Ken Macklin's cover artwork depicts five of the playable characters: Syd, Dave, Bernard, Razor, and Jeff.
Maniac Mansion is a 1987 graphic adventure game developed and published by Lucasfilm Games. Initially released for the Commodore 64 and Apple II, it was Lucasfilm's foray into video game publishing. The game follows teenager Dave Miller as he ventures into a mansion and attempts to rescue his girlfriend from an evil mad scientist, whose family has been controlled by a sentient meteor that crashed near the mansion 20 years earlier. The player uses a point-and-click interface to guide Dave and two of his friends through the mansion while avoiding its dangerous inhabitants and solving puzzles.
The game was conceived in 1985 by Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick. They based the story on horror film and B movie clichés with humorous elements, and they based the game's characters on people they knew and characters from movies, comics, and horror magazines. The developers based the mansion's design on the Main House at Skywalker Ranch, outlining the map and pathways prior to programming. The interface came from the designers' desire to improve on contemporary text parser-based graphical adventure games seen in earlier adventure titles. To reduce the effort required for creating the game, Gilbert implemented a game engine called SCUMM, which would be re-used for many other LucasArts titles. The game was ported to several other platforms; the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) version had to be considerably modified to follow Nintendo of America's content policies, which barred material deemed inappropriate for children.
Regarded as a seminal adventure title, Maniac Mansion was critically acclaimed; reviewers lauded its graphics, cutscenes, animation, and humor. Reviewers and other developers have considered its point-and-click interface revolutionary; the system has led competitors to adopt similar interfaces. The game influenced numerous other titles, has been placed in several "hall of fame" lists, and has led fans to create remakes with enhanced visuals. A TV series, written by Eugene Levy and starring Joe Flaherty, was created in 1990 and lasted for three seasons, filming 66 episodes. Lucasfilm Games released the sequel Day of the Tentacle in 1993, which also received critical acclaim.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Development
- 3 Release
- 4 Reception
- 5 Impact and legacy
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Maniac Mansion takes place in the mansion of the Edison family: Dr. Fred, Nurse Edna, and their son Weird Ed. Living with the Edisons are two large, disembodied tentacles – one purple and the other green. The intro sequence shows that a meteor crashed near the mansion twenty years earlier. The sentient meteor took control of the family and caused Dr. Fred to start sucking out human brains for use in experiments; his family supported and encouraged him in these efforts. One day, main protagonist Dave Miller's girlfriend, cheerleader Sandy Pantz, disappears without a trace, and he suspects that Dr. Fred has kidnapped her. After the game's introduction, Dave and his two companions prepare to enter the mansion to rescue Sandy; the game starts with a prompt for the player to select two of six characters to accompany Dave.
Maniac Mansion is a graphic adventure game in which the player uses a point-and-click interface to guide characters through a two-dimensional (2D) game world and to solve puzzles. Players can select from fifteen different commands with this scheme; examples include "walk to", to move the characters; "new kid", to switch between the three characters; and "pick up", to collect objects. Each character possesses unique abilities; for example, Syd and Razor can play musical instruments, while Bernard can repair appliances. The game may be completed with any character combination, but because many puzzles can be solved only with specific skills, the game can be finished in different ways, depending on the characters the player has chosen.
The gameplay is regularly interrupted by cutscenes, a term Ron Gilbert coined, that advance the story and inform the player about non-player characters' actions. Aside from the green tentacle, the mansion's inhabitants pose a threat and will throw the player characters into the dungeon—or in some situations kill them—if they see them. If one character dies, the player must choose a replacement from the unselected characters; the game ends if all the characters die. Maniac Mansion has five possible successful endings that depend on which characters the player uses, which ones survive, and what events occur.
Maniac Mansion was first conceived in 1985, when Lucasfilm Games assigned employees Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick the task of creating an original game. Noah Falstein had recently hired Gilbert at Lucasfilm Games on a three-month contract to program the game Koronis Rift. At the same time, Winnick was working on Labyrinth: The Computer Game, and it was then in which both Gilbert and Winnick found that they shared similar tastes in humor, movies, and television programs. Eventually, Gilbert was hired full-time. As with earlier Lucasfilm titles, the company's management provided little oversight in the development process, to which Gilbert credited the success of many of its earlier games.
