The old adage “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” is true for not only video game prototypes that were destined for landfills but for the entertainment industry’s byproduct: movie props. Whole film sets used to be unceremoniously dumped in the garbage during the golden age of Hollywood after they had served their utilitarian purpose. There was no consideration given to preserving the tangible elements relating to motion picture heritage; they were simply objects taking up precious space on the studio lot. It took many decades before the major movie companies changed their way of thinking and opened internal archives, realizing these items’ historical and cultural value–not to mention economical.

These days, you haven’t seen wealth, you don’t know wealth, until you’ve met a serious prop collector. Look no further than the Debbie Reynolds auction that was held in 2011, which brought in $20 million dollars in sales. Reynolds had the foresight to save Hollywood history when no one else would. Marilyn Monroe’s “Subway Dress,” which had a pre-auction estimate of $1 million, ended at $5.6 million, making it the most expensive piece of entertainment memorabilia ever sold to date. This has become a hobby where private parties compete directly against national museums and even the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (link).

A successful movie trailer voiceover agent in L.A. posted a telling story on his collecting website once. On top of having one of the most impressive collections of movie mementos (Planet Hollywood resembles a junkyard by comparison), his kitchen holds a massive aquarium brimming with exotic saltwater fish. He spent $5,000 on one rare angelfish that can only be netted by travelling several miles off the coast of Fiji. He placed the pricey specimen in his tank, and a common pufferfish, which can be found in most pet shops for $20 bucks, ate the poor tropical thing within a week. He brushed the whole mishap off as a joke and went ahead and bought another one, shipped again to him from the Fiji Islands, which the puffer unsurprisingly devoured just as quickly as the first. More money went into feeding that pufferfish than many Americans spend feeding themselves in an entire year. He laughed even harder the second time that it happened.

As exciting as it may be for die-hard film fans to browse through the latest Beverly Hills memorabilia auction catalog, they know it’s just that: window shopping. Only the super rich can afford to raise a paddle for a $75,000 Nautilus dive helmet from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Aside from the auction houses that cater to a wealthy clientele, and a handful of marked-up retail stores, eBay is one of the largest sources of movie props. It has become a venerable dumping ground for the lesser priced stuff, sometimes offered by the actual prop makers, themselves. One month you might find yourself talking to the artist behind the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers intergalactic gizmos, and the next you could find yourself discussing a tattered green severed arm with the technician who blew up Warwick Davis in Leprechaun 4: In Space.

For buyers, it can be a bumpy route to take, as one has to weed through pages and pages of fakes, often referred to as “replicas,” that shadier or just plain ill-informed sellers try to pass off as authentic. And then there are the dozens of random household items that would be impossible to determine if they were actually used, not to mention a startlingly eerie amount of “celebrity-worn” bras and panties, as well as illegally acquired property flat-out stolen off sets.

Occasionally, however, honest opportunities do present themselves. Sometimes sellers simply have no clue about the pieces they have picked up from estate sales, liquidations, or abandoned storage lockers, and I will sit at my computer, turning my head, wondering the same.

In June 2015, one such mystery listing appeared.

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“Foam Unknown Creature Miniature Prop Maquette NON STOCK” was the auction’s cryptic headline. “Have no idea what this is from? Stands tall and made of foam rubber,” the scant description went on to read, “has been in our warehouse for 15 years.”

The prop was being offered at a starting price of $19.99 by a model hobby shop in northern Orange County, California.

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Back in November 2012, I interviewed Jason Bakutis, a former Hollywood special effects artist who had worked on two of the Critters films, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, and Casper before joining the Viridis Corporation to handcraft all of the models and prosthetics in the Philips Compact Disc Interactive (“CD-i”) game Zelda’s Adventure. To assist me with that article, Bakutis sent over several photographs of his many miniature creations that he had taken on-site, which included this pretty face:

(Photo taken by Jason Bakutis)

A little worse for wear, which is to be expected since Bakutis told me that he had used a “combination of latex and polyfoam,” both of which are susceptible to degradation over time. Regardless of the condition, it appeared to be a match.

11022 Santa Monica Boulevard, Suite 450, Los Angeles, California 90025 (Image source: Google Earth)

Viridis was headquartered in Los Angeles, a little over 30 minutes driving distance from the seller’s brick and mortar retail location.

