LucasArts' Secret History #1: Maniac Mansion Comments from other insane people

So that's what he thought, but what about the rest of you?


All the good LucasArts adventure games, except Grim Fandago, were made with SCUMM - Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion. So to me, Maniac Mansion has always held a very romantic position as the game that laid the groundwork for all the others to follow. Playing it is a chore these days - I never actually completed it until the fan-made deluxe version was released - but the sheer depth of the game still staggers me. This was made in 1987? I was two years old! And you have multiple characters and an insanely complex series of possible events and outcomes. It's probably the most complicated LucasArts adventure game of all - and it's the first one!

And while that does apparently still blow me away, it's very clear from playing it exactly why none of the following adventure games were this complicated: it's just not as much fun. The free roaming nature of it actually obscures your objective, and I found myself wandering around the house completely confused and without knowing what I was really supposed to be doing.

Maniac Mansion serves as a valuable relic; a prototype of sorts. Its importance cannot be understated - but playing it is a difficult game.


I've only ever wet myself once before, and that was just now, playing Maniac Mansion, being chased by Nurse Edna. Actually, I just also wet myself in the underground tunnels in Monkey Island 2. And once before when the bathroom door was jammed. And another time before that -- okay, so the list is endless. But my point is that Maniac Mansion is bloody scary.

The gameplay consists of edging forward slowly, making lots of mistakes but gradually building up a knowledge of the house, characters and correct order of everything. Be prepared to die a lot, and to always be in a constantly hyper-sensitive state incase Nurse Edna appears to chase your pixels. In some ways this is classic LucasArts – the dialogue, the puzzle solutions and the character design – but the atmosphere and gameplay just hasn't yet been perfected.

Playing it reminded me of my early days as a gamer: playing "The Lost Frog" on my BBC Computer. In that game you moved around a house using objects you found along the way to help you get into other parts of the house. You had to work out the right order of doing everything or else you'd end up dying in the attic. It was a very similar game to Maniac Mansion gameplay wise. It may seem very unforgiving to modern gamers, but that style of game can actually be very rewarding, as you build up knowledge of the environment -- an environment that feel like it could actually be real. It's a feeling that games twenty years later are still struggling to capture.

Complaining that Maniac Mansion isn't a perfect game is a bit like saying that the Sumerians were bad writers. It doesn't matter: what's important is that it appeared at all, and if we didn't have it then we wouldn't have had everything else that came after it either. I mean, this game practically invented cut-scenes!

If in some moon-lit future games get the same treatment as films and literature do now, then people will look back at the early games as important historical artefacts and pioneers of culture. Maniac Mansion will certainly be included in that canon.


Like a lot of people (if not all) who come to Mojo, I can safely say that Maniac Mansion was not my first LucasArts adventure, and I first played it through Weird Ed Edison's computer in Day of the Tentacle. Consequently, I had already played the evolutions and improvements of the formula so going back to the very first SCUMM game, the one that created the LucasArts Adventure and so Mojo itself, could only be a disappointment. A fiddly interface, the idea that you could actually lose the game (the very idea! What's next, 'Game Over' screens?), shockingly blocky graphics, barely any music or animation... still better than Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon admittedly.

And yet it is very easy to see how LucasArts went forward from it. Tweaked, more comfortable interface... catchier theme tune and equally catchy additional tunes made by new musician Michael Land... nicer to look at graphics... remove the threat of death... make Bernard without glasses the star... add pirates and monkeys... and history is born.

Never forget Maniac Mansion. Never forget your roots. Or that key under the welcome mat.


I got stuck. I don't like this game :(


Here are my thoughts:

  • There are too many ways to die in the game
  • This is really the only game I was never able to complete. It was.... I'm not sure. It really wasn't my kind of game.
  • However, it did start the SCUMM games, and it did show off some of the features of the engine (such as the full "cutscene")

Matt McGrath

I first played Maniac Mansion way back in early 1990. A friend of mine let me borrow the PC version, which I played on my 286/CGA/20meg HD PC. The game became an obsession - I traded Kid Icarus for his boxed copy and I remember taking the box in to school with me and keeping it in my desk. Then I started carrying the box around with me and keeping non-MM items in it as well. So for instance if I was trading Panini hockey stickers at recess I would keep the doubles in my MM box.

Later that year I played the NES version and fell in love with the TV show, which I have one of the few complete collections of, although I'm worried these 18 year old VHS tapes are going to fail some day.

I remember beating the NES version in November of 1990 during a bad snow storm, and then going out sled riding at like 9pm since I just knew we'd have off school the next day. We didn't and I got in a whole crapload of trouble.

My fondest memory of MM is when I discovered the hidden sound test mode in the PC version. I submitted it to the American magazine VG&CE but they didn't print it. I checked GameFAQ's and its not on there as of now either, and I didn't see it in any other place, so here's the text file that I made way back in early 1991 (you type this at the DOS prompt, and yes this works in DOSbox).

Jennifer McMurray

Maniac Mansion holds a special place in my heart. It was the first adventure game that I played to the end. I had it on the Nintendo Entertainment System. I love the music in that version. The cutscene music is still one of my all-time favorite video game songs. And of course, the opening song is brilliant. It's an unforgettable piece of music that sticks in your head long after you play it. It didn't have a lot of dialog like later LucasArts adventure games, but it didn't need it. It was loaded with atmosphere.

After I finally completed it, I went back to see what would happen if I did certain things I hadn't done before (which is what the best adventure games entice the player to do). What would happen if I killed Dave and beat the game? What would happen if I stuck the hamster in the microwave and gave it to Weird Ed? What are all of the different endings for each of the characters? I love the fact that the creators of the game put so much in the game to give it so much replay value. Very few adventure games after Maniac Mansion have managed to do that.

Alex Ashby

I can already imagine the letters of nostalgic fury worming their way into my inbox as I write these words but lets face it, it is impossible to try an merit this as a worthy game seeing it in the light of the new millennium. It is possible to excuse the graphics whereby the player is given the impression of controlling mobile potatoes that have been given a few vicious blows with a spatula in an environment consisting of warped Lego.

It is also possible to forgive the sound effects, which screeches out of the internal speaker as though someone was chain sawing a group of orang-utans (though I am assured the original was much better). But the actual act of playing the game will often feel more like a chore than an escape.

There is an almost inexhaustible supply of obscure puzzles to work your way through, a jail to be locked in every time you are caught thieving your unlawful way about the house, random events that have to play out before you can continue gaming, and of course the least popular blunder we have ever seen in adventures, death.

The use of only one save is also an extremely hazardous venture, especially when everything in this game has to be done 'just so'. If you make one mishap in this game you will have to start over from the beginning, I myself came very close to despair when, about to enter the final showdown, I could proceed no further because of one minute detail I had failed to foresee. I could have just cried.

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