Gilbert and Winnick were co-writers and lead designers of Maniac Mansion, but they worked separately (Gilbert on programming and Winnick on the art). Together, they brainstormed story ideas and, based on their love of B horror films, decided to create a comedy–horror title set in a haunted house. They drew inspiration from what Winnick called "a ridiculous teen horror movie", which the teens were in a house and were slaughtered one by one and not once thinking about leaving. The pair compared this film to clichés in other popular horror films such as Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, and used them to come up with the game's setting. Early development involved experimentation and was organic; according to Gilbert: "Very little was written down. Gary and I just talked and laughed a lot, and out it came." After development had begun, Lucasfilm Games relocated its office to the Stable House at Skywalker Ranch. The ranch's Main House inspired Winnick's design of the game's mansion and him to create the game's concept art. He recreated several rooms in the Main House for the game, such as a library with a spiral staircase and a media room with a large-screen TV and grand piano. The various rooms at the ranch inspired the design of other rooms in the mansion.
The pair prioritized the story and characters, and wanted to maintain a balance between a "sense of peril and sense of humor". The first character concepts were a set of siblings and their friends, which gradually evolved into the final characters. Gilbert and Winnick based the characters on stereotypes and people they knew. For example, Winnick's girlfriend Ray inspired Razor, and while Gilbert's mother apparently served as the basis for Nurse Edna – Gilbert has denied the connection. Dave and Wendy were based on Gilbert and a fellow employee named Wendy, respectively. According to Winnick, the Edison family were based on various movie characters and elements from EC Comics and Warren Publishing magazines. They sought to give each playable character unique abilities. However, they had to exclude several characters due to size limitations. To parody the horror genre, the developers inserted many film clichés into the story. For instance, the sentient meteor that takes control of Dr. Fred was inspired from a segment of the 1982 anthology film Creepshow titled "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill". The designers also included a man-eating plant similar to the villain of the 1986 film Little Shop of Horrors.
The pair struggled to choose a gameplay genre; Gilbert described their early ideas as "disconnected". While visiting relatives for Christmas, Gilbert saw his cousin playing King's Quest: Quest for the Crown. Gilbert was an adventure games fan and decided that the ideas he and Winnick had conceived would work well with the genre. His first exposure to a text adventure with graphics, Gilbert spent the holiday playing the game to familiarize himself with the format.
Gilbert and Winnick created Maniac Mansion 's basic structure and story prior to programming; its earliest version was a simple paper-and-pencil board game, which the mansion's floor plan served as the game board, and cards represented events and characters. Lines connected the rooms to illustrate pathways characters could travel. The designers used layers of cellulose acetate to map out the game's puzzles by tracking which items worked together when used by certain characters. Impressed with the map's complexity, Winnick included it in the game as a poster in one of the mansion's rooms. Because each character contributed different skills and resources, the pair spent months working on the event combinations that could occur. This extended the game's production time beyond that of Lucasfilm Games' previous titles, which almost led to Gilbert's firing. Though they had outlined the game's events, the dialogue was not written until after programming had started; David Fox provided the dialog. Alternate endings were uncommon at the time, and Maniac Mansion was one of the first games to feature them.
Commodore 64 limitations
Development focused on the Commodore 64 home computer, so a concern was to make the game small enough to fit into its 64 KB memory. Scrolling was used to show objects and characters in rooms during cutscenes. The designers used this technique to force players to explore the mansion's larger rooms by hiding elements off-screen. However, the Commodore's bitmap mode was unsuitable because it needed a large amount of memory (8k) and did not permit scrolling (only character screens can be scrolled on the VIC-II chip fast enough). Thus the game had to use character graphics which were scrollable and only took 1k, but couldn't have the same level of graphical detail as bitmaps. The set uses 8 × 8 pixel tiles. Since the VIC-II could only have 256 tiles (two 128-character sets which may be switched), it limited the level of detail Winnick could design into the graphics. To circumvent this, Gilbert created a program to generate the tiles from Winnick's pixel art. To comply with the tile limit, the program compared similar tiles and created approximations that could replace multiple tiles. Winnick inspected the results for visual errors and then repeated the process until the number of tiles was sufficiently reduced. To make the characters easily recognizable, Winnick made the heads relatively large. Each character consisted of three multicolor sprites stacked on each other. Because the Commodore 64 restricted sprites to 24 pixels horizontally (without doubling in half the quality), the characters' animations never extend outside this width.
