Maniac Mansion (Lucasfilm Games, 1987)

Finally! I've been looking for Maniac Mansion for ages, and the ebay god smiled upon me at last.
I found a boxed copy for Atari ST at an almost reasonable price.
An Atari ST version was not my first choice, as I usually prefer to track down the actual versions I played back in the day (C64 in this case). Considering that a C64 copy today costs more than my car, I am more than happy with what I found.

ah, the chainsaw! Ah, the chainsaw! So much fond memories of that.

But let's talk about the game.
Maniac Mansion is a 1987 game developed by Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick for Lucasfilm Games. What's so special about it? Well, it's not exaggeration if I say that it reinvented the adventure genre with its revolutionary interface, entirely mouse based. No more typing or having to find the exact wording the text parser will accept.
For this game Ron Gilbert created the SCUMM (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion), a tool meant to greatly simplify the development of point-and-click adventures, that would later be used to create the Lucasfilm golden-age adventures (Monkey Island, Indiana Jones, etc). So, this is were it all started.

The game itself is not less enjoyable than its successors, though. All the basic elements of the best Lucas adventures are already here: an entirely point-and-click interface, handfuls of humor, the no game-over policy that I came to love so much (do you hear, Sierra?).

The game is an irreverent homage to B horror movies; it's set in a creepy mansion where Dave Miller has to rescue his girlfriend from a mad scientist, whose mind has been enslaved by a sentient meteor. It doesn't get any more B-rated than this.

Dr. Ed playing meteor mess Dr. Ed playing meteor mess in his arcade room

It's hard to explain why this game meant so much to me (and many others like me) during the early 90s.
Those were pioneering times, when each game that was published could potentially give birth to a whole new genre. Of course, not many titles managed that, but those who did... well, when you first played them, you got that unequalled feeling of discovery, that shiver down your spine that at the time I associated with "I'm playing a really good game", not to "I'm witnessing videogame history in the making", as it would have been more appropriate. But of course, I couldn't know that at the time.

Sadly, I remember very little of the game itself. Or maybe I should say luckily, because that means I can play it again as it was the first time. And I probably will, sooner or later.
But something stuck to my mind nonetheless. Above all, one of the most iconic characters in gaming history, the evil, aspiring-world-dominator purple tentacle. I remember being quite puzzled when I first saw him. Probably a nice "WTF is this?" came to my mind. I mean come on, a disembodied sentient tentacle clumsily jumping around the room? That's something you don't forget. Ever. I even keep a plush purple tentacle on my desktop nowadays. To inspire me during long coding sessions.

Another thing I remember is that the game was hard. In a time without internet, that meant spending whole afternoons on a single puzzle, the only alternative was to wait for a solution to be published on a gaming magazine, or calling a friend who was also playing the game, hoping that he somehow managed to solve it. Ah, those were good times. When I could waste entire afternoons on stuff like that. Without being bothered by devilish stuff like emails, instant messaging and social media. I miss it so much. Why did I ever decide to grow up?

Maniac Mansion box contents

Let's look at the box contents:

  • Two 3,5" floppy disks (meh)

  • The hints poster. Very nice! I'll probably spend a happy half hour looking at this.

  • Game manual. Nothing really special here.

  • Nuke 'em Alarms, a.k.a. copy-protection. Here we have a series of light-blue symbols covered by some red characters that make them illegible. In order to see them you need the...

  • ...Red lenses! This is so 80s 3D movie. I love them!

With this piece of art, my small collection finally has some respectability.