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LucasArts' Secret History #1: Maniac Mansion Trivia! And secrets!

Most great adventure games have a number of unnecessary but amusing things to find, and Maniac Mansion is no different. Here are some examples as well as some general trivia about the game that will pass the time while you attempt to disarm your latest product from Nuke'em Alarms.

This is the first game to run on the SCUMM Engine (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion). The first version was coded by Ron Gilbert and Aric Wilmunder. It was used, in various versions, to power all of LucasArts' adventure games all the way up to The Curse of Monkey Island in 1997.

Maniac Mansion was the first title that LucasFilm Games both developed and published on its own.

Maniac Mansion is the first example of product placement in a video game, in the form of a Pepsi can in the refrigerator and a Pepsi machine in Dr. Fred's lab. Coke was the original idea but the company wasn't interested.

The chainsaw in the kitchen is unusable because it's out of gas; in Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, a useless can of gasoline (for chainsaws only) can be found on Mars. In the same spirit, the Enhanced version of Maniac Mansion has a picture for Zak McKracken in the arcade room. Zak McKracken returns the favor with a Maniac Mansion poster in Lou's pawn shop.

When the game was in development a red herring puzzle was considered involving the Pepsi machine in Dr. Fred's lab. A Pepsi can bought from it would have sported a long serial number with the implication that punching it in to Fred's self-destruct machine would shut it off and you'd beat the game. However, it simply wouldn't work. Douglas Crockford (who was under "Special thanks" for the original game and went on to lead the NES conversion project) did not like the puzzle and suggested its removal. In the final game the self-destruct machine still has hotspots for the four buttons that you can push to your heart's content, but they do nothing.

Chuck the Plant, a completely useless object in the mansion library, makes his first appearance in this game. A rather random in-joke between the designers and LucasFilm general manager Steve Arnold, Chuck the Plant has showed up in a few other LucasArts adventures such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Maniac Mansion's sequel, Day of the Tentacle. He was also to appear in Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis but the room in which the object was found got cut from the final game.

The library found in the mansion, including the spiral staircase, was modeled after the library at Skywalker Ranch. The main house of Skywalker Ranch is also rumoured to be the inspiration for the outside of the mansion.

You've probably noticed that when the Edisons take trips to and from their bedrooms the game actually has them walk through each room along the way, making it possible for you to run into them in the middle of their journey and send you to the dungeon. But did you know that Nurse Edna can actually chase you out of her room and into the hallway?

Adventure game gods Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman began their careers as lowly object taggers for the Nintendo port of this game. They of course went on to helm the game's loose and even more acclaimed sequel, Day of the Tentacle, among other things.

In the PC versions of the game, Green Tentacle rejects the can of Pepsi when you offer it to him ("It makes me burp.") In the NES version, however, he thanks you for it (without you losing it in your inventory!) and when you exit the room and re-enter right after, he's gone! In this version you can also use Pepsi as an alternative to the fruit drinks for Green to wash down his wax fruit (again, without losing the Pepsi!).

The game originally game packaged with a "Nuke 'em Alarms" code manual that served as the copy-protection. When a character attempts to open the steel security door on the second floor, you will be asked to input a four character code from a designated row and column in the manual. For a laugh, have Bernard read the sign that's on the steel security door. (Though, it's the kind of laugh best enjoyed after saving your game.)

While the original computer versions of the game included the above feature for copy-protection, this obviously was not necessary for the NES port. If you use your cursor to around the left side of the door in the second floor hallway, however, you will find an artifact of the feature's removal in the form of an invisible keypad, which is still interactive hotspot. Using it will cause the house to blow up. Similarly, a decorative pennant in Weird Ed's room was removed in the NES version of the game, but the actual hot spot still exists, and the pennant can be read. The pennant reads, "S.C.U.M.M. U. RAH!" a reference to the version of SCUMM taught to junior LucasArts programmers. For why anyone would want this reference removed, check out the infinitely referenced Douglas Crockford article.

In the PC versions of the game, the only way to get the quarter without ripping the envelope and rendering it useless is by steaming the envelope open first. In the NES version this gratuitous dead-end was removed by simply having the character say, "A quarter slipped out of the envelope" when you try to open it.

One of the possible phone numbers for the Meteor Police is 1138, a direct reference to George Lucas' first film, THX 1138.

The NES version has something of a cheat – you are allowed to open the inner door to Fred's lab with the combination "0000" if you do it before playing Meteor Mess and the first cutscene showing Dr. Fred playing it.

In the PC version the broken record in the music room is labeled simply "Sound effects record." In the NES version of the game, the broken record is titled "Loom soundtrack album." Playing the broken record on the victrola plays what I'm pretty sure are the first few notes of the Glass City music from Loom.

The record in Green Tentacle's bedroom reads "Tentacle Mating Calls." If you record it to the cassette tape and give it to Green to play, he will go berserk and the scene cuts to the player's tombstone with some alarming implications. In the Nintendo version, Green Tentacle's response is the same, but the player is not killed.

