Douglas Crockford Interview

Disclaimer: This interview was originally published circa 2004 on "The Maniac Mansion Fan Site", which is long defunct. It has been reprinted on Mixnmojo with permission.

Douglas Crockford, who assisted in the conversion of Maniac Mansion to the Nintendo Entertainment System and who also wrote The Expurgation of Maniac Mansion, has been kind enough to participate in an interview, answering fan questions concerning Maniac Mansion.

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What was it like working for LucasFilm Games/LucasArts?

It was a great place to work. The people there are bright and talented. The working environment is deluxe. And you get to see a lot of great movies.

What can you tell us about the original version of Maniac Mansion?

The original version was written for the Commodore 64. That dictated the level of graphical performance. The programming challenge was to get a large story game into a tiny amount of memory.

Were any of the characters in Maniac Mansion based on actual people?

Some of the characters were based on people we knew. Razor was based on Gary's girl friend. Nurse Edna was based on Ron's mom. Weird Ed was based on a guy we worked with, but I won't say who. Actually, he was a sort of a composite.

What modifications were made to the SCUMM engine for the NES version?

It was heavily adapted. NES and C64 both used a 6502 processor, but everything else was different. The disk drive had to be replaced by bank switching ROM.

In computer versions of the game, there is a locked medical cabinet in Dr. Fred's office that can never be opened because there is no key to be found. Was there originally a key for this, or was it always just a red herring (like the broken staircase)?

It might have been a possible game element at one time.

The staircase, by the way, is based on the staircase in the library at Skywalker Ranch.

Did that darned broken staircase in the library EVER have a use?

It was just for show. They needed to keep you from going upstairs, so they put the sign on it.

The characters' CD players were unique to the NES version. Whose idea was this? Were the songs inspired or based on anything/anyone?

Jaleco suggested that we have background music. The original game didn't have it. We gave each kid his own CD player, so each kid had his own theme, and you could use the CD player to turn it off if you wanted to. I think the songs are boss. They were written by some guys in LA. I especially liked Jeff's surf music and Wink Smiley's theme song. We went to some trouble to make sure the CD players didn't interfere with the recording-music-on-tape puzzles. We didn't worry about RIAA back then.

Could you explain how some puzzles as well as the engine were made easier for the conversion? For instance, some useless verbs were excluded and the "What Is" function is automatic here.

We had to streamline the interface because we were more constrained on screen space. I think the interface turned out really well.

There are a few items in the game that are invisible, but can still be found using the arrow such as the keypad by the security door (from the copy-protection) and the SCUMM U. RAH! pennant in Ed's bedroom.

There was a copy protection mechanism in the original that we didn't need in a cartridge. That is what the security door was for. When changes were made very late, we made the objects invisible rather than remove them to minimize the risk of adding new problems.

Scumm U was the training program for new programmers.

There were other subtle changes in the NES version that made the game less graphic. For instance if you read the blood on the wall in the kitchen your character will say, "It's just ketchup." Similarly, there are no body parts in Dead Cousin Ted's room, even in the prototype version. Were these things also addressed by Nintendo or were they removed voluntarily?

We were aware that younger kids would be playing this, so we did tone down some things. Nintendo didn't order us to change anything. But there was a very clear threat that if we didn't pass their censors that they would not allow us to publish the game.

Besides the modifications of the art, text, and content, were there any other changes made to the game? (i.e. storyline)

We wanted to keep it as much as possible like the original. We all liked MM a lot. I still think it is the best story game of all time. Later games went way beyond it in graphics and sounds, but no one has come close to matching it in interactive design and story telling.

There are a lot of in-jokes in the game, like in many LucasArts games. These ranged from a poster of Ron Gilbert to a THX-1138 license plate. The chainsaw still remains in the kitchen, but your character cannot use it because it's out of gas. Fans would later discover a can of gas in Zak McKracken.

Zak came later. The joke was to suggest that the kitchen was splattered with blood, but it turns out that it's just ketchup.

There is an in-joke new to the NES version, however. In the PC version, the broken record in the music room read "Tentacle Mating Calls" while the broken record in the NES version reads "Loom Soundtrack." Was this included because the making of this game coincided with the making of Loom?

That, and worries about the censors and tentacle mating.

There are, of course, many people who discuss the issue of the hamster in the microwave. A lot of people (especially eBayers looking for a big buck) like to believe or make other people believe that there is a version of the U.S. cartridge that does not allow the player to blow up the hamster in the microwave, making the version that allows you to blow up the hamster a rarity. While the fact is that this feature wasn't removed until the PAL version was released in Europe, did Nintendo really throw a fit about it?

They did throw a fit. They didn't catch it until after the first edition had been released. It was removed from later editions.

There are two references to Pepsi in the game: the can in the fridge and the machine in Dr. Fred's lab. You mentioned a removed trick in Chris Pepin's FAQ concerning the machine. What else can be said about the Pepsi advertisement?

It was originally going to be Coke, but there was a problem with trademark clearance. There was almost a promotional deal with Pepsi (making this the first product placement in a computer game).

There is also an address number for the house that changes each game.

The house number was for a sweepstakes that never happened.

It has been over 15 years since the game's original release, but some people are still curious: Does Jeff have any other talent besides being able to fix the telephone?

No. Jeff was the least talented of the chosen kids. But he had the best music.

Did you play a role in the TV Series, the Japanese production of the NES game, the earlier PC/Commodore 64/Apple II ports, or Day of the Tentacle?

None of the above.

With all of its unique features, many people consider the NES version of the game to be the best, even after playing the computer version.

I like that version best, too. The Harrison Fong's graphics were brilliant, and the music improves the overall experience.

The NES version is also much better than its Japanese Famicom counterpart, which was made two years earlier.

We considered translating the Famicom version to English, but rejected it.

Was the the NES version made by a lot of the original MM crew?

The originators were working on other projects at the time.

Was Maniac Mansion financially successful?

I can't say.

Looking back on Maniac Mansion, was there anything about the game that you would have changed or done differently if you had the chance?

I still think it is a great game, and Nintendo didn't hurt it too much.

I especially liked that all of the stuff we removed for the censors was featured in Nintendo Power.

In closing, could you tell us what you think of modern video games in general? Do you think that the quality of games has increased or decreased thanks to technology?

The game systems are a thousand times better now. The games are not a thousand times better.

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