The TV show Twin Peaks has had a remarkable influence on video games, inspiring countless titles about strange northwestern towns filled with oddball characters, sleepy diners, and disturbing mysteries. As well as multiple games in The Legend of Zelda series. But it's worth mentioning that, at one point in time, there was actually a real Twin Peaks planned for the NES, which itself has become a source of mystery.
In 1991, New York publisher Hi-Tech Expressions announced that it had acquired the license and was working on a video game adaptation of the TV show, in the pages of magazines like Nintendo Power, Gameplayers and Gamepro.
Up until that point, Hi-Tech had primarily been focused on the children's market, making games based on IPs like Sesame Street, Tom & Jerry, and Barbie. But internally, the company wanted to break free of these constraints and work on some more adult and teen-oriented projects. Which is where Twin Peaks came in.
Shortly after airing in 1990, the TV show a phenomenon, with everyone wanting to know "Who killed Laura Palmer?" As a result, Hi-Tech saw an opportunity to cash in on the popularity and try to reposition itself as a more adult publisher. Though none of this would end up happening. Years passed, and nothing ever surfaced, with fans of the show left wondering whether a prototype of the game was ever created. And if Hi-Tech even had the license.
Well, recently, we were able to find out the truth from speaking to Billy Pidgeon, a former producer at Hi-Tech Expressions. He told us over email that Hi-Tech did have the license, but that the project never entered full production. The reason for this was that the publisher questioned whether the company could handle its own ambitions for the game, and if it would even sell by the time it was boxed and ready to hit store shelves. Much of the work on the project was therefore based around reviewing the materials the licensors had sent over and trying to come up with a plan on how best to translate the show to NES.
"We discussed possible approaches to the game design and we decided the risks were disproportionately higher than potential rewards and that Twin Peaks viewers and NES players were not likely to overlap much in a year or two," Pidgeon tells us. "Our recommendation was to drop the license and the project. There was no design document created. And I don't believe there is anything more to the story."
So what ideas would Pidgeon and Hi-Tech have had in mind for Twin Peaks? Well, the producer was nice enough to give us a clue into the direction it could have taken.
"I thought the best approach would be a graphics and text adventure game with some RPG elements," he tells us. "It would have required a sophisticated text choice-based system that frankly did not yet exist. BioWare did create and perfect such a system, but that would be almost ten years later. We were looking at Maniac Mansion for inspiration.
"Ideas we threw around were: playing as different main characters through segues or from the beginning, multiple satisfying endings, lots of NPCs like Log Lady, surrealistic settings and crazy plot twists that would echo but not duplicate the show's story arc."
Sadly, today, there's really nothing tangible to show from Hi-Tech's conversations regarding the license. No design document, notes, or letters. The only evidence seems to be the magazine articles written about the game, promising a release that would never see the light of day. But at least, now fans can finally rest, with the mystery being to put to bed at last.