The Nightmare Lungfish Boss

Posted: 27 Sep 2022

Showing off a work in progress partial restoration of a cut boss fight seen in Nightmare in the Brain Tumbler, previously only ever seen in promo materials circa 2002 and 2003.

It’s a well known fact that Psychonauts underwent some changes throughout its development. Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to restore a piece of cut content that I thought we’d never actually get to see outside of short, low quality clips.

I’ve talked about it before in a different context, and I’ve actually been trying to make this thread for a while but kept getting sidetracked.

In particular, I wanted to get the highest quality shots I could of this content as seen in the game’s E3 2002 trailer, only to go down a rabbit hole of scooping up a bunch of pre-release materials.

So, what is the content in question? Well, if you check out the E3 2002 trailer, nestled in with… all the other stuff that got completely changed, you’ll see these short clips that seem to show a fight with the Lungfish.

Except… these screenshots all take place in Brain Tumbler Experiment (or, to be more accurate, we know that earlier versions of this level were called “Nightmare in the Brain Tumbler”, though who knows if it may have had a different name before that)

And in the final game, “fighting” the lungfish in this level just involves shooting her a single time with a PSI-blast, because she exists solely as an excuse to have Sasha pull you out and teach you PSI-blast.

(I’ve went over this a bit in a previous thread where I covered some peculiar unused animations and went over the history of Linda’s presence in this level)

But, as explained there, once upon a time there was an entire boss fight with Linda planned here, and while we only see brief clips of it, that’s exactly what this trailer is showing us.

And while this trailer may barely let us see anything of the fight, we are actually lucky enough that the Lua sources that we have contain the scripts for this fight! Or… most of them, at least. A bit more on that later.

Now, so far so good. But a big issue was the fact that we know from these scripts that this fight had its own dedicated map, and without that we have no way of knowing how it was all set up, how the entities were placed, etc…

Fortunately for us, fairly recently we discovered that the Playstation 2 port of the game has a lot of content in its files that’s not in other releases, shipped by accident. And, by a huge stroke of luck, NILA, the map which featured this fight, is one of the maps present.

So, with very little hesitation, I set to work on trying my best to restore this fight using the materials we had. I’m still working on it, and there have certainly been some… difficulties.

Obviously I will be posting footage of it shortly but I would like to go through some of the context and what work has been necessary because I think it’s fairly important stuff to keep in mind.

Surprisingly, actual assets such as models, textures and animations have not been a huge problem. Many of these assets exist in either the 2013 Steam build or in the PS2 port. Sometimes even in the final game.

The primary problem has actually been missing information and missing scripts - see, while we can put together a lot of the pieces of the puzzle from the scripts we have, some documents, and the short trailer clips, there’s still a lot we just don’t know.

In some cases we could reasonably try to recreate or fill in the blanks, but in others we just have no real info on specifics of what went down in this fight.

For example! This fight would’ve started with the bunny transforming into the lungfish. We know this, and while we don’t have the script we could probably recreate it, maybe not with 100% accuracy, but a good guess could be made.

On the other hand, there’s “briars” entities we don’t have scripts for, nor any actual info in any documents on what they were for in the context of this fight.

We can theorise - in early versions of the game, pyrokinesis existed as an AoE slam attack and early promo shots show Raz burning some briars using it, so perhaps they existed in the fight to help add more complexity and make you work to proceed.

This seems pretty likely, but even if this is the case, this would be difficult to restore given that firestarting works completely different in the final game and would not translate here.

This is actually not the only time where changes to core mechanics are an issue - this fight was also made at a time when the PSI blast could be charged up to do more damage.

The related functions are stubbed out to always assume no charge when called on, and as a result the health values of the boss make the fight… a bit of a slog, with the final game’s mechanics. As a result, the restoration has tweaked stats to accomodate this.

Which is something I want to make really clear - this restoration is NOT 100% accurate. Pieces are missing, changes have been made to make it a smoother experience. It’s also very preliminary work that I’m still working on, so it’s very rough and buggy.

An important note, because I’ve not yet attempted to restore the bunny that starts the fight, I just spawn the lungfish in manually right now. Anyway, without further ado…

!!This is a WORK IN PROGRESS restoration of cut content from Psychonauts. Several elements are altered or missing and it does not accurately reflect the original cut content. It is a proof of concept that gives a rough idea of how it was!!

It’s not immediately clear what’s going on in this fight in the state seen here, so to explain how the fight goes:

Linda’s got 3 attacks. She can slowly follow you around and slap you when you’re close. She also has the ramming attack that she prepares and then rushes at you with. Finally, she can spit a volley of bombs.

Note from the future

The bombs shown in the video are rough approximations. The original script is lost but entities were created that derived from it that we still have the code for - in this case, bombs for an early iteration of the blueprint brain tank boss. The originals looked different and can be seen in some early pre-release materials.

The first phase of the fight is pretty standard. You just keep blasting her. After she takes so much damage though, the wire that’s attached to her starts sparking and she puts up a shield around herself, making her impervious to further blasting.

The trick is to then lure her over to the steak eggs on the other side of the arena. These meaty eggs explode into attack vines when destroyed. By luring her into attacking them, she gets knocked back and harrassed by the vine, which disrupts her shield for a bit.

Afterwards, she gets fed up and after unleashing a volley of bombs on the final vine she attempts to put her shield back up, only for it to fail, opening her up to one last round of PSI-blasts.

This is by no means a complete nor accurate restoration, as I am trying to make abundantly clear. There’s problems here, and it’s gonna take a lot more work to fix up. But the general structure of the fight is intact. I’ll keep working on it.

It is also currently not super stable, for some reason the game tends to crash either during the last phase cutscene or when you actually defeat her, not sure why yet.

Regardless, despite the rough nature of it right now, it’s really surreal finally getting to see and experience this fight in any capacity. We have so little of actual substance from this era of the game’s development, stuff like this is a treasure.

I really hope that one day we can see more of what the game was like during this period. Obviously the dream would be to have a playable build, but that’s a bit optimistic, it’s hard to imagine there’d be any surviving builds from this era out there anywhere.

But I don’t think it’s out of the question that we might get to see some more footage one day. There was a lot of footage of old builds shown in Double Fine’s “home videos” shown in “The Color of the Sky in Your World”, albeit slightly rough handheld camera stuff.

There’s probably other stuff we might be able to restore at some point using what we’ve got, but anything older than this point gets very shaky and a lot of it relies on things like map files we don’t have.

That aside, with all the unused stuff discovered in the PS2 port I’ve been meaning to put together a mod that makes all that stuff easily accessible + playable for anybody to explore and check out. Hopefully when it’s more complete this fight will be included in that.