Woodcutters From Fiery Ships: David Lynch’s cancelled video game

26 years. That’s how long it took David Lynch to revive Twin Peaks on television. In those two decades, the filmmaker and artist moved onto other projects both on-screen and off, and as time went by, fans were losing hope that answers to the show’s biggest questions would never be solved: Who really was BOB? What did Major Briggs know? And how was Annie?

Although 2017’s Twin Peaks: The Return was all we wanted and more, a sort-of follow-up to the show was actually announced much earlier in 1998 by Japanese publication Nikkei Net News. Lynch was supposedly teaming up with Tokyo-based studio Synergy Inc. to create an animated 3D sequel along with a video game counterpart.

“The movie, described as a sci-fi horror movie, is slated for completion in summer 1999 at a cost of 250 million yen,” the article stated, “Synergy plans to produce a video-game version of the movie on DVD-ROM for use with the Internet, plus music CDs, company officials said, aiming for 1 billion yen in total sales.”

Synergy had created a few video games at the time, most notably a strange retro-futuristic point-and-click adventure called GADGET where players solve a missing persons case and interact with a plethora of different characters. A full playthrough can be watched here on YouTube, and I recommend checking it out. It’s bizarrely ‘90s.

Lynch himself was designing the game, which was given the title of Woodcutters From Fiery Ships. In a press release dated March 1998, he said: “I saw the work that Synergy did on GADGET – the way that the game delivered an immersive experience to the user. By collaborating with them, I look forward to Woodcutters From Fiery Ships expanding existing forms in terms of story, characters and environment. I hope we will give people totally unexpected experiences.”


Details were never given on how it would play as a video game, though he would describe the plot as involving strange events that occur in a Los Angeles bungalow, with the titular pipe-smoking woodcutters abducting the main character and taking them to a ‘30s-style silver space ship that is fuelled by logs. Twin Peaks fans may compare this premise with the otherworldly woodsmen that appear during the show’s most surreal moments.

Knowing Lynch’s signature surrealist, paced expression in his cinematic work, a similar approach was applied to the design of Woodcutters. A slow, dreamlike experience would have been on brand for him, but with the successes of fast action games such as Half-Life, Resident Evil and Duke Nukem 3D in the late ‘90s, it comes as no surprise Synergy cancelled it not long after starting production, calling it boring to game buffs.

In a 1999 interview with The Guardian, Lynch said it was “blocked from the get-go.” And that he wanted “a conundrum thing. A beautiful kind of place to put yourself. You try to make a little bit of a mystery and a bit of a story, but you want it to be able to bend back upon itself and get lost – really get lost.” It was no harm no foul for him, though, as he would release The Straight Story that year and work on Mulholland Drive afterwards.

In the modern gaming atmosphere, with stronger networking and faster social connections, weird niche ideas are given a better chance to thrive. Return of the Obra Dinn and Minit stand out as examples of developers breaking new ground and receiving high acclaim for it. Twenty years later, it’s worth asking if Lynch could find similar success on the indie game scene.

There’s no real telling on how Woodcutters From Fiery Ships would have played as a video game, but with the success of Lynch-inspired titles such as Deadly Premonition, Kentucky Route Zero and even The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, I’d really love to see what kind of interactive experience he could create for the modern generation.


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