Since the game doesn't feature a "Look at" verb but instead "Read," characters will rarely say anything interesting about an object upon examination unless it literally has something to read on it. However, there are a few examples if you look hard enough. If you try to "Pick up" the gravy stain on the dining room table the player will respond, "I don't do table cloths!" Checking out the skeleton in the dungeon will yield, "I wonder if I know him." The NES version has a handful of extra examples, such as the welcome mat, which is not readable in the original PC versions.

Offering Purple Tentacle the exploded hamster bits will prompt him to say, "No thanks. I'm not hungry."

Try mailing everything possible to Mark Eeter that the game allows for amusing results.

In a rather obscure dead-end that very few people probably wound up falling victim to, you can actually kill the man-eating plant by pouring the developer fluid into its pot.

After a character dies, you can successfully continue playing as them as a ghost if you are persistent with the cursor. However, there is little you can do since you're invisible, have lost all your inventory, and can't interact with objects.

In the NES version of the game there is a sign on the fence that contains a randomized address number when you read it. This apparently tied in to a promotional deal with Pepsi that never materialized. "Send the number in, maybe you'd get something," recalls Douglas Crockford.

The NES version adds a fun additional way to off the Meteor. Instead of sending the Meteor flying into space by placing it in the trunk of the Edsel and turning on the modified rocket engine, launch the Edsel without the Meteor. This will demolish the garage and leave a hole in the previously locked fence which will allow you to re-enter the mansion. Run all the way up to the den on the top floor of the mansion before the timer runs out and you can feed the Meteor to the man-eating plant!

Despite Nintendo's strict censorship of Maniac Mansion, the 16th issue of Nintendo Power magazine included a cover feature about the game which included prototype screenshots that displayed many of the things LucasArts were ordered to remove for the final game. Among these are: the nude statue, the playboy poster, and the "Disco sucks!" sign in Green Tentacle's bedroom. A persistent fan can discover and download a ROM of the sordid prototype version, though note that it only contains the stuff that the team had to remove after they'd submitted the game initially and Nintendo sent in their list of requests; the profanities and such are still gone in this version.

Douglas Crockford's article lists several of the differences between the PC and NES versions of the game due to censorship, but there are others. If you give the publishing contract to the Meteor in the computer versions of the game, he orders Dr. Fred to "Release the women... all the women." In the NES version this was changed to "Release the prisoners." In the PC version, the brain area of Dr. Fred's medical chart in the office room reads "Chewy caramel center," whereas in the NES version it is "Pretty brains."

The NES version has a number of unique elements that have nothing to do with censorship, and in some cases, extra features. The most notable is the fact that music is prevalent throughout the game in the NES version, with each teenager a CD player in their inventory with their favorite song on it. You can turn the CDs off in the game, which enables you to hear the crickets chirping outside and the grandfather clock ticking in the house, but the tracks are so great you'd never want to do that.

One of the game's most infamous features was the ability of Syd or Razor to put Weird Ed's hamster in the microwave and blow it up. Having a kid give the remains to Weird Ed will result in an immediate death. Nintendo was reportedly infuriated when they discovered the exploding hamster feature in the game, and subsequent copies of the game (all that were released outside North America) have the ability removed and add various humorous dialogue reactions from the characters should you attempt it.

A television series that was extremely loosely (not at all) based upon the game was produced. You can learn more at this excellent fan site.

The original game came packaged with a giant fold-out poster that replicates a college campus bulletin board. There are lots of amusing gags on the poster in addition to some backstory for the characters (it is in fact the only source for some of the characters' last names) as well as hints. The NES version of the game contained a somewhat reduced version of the poster.

Scrolling rooms and clipping behind objects (a prime example of both being the dining room) were somewhat notable features when Maniac Mansion was made.

The game's cover art was drawn by Ken Macklin, while Steve Purcell was responsible for the excellent painting of the Edison family that graces the back of the box of the "Enhanced" releases of the game. Purcell keeps the original painting framed in his house!

Ways to die

Fill the glass jar with radioactive pool water and microwave it. Then open the microwave.

Shut off the power and keep the kid by the fuse box, so that Purple Tentacle will capture him/her without putting the power back on.

Open the pool's water valve and don't close it.

Open the pool's water valve, have a kid descend into the drained pool, and then close the water valve with the kid still in it.

Enter a wrong combination into the steel security door three times. (PC versions only.)

Have Bernard read the sign on the steel security door. (PC versions only.)

Use the invisible keypad on the second floor hallway. (NES version only.)

Record "Tentacle Mating Calls" onto the cassette tape and play it for Green Tentacle.

Record Syd or Razor's piano playing onto the cassette tape, mail it to Mark Eeter, and then show the publishing contract to Green Tentacle.

Push the red button at the bottom of the drained pool.

Fail to stop Dr. Fred's self-destruct machine.

Go into the Meteor's room without wearing the radiation suit.

Blow up Weird Ed's hamster in the microwave with Syd or Razor and show Ed the remains. (Not applicable to international NES cartridges.)

Sources/Further reading:

Mojo's full in-game gallery for the game.

The Expurgation of Maniac Mansion – The famous 1993 article by Douglas Crockford that details the difficulties Nintendo's censors brought upon the Lucasfilm Games development team who performed the game's NES conversion.

Chris Pepin's FAQ – An excellent FAQ for the game and the source for a handful of the above trivia items. It's also got several complete walkthroughs.

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