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Ron Gilbert Has Discovered Maniac Mansion's Design Document

A good reminder how much games can change from start to finish, even in 1986.

One of the website ideas I've kicked around for ages is a database of video game design documents, hoping a centralized location would encourage more developers to release them. In lieu of that, I'll take adventure game designer Ron Gilbert finding "even more crap" in a Seattle storage unit he's been digging through. That crap is, apparently, the original Maniac Mansion design document, which he's published on his blog.

According to Gilbert, there was no formal pitch or approval process as LucasArts. Instead, development just sort of...happened.

"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," said Gilbert. "I don't remember a point where the game was 'OK'd.' It felt that Gary [Winnick, co-designer] 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."

Anyone familiar with Maniac Mansion will realize how much different the proposal is from the finished game.

"If this document (and the Monkey Island Design Notes) say anything," said Gilbert, "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."

One of the pages from the document is below. The rest is on Gilbert's website.

46 Comments
Posted by Junpei

Awesome stuff. Gonna have to give the doc a read later today.

Posted by MB

I'm really curious to know how many Giant Bomb users have never even played games like Maniac Mansion, Day of The Tentacle, or Fate of Atlantis. Give the age of these titles, I bet it's a huge percentage and that is just so unfortunate.

Moderator
Posted by patrickklepek

@mb said:

I'm really curious to know how many Giant Bomb users have never even played games like Maniac Mansion, Day of The Tentacle, or Fate of Atlantis. Give the age of these titles, I bet it's a huge percentage and that is just so unfortunate.

Well, considering Maniac Mansion was released when I was two-years-old...

Posted by Brodehouse

That's pretty, pretty, pretty cool.

Posted by Sbaitso

@mb said:

I'm really curious to know how many Giant Bomb users have never even played games like Maniac Mansion, Day of The Tentacle, or Fate of Atlantis. Give the age of these titles, I bet it's a huge percentage and that is just so unfortunate.

I've gone back and played the old Monkey Island and Sam & Max games, but haven't done Maniac Mansion or Day of the Tentacle yet. Perhaps I should.

Posted by Y2Ken

Incredible. Will definitely have to read through this later today.

As a youngster someone gave me a copy of Day of the Tentacle, and it remains one of my favourite games to this day. I booted it up a year or so again with the help of ScummVM (as the original disk won't run properly on modern PCs by itself) and played through it. One of the most well-designed P&C adventure games I've played, and incredibly funny to boot. I actually haven't played the original Maniac Mansion though, so perhaps I ought to make that a goal sometime.

Posted by AtomicEdge

The Grim Fandango puzzle document is also a great read. In this version, on the penultimate page, there is the solution to the final puzzle, however you can't read it because it looks like there was a printing fault. In actual fact, Tim Schafer had run out of time to come up with a solution to that final puzzle, and so forced that error in order to give himself more time.

If you plan on playing Grim Fandango: Remastered, do yourself a favor and don't read that document.

Posted by MB

@patrickklepek: I loved them, but I'm not sure how I would feel about them if I played them again today. I have a feeling that I may remember these games as being better than they actually were due to how young I was at the time, or how far games have come in the last few decades. I'm definitely not that guy who goes around trying to get people to play old games, because even for myself more often than not I find some things are just better left to nostalgia.

Maybe Disney will license out the rights one day to make HD remakes of some of the old Lucas adventure games. I heard that there were some being worked on until the acquisition happened. Maybe some day.

Moderator
Posted by xite

@mb said:

I'm really curious to know how many Giant Bomb users have never even played games like Maniac Mansion, Day of The Tentacle, or Fate of Atlantis. Give the age of these titles, I bet it's a huge percentage and that is just so unfortunate.

I played pretty much every single Lucas Arts adventure game growing up. You could even get to play Maniac Mansion through the cd-rom release of Day of the Tentacle .

Edited by Brodehouse

@mb said:

I'm really curious to know how many Giant Bomb users have never even played games like Maniac Mansion, Day of The Tentacle, or Fate of Atlantis. Give the age of these titles, I bet it's a huge percentage and that is just so unfortunate.

