raids Again with the Serial Numbers Filed Off, although again, with a slightly more outlandish monster. The Showa films following Gamera vs. Gyaos started diverging further, for better or for worse, aiming more towards children, having a strictly Monster of the Week formula, and a lighter sci-fi tone, while Godzilla went all over the place in tone and plot. By the Heisei series, the two series diverged even more. Godzilla maintained his atomic origins, but lost his heroic nature, becoming a neutral monster that humanity was often forced to ally with against even worse monsters, but ultimately still antagonistic. Gamera meanwhile kept his heroic nature but lost his nuclear origin, continuing his more fantastical sci-fi themes. While Godzilla ended up having a large Rogues Gallery and allied kaiju which reappear again and again, Gamera has almost never had an opponent appear twice in a film (with the sole exception of Gyaos) and never acquired any kaiju allies.

  • 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 Lord of the Rings is so very much the 800-pound gorilla of High Fantasy that any work in that genre written since is going to be compared with it (and with J. R. R. Tolkien's other works), for better or worse. Still, the... influence... is pretty visible in some works.
    • 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.
    • If you only read the first novel of The Wheel of Time you could be forgiven for dismissing it as The 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.
  • The early books in the Sword of Truth series were typical High Fantasy books that borrowed many elements from The Wheel of Time (itself somewhat derivative of LotR), but developed a unique feel in Soul of the Fire with the introduction of Objectivist themes.
  • The first two books of the Inheritance Cycle took place in a very by-the-numbers High Fantasy world, with every one of its distinguishing features being lifted from some other fantasy book, and the plots of the two books being nearly beat-by-beat recreations of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Not only did Trilogy Creep kick in and split the third book into two, but the final two books greatly expanded the world into genuinely original directions, and a plotline with much less than the expected adherence to Return of the Jedi.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Russian version of Married... with Children recycled all the scripts from all 11 American seasons and then had a contest for suggestions to write more.
  • The Russian version of The Nanny was so popular that the producers actually hired the original American writers to write 25 more episodes.
  • The first twelve episodes of The Office (US) were simply reworkings of the scripts of the British version, and not very well received. Then they ran out of source material, and once the US series found a voice of its own many of the characters were completely unrecognisable (particularly Michael Scott, who became much more of a well-intentioned buffoon than the venal and unpleasant David Brent), which created a lot of Early Installment Weirdness in the first season.
  • Likewise, the first season of Parks and Recreation was very much The Office in the public sector with a female lead. Starting in the second season the show dropped its reliance on Cringe Comedy and found its own identity.
  • In America, ABC piloted a 1980 Harvey Korman vehicle, Snavely's, which was not only based on the BBC's Fawlty Towers but said pilot was a scene-by-scene word-by-word duplicate of a Fawlty Towers episode. It would be tweaked and be greenlit for series under the new name Amanda's (with Bea Arthur in the John Cleese role).

