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Timothy Leary's 'Neuromancer' video game could have been incredible

Timothy Leary's 'Neuromancer' video game could have been incredible

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Author, researcher, and psychedelic pioneer Timothy Leary could have added another title to his name: creator of an amazing, incredibly weird take on William Gibson's Neuromancer showcased by Wired. Since acquiring Leary's archives in mid-2011, the New York Public Library has been uncovering and publishing details about Leary's work, including fragments of Leary's plans for scrapped computer games. In 1985, he helped develop and publish Mind Mirror, a psychoanalytic game that let players build and role-play personalities — Electronic Arts, which put out the title, reportedly sold 65,000 copies in the two years after release. But according to material that the library released to researchers last week, he also had far more ambitious plans.

Among the archives, NYPL discovered a handful of shots of Neuromancer: An Electronic Mind Movie, meant to be a tie-in video game for a film adaptation of the novel. If it had ever been developed, the game would have had an extraordinary pedigree: artist Keith Haring had signed on to contribute visuals and have his image used for protagonist Henry Case; Helmut Newton was supposed to provide photography, Devo would score the game, and William S. Burroughs — one of Gibson's influences — would contribute writing. Here's how Haring's work was described:

PSYBERSPACE imagery will use the work of KEITH HARING. Diki and Kevin will produce special-effects never seen on a computer screen. Since CYBERSPACE is INFO-SPACE, the spinning clusters of forms will swirl into data-symbols.

According to the NYPL, Neuromancer was one of three "mind movie" titles under consideration; Leary's studio Futique also listed adaptations of Herman Hesse's The Glass Bead Game and Blade Runner — though it's not totally clear whether it would have been based on Ridley Scott's movie or William S. Burroughs' entirely unrelated screenplay.

Unfortunately for Leary, the Neuromancer film never got off the ground, and neither did the game. What remains are a few screenshots and pieces of art, reproduced by Wired earlier today. The shot above shows then-Talking Heads front man David Byrne in an inexplicable circuit-based coat. Another captures singer Grace Jones as Case's partner Molly, and screenshots of the game itself show dialog trees with fragments of Gibson's original text.

The whole project was described as a kind of choose your own adventure novel, with four separate "tracks" in which completely separate actors would "play" the characters — Haring's Case and Jones' Molly would only have been two of several options, and they could have shown up as other people in different tracks. Each track would also have given the characters different personalities: a memo describes Case's girlfriend Linda Lee as a "lower-class-fun-girl" in one track and a "wise-cracking trollop with a PhD in cyber-psychology" in another. Unfortunately, not much more seems known about the project. But Leary was ultimately instrumental in getting another Neuromancer adaptation made, this one an adventure game developed by Interplay, scored by Devo, and published in 1988.