LucasArts' Secret History #1: Maniac Mansion Memories from the developers, and music downloads

Gary Winnick: Co-Project Leader & Artist

At the time working on the Commodore 64 was a bit of a new experience, we'd done some Commodore work, but Maniac was being designing directly for the platform and Ron wanted to push the limits. Ron came up with some pretty cool tools; one I remember in particular was a utility that allowed you to crunch down character set backgrounds. Character sets (or tiles) were how we created the maniac background art, on the Commodore you could create each background out of up to 256 unique 4 X8 pixel tiles.

Ron's utility (I think it was called 'skedit') allowed you to take a background you created (no matter how many tiles) and enter a number of tiles you wanted to crunch it down to (under 256). The program would think a moment then spit out a revised image, reducing the number of tiles by comparing the most repetitious patterns, and replacing them with ones that were similar. This actually worked amazingly well; I'd crunch a 350 character background down to 200, take the result which was usually not too bad and touch up the remaining tiles, sometimes repeating the process several times. Although challenging, I remember enjoying this part of Maniac's art development quite a bit.

David Fox: Lead Scripter

It took me just a little while to immerse myself in Ron and Gary's wacky world of Maniac Mansion. The humor was a stretch for me at first, and since I was going to be writing much of the dialog, as well as doing much of the interactive scripts that drove the game, I had to get into their mindset pretty fast.

I knew I had arrived when I saw the microwave oven in the kitchen and wondered what would happen if one of the kids put Weird Ed's hamster into it. Without letting Ron know what I was up to, I asked Gary if he could give me the appropriate graphical images. Then, wicked smile on my face, I wrote the code. After the hamster was in the microwave, and it's turned on, there's a few seconds of microwave humming noise, then a splat, then the bell, signaling the job is done. Gary's nice red splat and all.

I pulled Ron into my office and let him do the honors. It was hard to keep from bursting into laughter until it was done. He was very happy and the routine stayed in the game, though only Razor or Sid were willing to do the dirty deed.

I forgot what happened next... just saw a YouTube video

You can take the bloody remains of the hamster and offer them to Weird Ed. It takes him a while, but when he sees what you've done, the kid ends up under a tombstone on the front lawn...

More microwave fun... there's a gag where you have to steam open an envelope by heating up a glass of water in the microwave. But... if you get the water from the pool, which is radioactive, after the microwave is opened, the kid will spin around, screaming that they're dying from radiation poisoning... another tombstone...

I think working on this game let me express my own wacked out sense of humor, and I had a great time doing it!

Dave Warhol: Developer, NES Version

My company, Realtime Associates, developed the NES version of Maniac Mansion. We got about four fifths through development when Jaleco, the publisher, asked, "Where's the music?" There wasn't any music in the original computer game other than the title song and a couple incidental themes if I recall correctly, but video games at that time had to have "wall to wall" music. So Realtime was commissioned to get a soundtrack written at the last moment.

I turned to George and Team Fat to do some of the writing, and to Dave Hayes, a jazz/funk/fusion keyboardist living near Pasadena, to write some too. The guys wrote music on regular synths, and I gave myself the job of arranging them for the NES (having written the music & sound drivers, and being somewhat of an audio guy, myself).

My favorites were the songs "The Boys Are Still Back" (the main character's theme), a Thin Lizzie-inspired rocker by Hayes, "No, No, Never, Never, Well, Maybe, Sure, OK" (a punk anthem for a female punk character), and "Comp-u-Nerd" (a great piece of almost-foot-tapping digital rock for the game's nerd), the latter two by a couple composers from George Sanger's Team Fat . He thinks Govett was the composer, but I seem to remember Joe McDermott contributed some too. I recall that the songs were written without names, and that we had to name them after the fact, which was kind of fun.

I frustratingly have the source code to the game, but it's archived in a program that is no longer distributed! I want to harvest the tone bank and driver and release it to the micromusic community. I remember that each song was less than 2k as represented in digital data.