  • This trope is common in general with a fair number of enduringly popular musicians, who generally begin their careers heavily borrowing from either music that they admire or music that happens to be commercially successful at around the start of their career. However, as time goes on they begin to craft a better sense of identity for themselves, oftentimes drawing in influences from other musicians and/or genres and organically melding them in with their old style to form something more distinct (when they don't just undergo a complete Genre Shift, that is).
  • The Beatles began their careers aping rock 'n' roll artists such as Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, and Chuck Berry, whose music had become popular in Liverpool thanks to import records. However, as time went on, the band incorporated greater influences from World Music, Classical Music, and the burgeoning psychedelia and Avant-garde Music scenes, developing a more psychedelic-symphonic sound that would come to define much of their most famous work.
  • Similarly to the Beatles, David Bowie's early work was an audible imitation of 1950's American rock 'n' roll (owing to the work of Little Richard being Bowie's inspiration for becoming a musician), and his first two albums respectively took noticeable cues from art hall pop and folk rock. However, starting with The Man Who Sold the World in 1970, his work would take on a much more unconventional and theatrical edge, which would continue on in many different forms throughout the remainder of his career.
  • Depeche Mode's early career was simply spent imitating the teen-oriented brand of Synth-Pop that was becoming popular in the early 80's, with their first two albums lacking much to let the band stand out from their peers despite their own success. However, songwriter Martin Gore's growing interest in industrial rock and the band's acquisition of a Synclavier led to third and fourth albums taking on a brand of Alternative Dance distinctly harder and more mechanical than that of other bands in the movement, with Depeche Mode increasingly orienting themselves in a more Gothic and melodramatic direction as their careers went on.
  • Joy Division began their career as an imitator of The Sex Pistols, with rough, terse Punk Rock that distinguished itself solely through Ian Curtis' abstract and poetic lyrics. However, upon singing onto Factory Records and joining forces with batshit insane genius producer Martin Hannett, the band developed a more cavernous, minimalistic sound that would become the Trope Codifier for British Post-Punk, with their second and final album Closer in particular being intensely far-removed from any semblance of punk and featuring a more hauntingly primeval sound.
    • After Joy Division renamed themselves New Order in the wake of Curtis' 1980 suicide, the band initially attempted to simply continue what they started with their debut album Movement often being described as a sonic continuation of Closer. However, ambivalent reactions from fans and critics (at first) led the band to distance themselves from their past, eventually finding a niche in a distinctly Gothic mix of Synth-Pop and Alternative Rock that would lead to the band becoming the Trope Makers for Alternative Dance.
  • Both Michael Jackson and Prince started out their adult solo careers drawing from the disco boom of the late 1970's (Jackson had been doing traditional pop as a solo musician since the age of 14, but his first work as an adult artist wouldn't be until Off the Wall in 1979); both musicians later crafted their own unique brands of pop once the 80's came around, with Jackson bringing in R&B influences and Prince drawing from a combination of Synth-Pop and funk (codifying the "Minneapolis Sound" in the process). Both artists' work would continue to grow exponentially further apart from one another and from their previous work as time went on, to the point where those accustomed to the singers' later work will be surprised to learn that they were both standard disco artists once upon a time.
  • When Radiohead first put out Pablo Honey in 1993, one of the most common reactions to the album was that it did little to make itself stand out, being seen as just another grunge album whose only real highlight was the widely successful "Creep". The band's next two albums, meanwhile, would take on a much more unique sound that brought Alternative Rock in a more brooding direction that resulted in Radiohead leading the rock zeitgeist rather than riding its coattails. When the band realized this and immediately grew to resent it, they shook their sound up further with the electronic Post-Rock of Kid A and Amnesiac, developing their own brand of experimental art rock that would come to define their later output.
  • Talk Talk managed to pull this off to a surprisingly dramatic and effective degree, given that their studio backlog consists of just five albums within the span of less than a decade. Beginning their careers as stock Synth-Pop artists whose first two albums were frequently accused by the press of ripping off Duran Duran, the band radically shifted sound to an organic and elaborate art pop sound with their third album, The Colour of Spring, in 1986. The band then took this multiple steps further in quick succession, with the jazzy Post-Rock of Spirit of Eden in 1988 and Laughing Stock in 1991, the latter of which was practically its predecessor turned Up to Eleven. Comparing their first album to their fifth, and it can be difficult to tell that they're both by the same band.
  • 10,000 Maniacs began their career as a stock Post-Punk band, playing Gang of Four and Joy Division covers before imitating that sound on their Human Conflict Number 5 EP. Once the band began putting out proper studio albums, they shifted direction to an Alternative Rock sound that melded together elements of Jangle Pop, Folk Music, and pop rock, a far cry from their more abrasive early sound and a shift that contributed heavily to their commercial success during the waning years of the pre-Nevermind era of alternative rock.

    Role-Playing Games 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000 used to just be Warhammer with space ships before adding its own mythos and creatures.
    • Although this has zigzagged quite a bit. Early on, there was a lot of effort to differentiate the two, with Warhammer 40,000 having several races killed off or quietly forgotten about while others with no connection to Warhammer Fantasy were introduced. But later, the two drifted back together with the Necrons turning into expies of the Tomb Kings, and ultimately with the events that killed off Fantasy and replaced it with Warhammer: Age of Sigmar being exactly paralleled in 40K. As of Age of Sigmar and 8th edition 40K, the two are less differentiated than at any time since their original launch.

