While Maniac Mansion took over a year to develop given that an entirely new engine was written for it, Zak took roughly nine months to make.
The original game came with a giant fold-out fake newspaper clipping (similar to how Maniac Mansion shipped with the bulletin board) from the fictional "The National Inquisitor" that contained hints and a plethora of useless but neat information. You can find full scans of the newspaper here.
The game's copy-protection mechanism is similar to Maniac Mansion's, but instead of needing to enter a combination into a security door, the four digit code is asked for in the form of visa that is needed whenever Zak books an international flight. This is interesting because a good deal of the game can be selectively played before an international flight is necessary. Once you've failed to enter the right visa code five times, you are sent to prison and the jailer gives the Zak (and the player) a speech about the wrongs of piracy, with the suggestion that he/she should buy a copy of the game. Every LucasArts adventure copy-protection after this was less complex and took place at the very beginning of the game, without as much of an attempt to integrate it into the story.
All the girls who star in the game have the names of the game designer's wives or girlfriends. In fact, Zak was, and probably still is, refreshingly unique: it's not a "girls only" game, yet stars more girls than boys, and they look and act like normal people!
Leslie Edwards, one of the stars, was also credited as one of the main playtesters. In the game, each time you remove Leslie's helmet, her hair is a different color. The real life Leslie changed her hair color almost every week. And she lived on Mars (Mars street, San Francisco) just like in the game. And as in the game she was the real world brave one. She's now writing a Hollywood screenplay.
Maniac's most infamous scene, microwaving a hamster, was created by David Fox, who went on to create Zak. In Zak the gag was changed to microwaving an egg, and instead of a hamster we have a goldfish... who can come to a similarly nasty end if the user has a twisted mind. Zak also features a two headed squirrel - any connection with a three headed monkey in a soon to be made LucasArts game?
Zak probably has more New Age ideas than any other game. When researching the story, David Fox met with David Spangler, noted New Age author. Spangler lived in Seattle, and that's how Mount Rainier came to be the location for the first task.
On a related note, the game was originally envisioned as a far more serious one that explored New Age concepts with a degree of reverence, but the decision was eventually made to take the game into a more bizarre and humorous direction.
Zak's name was chosen from randomly flipping through the phone book.
The biggest Zak fan base is in Germany, where both of the major fan sequels are being made. The country's unbridled love for the game is really quite astounding.
Zak McKracken has inspired a number of fan projects. Zak McKracken Between Time and Space is one example. It is currently in late beta testing, and should be out in a few months. Of course, LucasArts have to send out "cease and desist letters" in order to maintain their ownership of trademarks, but they are better to the fans than most fans will admit. They appear to turn a blind eye as long as they can.
A modest fan sequel, the highly played and acclaimed New Adventures of Zak McKracken by LucasFan Games, was developed and released in 2005. LucasArts didn't say anything, but then the same fans announced their intention to make a new Indiana Jones game. With a new Indy movie coming out, LucasArts then had to enforce their rights a little more strongly, so that fan site has disappeared.
Another fan sequel titled Zak McKracken and the Alien Rockstars was actually the earliest effort, beginning in 1996, but it's still in production. Yet another fan sequel had a working demo available last year, but there's no sign of when it will be completed.
The Japanese 256 color version of Zak, in 1989, was one of the first major games to be released on CD-ROM. Technically, a game called "manhole" was first, but nobody remembers that one. Apart from a higher color depth and better sound, the Japanese version has two sets of sprites - one with regular western faces, and one with big anime style eyes. The Japanese console, FM-Towns, was in many ways more advanced than Windows.
Ideas from Zak have parallels in various movies and TV shows:the X Files, Stargate, The Adventure Game (in Britain), Mission to Mars... but Zak did it first
David Fox has said he gets more fan mail regarding Zak than for any of his other games. Twenty years after its first release, it's as strong as ever.
Zak is referenced in other Lucasarts games:.
- In the Maniac Mansion game room there's a Zak McKracken poster (though not in the first version since Maniac came out first).
- In the official help-booklet for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, you are told that the gas needed to start a car is on Mars.
- Still in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: examine the crystal in his office and Indy says that some flakes in San Franciscohave been trying to get it off him.
- And Indy also also has a mask from a shaman in Kinshasa and a scroll warning about aliens in disguise.
- Night Shift, released in 1990, features characters from Zak McKracken, as well as Maniac Mansion, Indiana Jones and Star Wars.
Zak refers to other Lucasfilm trivia:
- Zak's apartment is number 5858 - the number on the gate at Skywalker Ranch.
- Zak's bill is for $1138. George Lucas' first film was called THX-1138.