SCUMM: game engine and scripting language
Gilbert started programming the game in assembly language for the 6502 microprocessor which was the norm for Commodore 64 games. However, he quickly realized that the game was too large and complex to easily be written in assembly and that a high-level scripting engine similar to Sierra's AGI system would have to be developed. Gilbert initially considered basing the language on LISP but ultimately chose a syntax that more closely resembles that of the C programming language. He discussed the problem with fellow Lucasfilm employee Chip Morningstar, who helped him build a foundation for the game engine, which Gilbert then extended. In designing the engine and language, Gilbert developed a "system that could be used on many adventure games, cutting down the time it took to make them". He logged considerable overtime with the goal of creating an adventure game superior to those of Lucasfilm's competitors. Gilbert designed the engine to allow for multitasking, allowing designers to isolate and manipulate specific game objects independently. Most of the first six to nine months of Maniac Mansion 's development involved building the engine.
A primary development goal was to create a control system that not only retained the structure of classic text adventures, but also dispensed with the typing. The two lead designers were frustrated with the text parsers and the inevitable player character deaths that were prominent in the genre. While in college, Gilbert had enjoyed Colossal Cave Adventure and Infocom's games but had "really wanted to see graphics". He felt that the visual element Sierra Entertainment added for its games was "a big improvement", but he disliked the games' use of text parsers. While playing King's Quest, Gilbert found guessing what terms the designer had programmed it to recognize aggravating because he could see the object he wanted to interact with on the screen, but he had to figure out the correct commands. Gilbert reasoned that if he could view the graphic, then he should be able to click on it with a cursor; by extension, the player should also be able to click on verb commands. Gilbert devised a new and simpler interface "because I'm lazy and don't like to type. I hated playing adventure games where I had to type everything in, and I hated playing the 'second guess the parser' game so I figure everything should be point-and-click."
The team originally envisioned 40 verb commands, but it whittled the number down to the 12 it felt were essential. The commands were then integrated into the scripting language in a similar fashion Sierra did with its Adventure Game Interpreter and Sierra's Creative Interpreter. Gilbert believed that a complex game did not need a text parser, but rather an innovative use of the interactions between in-game objects. He showed the team a demonstration of Sierra games and then led a discussion about their user interface and gameplay issues. Gilbert finished the engine – which he later named "Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion" (SCUMM) – after around a year of development. It freed the developers from having to code the details in low-level language. Though the game had been designed with the Commodore 64 in mind, the SCUMM engine enabled easy porting of Maniac Mansion to other platforms. Lucasfilm developers Aric Wilmunder and Brad Taylor would assist in the PC port of the script.
Scripting and testing
At Gilbert's request, David Fox, who had previously worked on Labyrinth: The Computer Game, assisted with Maniac Mansion 's scripting. Fox was between projects and planned to do a month's work on the game; however, he stayed on the project for roughly six months. He discussed the game's events with Gilbert and Winnick, and used that information to create the rooms with the script. The developers added designated areas or "walk-boxes" that characters could traverse in the game world. Gilbert and Fox wrote the characters' dialog and choreographed the action. Fox expanded the game based on ideas he conceived while viewing Winnick's concept art, such as allowing players to place a hamster in the kitchen microwave.
Gilbert wanted players to enjoy Maniac Mansion and not be punished for applying real world logic. In the Sierra game Space Quest II, the player can get killed by merely picking up broken glass and bleed to death with no prior warning. Fox asserted that "I know that in the real world I can successfully pick up a broken piece of mirror without dying" and characterized such game design as "sadistic". The team wanted to avoid illogical "surprise deaths" to spare players from having to regularly reload the game from a previous save state. As a result, the group created a number of possibilities to give the player more freedom. While there are several ways players can get the characters killed in Maniac Mansion, they're almost impossible to do except intentionally. While scripting the game, however, the designers realized that the number of characters resulted in a very complex game with a number of flaws, particularly dead ends that prevented the player from completing the game. To address these issues, they often revised the puzzles. In retrospect, Gilbert acknowledged that the fact that Lucasfilm Games had only one tester allowed many errors to go undetected. Gilbert's uncle also helped as an outside play-tester. Each week, Gilbert would mail him a floppy disk of the game's latest build.
