Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders

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Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders
Zak McKracken artwork.jpg
Cover art 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 Ferrari
Basilo Amaro
Writer(s) David Fox
Matthew Alan Kane
Composer(s) Matthew Alan Kane
Chris Grigg (C64)
Engine SCUMM
Platform(s) Commodore 64, MS-DOS, Amiga, Atari ST, FM Towns
Release date(s)
Genre(s) Graphic adventure

Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders is a 1988 graphic adventure game by Lucasfilm Games. It was the second game to use the SCUMM engine, after Maniac Mansion. The project was led by David Fox, with Matthew Alan Kane as the co-designer and co-programmer.

Like Maniac Mansion, it was developed for the Commodore 64 and later released in 1988 for that system and IBM PC (MS-DOS).[1] An Apple II version was apparently planned, but never released. The following year in 1989, the game was ported to the Amiga and Atari ST.


The story is set in 1997, 10 years after the game's production. The plot follows Zak (full name Francis 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; along with Melissa China and Leslie Bennett, two Yale University coed students, in their attempt to prevent the nefarious alien Caponians (who have taken over "The Phone Company", an amalgamation of various telecommunication companies around the world) from slowly reducing the intelligence of everybody on Earth by emitting a 60 Hz "hum" from their "Mind Bending Machine". The Skolarians, another ancient alien race, have left a defense mechanism hanging around to repulse the Caponians (the "Skolarian Device"), which needs reassembly and start-up. Unfortunately, the parts are spread all over Earth and Mars.



Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders was developed and published by Lucasfilm Games. It was the second game to use the SCUMM engine, after Maniac Mansion. Like Maniac Mansion, Zak McKracken was initially developed for the Commodore 64 and ported later to other systems. The project was led by David Fox, with Matthew Alan Kane as the co-designer and co-programmer. Fox consulted with New Age writer David Spangler for the game materials. The game was originally meant to be more serious, resembling the Indiana Jones series, but Ron Gilbert persuaded David Fox to increase the humorous aspects of the game. The game was consequently heavily inspired by many popular theories about aliens, ancient astronauts, and mysterious civilizations; its supernatural theme makes it resemble the much later X-Files, with Zak McKracken as its Fox Mulder. The many places visited in the game are common hotspots for these ideas, such as the pyramids of Egypt and Mexico, Lima, Stonehenge, the Bermuda Triangle, and the Face on Mars. The Skolarians are based on the Greys alien, while the Caponians (a name derived from "Al Capone") are primarily based on the Men in Black, with their Cadillac-shaped spaceship and Elvis-themed leader (nicknamed "The King"). The Caponians also have heads shaped like Easter Island's Moai statues.

All official versions of the game 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 to make photocopying more difficult. They consisted of Commodore 64 graphics characters, making it difficult for would-be software pirates to include them in a text file 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 the Kathmandu 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; modern day cracked versions completely remove the need to enter exit visa codes. 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 in 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.


Zak McKracken was originally released in October 1988,[1] for the C64, self-published by Lucasfilm Games. A port to IBM PC (MS-DOS) followed in the same year.[1] An Apple II version was apparently planned, but never released. In 1989, the game was ported to the Amiga and Atari ST. An MS-DOS version with enhanced graphics was also released.

A Japanese version of Zak McKracken (Japanese: ザックマックラッケン Zakkumakkurakken) was released in 1990 for the FM Towns computer. Produced by Douglas Crockford, it came on CD-ROM with 256-color graphics and a remastered sampled audio soundtrack. When the FM Towns version is played in Japanese text, the redrawn sprites are in Japanese super deformed style. Other Japanese illustrations (such as the game cover) were also redrawn for the Japanese market by the artist Yuzuki Hikaru (弓月光), otherwise known as Nishimura Tsukasa (西村司).


On 19 March 2015, Zak MacKracken was re-released on the digital distribution platform after years of non-availability.[2]


Many reviews, both online[3] and in print,[4][5] 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.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8]

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.[9]

Impact 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 poster advertising Maniac Mansion in Lou's Loans merchandise store in San Francisco. Similarly, in the FM Towns version, a poster for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure can be seen in the back room of the telephone company. In the MS-DOS version of the Maniac Mansion game and any similar or higher resolution of the game, a poster of the Zak McKracken game can be seen in the arcade room.
  • The original poster cover of the game mimicked the original Lucasfilm's Star Wars poster; with Zak as Luke, Annie as Leia, while the Broom Alien as the Droids.
  • 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.
  • 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 were named after the programmers' wives or girlfriends.[10] 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 Yellow 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 reads the telephone in the telephone company's office, it gives a phone number. When calling 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).

Fan sequels[edit]

Some Zak McKracken fans have created and released their own sequels, so called fangames, among which:

  • The New Adventures of Zak McKracken, released in March 2002 by "LucasFan Games"[11] and 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 in German in April 2008 and re-released as a director's cut in German, English and French (subtitles) in May 2015 by "Artificial Hair Bros.". The game consists of hand-drawn 2D scenes and sprites and pre-rendered 3D videos. It uses the Visionaire Studio engine that professional developers like Daedalic use.[12]

Other notable but unreleased fan sequels include:

  • Zak McKracken and the Alien Rockstars, which was planned for a final release in 2007 following the release of a demo. After several project restarts and lead changes the project was stopped.[13][14] However, the game engine's source code was released on Sourceforge.[15]
  • Zak McKracken and the Lonely Sea Monster was scheduled for 1 July 2007, but has come to a halt. It was supposed to maintain the look of the original.[16]


  1. ^ a b c "LucasArts Entertainment Company - 20th Anniversary". Archived from the original on 28 April 2006. 
  2. ^ Jones, John Paul (2015-03-19). "Outlaws, Zak McKracken among new line up of classic Lucasarts games hitting". Retrieved 2015-03-19. Following on from their agreement with Disney last year to release the Lucasarts back catalogue, digital retailer have gone and put five more classic titles from the house that George built on their store. There are some real gems there too. From underrated wild west FPS Outlaws to cult point and click adventure Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders[...] 
  3. ^ Reviews of Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, the Zak McKracken archive, retrieved 2011-05-24 
  4. ^ "Do Games Come Any Sillier Than This?", Zzap!64, March 1989 
  5. ^ "Zak McKracken", Powerplay / Happy Computer, September 1988: 72–73 
  6. ^ Ardai, Charles (October 1988), "Big Zak Attack", Computer Gaming World: 8–9 
  7. ^ Ferrell, Keith (January 1989). "Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders". Compute!. p. 82. Retrieved 10 November 2013. 
  8. ^ Lesser, Hartley; Lesser, Patricia; Lesser, Kirk (February 1989), "The Role of Computers", Dragon (142): 42–51 
  9. ^ "Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders for Amiga (1988) MobyRank". MobyGames. Retrieved 2013-08-28. 
  10. ^ David Fox, LucasArts - The Early Years 
  11. ^ Die neuen Abenteuer des Zak McKracken (2002) on IMDB
  12. ^ "Visionaire Studio". Retrieved June 27, 2015. 
  13. ^ Zak McKracken and the Alien Rockstars (ZMAR) - ZMAR history on
  14. ^ in the webarchive
  15. ^ mindbender source code on Sourceforge
  16. ^ Zak McKracken and the Lonely Sea Monster on

External links[edit]