Since my conversation with Bakutis had centered around Zelda’s Adventure, I naturally assumed that this model had been created for that project.

To explain the origin of Zelda’s Adventure, one has go back in time to May 27, 1991, when an agreement was reached between Nintendo of America and American Interactive Media (“AIM”), a wholly owned Philips company, to allow Nintendo characters like Mario and Zelda to appear in CD-i games.

Nintendo of America President Minoru Arakawa was quoted then as saying, ”By making these Nintendo characters available on other interactive platforms, the awareness and enjoyment of these video heroes will be expanded to new markets and technologies, thereby enhancing their name value and consumer franchise.”

More details emerged the following month: The plan was to create a CD-ROM/XA attachment for the Super Nintendo to create a bridge between the cartridge and CD-i formats.

Hiroshi Yamauchi, president of Nintendo Co. Ltd., said, ”Our new license agreement with Philips will enable Nintendo and its Super Famicom and Super NES licensees who enter into a license agreement with Nintendo to develop and market great video games in an entirely new format. We will work closely with Philips in developing Nintendo CD-based games.”

Nintendo of America Senior Vice President Howard Lincoln added, “While initially we expect CD-i to be a niche product, we are enthusiastic about the future applications of this entertainment option.”

This news came only a day after Sony, a direct competitor of Philips, announced at the Summer Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago its own partnership with Nintendo on the “Play Station,” a system designed with two built-in slots for reading both CD-ROMs and Super Nintendo cartridges. Sony revealed that a deal had been struck the year prior to retain all licensing rights of CD titles for this new console, using a proprietary format called “Super Discs,” which could hold 680 megabytes of data. This meant that it would not have to pay any licensing fees to Nintendo. Sony Play Station and Philips CD-i games would not be compatible with one another.

Nintendo’s surprise alliance with Philips reportedly blindsided Sony. Olaf Olafsson, president of Sony’s Electronic Publishing, charged that the new coalition “clearly violates the spirit of the agreement” that the company already had with Nintendo.

In a New York Times article entitled “Nintendo-Philips Deal Is a Slap at Sony,” Lincoln confirmed “There is a dispute between Sony and Nintendo as to the terms of the agreement.” The write-up pointed to Nintendo’s historically tight control over game distribution, citing the antitrust lawsuit brought on by Tengen, as the reason for why industry executives were puzzled over its apparent ceding the right to profit from the Play Station.

In early 1992, Nintendo set a $200 price for its CD-ROM accessory and a release date of January 1993. While a bridge format with Philips was still in the works, there were now talks with Sony to make the 540-megabyte Super Nintendo CDs playable on the Play Station. In May, however, Sony began working with Nintendo rival SEGA on developing games for the SEGA CD. By August, Nintendo cancelled its plans to make a 16-bit CD system, wishing instead to focus on a more advanced CD-ROM XA machine with a 32-bit processor. The company would go on to team up with Silicon Graphics in August 1993 to create what would eventually become the Nintendo 64, while Sony went its separate ways to independently develop the 32-bit PlayStation in late 1994.

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Nintendo’s CD-ROM add-on ultimately never materialized in the marketplace, but Philips was still able to take advantage of its business arrangement with Nintendo by publishing four CD-i titles that star the Japanese juggernaut’s most famous video game characters. The games were as follows: Link: The Faces of Evil, Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon, Hotel Mario, and Zelda’s Adventure.

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In a February 1994 preview, Electronic Gaming Monthly gushed about the last software to come out of that union, Zelda’s Adventure, in particular its “extremely beautiful” backgrounds and colors “filled with gorgeous graphics,” writing that the game had “some of the most incredible detail to be seen on a home system.” The slobbering report was less kind when it came to the enemies, weapons, and the player’s sprite, referring to them as looking like they were conceived “from a Monty Python cartoon.”

It was stop-motion movie pioneer Ray Harryhausen, not Monty Python, whom Bakutis had credited as his main inspiration when I last spoke to him.

When I reached out to him again to share this recent find, he dropped a bomb on me.

