One could write a whole series of blog posts on the theme of "unlikely licensed roleplaying games," and somewhere near the top of that list (but below GURPS Planet Krishna) you would undoubtedly find Mike Pondsmith's Dream Park: The Roleplaying Game, from R. Talsorian Games.
The 1981 novel Dream Park, by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes, was a fun science fiction/fantasy/mystery set in a futuristic amusement park (called Dream Park, duh) which combines advanced hologram technology (i.e. magic) with elaborate big-budget live-action roleplaying games. In the Dream Park future, game creators are rock star celebrities — well, at least indie rock star level — especially since high-powered computer technology takes the place of the enormous design and programming teams required for real-life games. The novel focuses on a Dream Park company policeman who has to go undercover in an ongoing game in order to solve a murder. The game itself is a wild World War II Cargo Cult fantasy adventure, so the reader can enjoy three simultaneous plot arcs: the mystery, the fantasy game storyline, and the interactions among the players in the game. The authors scored two direct predictive hits: first that games would become an industry rivaling film in scale, and that large audiences would enjoy watching other people play a game.
But while it's fun to read about people playing a game, it's awfully "meta" to actually sit down a play a game in which your characters are people playing a game. (Adding to the meta-ness is the fact that much of the rulebook is written as a guide to the "home tabletop version" of the games played at the "real" Dream Park, with sidebars by some of the characters from the novel, as well as others by Mike Pondsmith and Niven & Barnes.)
Dream Park: The Roleplaying Game was published in 1992, a slim 126-page softcover with a nice color painting on the cover and decent line art inside. R. Talsorian Games always paid more attention to art and book design than their competitors, and it shows.
I think the game was designed to appeal to fans of the novel who might not be familiar with roleplaying games otherwise, because the boilerplate "what is roleplaying?" section at the beginning is quite extensive, especially for 1992, almost a generation after Gygax and Arneson discovered polyhedra. The game comes with two pages of ready-to-run characters, nicely color printed on cardstock. (I never cut mine out.) The "character sheets" are tiny, just 2 1/2 by 3 1/2 inches. Everything is aimed at the most casual of casual gamers.
But there's a solid game-mechanics engine underneath the novice-friendly approach. Everything, including combat, is resolved by rolling a single 6-sided die. You roll and add your skill, your target rolls and adds its Dodge ability, and whoever gets the higher result wins. If it's a task rather than a fight, compare your result to the Difficulty level assigned by the gamemaster. It's simple but not overly so — change the cube to an icosahedron and you've essentially got the D20 engine which currently runs the two most popular roleplaying systems out there.
If you're not satisfied with ready-to-play characters there are 40 pages (a third of the book!) of character-creation rules, with everything from swords to blasters to spells to superpowers. As Pondsmith casually admits in a sidebar, this is really a robust multigenre roleplaying system. All the kids were doing that in those days.
About a quarter of the book is devoted to sample adventures and gamemastering advice. Some of the adventures are ultra-simple one-page scenarios, good for an introduction or a couple of hours around the dining table. But there's also some nice discussion of story beats and how to mix combat scenes, chases, dramatic revelations, and all the panoply of techniques storytellers have devised over the past few millennia. Pondsmith even touches on non-linear "sandbox" style scenario design.
Overall, this is a good game, as one would expect from the man who created Teenagers From Outer Space, Cyberpunk 2020 and Castle Falkenstein. I think one could easily use this as a "starter game" for novices or as the engine for a homebrew game which doesn't easily fit with existing systems. I doubt that Dream Park would stand up to a long-term campaign, though. It seems to have been designed for one-shot scenarios or limited-series adventures like the ones in the novel.
I'm not entirely sure where I picked up Dream Park. The publication date suggests I must have gotten it while I lived in Durham, North Carolina, but it's possible I picked it up at one of my old haunts during a visit to New Orleans. I never played it, but I did write an adventure for the game which I tried to peddle to some of the game magazines I was writing for back then. I don't think I ever sold it; Dream Park just wasn't a popular enough "property" for any magazine to devote space to it. And that, I suspect, sums up the fundamental problem that kept this game from becoming better known. Even a best-selling science fiction novel is not really "big" enough to generate the fanbase to support a game line. Best-selling books move hundreds of thousands of copies. Failed movies and TV shows have millions of viewers. And in 1992, before Kickstarter funding and direct sales over the Internet, a game based on a ten-year-old novel just couldn't make it.
If you want stories about people who aren't playing games, buy my ebook Outlaws and Aliens!