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The Expurgation of Maniac Mansion
October 8, 2009 10:27 AM   Subscribe

Douglas Crockford, who oversaw the porting of Maniac Mansion to the NES, would like for you to know how the game changed in the porting process and why.
posted by Pope Guilty (59 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
This has never been posted before?!

Maniac Mansion was my fave childhood video game. I'd sit in my basement with my next door neighbor with the lights out and the C64 on, totally creeping ourselves out. We were young enough that we had no idea what MUFF DIVER meant.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:34 AM on October 8, 2009


If the reactor blows up, everyone within a five mile radius dies. (This is a cautionary story about home nuclear power.)

Ha!

I, too, loved that game. I never beat it, though. I would get frustrated and stop.
posted by winna at 10:37 AM on October 8, 2009


I played the PC version in CGA on my grandfather's computer as a child and wondered why I could never open the door to the second floor without detonating the house and ending the game. Years later, I realized that I had fallen nuclear victim to the copy protection scheme.
posted by lumensimus at 10:37 AM on October 8, 2009


I, too, loved that game. I never beat it, though. I would get frustrated and stop.

Ditto. Way too hard for six-year-old me. I got an emulated version a few years ago and finally beat it--with a walk through.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:39 AM on October 8, 2009


I got stuck hard in Maniac Mansion when I was in fourth grade.

Now, in FIFTH grade, I met a guy who'd played it, and he told me to pour the radioactive water from the pool on the plant, and that got me through.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:41 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yay for non Star Wars LucasArts games!
posted by dortmunder at 10:42 AM on October 8, 2009


Tuna Head!
posted by The Whelk at 10:47 AM on October 8, 2009


This is an absolutely fascinating account of just how pedantically involved the Nintendo suits could get, and I now understand why those rogue companies like Tengen went and shipped their games without that all-important Nintendo Seal of Approval.

The article also reminds me of television writer Mark Evanier's account of how CBS required the insertion of social messages in the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, including object lessons on why it's never good to disagree with what the crowd wants to do. Individuality is bad, kids. (I'm sure this was on the Blue at some point; Evanier's pretty awesome.)
posted by Spatch at 11:07 AM on October 8, 2009 [10 favorites]


I, too, loved that game. I never beat it, though. I would get frustrated and stop.

Ditto. Way too hard for six-year-old me. I got an emulated version a few years ago and finally beat it--with a walk through.
In the early 90s, I received a box set of LucasArts adventure games for Christmas, which included Maniac Mansion, Zak McKraken, Loom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and The Secret of Monkey Island. Instead of including a copy of each game's manual and copy protection, there was one large volume with all the codes and a walkthrough, narrated in the characters' voice, for each game. Maniac Mansion was the game that I couldn't beat even with the walkthrough.

Any time anyone says that video games aren't art, I tell them all about making my first friends over Monkey Island and Loom. If we're in my house I'll fish out my used-to-death book of codes and walkthroughs. I wore off both the covers and about five or six pages from each end. This is the only book that has survived the seven house moves I've gone through since early childhood.
posted by yomimono at 11:14 AM on October 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


Like many I was broken by Maniac Mansion. It was still a fun and fascinating thing to play. Reading about the conversion was a hoot.
posted by Green With You at 11:32 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have a copy of Day of the Tentacle but have never played the Maniac Mansion inside of it.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:38 AM on October 8, 2009


All these Nintendo objections, yet in Pikmin--created not by a 3rd party but by Nintendo itself--you collect a plain-as-day marijuana leaf from a drainpipe?
posted by Camofrog at 11:45 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Recently playing the XBLA reboot of Monkey Island has completely kicked in my nostalgia gear, and stuff like this is just great to read.

However, the genre is so far beyond dead that I doubt I will ever play anything like those games again. As Old Man Murray rather succinctly put it the adventure genre killed itself.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 11:46 AM on October 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


Many of the changes he's complaining about are things that Nintendo didn't even ask for, but that they voluntarily changed because they thought Nintendo might have a problem with them, or out of some weird form of spite.

I don't dispute that some of Nintendo's policies were kind of silly, but I'm not sure they were so egregious as to warrant this degree of snippiness.
posted by shammack at 11:46 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Maniac Mansion was a strange game. And yeah, I never finished it as well. It was stupid hard.
posted by chunking express at 11:56 AM on October 8, 2009


Camofrog: "All these Nintendo objections, yet in Pikmin--created not by a 3rd party but by Nintendo itself--you collect a plain-as-day marijuana leaf from a drainpipe?"