“I did make that, and I am amazed it even exists! I did that while I was working at Viridis, but, it was for a game about some skateboarding kid that had to skate over food, and if you skated over bad food or cigarettes, creatures would appear that kind of represented whatever ailment you would get. So that piece represented lung disease.”

And here I thought it was a Hyrulian goblin coming home from grocery shopping.

“I made a bunch of creatures out of latex and polyfoam, just like I did for Zelda. But, alas, that monster is not from Zelda.”

The beastly physical embodiment of the effects of cigarette smoking was created for an entirely different CD-i game that never saw the light of day.

“It was to be called Food Dude, or Skate Dude,” Bakutis told me, “and was a tragically dumb idea.”

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CDi Magazine gave Food Dude, then called Skate Dude, a brief mention in its 1993 blurb about Zelda’s Adventure, referring to it as a 10-level game “with attitude” that focused on the player learning “the rules of good nutrition.” This was not your typical, dry edutainment software, though, as the English publication went on to state, “If you continue to eat junk food, you could end up being attacked by aliens, or even die of a heart attack!”

Despite the unusual approach of being killed in an educational game for kids, Scott Kravitz, an animator at Viridis, who worked on the character graphics and animation for Zelda’s Adventure, didn’t think much of the title.

Food Dude high blood pressure model (Photo taken by Jason Bakutis)

“It was a terrible, terrible game. It used vertical scrolling gameplay, but moved quickly so there was no time to avoid obstacles. The only way to win was to memorize the path, but it wasn’t worth investing the time to do that. I worked with Randy Casey on the game. He would ask me to design weapons and tools, which I had done for Zelda, and drop them in. The soundtrack was some kind of loud guitar music.”

Randy Casey programmed all of Zelda’s Adventure as the lead software engineer, except for the RPG inventory system, which was done by Gavin James, who would later end up working at Naughty Dog. Casey described Food Dude as a simplistic learning tool to teach kids how to eat healthy that suffered from crippling design issues.

“Yeah, you jumped over stuff. The levels weren’t being designed correctly,” Casey said. “The artists were designing flat 2D levels before the gameplay mechanics were figured out. There was no thought put into the distance the player would jump with regards to item placement on the levels.”

Food Dude constipation model (Photo taken by Jason Bakutis)

Food Dude. That takes me back,” said Eric Milota, who was another software engineer on Zelda’s Adventure. “That was a scroller game where you were a sprite over a moving background, and we had stuff like bananas/apples/heathy food appear, and if you skated over them, you’d get power-ups. There was also things like ice cream cones and other junk foods that if you skated over them you’d get ‘hit’ and slow down. Then, between levels, there was a static street shown and some full motion video overlaid over the top of your Food Dude kid character talking to you about ‘Earth First, Peace’ and stuff like that. I think Anna Roth was the writer/designer. We did some video shoots in our office that had a teenage-looking actor run some lines in front of a blue screen, and we placed it over a static screen like in a school hallway and whatnot.”

Milota believed that the idea for Food Dude came from an earlier CD-i project, which was also cancelled, called Stay Healthy for Life: An Interactive Diet.

“[Stay Healthy For Life] contained a thing called the ‘Foodulator,’ which was a sort of calorie counter for foods. There was this FDA database of like 5,000 foods and whatnot that you could look up and build a menu, and it’d keep track of how many calories you were consuming per meal/per day. I don’t know what happened to that project either, other than I know we finished it.”

“I do recall something about Healthy For Life,” Kravitz added, “but I only remember a screenshot of a doctor talking to the camera.”

One piece of edutainment software that actually did see a release was AnnaTommy: An Adventure into the Human Body, which was art directed and animated by Kravitz using early 3D software called Infini-D.

AnnaTommy screenshot from a 35mm slide taken by Scott Kravitz

Additional slides: Mayo GazetteLymph Nodes, Digestive System, Lymphatic System, Circulatory System, Respiratory SystemFantastic Voyage, Virtual Human Body, Cell

The PC interactive experience, published by IVI, under the Mayo Clinic Learning Series label, has two junior high students journeying in a miniaturized spaceship to learn about different body systems through arcade-style exercises–some of which were quite bizarre.