    Video Games 
  • 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 some of these same features, beginning with Super Street Fighter II Turbo, the first game in the series to feature Super Combos and a secondary meter for regulating them. Street Fighter IV would then add its own revenge moves in the form of Ultra Combos, which can only be used after the character has sustained enough damage, making them the SF equivalent of Desperation Attacks.
  • 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 Collect-A-Thon Platformer 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.
  • The original Burnout was extremely similar to the arcade game Thrill Drive in all respects, to the point it was pratically a Spiritual Adaptation of it. Burnout 2 differentiated itself with a more definite art direction and a greatly increased focus on the Nitro Boost mechanic; Burnout 3: Takedown further shook things up by introducing the combat mechanic that would define the series for mainstream audiences.
  • Many examples of this can be found in City of Heroes, as the M.M.O. has many lawyer safe versions of famous comic book heroes and villains. As the background was developed for the characters and adapted to tie-comics and a novel, the characters became more than simple Expys. Most prominently we have the main hero - Statesman, the hero Manticore and the main villain Lord Recluse.
    • Statesman is clearly a Superman / Captain America combo by way of Captain Marvel, red, white and blue color scheme, been doing this long enough to be a world famous paragon, a Flying Brick, been saving the day since the early 1930s; But due to the head developer using the identity for dev notes being a relentless perfectionist, Statesman would become the same, an uncompromising hero who genuinely wants to help the public but is a controlling pain in the ass for his fellow heroes to work with.
    • Manticore is Batman by way of Green Arrow - Rich kid, murderer parents, expert material training, gadgets, animal motif but he uses a bow and arrow. The divergence comes in when we apply Frank Miller era morals baked into the character instead of added latter. The result is a Batman governed by vengeance who very much wants to kill, if only to put an end to violent offenders coming back a week later to shoot another 12 cops with lasers while setting someone’s house on fire. Also some firm if subtle conservative politics baked into the character.
    • Then we have Lord Recluse clearly a Doctor Doom pastiche combined with Darkseid, Formerly friend of hero, hates him for petty reasons (as in both the hero is petty and his beef with him is petty), super genius, rules his own nation - a hell-on-Earth but one who’s evil residents love him for; The thing is, well, that Foe Romantic Subtext that Doom gets with Mr. Fantastic and a lot of Heroes/Villains unintentionally fall into... yeah they embraced that, it’s not done ironically either Lord Recluse and Statesman are blatant Heterosexual Life-Partners who went through a bad breakup. Furthermore, as with Statesman, the character was used as a code name for the dev organizer for the City Of Villains expansion and credited all modifications, like handing out player bans for racists, sexists etc. or balancing enemy difficulty, in-universe to Lord Recluse being that smart/influential/organized. The result, instead of a simple Dr. Doom / Darkseid rip-off, is an ultra competent No Nonsense Villain pragmatist, smartest man on Earth who hates racists, sexists and homophobes and really REALLY has a noticeable thing for the main hero.
  • Similar to the Ratchet & Clank example below, Rare created Conker, in hopes of making another exploration-heavy series with platforming and collection sidequests starring a cute protagonist. After their rivals mocked the company for seeming to create another formulaic series, they kept the gameplay but reinvented the product as Conker's Bad Fur Day, completely changing the tone from a cutesy mascot with clean, shiny graphics to a deliberately unappealing, profanity-ridden Black Comedy with a protagonist that talked, and wasn't at all shy about voicing his displeasure about the rivers of feces, frequent hangovers, alien invasions, a suicidal fork with a bad sex life, the giant poop monster that sang opera tunes, and any number of surreal and definitely not child-friendly madness the game had to offer.
  • 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 Shoot 'em Up or Maze Game, created one of the earliest,note  and certainly one of the most important platformer games in history. The game was originally conceived as a Popeye title, but changed when Nintendo couldn't secure the rights: Popeye became Mario, Olive Oyl became Pauline, and Bluto became Donkey Kong.
  • Final Fantasy is a shameless clone of the 1st edition of Dungeons & Dragons, right down to copying practically every monster design from D&D's bestiary. Beginning with Final Fantasy II, though, the series began to craft its own identity.
  • The Giana Sisters series has had this occur. The Great Giana Sisters was such a blatant clone of Super Mario Bros. that Nintendo successfully got it removed from store shelves. When Giana Sisters DS came out decades later, it was nothing like Super Mario Bros., and later Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams came along and introduced 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 being revived on a Nintendo platform then later becoming one of the most original platform games of 2013.
  • The first Halo game, Halo: Combat Evolved, was initially planned as a Real-Time Strategy. Between that preliminary design and the release of the final product, however, Bungie probably deemed a RTS with humans fighting alien zealots and both fending off a parasitic swarm to be a tad bit too similar to StarCraft, hence the shift to a First-Person Shooter. They would eventually revisit the RTS roots with Halo Wars.