The Nintendo Seal of Approval was really only around for the NES days, or maybe even SNES. Pikmin was on the Gamecube, at a time when Nintendo stopped caring about the quality of stuff put on their systems. Take a look at the Wii now -- absolutely flooded with awful crap.
posted by graventy at 12:01 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


However, the genre is so far beyond dead that I doubt I will ever play anything like those games again.

You might want to check out Telltale Games, which was founded by former Lucasarts employees. They're doing a brand new Monkey Island adventure right now in a five part series (parts 1-3 have already been released).
posted by threetoed at 12:01 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


However, the genre is so far beyond dead that I doubt I will ever play anything like those games again.

There's actually some freeware adventure games being made, and Telltale Games has been making bank selling them. I'm personally a huge fan of Yahtzee's CHZO Mythos games, which scratch both the adventure game itch and the horror gaming itch so. goddamn. nicely.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:02 PM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Damn you, threetoed. :)
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:02 PM on October 8, 2009


How appropriate. You fight like a cow.
posted by threetoed at 12:04 PM on October 8, 2009 [7 favorites]


I still remember the exact point where I couldn't beat Maniac Mansion: for some reason, every time I tried to water the plant, it wouldn't grow.

Monkey Island was awesome, though.
posted by deanc at 12:04 PM on October 8, 2009


Your hemorrhoids are acting up again, eh?
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:05 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


deanc, were you watering it with water from a sink or water from the pool? 'Cause only the pool water is radioactive.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:06 PM on October 8, 2009



Hard? What are you guys talking about? I finished Maniac Mansion a bunch of times, thanks to my trusty Nintendo Power! :)

...Sadly, though, I never did get to watch the Maniac Mansion sitcom that the Nintendo Power mentioned.
posted by Jinkeez at 12:06 PM on October 8, 2009


deanc, were you watering it with water from a sink or water from the pool? 'Cause only the pool water is radioactive.

The sink! Shoot! If I can find an emulator, I can pick up where I left off 22 years ago!

However, the genre is so far beyond dead that I doubt I will ever play anything like those games again. As Old Man Murray rather succinctly put it the adventure genre killed itself.

Wow. Just... wow.
posted by deanc at 12:10 PM on October 8, 2009


What's the NES version of Leisure Suit Larry like?
posted by Artw at 12:11 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


From WinnipegDragon's link, my laugh of the day:

Thanks to their television-atrophied attention spans, these casual gamers are mentally incapable of spending six hours trying to randomly guess at the absurd dream logic Roberta Williams has applied to the problem of getting the dungeon key out of the bluebird's nest.
posted by middleclasstool at 12:12 PM on October 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


The sink! Shoot! If I can find an emulator, I can pick up where I left off 22 years ago!

I like FCE Ultra for Windows, or PocketNES for Windows Mobile.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:15 PM on October 8, 2009


Heh. On the death of adventure games, though in thsi case text ones: I recently played the old Infocom game The Lurking Horror... it was great and all, but a lot of the time it seemd to be a trial and error guessing game in which you had to determine the exact wording of the command that would get your character to do what you wanted to do, often within a set sequence of events that would kill you if you didn't type the exact right thing in the exact right order.

Oh, and to operate a microwave you have to type "PRESS 3", "PRESS 0", "PRESS 0" rather than something simple like "SET MICROWAVE TIMER TO 3 MINUTES" - I guess microwaves were high tech and a big deal back then and each button press had to be savored.
posted by Artw at 12:18 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


The part of the game where Purple Meteor (?) takes away your ability to save state is my first memory of experiencing horror in a video game. This cute little EGA splotch just went meta, altered the parameters of my own damn video game. My game! It was its Ringu moment.

1. Horror is mostly astonishment.
2. I was really little.
posted by kid ichorous at 12:21 PM on October 8, 2009 [7 favorites]


However, the genre is so far beyond dead that I doubt I will ever play anything like those games again. As Old Man Murray rather succinctly put it the adventure genre killed itself.

Good link. Describes why I stopped playing them. At a certain point the puzzles stopped being creative think-outside-the-box kind of things and jumped the shark. Or had too many physical/game control portions that were just frustrating as hell. I still remember the bit in one of the King's Quest adventures where you had to navigate the character up a set of stairs in something (tree house?) and having her fall off oh, a million times.
posted by Zinger at 12:30 PM on October 8, 2009


At a certain point the puzzles stopped being creative think-outside-the-box kind of things and jumped the shark. Or had too many physical/game control portions that were just frustrating as hell.

