Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders

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Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders
The artwork for Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders
The game's cover artwork was drawn by Steve Purcell
Developer(s) Lucasfilm Games
Publisher(s) Lucasfilm Games
Director(s) David Fox
Designer(s) David Fox
Matthew Alan Kane
David Spangler
Ron Gilbert
Artist(s) Martin Cameron
Gary Winnick
Enhanced versions:
Mark J. Ferrari
Basilo Amaro
Writer(s) David Fox
Matthew Alan Kane
Composer(s) Matthew Alan Kane
Chris Grigg (C64 only)
Engine SCUMM
Platform(s) Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, MS-DOS, FM Towns
Release date(s) October 1988
Genre(s) Graphic adventure
Distribution Floppy disk, CD-ROM

Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders is a graphical adventure game, originally released in October 1988,[1] published by LucasArts (known at the time as Lucasfilm Games). It was the second game to use the SCUMM engine, after Maniac Mansion. The project was led by David Fox and was co-designed and co-programmed by Matthew Alan Kane.

Like Maniac Mansion, it was developed for the Commodore 64 and released in 1988 on that system and the PC.[1] An Apple II version was apparently planned, but never released. The following year, the game was ported to the Amiga and Atari ST and rereleased on the PC with enhanced graphics. Finally, a version was produced by Douglas Crockford for the Japanese FM-Towns computer, which came on a CD-ROM and featured 256-color graphics, full soundtrack and redrawn sprites in Anime style (when played in Japanese).


The story is set in 1997, 10 years after its production. The plot follows Zak (full name Zachary McKracken), a writer for the National Inquisitor, a tabloid newspaper (the name is a thinly veiled allusion to the National Enquirer); Annie Larris, a freelance scientist; and Melissa China and Leslie Bennett, two Yale University coed students, in their attempt to prevent the nefarious alien Caponians (who have infiltrated the phone company) from slowly reducing the intelligence of everybody on Earth using a 60 Hz "hum".

The Skolarians, another ancient alien race, have left a defense mechanism hanging around to repulse the Caponians, which just needs a quick reassembly and start-up. Unfortunately, the parts are spread all over Earth and Mars.


The game was heavily inspired by the many popular theories about aliens, ancient astronauts and mysterious civilizations. The many places visited in the game are common hotspots for these ideas, such as the pyramids of Egypt and Mexico, Lima, Stonehenge, Atlantis, a space Cadillac with an alien Elvis and the Face on Mars. Lead designer and programmer David Fox, consulted with New Age writer David Spangler, before Ron Gilbert and Matthew Alan Kane persuaded Fox to increase the humorous aspects of the game.[1]

All versions of Zak except the FM-Towns port require the player to enter copy protection codes (called "exit visa codes" inside the game) whenever they fly outside of the United States. The codes were printed in black on a dark brown paper sheet included in the game package; this made photocopying them very hard to impossible. They consisted of Commodore 64 graphics characters, making it difficult for would-be software pirates to include a text file listing them with a pirate copy. The codes do not have to be entered when flying into the US, or when the player is at an airport in another country. If the player enters the wrong codes five times, Zak gets locked in jail and his guard makes a lengthy anti-piracy speech. Nonetheless, pirated versions of the game quickly popped up anyway, in which the player may enter any code.

While copy protection codes were left out of the Commodore 64 version of Maniac Mansion for lack of disk space, the developers solved this problem on Zak McKracken by putting the game engine on a separate start-up floppy. This freed enough space to include the codes on the main disk. The Commodore version of Zak McKracken did not have CBM DOS files (only raw data), but was not protected and could be backed up.


Most reviews, both online[2] and in print,[3][4] rate Zak McKracken as among the best adventure games ever made, but others disagree. A review in Computer Gaming World described Zak McKracken as a good game, but "it simply could have been better." The magazine described the game's central flaw in the game's environments, limited to a relatively small number of screens per location, giving each town a movie-set feel compared to the size and detail of Maniac Mansion.[5] Compute! favorably reviewed Zak McKracken, but wished that Lucasfilm would next produce a game that did not depend on jokes and puzzles to tell its story.[6] The large number of mazes in the game was also a source of criticism, but David Fox felt it was the best way to maximize the game's size and still have it fit on a single Commodore 64 floppy disk. Other critics complained about the need to enter copy protection codes not once, but multiple times whenever the player flew out of the US.