The PC, Amiga, and Atari ST versions of the game came with a booklet called Nuke'm Alarms – named after the security system that protects the mansion – that served as copy protection for the corresponding piece of software. The booklet contained a list of codes that had to be entered to disarm the mansion's nuclear security device and open the door at the top of the foyer. The codes (which were Commodore graphics characters) were printed on a special paper so that they could not be easily photocopied; players had to use a special cellophane lens to read the codes. They were given three opportunities to enter the codes correctly, after which the mansion would explode, ending the game. Moreover, if the player tries to use Bernard to disarm the security device, the mansion automatically explodes. Although the designers had intended for the copy protection codes to be in the original Commodore and Apple versions, they had to be left out because of insufficient disk space and instead an on-disk protection was used. When the game was ported to the NES, the copy protection device and script was inadvertently left in the game, hidden behind a statue. According to developer David Warhol, players could interact with the now-invisible device and subsequently cause a "game over".
In contrast to its previous games, where Lucasfilm Games had been only the developer and had used external publishers, the company started taking on the role of publisher with Maniac Mansion. Lucasfilm Games hired Ken Macklin, whom Winnick knew, to design the packaging's artwork. Gilbert and Winnick collaborated with the marketing department to design the back cover. The two also created an insert that includes hints, a backstory, and jokes.
After around 18 to 24 months of development, the game debuted at the 1987 Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago. The game was initially released for the Commodore 64 and Apple II in October 1987. After a Toys "R" Us customer complained about the word "lust" on the back cover, the store pulled the game from its shelves until Lucasfilm Games altered the box. In March 1988, the PC port was released which used slightly more detailed title screen graphics. Ports for the Amiga, Atari ST, and NES followed.
Nintendo Entertainment System version
Published by Jaleco in September 1990, Maniac Mansion was Lucasfilm Games' first NES release. The developer was unable to properly focus on the project owing to a large workload; therefore, Douglas Crockford volunteered to manage it. The studio used a modified version of the SCUMM engine titled "NES SCUMM" for the port. Crockford noted that "one of the main differences between the NES and PCs is that the NES can do certain things much faster". Developer Tim Schafer, who would go on to develop other Lucasfilm games such as Maniac Mansion 's sequel Day of the Tentacle, play-tested the port; this was Schafer's first professional credit. The studio had to completely redraw the game's graphics to conform with the NES's display resolution requirements.
During its initial development for home computers, Lucasfilm Games censored profanity in the game; for instance, the company forced the developers to change Dave Miller's opening line of "Don't be a shit head" to "Don't be a tuna head". However, for the NES version, the designers had to remove further content so that it was suitable for younger audiences and according to Nintendo's policies. Jaleco USA president Howie Rubin advised Crockford about what content Nintendo might object, such as any usage of the word "kill" in the game. However, Crockford's interpretation of the NES Game Standards Policy led him to believe that other elements might also conflict with it, so he sent a list of questionable content to Jaleco. Its staff believed that the content was reasonable, and Lucasfilm Games submitted Maniac Mansion to Nintendo.
A month after submitting the game, Nintendo of America sent Lucasfilm Games a report that outlined offensive on-screen text and nude graphics that it wanted removed. Crockford further modified the content to comply, while trying to maintain the game's essential aspects. For example, Nintendo wanted the developers to remove graffiti in a room that provided players with hints on how to activate a story event; unable to remove it without also removing the hints, the designers shortened the message. Nintendo listed objectionable dialog lines that needed to be changed, including many of Nurse Edna's sexually suggestive lines. They also removed the line from one of Dr. Fred's cutscene in which he said "getting your pretty brains sucked out"; not saying right away what part of the line was offensive, they clarified, saying that "sucked" was deemed too graphic. Crockford changed the word to "removed" and also removed a poster that said "disco sucks" from the green tentacle's bedroom to be consistent with their wishes. The nudity Nintendo outlined encompassed a poster of a mummy in a playmate pose, a swimsuit calendar, and a classical statue of reclining woman. The studio removed the poster and calendar, but they fought to keep the statue, claiming that it was modeled after a Michelangelo sculpture. The censors suggested an alteration, but Lucasfilm Games ultimately removed the object. Nintendo of America also objected to the phrase "NES SCUMM" in the end credits, which Crockford removed but not without questioning why the censors had overlooked the more offensive content. In retrospect, Crockford felt that such standards resulted in "bland" products and called Nintendo a "jealous god".
