If you were an avid reader of video game magazines back in the late '90s, you may remember reading about an in-development video game adaptation of The Naked Gun film series that was being developed by Perfect Entertainment (for PC, Mac, PSX, and Saturn) and never ended up seeing the light of day.
The game was briefly mentioned in publications like Mean Machines Sega, PC Power Play, and PC Zone, and has since been occasionally brought up in interviews with former Perfect Entertainment employees like the designer Chris Bateman, who claimed it was eventually rebranded to The Big Kahuna before being cancelled for good. However, not a lot else has ever been shared about what this game would actually entail or the exact circumstances that led to its cancellation.
So recently, when we sat down with Perfect Entertainment co-founder Gregg Barnett to chat about the Discworld games, we decided to fire off some questions about the cancelled project to see if we could uncover more about it. Here's what we were able to find out.
According to Barnett, the idea of transforming the Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker comedy series into a 2D point-and-click adventure came about after the development of Discworld II: Missing Presumed...!? had finished, and while preparation for Discworld Noir was underway. At the time, Barnett was confident that he could hand off much of the preparation for the next Discworld game to his design assistant, Chris Bateman, and wanted to see whether he could find another intellectual property that would resonate with American audiences as much as Discworld had with gamers in the UK. The choice he eventually made was the Naked Gun series.
Just to give you some background on the Naked Gun series, it initially began back in 1982, with the release of the spoof crime show Police Squad! on ABC. This was a TV show that saw the first appearance of Leslie Nielsen as Drebin and lasted just six episodes before ABC's (then) president cancelled it (allegedly because people had to pay close attention to understand the humour). It was later revived by Paramount Pictures in the late '80s as the feature film Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!, which saw Nielsen reprise his role, and spawned two additional sequels (The Naked Gun 2: The Smell of Fear ½, and Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult).
Barnett can't remember the exact specifics of the game's story but believes his design would have seen him borrowing elements from the mind-control plot from the first film that saw the businessman Vincent Ludwig (played by Ricardo Montalbán) using a brainwashing device to transform people into would-be assassins. Even to this day, Barnett still considers it the best game design he ever wrote, which makes it all the more frustrating that we never got to see it develop into a proper game.
"I designed out what I still think was best game design because I just went crazy on parodying films from that particular era," he tells us. "We were still using floppies, so I think I ended up calling it Naked Gun: 3 ½ with 5 ¼ scratched out, or Naked Gun Forever Hold Your Piece. So there was a picture of Leslie Nielsen dressed up in a bridal veil with a gun."
Barnett can only recall snippets of the design, but what he remembers seems in keeping with the tone of both the films and the TV show. For instance, according to him, the game would have featured an FMV 3D-rendered sequence that recreated the opening of the first Naked Gun film, featuring a police car causing chaos in a series of game worlds like Doom and Mario. There was also another section, present elsewhere in the intro, where Frank accidentally managed to kill the Loch Ness Monster, the Yeti, and the first alien contact, all without realizing it.
"There was one puzzle where the bad guy – whoever it was – blindfolds you so everything goes black," he recalls. "They take you, and you’re just getting the crap beat out of you Batman style, with 'BIFFs' and 'BANGs' and everything. You eventually escape, and you go back to the police station, and the police say, 'Let’s do a re-enactment; we have to figure out who kidnapped you.’ So they blindfold you, and this time we don’t blacken the screen, and it’s you being led through the police station with all of the other cops and everybody beating the crap out of you. It was just a lot of crazy ideas, and that’s what I liked about it."
As Barnett remembers, the team managed to get Nielsen onboard (via his agent) and were about to commence talks with Priscilla Presley, but the project was soon tainted after one of its main stars, O.J. Simpson, once again found himself in the news due to his involvement in the double murder of his wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her close friend Ron Goldman. Previously, in 1995, Simpson had been acquitted of all criminal charges in a highly publicized trial to decide his innocence. But, in 1997, during the development of the game, Fred Goldman (Ron Goldman's father) brought a civil lawsuit against the star, in which Simpson was eventually found to be liable for the wrongful deaths of both victims.
Speaking about this, Barrett recalls, "O.J. was one of the three main actors in the film, so the Naked Gun name sort of went a bit dodgy at that point. The O.J. trial was a big thing in America, and that just killed the whole thing. So it was one of those collateral damage things that probably nobody knows about other than a few people right now."
At some point in the aftermath, Perfect Entertainment lost the Naked Gun license (according to Bateman in this Adventure Gamers interview), so Barrett decided to retool the design into an original project called The Big Kahuna. However, problems eventually arose within the studio — caused by a lawsuit against its former publisher Psygnosis over unpaid royalties and fees. Perfect Entertainment ended up cancelling the Big Kahuna, before shuttering the studio in 1999, and the Naked Gun project was all but forgotten about.
To our knowledge, no screenshots have ever surfaced from this game. And, as for the design doc, Barnett claims he may still have it somewhere. Though whether or not it will ever see the light of day, he claims, is highly unlikely.
"I don’t know," he tells us. "I'll have to see. I’m not one to have easy access to all of this stuff. I could probably find that. I don’t think it’s ever going to see the light of day. It occasionally gets asked. Some people know about it. Occasionally, you will see articles about games that never made it – sometimes it makes the list, but not many people are aware of it."
Worth noting is that though Perfect Entertainment sadly never released its version of a Naked Gun game, Paramount Pictures Digital Entertainment did eventually publish its own take on a Naked Gun adventure game in 2011. The Naked Gun: ICUP, as the game was called, was released for iOS, Android & Windows PCs, but didn't feature Nielsen (as the star had unfortunately already passed away in 2010).
If you happen to have worked on the game or know anything more about Perfect's project, please do get in touch, as we'd be interested in seeing more.