Hey, 'member that Lion King platformer back in the '90s? Solid game, with great graphics for its time, and great for any young Disney fan who felt that the movie's story could've done with a little more roaring and mauling. Well, turns out that an early prototype of the game has been leaked online for us nerd historians to enjoy, and it's pretty bizarre.
I'm fascinated by a lot of 'behind-the-scenes' stuff in games, and lately I've been scouring the web and checking out the cut content of some beloved game franchises such as Fallout, Mass Effect, and Pokémon.
Aside from these big names, I've also done a little digging around for the secrets of some of my beloved childhood games, and found this little gem.
That one on the left with the porcupine cursor and Aladdin font is from the early prototype of the game, and the video game archaeologists at HiddenPalace.org have put up a video showing the unfinished prototype in all its skeletal, buggy glory.
Check it out for an insight into the game design creative process and, er, weird workplace tension:
Basically, it's like Simba's trapped in a nightmare purgatory. If anyone feels like a refresher on what the final game played like, you can still play it in your browser right here. There are a lot of significant differences.
The sprites are pretty rough, with weirdly placed objects and animals like hyenas and monkeys appearing as wire skeletons. Missing items and hard-to-kill enemies make this prototype even more frustratingly difficult than the final game, but at least you can use select to revive poor Simba.
The prototype worth looking into just to see some bizarre stuff, like a skeleton gorilla throwing frogs into a neon void. But the funniest thing about this is the insight it gives into the lives of the Westwood Studios staff at the time.
I Can't Be All Hakuna Matata About This
If the placeholder text items in the prototype are any evidence, there was some seriously passive-aggressive office politics going on in Westwood Studios.
At the title screen, there are some (non-functional) options to sound test for certain creatures in the game. And one them is...well, this:
ROB IS A ROYAL PAIN IN THE BUTT AND KEVIN IS CHOOSING ROB’S SIDE WHICH MEANS NO MORE RIDES!
'Rob' refers to Rob Povey, listed as a programmer in the credits. 'Kevin' is Kevin Oxland-Vie, a background artist.
Then you've got an early version of a bonus level where the player, as Pumba, has to catch bugs thrown down from above by Timon.
As if proto-Pumba's face isn't scary enough, Timon's 'bugs' are basically just random placeholder sprites, one of which is a gorilla skeleton accompanied by some text which shows reveals another petty office gripe:
All in all, it's one tripped out scene. When I find developer messages hidden in games, they're usually kind of sweet. But The Lion King is a rich saltmine.
But when it comes to The Lion King, it seems like they could've taken a few lessons from Timon and Pumba's problem-free philosophy:
If you feel like having a play through the prototype yourself, you can download it at Hiddenpalace.org. Now you too can roleplay the glamor of being SNES-era game programmer, complete with rage against the fax machine.
Did you ever play The Lion King for SNES or Genesis?