It was things like "Myst" that really ended the interest in adventure games for me. The interface started to feel more like a tabletop puzzle and less like an "adventure." I feel that RPGs, if they incorporate some puzzle-solving aspects, capture the feel of the genre better.
posted by deanc at 12:42 PM on October 8, 2009


The sequel, Day Of The Tentacle, contains possibly the best gaming easter egg ever: in one room, there's a computer. Click "Use" on the computer and you can play the entirety of Maniac Mansion within DOTT itself. Sadly the code to play the game within the game doesn't work in ScummVM*, so you just get a message telling to run the MM game files themselves in it.

* Kickass emulator which runs not just all the LucasArts adventures from Maniac Mansion to The Dig, but many others besides.
posted by Electric Dragon at 12:44 PM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ah, another LucasArts thread, another occasion for me to espouse my love for Zak McKracken. If you liked MM then try it: it's got the same humour and gameplay, but a much bigger world (Seattle to Kathmandu to Mars) and a fun story, if a little New Age kitsch.

Gnik Sisi Vle!
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:54 PM on October 8, 2009


Dodongo dislikes: implied violence via signs, veiled references to pedophilia, smoke.

Pretty much just smoke.
posted by basicchannel at 1:04 PM on October 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


Day of The Tentacle is still one of the best games ever.

"Sometimes, in order to make an omelette, you have to push an old lady down the stairs."
posted by shmegegge at 1:48 PM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Oh no, I can't use that. My therapist and I have an agreement."
posted by The Whelk at 1:48 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Maniac Mansion was a strange game. And yeah, I never finished it as well. It was stupid hard.

The best part of the original Maniac Mansion was that it was almost a sandbox game. Everything happened in one location, and the plot was mostly non-linear, so if you never figured out a certain puzzle there were usually tons of other things you could still do (unlike say, Space Quest, where failing to solve a puzzle might mean dying over and over again and never making any progress). It wasn't ever really clear what you were supposed to be doing at any given time either, which was both good and bad.

Day of the Tentacle was more normal in the sense that there were better clues about what problems needed to be solved, but it kept the feeling that you could just explore and try things, with the added twist that the things that you did in the past would affect the future. Adventure gaming involves a lot of trying random things and seeing what happens, and I think the people who designed the Maniac Mansion games really got that.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:52 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I feel like I'm required to post here. I did beat the game though, it's one of my favorites.
posted by dead cousin ted at 2:01 PM on October 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


Oh, and if you never saw the tv show, you didn't miss much. It was pretty bad.
posted by dead cousin ted at 2:05 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


The web resources I've found make the show sound pretty funny, but I guess anybody willing to make a site for a long-forgotten TV show probably thinks it's pretty good.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:07 PM on October 8, 2009


I never got past the tentacle on the second floor. Even with Tentacle Chow.
posted by cereselle at 2:27 PM on October 8, 2009


He wants the wax fruit from the art room, I believe.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:40 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I still remember the bit in one of the King's Quest adventures where you had to navigate the character up a set of stairs in something (tree house?) and having her fall off oh, a million times.

AHHHHHHHHHHHH

It was a piece of copy protection, too! There was a cliff, and you had to enter a code from the book in just the right order to make the stairs. But if you clicked on any of the million pixels except the right one, you would plummet to your death.

Roberta Williams was a sadist and a half. God I loved those games.


Many of the changes he's complaining about are things that Nintendo didn't even ask for, but that they voluntarily changed because they thought Nintendo might have a problem with them, or out of some weird form of spite.

People did this in the movies, too. Mae West's movies often had more scandalous scripts than the writers thought could pass, so they could get rid of some pieces and look like they were really trying to comply, while other pieces they really wanted could stay in.
posted by winna at 2:57 PM on October 8, 2009


The South Park people did the same thing with Team America: World Police. There were things they wanted in, so they created really, really offensive things that they could pull without caring and get the stuff they wanted past the MPAA.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:10 PM on October 8, 2009


Many of the changes he's complaining about are things that Nintendo didn't even ask for, but that they voluntarily changed because they thought Nintendo might have a problem with them, or out of some weird form of spite.

I understand this instinct on the part of the developer -- you see it today with regard to the App Store. If every submission is a multi-week process, you really want to play it very far on the correct side of the line so you only go through it once.

I feel like nearly every company that vets applications has exactly the same opaque process: they're vague about what the rules are upfront; they won't "pre-approve" anything; the only thing that they will offer is that you can submit to their process multiple times and they'll accept or reject it. Apple, Palm, Sony, Microsoft, Steam, etc. I can only assume that this relates to something about US law. As in, you don't want to pre-approve content or be too explicit about your guidelines because then someone could use any mistake in those guidelines as a loophole to force you to release something that might get you sued.
posted by breath at 3:32 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Teh App store *may* have improved a little on content issues since they got age restrictions. I wouldn;t bet money on that now.
posted by Artw at 3:57 PM on October 8, 2009


He wants the wax fruit from the art room, I believe.