  • K.C. Munchkin! for the Magnavox Odyssey²; the first installment is an obvious clone of Pac-Man (although there are a fair amount of differences between it and its 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, K Cs 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. The old Warcraft III 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 Dota 2, which put Valve into a trademark scuffle with Blizzard on account of being basically Defense of the Ancients on the Source engine, with Serial Numbers Filed Off, and a few cursory mechanic changes.
  • 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 of having long-winded, cinematic cutscenes with melodramatic war stories with an everything and the kitchen sink mentality (as the Sequel Displacement can attest to). Although the impact is greatly lost due to it being on the dated MSX2, even Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake dealt with themes and questions such as what happens to soldiers once they've left the battlefield, and what happened to the local survivors of a war zone when it turns out neither side has particularly good intentions.
  • Notedrop started out as a straight clone of DJMAX Trilogy, but then started deviating to become its own game by removing Fever mode, adding "shift" modes that put extra keys into each column, and changing the scoring formula to be based entirely on the timing of note hits, with no combo-based elements.
  • Pump It Up is infamous for being DanceDanceRevolution but with an inverted panel setup (diagonals and center panel, as opposed to DDR's cardinal directions), to the point where it's been accused of ribbing DDR. However as time has passed, the dev team have made strides to differentiate it from its four-panel rival, with heavy use of gimmicky Nintendo Hard charts with looser timing windows to make up for it, variable number of songs per credit (longer songs means less songs per credit, while shorter songs do the opposite), extensive use of K-pop songs, a more open approach to songs having multiple charts (wherein basically, each song can have as many charts as the developers want and charts are named by type and difficulty level rather than something more rigid like DDR's Basic-Difficult-Expert-Challenge), Co-Op Multiplayer charts where players may cross over to each other's side or even three to five players play at the same time, and the publishing company's effort to release the games worldwide as opposed to keeping them restricted to a select few countries.
  • Ratchet & Clank:
  • The first trio of Robopon games were blatantly riding the coattails of Pokémon Red and Blue, with monster/robot collecting, similar battle styles, beating a series of "legends" who bore no small resemblance to Gym Leaders, and multiple versions. The sequel kept the version system, but made substantial changes, like making battles party based, making it so that players could not catch Robopon, but had to create them, and taking the plot completely Off the Rails.
  • 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 now bear very little resemblance to one another, aside from the gameplay involved stealing cars.
  • The first two installments of Sidewinder were heavily derivative of Ace Combat, their main point of differentiation 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.
  • 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 the Hedgehog, 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 series was unmistakably inspired by Super Mario Bros., but in contrast to Mario's strategic, defensive platforming, Sonic's gameplay usually leans more towards fast-paced action, heavily streamlined platforming romps with rollercoaster/pinball-like physics and level design that emphasized maintaining speed and precision timing more than anything else, with the occasional slower platforming, combat, puzzles and mini-games sandwiched in.
  • Having also been made by Squaresoft, Super Mario RPG naturally has a lot in common with Final Fantasy games and other Square RPGs 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, they gave its Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi games a different focus from typical Square RPGs, such as 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 a platformer and a traditional Role-Playing Game.
  • Inverted with Bombshell and Ion Fury. The games were created out of an idea originally floated for Duke Nukem Forever, that being Duke meeting a Distaff Counterpart to himself named Shelly Harrison, which didn't pan out because when Gearbox got their hands on the game with the intent of actually releasing it, the character of Bombshell was off-limits. When she got her own game, it took the form of a top-down shooter/RPG, genres Duke Nukem has never ventured into; when that game then got a prequel, the developers instead decided to wholly embrace her origins as a counterpart to Duke by making a first-person shooter that plays almost exactly like Duke Nukem 3D, down to even running on the same engine.


    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • The Looney Tunes prior to the mid to late '30s 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 1933–1935 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 1940s (especially by the end of World War II), the studio finally crystallized its art style, rich cast of characters, and brand of humor into its iconic form.
  • Per word of Stephen Hillenburg, a big reason SpongeBob SquarePants is centered around SpongeBob as a central character as opposed to having a hard-set duo billed was because at the time the show was created, buddy shows like Ren & Stimpy were very popular, and Stephen wanted to do something different.

  • BBV Productions:
    • The 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.


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