Development The Creation of Maniac Mansion

Maniac Mansion started with two budding game developers over at LucasFilm Games back in 1985. A year before, Ron Gilbert had been hired as a programming for the game Koronis Rift. He quickly befriended Gary Winnick who shared a similar taste in humor, film and television. Both enjoyed B horror films and wanted to make a comedy/horror game set around a group of kids entering a haunted mansion. As a result, Gilbert and Winnick co-wrote and co-designed Maniac Mansion, and submitted a proposal to Lucasfilm Games. The game combined clichés from popular horror movies like Friday the 13th, and was set in a haunted mansion.

Library at Skywalker Ranch
Many rooms in the mansion were reproductions of rooms at Skywalker Ranch

The story revolved around a group of kids, and was set in a foreboding mansion. Gilbert and Winnick based that characters on friends, family, acquaintances and typical stereotypes. For example, Winnick's girlfriend Ray was the inspiration for Razor, while Dave and Wendy were based, Gilbert and a fellow Lucasfilm employee named Wendy. The Edison family were shaped after characters from EC Comics and Warren Publishing magazines. The sentient meteor was inspired by a segment from the 1982 anthology film Creepshow. The game even featured a man-eating plant, similar to that of Little Shop of Horrors. The mansion was designed based on the main house at Skywalker Ranch. And, many of the ranch's rooms received exact reproductions in the game (the library with the spiral staircase, and the media room with the tv and the piano).

Genre and Gameplay

Graphic Adventure Death Scenes
Frustrating game-over screens from early text-based graphic adventure games

The Maniac Mansion team struggled with the games interface. They wanted to retain the structure of a text-based adventure game, but without the standard command-line interface. The team disliked the genre's text parsers, where the user had to type exactly what was needed, and any variation led to frustration and failure. In addition, frequent game-over screens were tiresome and aggravating. Alternatively, they loved the inclusion of graphics in Sierra On-Line games, like King's Quest. Gilbert decided to create a new game engine that used a point-and-click graphical user interface (Gilbert credits David Fox, another employee at Lucasfilm Games, of entirely conceiving the new interface). Instead of typing a string of actions, the player would click an action and then click on an object. Forty input commands were planned at first, but the number was gradually reduced to 12 (and reduced even further as the engine aged, and more games were developed). After a year of work, Gilbert finished the "Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion", which was the foundation for Maniac Mansion (and many games to come). Although the game was designed for the Commodore 64, the SCUMM engine allowed it to be ported easily to other platforms.

To read more about the development of Maniac Mansion, visit Ron Gilbert's blog, You can also view the original game proposal [PDF 1,557 KB].

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Porting the Game

Graphic Adventure Death Scenes
The NES port was modified to be more suitable for younger audiences.

The game was released for the Commodore 64 and Apple II in October 1987. An MS-DOS port was released in early 1988. Ports for the Amiga and Atari ST happened in 1989, and a NES port in 1990. For the NES version, the game had to be modified considerably, and some of the content was changed/removed to make the game more suitable for a younger audience.

Copy Protection

Maniac Mansion copy protection
You need the code to get through.

The 16-bit versions of Maniac Mansion featured a copy protection system requiring the user to enter graphical symbols out of a code book included with the game. Without the correct code, the player could not pass a security door in the mansion. And entering the incorrect code would cause the mansion to blow up, ending the game prematurely. This was not present in the Commodore 64 and Apple versions due to lack of disk space, so those instead used an on-disk copy protection. View the code book [PDF 1,112 KB].

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Preliminary Sketches

Maniac Mansion Preliminary Sketch - Flowchart
Original Mansion Flowchart
Maniac Mansion Preliminary Sketch - Figure 1
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Maniac Mansion Preliminary Sketch - Figure 2
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Maniac Mansion Preliminary Sketch - Figure 3
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Maniac Mansion Preliminary Sketch - Figure 4
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Maniac Mansion Preliminary Sketch - Figure 5
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Maniac Mansion Preliminary Sketch - Figure 6
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Maniac Mansion Preliminary Sketch - Figure 7
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Maniac Mansion Preliminary Sketch - Figure 8
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