And some fruit juice.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:19 PM on October 8, 2009


And like so many in this topsy turvy world, he's just as happy with Pepsi as with fruit juice.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:41 PM on October 8, 2009


Where can I get a legitimate version of MM or DOTT? googling turns up amazon and ebay people selling NES cartriges, as well as various sites offering to sell MM for credit card info, but these sites seem less than legit. (not afiliated with lucas arts or any other recognizable name).

I have a mutliple computers running Debian GNU/Linux 5.0 Lenny so I can surely run Scummvm but where the heck do I get legit copies of MM? I'm looking for a site where I can have some comfort in not having my CC/ID stolen?

FWIW: I passed DOTT with a walk through, but I never finished MM.
posted by ecco at 7:50 PM on October 8, 2009


Maniac Mansion Deluxe is still available for download, though its website appears to be gone. It's the entire original game remade in a modern engine.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:01 PM on October 8, 2009


Oh, apparently Neil Cicierga did the music for it. I hadn't realized!
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:06 PM on October 8, 2009


"The sequel, Day Of The Tentacle, contains possibly the best gaming easter egg ever... you can play the entirety of Maniac Mansion within DOTT itself."

Interestingly, this used to be the only way to ever get to play Maniac Mansion on the Mac.

posted by blueberry at 12:02 AM on October 9, 2009


The South Park people did the same thing...
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:10 PM on October 8


See also: "...favorite memo ever"

posted by blueberry at 12:08 AM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


And like so many in this topsy turvy world, he's just as happy with Pepsi as with fruit juice.

But it makes him burp!

Okay, I'll stop now.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:32 AM on October 9, 2009


Mae West's movies often had more scandalous scripts than the writers thought could pass, so they could get rid of some pieces and look like they were really trying to comply, while other pieces they really wanted could stay in.

The best part about this strategy is that sometimes the censors actually miss the purposely offensive stuff and let it through. That was supposedly the reason why the popsicle twins ended up getting aired on The Gong Show.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:17 AM on October 9, 2009


I feel like nearly every company that vets applications has exactly the same opaque process: they're vague about what the rules are upfront; they won't "pre-approve" anything; the only thing that they will offer is that you can submit to their process multiple times and they'll accept or reject it. Apple, Palm, Sony, Microsoft, Steam, etc. I can only assume that this relates to something about US law. As in, you don't want to pre-approve content or be too explicit about your guidelines because then someone could use any mistake in those guidelines as a loophole to force you to release something that might get you sued.

Since my old job was processing submission at Nintendo I can tell you without a doubt that is not the way we did it, or wanted it done. Companies could, and have, submitted as many times as they liked. Although I have heard that some companies do not allow multiple submissions. We always wanted people to call or e-mail with questions before they submitted, it made less work for everyone. There even is a voluntary pre-submission process to even out any possible bumps in the road, and actually the main developer website for Nintendo has tons of directions/guidelines to sort out most any problems that people could have. Of course they tended to be a bit technical so...*shrug* yeah.
As far as quality goes, well *another shrug* apparently people will buy NinjaBread Man or at least companies think they will. So as long as companies keep shoveling it into the maw of the monolithic corporation, it will keep crapping it out as a product hoping to sell more of their own. We often had conversations about some of the stuff that passed through our hands and wondered why there wasn't better content overall.
Also, I have never heard of anyone submitting a game that was way over the top to try to get something else to fall into a gray area. Nintendo generally made sure they stuck to being well on the safe side of things. Sometimes I was surprised to hear or seen things tagged as offensive when they were never meant to be.
The one thing I always questioned was the way they handled their WiiWare. I thought they should have made it more like the iPhone App store and that they had closed a really great inroad for homegrown developers by instituting restrictions in the name of quality and capacity. Yet, one of the first games released on WiiWare was Pop and from what I recall that game didn't exactly exude quality.
posted by P.o.B. at 6:33 PM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


It sounds like you were doing that job a very long time after Maniac Mansion, though.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:12 PM on October 9, 2009


Sure, but at least three quarters of the guys who were in Product Testing back then are still there and I worked directly under or with them. 75% would be an off-hand estimation on seeing old videos of the old testing dept., and I'm also speaking more to what breath said rather than what Crockford had to say. Nothing of what Crockford had to say sounded at all dubious.
posted by P.o.B. at 8:55 PM on October 9, 2009


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