In the NES version, we had to remove the hamster in the microwave with a subsequent run of ROMs; it had gone unnoticed by Nintendo and they were horrified when they discovered the problem. I think the earlier cartridges are quite a collectible, I heard one sold for almost $1000. We also had to remove a statue that looked "too nude" (well, it was a nude). We took it out late in testing. The problem with that was, one of the scripters had hidden a control panel behind the statue, which I think was part of the disk-based game copy protection scheme, and had made it invisible (this was easier than removing it from the script). But, with the statue gone, you could interact with the invisible panel and blow up the mansion.

Incidentally, the lead NES programmer, David Stifel, has since appeared in a number of movies and TV shows, and he was modelled and his voice used as one of the animatic Pirates in the new Pirates Island in Disneyland.

George Sanger: Composer, NES Versopm

I don't seem to be able to find any records of what we did for Maniac Mansion. I don't really remember much of the process of that gig, except that I split some of the work with Dave Govett, who is now a cop. I've got an appointment to walk his beat with him on Thursday, in fact. I'm looking forward to that.

One sweet thing I do have is a of Team Fat doing Surf Face (the surfer guys's theme) as an actual live surf band. I just discovered it last week.

The players of Team Fat, the guys who helped me do all the games all those years:

Guitar: George A. Sanger, The Fat Man
Guitar: Joe McDermott
Bass: Kevin Phelan

Drums: Dave Govett

As noted above, the NES version of the game featured a full soundtrack, including a theme song for each character.

Enjoy MP3s of all the music (Note: As they've been ripped from the NSF file, these sound exactly as they do in the game, ear-bleeding quality fully intact; no attempt has been made to make them more bearable):

Get them right here.

Thanks to Teddog for supplying these tracks. As he stated, some of the music was composed by George Sanger's band Team Fat, and if you’d like to hear more of their music (including the full score from Wing Commander and The 7th Guest) go here.

For more Maniac Mansion music goodness, be sure to check out the recently reinvigorated Soundtrack Island, which has the soundtracks for three versions of Maniac Mansion in a variety of delicious formats. Keep an eye on Soundtrack Island in the coming months.

For further entertainment we also recommend the following speedruns:

You may be interested in the game's demo, which was an amusing, non-interactive scene featuring Dave giving you a tour of the mansion, and of the gameplay itself. You can grab it here and, like everything else in this world, run it through ScummVM.

Also be sure to take a look at the wonderful Maniac Mansion fan-art and music at our hosted site "Mojo Art"! You should also check out the plethora of fan art that's been poorly collected on my hideous 1998 fan site.

Former Mojo-updater decided to take a look at what happened in 1987

GAMES of 1987

  • Final Fantasy. Another long-running series, but okay, this one does look good in 3D. Otherwise hasn't really changed in 21 years though.
  • Indiana Jones and the Revenge of the Ancients. Wait – what? A PC Indiana Jones adventure game that we haven't heard of? A text adventure not done by LucasArts, it is apparently awful. Leave it in the past.
  • Police Quest: In Pursuit of the Death Angel. Ironic name seeing as Sierra would see their status as kings of the adventure come to a brutal end, starting with a certain game we've been discussing...
  • Treasure Island Dizzy. God, Capel hated that egg.

MOVIES of 1987

  • Robocop. ED-209 inspired as many shooter bosses as Indy did mine chases.
  • Predator. Forget the progressively worse Aliens Vs Predator series, the films begin and end with Arnie Vs Predator.
  • The Living Daylights. Bond movies with Russians always work.
  • Nightmare on Elm Street III: Dream Warriors. The first movie writing credit of a certain Frank Darabont.
  • Spaceballs. Much better than The Phantom Menace.

NEWS of 1987

  • First appearance of The Simpsons on The Tracey Ullman Show.
  • The Dusky Seaside Sparrow becomes extinct. Sniff.
  • Hacksaw Jim Duggan and Iron Sheik are arrested together in car for possession of marijuana. Bad day in Wrestling.
  • Black Monday. The Black Monday decline was the largest one-day percentage decline in stock market history.
  • Prozac appears for sale for the first time. How depressing.
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