“This is probably the first and last computer game that challenges you to shoot explosive bombs into sperm clusters in the testes or into follicle-encased eggs in the ovary,” The LA Times wrote in 1994 (link).

According to Kravitz, Food Dude was being funded simultaneously with AnnaTommy after being successfully pitched to the Mayo Clinic.

Scott Kravitz’s handwritten design notes on Food Dude stressed the need for environmental interactivity. (Image source: Scott Kravitz)

“I think we had five titles with one publisher, IVI, and one with Discovery, Savage,”  Milota said. “We were doing PC titles by then: AnnaTommy, Eco East Africa, to name a couple. As for CD-i titles, though, I can only remember these: Stay Healthy For Life: An Interactive Diet, Draw 50 with Lee Ames, Zelda’s Adventure, [Sesame Street: Numbers], an unnamed title programmed by Gavin James called Jester, some sort of Direct TV tie-in title, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! the Interactive Board Game, and Food Dude. I can’t remember much more, as this was like 24 years ago. We also tried to do some 3DO games, like Fire Wolves, but that ultimately didn’t pan out.”

In April 1995, Daily Variety reported that Viridis had been hit with layoffs. The Hollywood trade magazine cited IVI’s pulling out of a deal for more multimedia software as the cause.

“Half our work was with IVI,” Lee Barnes, the company’s president, told the magazine. “Any time a company loses half its work there are severe ramifications.”

Those who had been laid off filed a formal complaint with the California Labor Law Enforcement of Los Angeles for back wages owed.

“As far as IVI, I really don’t know why they walked away,” Kravitz said of the publisher’s sudden departure, “except that I suspect the gold rush fever around anything ‘interactive’ had started to wane. By 1995, the Internet was the new thing.”

“I was working on the Savage title at the time the huge layoffs occurred,” Milota recalled, “and the company went from like 120+ employees to just five, me being one of them. Tough times then. Philips Interactive Media knew the CD-i platform was failing, so Viridis had to branch out to [stay] alive. The PC title Savage was the only lifeline they had after the IVI pullout, and ultimately they got bought out/merged/sold to Crossroads, a publishing company that swoops in at the last minute and saves movies like the original Terminator. I was still working for Viridis then for a year or so before I moved on to NovaLogic back in 1997. They had some projects in the works, including a game called TyrannaSphere, or BattleSphere, for PC and something else comic-book-related.”

This is the only known surviving in-game footage of Food Dude in the form of a 35mm slide. It comes from Scott Kravitz’s personal portfolio, and is actually a compilation of two different screenshots arranged side-by-side. “I believe that the miniature golf and the batting cages appeared at different parts of the same level,” Kravitz told me. “The screen just scrolled from top to bottom, and the skater moved around with very little interaction with the ground.”

Food Dude is one unreleased game that none of its developers seemed to miss.

“I don’t think the project got very far before it was canned,” Casey said. “I just remember getting frustrated at the artists making levels before the gameplay mechanics code was put in. Viridis got a lot of projects without really having much of a clue about game development.”

A group shot of the wild Food Dude miniatures, all of which were created by Bakutis. (Photo taken by Jason Bakutis)

“[I’m] kind of glad it never got made,” Bakutis said. “I did make a bunch of cool, twisted monsters for it, though.”

Zelda’s Adventure Photoshopped screenshot from a 35mm slide taken by Scott Kravitz

Additional slides: Shrine of Illusion, Shrine of Illusion II, Shrine of Illusion III

But what about the handmade creatures that inhabited Zelda’s Adventure?

“If this shop found this, maybe they have a lead on how to find actual Zelda models?” Bakutis suggested.

Pasquinade boss model from Zelda’s Adventure (Photo taken by Jason Bakutis)

Unfortunately, the California hobby store insisted that this single miniature was all that they had ever come across in their many years of being in business, and no one there even knew how it came to be in their warehouse in the first place.

Zelda’s Adventure models from left to right: Volta, Swamp Zola, Peahat, Tektite, Forest of Findo Mushroom (Photo taken by Jason Bakutis)

Ganon and his evil army of foam latex continue to lie in wait somewhere, hopefully ready to be found for the sake of saving this undeniably unique part of game history.

Until that day comes, I’ll just have to learn to live with emphysema.