Maniac Mansion Design Doc

Jul 21, 2014

Even more crap from my Seattle storage unit!

Here is the original pitch document Gary and I used for Maniac Mansion. Gary had done some quick concepts, but we didn't have a real design, screen shots or any code. This was before I realized coding the whole game in 6502 was nuts and began working on the SCUMM system.

There was no official pitch process or "green lighting" at Lucasfilm Games. The main purpose of this document would have been to pass around to the other members of the games group and get feedback and build excitement.

I don't remember a point where the game was "OK'd".  It felt that Gary and I just started working on it and assumed we could.  It was just the two of us for a long time, so it's not like we were using up company resources.  Eventually David Fox would come on to help with SCUMM scripting.

Three people. The way games were meant to be made.

If this document (and the Monkey Island Design Notes) say anything, it's how much ideas change from initial concept to finished game. And that's a good thing. Never be afraid to change your ideas. Refine and edit. If your finished game looks just like your initial idea, then you haven't pushed and challenged yourself hard enough.

It's all part of the creative process. Creativity is a messy process. It wants to be messy and it needs to be messy.

It's kinda great how much the Schwartz look like they are in the final game.

Love some of the weird ideas in the first design doc.

Maniac Mansion should be re-created (or a new sequel) in the sketchy style in the document. All in black & white. It would be  great.

Wow, you guys really went all out on Weird Ed in that drawing.  And I must say, I'm extremely disappointed there was no dumbwaiter. ;-)

Hi, just one question was this formatted using TeX/LaTeX?

It does look like TeX output.

I'm just curious.

Ron Gilbert
Wow! Good catch! Yes, it was formatted using Latex. We used unix machines for everything, from writing design docs to compiling 6502 ASM for the C64.

Nice find! I read that there was going to be no time limit and no deaths, what persuaded you to do the opposite?

Tom S. Fox
What, there is a time limit?

I remember when you had activate the valve from the under house, there was a timer but for the entire game i don't know if he had.

It wasn't the timed puzzles and death that made the game difficult, it was the dead-ends that let you keep playing.

I love brutally difficult games, but being stuck and not knowing it is something I would like to never see in a game (any game) again.  The game should tell you if you're wasting your time.

During my first playthrough of Loom, I didn't write down one of the very first spells you learn.  That particular spell isn't used to solve a puzzle until very late in the game, and I had to start all over because the spells are randomly generated each time you play.  Same with the Holy Grail painting in the Last Crusade.

I'm glad these weren't my last adventure games, because Monkey Island 1 and 2 are among the best gaming experiences I've ever had.  To think I came so close to giving up on this genre.

Michael Schoonbrood
Thanks for posting these Ron, it brings back memories of the good old days for sure :)

thank you Ron, you can't imagine what beautiful gift all this is to a 37 y.o. that grew up playing your lucasfilm games :)

Adrian Perez
As a fan of both adventure games <em>and</em> LaTeX, I can't but rejoice seeing those beautifully typesetted pages :-)

Wow! Confidential stuff!
Ron Gilbert is the new Gamer Snowden :)
Thanks for leaking all this cool info for us

Michael Mai
Amazing how much work had gone into this. This and your great sense of humour is probably the reason why this Lucasfilm Game is in my personal hall of fame of all time. Many great childhood memories come to life looking at these pictures. I cannot thank you enough for having had the courage and drive, maybe even a little crazyness, to bring this game to life. Thanks mate! You have made a differnce in this world! For me anyways.

It belongs in a museum!

Another fantastic insight on a fantastic game.
Thanks for those, Ron.

"If you feed the tentacle with meat from the storage locker, and you can become it's friend"? :D
(I apologize for the grammar nazi who is in me)

No Death? My first Video game nightmare was from drowning Dave in the pool! XD I was an impressionable four year old.

first, thanks for this interesting documents!
To me, it is like a dream had come true!! Since a first puzzle documents of grim fandango , and then monkey island came out, i always asked me, whats about maniac mansion documents ...?

So, a biiiig thank you to the godfather of cool adventure games... Georg Luc... ehmmm Ron Gilbert! ;)

But another question is:
Was this the original puzzle (gold status) document of the game or just a development one - will or could there be one day some stuff like "puzzle final document of mm"?

What i would love, is to see the descision trees of Maniac Mansion. I got to play it through twice, with different solutions. But i realy would like to see how many ways lead to success. :)

Thanks for posting this Ron!!! What a great game... love and hate in digital form... hehehe!!!

Thanks for Monkey Island I & II, Mr. Gilbert. God bless you. Please, make M.I. 3a. If you cannot publish it as a videogame, try to publish it as a novel. We have been waiting for 22 years. It's time to publish Monkey Island 3 (the true one, not that bullshit published many years ago). Thanks a lot. Hugs.

... and long live LaTeX!!!

Thanks for the reply Ron!

I did not imagine you were using so much unix at the time for game development, this is an interesting information in the history of your games.

Aww.... Thanks for sharing this gem.
I reversed much of MM and its great to see such bits coming up even after so many years.
Any chance of the originals SCUMM sources? :)
Best wishes,

I hope we will be able to see the design documents of Monkey Island 1 & 2 in the future too! :)

That is so cool. Love the look behind the scenes of one of the games of my childhood. The intro text or some version of it should have been in the game. It sets the mood for the game in a really good way.