Never underestimate the amount of poor kids who have to play older, cheaper games and consoles.

I'm Patrick's age and I played Maniac Mansion on the NES in 1995 because we was po'.

Posted by MrMazz

Always love getting to see these

Posted by Billy_Ray_Valentine
Edited by markmack

Wow, this is very interesting. Maniac Mansion might just be my favorite game. I originally rented it for the NES when I was maybe 7 years old. I had grown up on arcade games and NES platformers, and Maniac Mansion completely changed what I thought video games could be. It wasn't about shooting things or getting to the next stage. It was about exploration, secrets, and puzzles -- it took me several years to figure out some of the more complex stuff.

Maniac Mansion made me the kind of gamer I am today. And it's why I can't wait to play some more of the new Shadowgate.

Online
Posted by BlackLagoon

When you hear about games like Bioshock, which basically become something completely different during development, this document actually seems surprisingly close to what we got.

@xite said:

I played pretty much every single Lucas Arts adventure game growing up. You could even get to play Maniac Mansion through the cd-rom release of Day of the Tentacle .

I never liked that version though. I played the PC port originally, which had spiffier graphics.

Posted by Veovisjohn
@sbaitso said:

I've gone back and played the old Monkey Island and Sam & Max games, but haven't done Maniac Mansion or Day of the Tentacle yet. Perhaps I should.

If you can find a disc of Day of the Tentacle and get it running it is WELL worth the effort. Easily one of the best point and click adventure games ever made.

Posted by vhold

"It is impossible for any of the Characters to get hurt or die. Anything bad that happens will be in the form of setbacks"

It's interesting they had this idea, but didn't fully apply it to Maniac Mansion, you can die, although it is rare. When Monkey Island later came out and actually implemented a no-death adventure it was considered sort of revolutionary.

Edited by Oldirtybearon

@brodehouse said:

@mb said:

I'm really curious to know how many Giant Bomb users have never even played games like Maniac Mansion, Day of The Tentacle, or Fate of Atlantis. Give the age of these titles, I bet it's a huge percentage and that is just so unfortunate.

Never underestimate the amount of poor kids who have to play older, cheaper games and consoles.

I'm Patrick's age and I played Maniac Mansion on the NES in 1995 because we was po'.

Fuckin' A, dude.

The first time I played DOOM Episode 2 and 3 was in 2003. Even when it was released I only ever owned the shareware version.

Hell, I didn't even own an NES until 1995 - right around the time hype started building for the new 3D generation.

Posted by OtterChaos

Correct me if I'm wrong but I believe the Manic Mansion game is inside Day of the Tentacle, you can play it once you find it. One of the few gaming things I have on my computer desk is my original triangle box (with game and stuff still inside) for Day of the Tentacle, great game..

Posted by Thoseposers

The idea of having a freely accessible database of design docs of games sounds absolutely amazing. I really doubt publishers and developers would be comfortable releasing that stuff though :/

Edited by Abendlaender

Never played Maniac Mansion even though I love the old LucasArts adventures. Don't know why

Posted by CornBREDX

That's pretty neat that he still had that.

This reminds me of when they released the Bioshock deisgn docs or whatever. It was such a different game than they originally pitched.

@mb: Ya, I played all of the old Lucas Arts adventure games at the time. Great games. I still have... some of them. I don't know what happened to my maniac mansion disks, though. I think the only one I have never played was Day of the tentacle interestingly.

In my opinion (having played a few of them not to long ago) they still hold up, but milage will vary. What makes these games hold up for me is that the writing is top notch. The graphics are dated, sure, and the pacing can be slow as opposed to how games tend to be paced now a days, but they're still good games. I still think most of the humor holds up as well. I feel like mechanics based games- like for example an Atari game- can often have a harder time holding up than a story based game. Although, some mechanics never get old (I still think Defender and Pacman, for example, hold up as legitimately still great games).

Of course, mileage will vary based on peoples tastes. Not everybody liked them even at the time they came out so, ya.