After implementing the changes, Lucasfilm Games re-submitted Maniac Mansion to Nintendo, which then manufactured 250,000 cartridges. The NES cartridge features a battery back-up to save data, and a prototype NES cartridge with the original content is rumored to exist. In early 1990, Nintendo announced the port in its official magazine and provided further coverage later in the year. The ability to microwave a hamster remained in the game, which Crockford cited as an example of the censors' confusing criteria. However, Nintendo later noticed it and demanded its removal. Originally, there was only one printing of the NTSC version of the game, meaning that only PAL-region copies were affected. A second run of the game for NTSC regions then removed this content. After the first batch of cartridges was sold, Nintendo made Jaleco remove the content in future releases. The Japanese release omitted some graphical and musical elements, featured flip-screen scrolling, and had alterations to the characters' appearances. Maniac Mansion was one of four games in the NES library – along with Shadowgate, F-15 Strike Eagle, and Déjà Vu – to be translated into Swedish.
The port's music was handled by Realtime Associates. Late in development, Jaleco asked the company to provide background music, noting that port lacked it and despite the lack of background music in all previous ports. Realtime Associates' founder and president David Warhol noted that "video games at that time had to have 'wall to wall' music". Warhol went to George "The Fat Man" Sanger and his band Team Fat, and David Hayes to write the background music, while Warhol worked on translating them to NES chiptune music. The musicians composed music to best suit the characters, such as a punk rock theme for Razor, an electronic rock theme for Bernard, a surfer-based theme for Jeff, and a Hayes-inspired version of Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back in Town" for the main protagonist Dave.
Maniac Mansion was well received by critics, and several reviewers likened the game to films. Commodore User 's Bill Scolding and Zzap!64 's three reviewers – Paul Summer, Julian Rignall, and Steve Jarratt – compared it to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Other comparisons were drawn to Psycho, Friday the 13th, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Addams Family, and Scooby-Doo. Compute!'s Gazette 's Keith Farrell cited Maniac Mansion 's similarity to films, particularly with its use of cutscenes to add "information or urgency". He lauded the game's high level of detail along with its graphics and animation, writing, "Each of the teenagers is fully realized, with features and wardrobe that are wholly in character." In later issues, editor Orson Scott Card praised the game's humor, cinematic storytelling, and lack of violence. He called it "a compellingly good game" and evidence that Lucasfilm was helping "to make computer games a valid storytelling art", and Shay Addams wrote in the magazine that "the interface, graphics, and warped comedy make Maniac Mansion a must-explore for fans of both horror and humor". Commodore Magazine 's Russ Ceccola praised its cutscenes as creative and high-quality. He called the ending "unforgettable" and praised the game's audio-visuals; Ceccola noted that the "characters are distinctively Lucasfilm's, bringing facial expressions and personality to each individual character". He ended by recommending readers to buy Maniac Mansion, as it would please fans of the genre.
Zzap!64 's reviewers praised the game's humor and called its point-and-click control "tremendous"; they concluded by describing the game as "innovative and polished". ACE magazine's reviewer enjoyed the game's animation, multi-character gameplay, and depth, and called it "one of the better pics n' action games on the market". The reviewer enjoyed the game but commented that "traditional adventurers" wouldn't as much. Scolding noted Maniac Mansion 's "flash graphics and black humour" and finished by calling the game one of the best of its kind. German magazine Happy-Computer compared the cinematic cutscene usage to earlier Lucasfilm titles Koronis Rift and Labyrinth: The Computer Game, and the menu system to ICOM Simulations' Uninvited. The reviewers lauded the game's user-friendly menu system, graphics, originality, and overall enjoyability; one of the reviewers called it the best adventure title at the time. The magazine later reported that it was West Germany's highest-selling video game for three straight months.
In more recent reviews, Eurogamer 's Kristan Reed praised the game's "ambitious" design, citing the cast of characters, "elegant" interface, and writing. Game designer Sheri Graner Ray listed Maniac Mansion as an example of a game that challenged the "damsel in distress" concept by including female protagonists. However, writer Mark Dery commented that rescuing the kidnapped cheerleader reinforced negative gender roles. In choosing the top ten all-time games for the Commodore 64, Retro Gamer stated that Maniac Mansion and Zak McKracken were equally good, but it selected the latter because of Maniac Mansion 's prominence. In another issue, editor Ashley Day listed the game as having his favorite ending – the mansion's explosion upon pressing an unexpected button. In 2009, IGN staff named Maniac Mansion one of the ten best LucasArts adventure games. Richard Cobbett of PC Gamer called it "one of the most intricate and important adventure games ever made", citing the SCUMM interface and its establishment of a legacy for Lucasfilm Games during this time.