Now I'm eager for Maniac Mansion 3 :-)

Zak MCKracken
Hi Ron,

thank you so much for sharing this docs!!! Where dreams come true...
Please let me say the following you heard about 10.000 times:

You MUST create Monkey Island 3a ( and of course Maniac Mansion 3 ;) )

We've been waiting about 22 years for it. Oh my god, this would be the best Thing that could happen in the rest of my life.

Dont care about the rights for MI .. just release it. The community will pay any Penalty if they'll judge you ;-)

All the best!

Zak (sometimes i'm feeling a little dumb)

Thanks Ron for brighten my childhood with monkey, maniac and indy!!!! I want to tell you a secret about Maniac, after so long as I stuck with eleven years old, my mind thought a great idea to spend the game. I'm going to tell you how i finished the game.
I had save the game in front of a door (anyone) closed, and i had save another game in front of the same door but now open, i was compare 2 files with hex editor and.... only 1 different!!! i discovered the bytes that means: "closed doors" and "open doors" so, i change all closed to open and.... when loads the game, all doors open! so i go to the jail, go into the open lab door, and finish the game!!!! It was amazing, fapfapfapfap.  Thanks a lot again for the bests games for ever made!!

There are several variables that change basically all the time (i.e. time it self :). You'd hardly find a closed door this way. Lucky you then :)

Adam Dobay
One interesting technical feature that I see now was scrapped is the vertical scrolling.

I'm curious. Did you drop it because of the C64's limitations or was it a design decision?

So neat. First played this gem on my dad's apple 2. At that point it became my apple.

Ron (sure you are asked this too often but) what are your thoughts on a maniac 3 or true sequel to maniac mansion? We could get a kickstarter going?

Ron Gilbert
I don't own the rights to Maniac Mansion and the people that do are not interested in selling it (or Monkey Island) back to me. Kickstarter can solve a lot of problems, but sadly, this isn't one of them.

I appreciate the response. Time for me to harass the owners of the rights...

You guys created something amazing in Maniac. I love today's tech but it's crazy to think 3 guys made this.

Any plans to do a game of similar look and feel?

Monkey Island is great too

Love the way Maniac Mansion came out! That was the first game my parents bought me when I was a kid. Finally beating it when I was a teen was satisfying. Also played Day of the Tentacle and Indiana Jones as a kid, which used your SCUMM engine. Just bought "The Cave" this week, and my kids LOVE playing it! Mr. Gilbert, however you do your "messy" creative process, it produces great quality adventure games!

Patrick Benton
My Dad bought me a copy of MM for the Apple ][e when I was in the 5th grade.  After getting stuck, I sent a photo-copied, hand written letter to every person who's name I could find on the box.  I remember it was about 3 pages of questions.  A few weeks later I got back an order form for the hint book.  

Ron - You don't happen to remember my letter, do ya?  LOL

The biggest difference between Maniac Mansion and the other Lucasfilm Games / LucasArts (Games) games is that Maniac Mansion does not have labyrinths.

Play almost any other game, and you will have frustrating (and artificially game-lengthening) labyrinths to deal with. The main reason why I never completed Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders all that many times, only maybe ten times or so altogether. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is absolutely halted by these things (but that game fails also because of the forced action sequences that shouldn't be a part of an adventure game, except optionally, perhaps).

Heck, even Loom has them! I think Day of the Tentacle (a sort of 'sequel' to Maniac Mansion) is the only other game that is free of this annoying curse - and it is Maniac Mansion-related..

I don't mind some dead-ends (I think Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders is way worse when it comes to these things - I really have hard time racking my brain trying to come up with Maniac Mansion-specific dead-ends, as I never suffered from them, during any of the numerous times I completed the game, or even before), if the game at least has the courtesy of giving me a glorious absence of labyrinths!

Ironically, the pre-SCUMM-game, Labyrinth, also has them.. how Maniac Mansion escaped them, when practically every other game suffers from them, I really don't understand, but THAT is a much bigger thing to me than the supposed 'dead-ends' that people keep raving about.

And the atmosphere, everything happening in a mansion, the beauty and genius of the graphics, the perfect sound effects and the general 'wackiness' (you never -quite- encountered it in this level, before DOTT, in which, it just felt cartoony and perhaps forced. I mean, in DOTT, the whole game is one big 'whack', when Maniac Mansion at least can be taken seriously for most part), the Extra-Terrestrial contacts (even DOTT didn't dare bring this back) and general 'anything exciting might happen' feel of the game more than make up for some small 'dead-ends'.

I think 'exploration' should be exciting in a game, and Maniac Mansion succeeds in this. The other games are more like following a linear story of a movie or cartoon, than pure exploration that exists in Maniac Mansion.. exploring a huge mansion is just something you can't replace by some jungle or city location that have annoying puzzles that you have to solve to arrive at the next boring location.

"What's behind that door.. " is the driving force that makes you solve the puzzle of how to get the door open, and the feeling when you first enter a new room - ah!

It  just can't be matched by walking in a generic street or a generic jungle scenery, getting some chest open or being able to enter some boring ruins because you finally tricked some monkey to hang on a branch.

It may be 'funny' or 'clever', but it's not going to make the player feel excitement or give the player a real sense of exploration, like Maniac Mansion with its mysterious and quirky rooms did. You never knew what the next room would look like, and it was always so different from what you had seen before. And every room was interesting, atmospheric, exciting or had some kind of subtle immersive presence about it.

Some daytime beach is never going to have the same impact.