- Some of the carvings inside the Sphinx look suspiciously like Star Wars TIE fighters
The game often references Maniac Mansion:
- In "Maniac Mansion" you have a chain saw that needs a gas can - and the gas can is in a Martian locker in Zak McKracken. when you try to pick it up, Melissa or Leslie says "I don't need it. It's for a different game." then she smiles. If you read the label, it tells you that it is meant for chainsaws.
- One of the posters in the jail in Katmandu says: "WANTED: One murderous purple slimy meteor."
- [This only works if you have first paid your phone bill:] Go into the phone company and read the payphone, there is a number on it. go back to zak's house, use the telephone, and dial that number. the alien/telephone rep. will answer the phone and say, "Hello? Hello, who's there? Is this Edna again?" [Edna is of course from Maniac Mansion] if you do not hang up the phone, the rep. will stay on there forever. he will not notice you come into the phone company and he will not notice you go into the back room even if you don't have on the disguise.
- If you call the Phone Company man and leave the phone off the hook, he thinks you are a heavy breather and asks "Is this Edna again?" In Maniac Mansion, the player had to play the same trick on Nurse Edna who, it turned out, was a bit of a pro at heavy-breathing herself.
- If you go to a place and come back home there will be a message on your answering machine. after a couple of messages there will be one from Weird Ed from Maniac Mansion. He says something about picking up zak and sandy in the Edsel to go to a monster truck show.
- On Mars, you can play a music cassette. It features Razor and the Scumettes, from Maniac Mansion...
- In Lou's Loans and the alien's secret room there are posters that advertise other LucasArts projects. These differ in different versions of the game. The early games advertise Maniac Mansion and 'Escape From Fractalus.'
Silly stuff to try:
- You can kill the two-headed squirrel with the butter knife or the wire cutters. then, when you read the newsstand in the airport it says, "LAST OF THE TWO-HEADED SQUIRREL! BLUGGEONED BY BUMBLING FOOL!"
- You can pour Sushi into your sink and then press the waste disposal button.... yuch
- If you use the butter knife to dig throgh the dirt in the cave it will get bent. When you get back to San Francisco, go to Lou's Loans and sell the butter knife. the guy will give you 1500 dollars for it (but only if it's bent).
- If you get captured by the aliens and taken to the Mindbender, there is a quick way out. As soon as you regain control, quickly put on the hat and nose glasses, but you have to be quick to do it before you lose the 'put on' command. How to cheat: pause the game (space bar), move the mouse to where you want it to be, unpause and quickly put on the hat, pause again, and so on.
- If you have a version with a code sheet, try entering the wrong codes three times and see what happens.
Other stuff to look out for:
- One of the the shapes made by the yellow crayon is the initials DF (David Fox).
- The 'words of power' that mend the crystal are 'Elvis is king' with the letters reversed.
- The name of the Bermuda airline is 'Divine Wind' - the English translation of Kamikaze.
- Try mindlinking with the two-headed squirrel or with Sushi.
- Try mindlinking with the Yak. Use the 'chew' command about twenty times. You then get the option to 'poop' (complete with sound effect and graphic).
Must-see web-sites to share and enjoy:
- Full Zak gallery from Mojo!
- We insist that you check out the invaluable www.zak-site.com If you want to know anything Zak, we're quite certain you'll find it there.
- Other neato Zak-related places include http://www.zak2.org/ the highly impressive web site for the upcoming fan game
- ...the official web site of David Fox and his wife Annie (yes, Annie like in the game!)
- ...fan-art and music remixes can be pursued at Mojo Art
- ...and Soundtrack Island, where you can listen to the complete Zak soundtrack that has been recently been added!
Former Mojo-er, Capel takes a look back:
Games some of us might have played:
- Double Dragon. I could never finish that game.
- Altered Beast. Can't believe Sega packaged it with the Megadrive, until Sonic saved the world.
- J.R.R. Tolkien's War In Middle-Earth. I suspect he wasn't actually involved in the production of the game.
- Super Mario Bros. 2 (US) & 3 (Japan), Zelda II (US), Final Fantasy II. And so it begins...
- Bard's Tale III, King's Quest IV, Police Quest II.
- Willow. Ilm still waiting on the Lego version.
Movies that were in the moving picture theatre:
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Amazing adult in parts. Looney Tunes and Disney characters in the same movie! With innuendo!
- Rambo III. And I thought it was over and done with.
- Beetlejuice. Tim Burton and Michael Keaton's best film. Except perhaps next year's....
- Die Hard. Almost as good as the Indiana Jones trilogy-until-they-buggered-it-up-by-making-a-fourth-one.
- The Naked Gun. "I've finally found someone I can love - good, clean love... without utensils."
And some other points to note:
- The Winter Olympics are held in Canada.
- Wimbledon FC beats Liverpool in the English FA Cup
- Ronald Reagan visits the Soviet Union.
- The proper Olympics are held in Seoul, South Korea.
- George Bush is elected President of the US.