Reception of ports
Maniac Mansion was also well received in multi-format reviews, including the Commodore 64, Apple II, and PC versions. In noting the game's parodic nature, Questbusters: The Adventurer's Newsletter editor Shay Addams wrote that the SCUMM system worked better than the wheel used in Labyrinth: The Computer Game, calling it an improvement from Interplay's title Tass Times in Tonetown. He concluded by writing that Maniac Mansion was Lucasfilm's best title released and that it is a good buy for Commodore 64 and Apple II users who were unable to play games with better visuals such as from Sierra Entertainment. Computer Gaming World 's Charles Ardai praised the game's pacing, cutscenes, and humor, stating that it "strikes the necessary and precarious balance between laughs and suspense that so many comic horror films and novels lack". Despite faulting its small number of commands, he hailed its control system as "one of the most comfortable ever devised". However, Ardai disliked the game's small quantity of sound effects and music. Ardai finished by calling it "a clever and imaginative game[, ... and] a successful stylistic experiment".
In other multi-format reviews, The Deseret News staff called it "wonderful fun" and noted that the "art and animation are gorgeous". The writers considered the game's audio "the best [they had] heard". Reviewing the PC and Atari ST ports, a critic from The Games Machine called Maniac Mansion "an enjoyable romp" with a structure superior to subsequent LucasArts adventure games. However, the magazine writer noted the game's poor pathfinding and stated that "the lack of sound effects reduces atmosphere". Of the two versions, the reviewer believed that the Atari ST audiovisuals were better. Comparing the PC version to Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure, reviewers from French magazine Génération 4 praised the game's story, interface, and humor, stating that it was "beautifully done"; however, one reviewer commented that the developers ripped the graphics from Indiana Jones. Bill Kunkel and Joyce Worley of VideoGames & Computer Entertainment called Maniac Mansion "the most popular haunted-house adventure" and "a genuine cult classic"; while they found the plot and setup similar to most horror-themed games, the pair praised the game's interface and execution.
The game's Amiga version received a fair amount of praise, despite graphical shortcomings. In a 1993 review, The One Amiga 's Simon Byron noted that the game retained its "charm and humour" six years after its first release. However, he believed that Maniac Mansion 's art direction had become "tacky" compared to more recent games. Byron ended by writing that "if you fancy a cheap edge-of-the-seat challenge then you couldn't really do much better". Amiga Format reviewer Stephen Bradly found the game derivative, but he noted that it featured "loads of visual humour"; he added, "Strangely, it's quite compelling after a while." Heinrich Lenhardt of German magazine Power Play wrote that the Amiga version "played like a poem" and just as well as the other ports. Michael Labiner of Amiga Joker, another German magazine, stated that it was one of the best adventure games released for the computer. While he wrote that there were minor graphical flaws, such as limited colors, Labiner stated that the gameplay made up for those shortcomings. Sweden-based Datormagazin 's Ingela Palmér stated that the Amiga version differed little from the Commodore 64 one, and that those who already have the latter need not get the Amiga version. She added that, while the graphics and gameplay were not the best, Maniac Mansion remained highly enjoyable and easy. Palmér recommended that people new to the genre play this game first.
Reviewers well received Maniac Mansion 's NES version. Based on the computer release's success, Game Players ' writers speculated that the NES port would be one of 1990's better titles. UK-based Mean Machines reviewers lauded the game for its presentation, playability, and replay value, while criticizing the blocky graphics and "ear-bashing tunes". Reviewer Edward Laurence wrote that aside from minor graphical and sound improvements, little had changed from the Commodore 64 version. Julian Rignall compared the game to Shadowgate but noted differences between the two; he commented how Maniac Mansion had easy controls and that it lacked Shadowgate 's "death-without-warning situations". Despite his criticism of the audiovisuals, he wrote, "Maniac Mansion 's excellent, thoroughly rewarding and genuinely funny gameplay more than makes up for its deficiencies, and the end result is a highly original and very addictive adventure that no Nintendo owner should be without." Video Games magazine reviewed the translated German version, and the reviewers labeled the game as a "Video Games Classic". Co-reviewer Heinrich Lenhardt said that Maniac Mansion was unique and that no similar NES adventure game has since been released. He wrote that it was just as fun as the computer versions with good controls, but he noted that the graphics could be misleading at times. Co-reviewer Winnie Forster wrote that the game was "one of the most original representatives of the [adventure game] genre" and that it was one of Lucasfilm's more successful games. In recent commentary, Edge magazine staff described the port as more conservative than the original version, calling it "somewhat neutered". GamesTM magazine writers referred to the NES version as "infamous" and heavily censored.
