9: The Last Resort (Screenshot: YouTube)

The video game industry was going through some exciting changes in the 1990s, with greatly improved graphics and the potential for more complex, involved storytelling. Robert De Niro, for one, was intrigued enough to create a division of his production company called Tribeca Interactive to explore the possibilities of the medium. Eric Grundhauser tells the story of that division’s utterly bizarre yet memorable first project in a piece for Atlas Obscura called “Exploring The Last Resort, Robert De Niro’s Forgotten ’90s Adventure Game.” Produced by De Niro and boasting a star-studded voice cast (including Cher, Jim Belushi, Christopher Reeve, Anne Heche, and Ellen DeGeneres), 9: The Last Resort was a highly stylized, wildly artsy, and sometimes nightmarish variation on the classic adventure/puzzle game Myst. The player inherits a strange, decrepit hotel but must evict a pair of unwanted residents, played by Joe Perry and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. These two villainous characters are called The Toxic Twins, a nickname Perry and Tyler earned during their 1970s drugging days.

Grundhauser talks with Buzz Hays, the director of 9: The Last Resort, to learn how the game came about and how it was received upon release in 1996. De Niro and Hays first met when the latter was working at Lucasfilm. Apparently, the two hit it off and would talk at length about potential movie projects. When it came time for Tribeca Interactive to release its debut game, Hays was put in charge. The director set up shop in a San Francisco warehouse and enlisted painter Mark Ryden to create eye-popping visuals, both spooky and childlike at once. Alas, the world was not ready for 9: The Last Resort when the “very weird” game was finally released in 1996. “I wouldn’t call it a failure,” Hays says. “It was just kind of a quiet landing.”

Read the whole saga of 9: The Last Resort here.