The game was reviewed in 1989 in Dragon #142 by Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk Lesser in "The Role of Computers" column. The reviewers gave the game 3½ out of 5 stars.[7]

The game received high scores in general press. It received 90 out of 100 in several reviews, such as of Zzap!, Power Play, Happy Computer, HonestGamers,,, ST Action, and Quandary magazines.[8]

Injokes and references[edit]

  • In Maniac Mansion, a red-herring chainsaw can be found, but it has no fuel; in Zak McKracken, chainsaw fuel can be found, but not a chainsaw. When one of the characters is ordered to pick it up, the character replies: "I don't need it, it's for a different game."
  • The Green Tentacle's demo tape from the Enhanced PC Maniac Mansion plays a variation of the Zak McKracken theme.
  • There is a wanted poster for the Purple Meteor from Maniac Mansion inside the Friendly Hostel on Mars and in the Kathmandu, Nepal, police office.
  • Razor and the Scummettes, Razor's band from Maniac Mansion, are the band playing the song "Inda Glop Oda Krell" on the Digital Audio Tape (until it is recorded over).
  • Weird Ed, from Maniac Mansion, will eventually leave a message on Zak's answering machine, complete with references to Sandy and an Edsel.
  • The three girls in the game are named after the programmers' wives or girlfriends.[9] For example, Annie Larris was David Fox's wife's maiden name and the character's appearance was inspired by her looks. Similarly, Leslie Edwards (Leslie Bennett in game) was Matthew Alan Kane's girlfriend, who also worked as a major playtester during the game's production.
  • Each time Leslie's helmet is taken off, her hair is a different colour. This is an in-joke referring to the real Leslie Edwards, who changed her hair color practically every week.
  • One of the random "strange markings" glyph solutions, completed with the yellow crayon, is David Fox's initials.
  • The "words of power" (Gnik Sisi Vle) that mend the crystal in Stonehenge read "Elvis is king" backwards.
  • Zak's phone bill at the start of the game is $1138, in reference to George Lucas' THX 1138. $1138 is also the balance of Melissa's cashcard (until the player spends it on tokens for the Tram).
  • When Zak or Annie read the telephone in the telephone company's office, it gives a phone number, if you call that number, the representative goes to the phone and asks if it is Edna calling again (a reference to where you called Edna in Maniac Mansion).
  • The episode Zach and the Alien Invaders of the 1987 TMNT cartoon features Zach discovering extraterrestrials (Wingnut & Screwloose) in disguise.

Fan sequels[edit]

Some Zak McKracken fans have designed and released their own sequels, so called Fangames, to the game.

  • The New Adventures of Zak McKracken, released March 2002 by "LucasFan Games",[10] containing graphics from the Japanese FM Towns 256 color version and country-specific backgrounds from various Neo-Geo games. The original release was notorious for containing a somewhat perverse ending. However, the ending was soon changed. This sequel is very short and fairly limited, compared to the two other fan sequels.
  • Zak McKracken Between Time and Space, released to the German speaking public on 19 April 2008.[11]
  • Zak McKracken and the Alien Rockstars, after a demo was released, the final games was planned to be released sometime in 2007. After several project restarts and lead changes the project was stopped.[12][13] But at least, the game engine's source code was released on Sourceforge.[14]
  • Zak McKracken and the Lonely Sea Monster was scheduled for 1 July 2007, and was supposed to maintain the look of the original.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "LucasArts Entertainment Company - 20th Anniversary". Archived from the original on 28 April 2006. 
  2. ^ Reviews of Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, the Zak McKracken archive, retrieved 2011-05-24 
  3. ^ Do Games Come Any Sillier Than This?, Zzap!64, March 1989 
  4. ^ Zak McKracken, Powerplay / Happy Computer, September 1988: 72–73 
  5. ^ Ardai, Charles (October 1988), Big Zak Attack, Computer Gaming World: 8–9 
  6. ^ Ferrell, Keith (January 1989). "Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders". Compute!. p. 82. Retrieved 10 November 2013. 
  7. ^ Lesser, Hartley; Lesser, Patricia; Lesser, Kirk (February 1989), The Role of Computers, Dragon (142): 42–51 
  8. ^ "Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders for Amiga (1988) MobyRank". MobyGames. Retrieved 2013-08-28. 
  9. ^ David Fox (LucasArts game designer), LucasArts - The Early Years 
  10. ^ Die neuen Abenteuer des Zak McKracken (2002) on IMDB
  11. ^ Steinhaus, Timo (2008-05-12). "Zak McKracken - Between Time and Space – Special - Fanprojekt holt den sympatischen Reporter zurück." (in German). Retrieved 2013-07-09. 
  12. ^ Zak McKracken and the Alien Rockstars (ZMAR) - ZMAR history on
  13. ^ in the webarchive
  14. ^ mindbender sourc ecode on Sourceforge
  15. ^ Zak McKracken and the Lonely Sea Monster on

External links[edit]