Maniac Mansion was featured often in the magazine Nintendo Power. The game debuted on the magazine's Top 30 list at number 19 in February 1991, peaking at number 16 in August 1991. The magazine reviewed Maniac Mansion again in its February 1993 issue, as part of a staff overview on overlooked or otherwise undersold NES games. The editors felt that the popular RPG Final Fantasy overshadowed its September 1990 feature and drew more people to that game instead. Seven years after the game's release, the magazine ranked the NES version the 61st best game in its 100th issue in September 1997, calling Maniac Manion a "brilliant adventure". In its 20th anniversary issue, the magazine listed Maniac Mansion as the 16th best NES title, praising the game for its clever and funny writing and for being unlike any other game on the system. In its November 2010 issue, as part of the NES' 25th anniversary, Chris Hoffman described the game as "unlike anything else out there – a point-and-click adventure with an awesome sense of humor and multiple solutions to almost every puzzle." Nintendo Power also commented on the ability to microwave a hamster; in its 25th anniversary retrospective, the staff stated that "it's hard to mention Maniac Mansion without it". Retro Gamer listed the hamster incident as one of the top 100 video game moments in March 2012.
Impact and legacy
Referring to Maniac Mansion as a "seminal" title, GamesTM staff credited it with reinventing the graphical adventures' gameplay. The writer stated that removing the need to guess input verbs allowed players to focus more on the story and puzzles, resulting in less frustration and more enjoyment. Eurogamer's Kristan Reed made similar comments, saying that the design freed players from the "guessing-game frustration" and made the process "infinitely more elegant and intuitive". However, Connie Veugen and Felipe Quérette noted that determining the game's vocabulary was an enjoyable aspect of the genre. GamesTM magazine further commented that the game had solidified Lucasfilm Games as a leader in the graphic adventure genre. Authors Mike and Sandie Morrison commented that the studio had brought "serious competition" to the genre in the form of Maniac Mansion. Authors Rusel DeMaria and Johnny Wilson echoed the sentiment, calling it a "landmark title" for the company. They also stated that the game, along with Space Quest and Leisure Suit Larry, had inaugurated a "new era of humor-based adventure games". Reed seconded the statement, noting that the game "set in motion a captivating chapter in the history of gaming" that encompassed wit, invention, and style. GameSpy's Christopher Buecheler credited the game's success with making its genre commercially and critically viable. It was also one of the first video games to feature product placement (Pepsi brands); other games, such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game, Zool, and Tapper followed suit. Retro Gamer 's Stuart Hunt wrote in a September 2011 issue that "Maniac Mansion proved that videogames could capture the essence of an entirely different medium and opened our eyes to the wonderful things that happened when they placed their interactive stamp on them". The Secret of Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle developer Dave Grossman said that Maniac Mansion revolutionized the adventure game genre, also noting the fact that the game was only 64 KB large and that the music was good, especially for PCs. In a Joystiq interview on his development of The Cave, Gilbert said that some people originally did not classify Maniac Mansion as an adventure game because it was not a text-based adventure with stationary graphics and a text parser, just as people did not classify The Cave as an adventure game because it is not point-and-click. He concluded by citing Maniac Mansion as an example of the evolution of the adventure game genre, saying: "I think adventure games just evolve and they change, and I think you just need to do what's right for them."
The game engine, SCUMM, has been described as "revolutionary." Throughout the following decade Lucasfilm Games used the engine to develop eleven other games, improving the engine with each subsequent game. GamesTM attributed this change to a desire to streamline production and produce fun games. Competitors eventually adopted similar systems for their adventure games. Following his departure from LucasArts (Lucasfilm Games had been combined under this name with ILM and Skywalker Sound in 1990) in 1992, Gilbert used the SCUMM technology to create adventure games and Backyard Sports games at Humongous Entertainment. The designers built on their experience from Maniac Mansion and expanded the process and their ambition in subsequent titles. In retrospect, Gilbert commented that he made a number of mistakes designing the game (for instance, the dead-end situations that arise if certain items are used incorrectly) and applied the lessons to future games. In cutscenes, Gilbert had used a timer rather than a specific event to trigger them, which occasionally resulted in awkward scene changes. The designer aimed to avoid these flaws in the Monkey Island series of games. However, Gilbert commented that Maniac Mansion is his favorite because of its imperfections.
In popular culture
Elements of Maniac Mansion have appeared elsewhere in popular culture, especially in other Lucasfilm games. An in-game object called "Chuck the Plant" reappeared in other Lucas adventure titles like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Tales of Monkey Island. According to Gilbert, Steve Arnold, the LucasFilm general manager at the time, had a long-running joke in which he continually requested game designers to add a character named Chuck to their game. Gilbert and Winnick were the first to humor Steve's request in Maniac Mansion. Because the developers were unable to fit an extra character name in the game, they named an existing in-game plant. David Fox included a gasoline item for a nonexistent chainsaw in his game Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders as a parody of the chainsaw that required nonexistent gasoline in Maniac Mansion. Enthusiasts have created fan art depicting the characters, participated in cosplay based on the tentacle characters, and produced a trailer of a fictitious live action film.
Various fanmade enhanced remakes of Maniac Mansion have appeared over the years.
- Maniac Mansion Deluxe: One German fan, Sascha Borisow, created a remake with enhanced audio and visuals. He used the freeware Adventure Game Studio to develop the game, and distributed it free on the internet. The remake had over 200,000 downloads by the end of 2004.
- Meteor Mess 3D: German developer Vampyr Games created a remake with 3D computer graphics which began as a learning tool for Gamestudio.
- Night of the Meteor: A group of German gamers, called Edison Interactive, is developing another remake which combines Maniac Mansion 's features with Day of the Tentacle 's visual design.
- An uncensored unofficial NES version exists on Frank Cifaldi's website LostLevels.org. Gilbert stated that he would like to see an official remake resemble the gameplay and graphics from Tales of Monkey Island, but he balked, citing George Lucas' enhanced remakes of the original Star Wars trilogy as a reason to keep the flaws in the original game.
TV adaptation and game sequel
Lucasfilm had conceived the idea for a television adaptation, which The Family Channel purchased in 1990. A sitcom named after the game debuted in September 1990. It aired on YTV in Canada and The Family Channel in the United States. Partially based on the video game, the show focused on the Edison family's life and featured Joe Flaherty as Dr. Fred. Eugene Levy headed the writing staff. The program was a collaboration between Lucasfilm, The Family Channel, and Atlantis Films. In retrospect, Gilbert commented that the premise gradually changed during production to something that differed greatly from the game's original plot. Upon its debut, the show was well received by critics; Time magazine named it one of the best new shows of the year. However, other reviewers, such as Entertainment Weekly 's Ken Tucker, questioned how the show made it on The Family Channel, given Flaherty's usage of SCTV-like humor. PC Gamer 's Richard Cobbett, in a retrospective on the series, criticized its generic storylines and lack of relevance to the game. The series lasted for three seasons, filming 66 episodes.
In the early 1990s, LucasArts asked Dave Grossman and Tim Schafer, who had both worked with Gilbert on the Monkey Island games, to design a sequel to Maniac Mansion, eventually titled Day of the Tentacle. Winnick and Gilbert initially assisted with the writing. Grossman and Schafer were able to include the voices and the improved visuals Gilbert had originally envisioned for Maniac Mansion. The game discarded the character selection and branching story lines in favor of a simpler format, and introduced time travel as the main puzzle element. The developers retained the Edison family and Bernard characters, but changed the art style to more closely resemble Chuck Jones' works. As a homage to Maniac Mansion, the designers included a puzzle that involves freezing a hamster; according to Grossman, he gave a happier outcome for the hamster as a response to Gilbert's grim ending for the hamster in Maniac Mansion. They also made the original game playable on an in-game computer resembling a Commodore 64, which Grossman attributed to Gilbert reminiscing about the original's file size. LucasArts released Day of the Tentacle in 1993 to critical acclaim.
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Security device: Use of unauthorized access codes may cause mondo-damage. Use with caution! Call 1-800-555-NUKM for other fine security products from Nuk'm Alarms."
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