Posted by heatDrive88

@brodehouse said:

@mb said:

I'm really curious to know how many Giant Bomb users have never even played games like Maniac Mansion, Day of The Tentacle, or Fate of Atlantis. Give the age of these titles, I bet it's a huge percentage and that is just so unfortunate.

Never underestimate the amount of poor kids who have to play older, cheaper games and consoles.

I'm Patrick's age and I played Maniac Mansion on the NES in 1995 because we was po'.

Fuckin' A, dude.

The first time I played DOOM Episode 2 and 3 was in 2003. Even when it was released I only ever owned the shareware version.

Hell, I didn't even own an NES until 1995 - right around the time hype started building for the new 3D generation.

Maybe my argument doesn't exist for Maniac Mansion because it was released on the NES, but it's easy to forget just how expensive and often complex PC gaming was back in the day.

In a lot of cases of the past, you'd be considered lucky if your PC games were as simple of a process to play as "install, then launch executable" without doing things like modifying your config.sys or autoexec.bat, or some kind of boot disk process. They certainly might not be complex processes for people with technological aptitudes, but they certainly were barriers to entry.

Posted by MB

@heatdrive88: I don't miss the "golden age" of PC gaming...in which I had to have a different boot disk for practically every game.

Moderator
Edited by MrKlorox

Ron is a prophet. And Greg Rice IS too tall.

Posted by Mr_Creeper
@mb said:

I'm really curious to know how many Giant Bomb users have never even played games like Maniac Mansion, Day of The Tentacle, or Fate of Atlantis. Give the age of these titles, I bet it's a huge percentage and that is just so unfortunate.

Can't say I've ever played though, but I did play a couple of the Monkey Island games. Never had a computer of my own until high school, so I grew up on console games.

Posted by Cuuniyevo

I grew up with the Monkey Island games, playing and completing all of them, and the Indiana Jones adventures, but I never actually beat the Sam and Max games or Full Throttle. Never got Maniac Mansion or Day of the Tentacle but I've heard enough good things about them that I probably should track down a copy.

Posted by NoelVeiga

That's actually surprisingly close to the final design. I wonder if it's a first draft or not.

I'm also curious about whether the design of the interface was just there for completion's sake or if this is the first iteration of SCUMM. It must be the first, right? Zak Mckracken came out after, right?

Man, I played this game so much. As far as gaming mementos go, this is really high up there. As in, I would bid an unreasonable amount of money if this was up for auction.

Maniac Mansion had design elements in it that people are still hailing as "innovative" when somebody tries them out again. Multiple characters from a large roster in a story-driven game affecting the solutions to puzzles and the flow of the story, for one. Bizarre failstates where you don't "lose", you just land in an alternate puzzle, too. Ugh. So, so good.

Posted by MTSaSquatch

@mb said:

I'm really curious to know how many Giant Bomb users have never even played games like Maniac Mansion, Day of The Tentacle, or Fate of Atlantis. Give the age of these titles, I bet it's a huge percentage and that is just so unfortunate.

Never played Maniac Mansion but did play Monkey Island on the Mac and later Day of the Tentacle within a year or so of their launches... But I also played Vette on the mac too (aka the superior version).

Online
Posted by BeachThunder

I should get around to finishing MM sometime, I've started playing it a few times, but I've never gotten far.

DOTT is absolutely fantastic, one of my favourite adventure games, I've played through it at least half a dozen times.

Posted by oppai2

@xite: I played it on a spectrum and you had to have a tape player where you could adjust the speed to get it to recognise the header in order to get it to load.

Also, I just realised nobody will know what a header is...

Edited by Vigorousjammer

@mb said:

I'm really curious to know how many Giant Bomb users have never even played games like Maniac Mansion, Day of The Tentacle, or Fate of Atlantis. Give the age of these titles, I bet it's a huge percentage and that is just so unfortunate.

I'm in that odd group of people who have played some of the earlier LucasArts games (Such as Maniac Mansion, Indy: Fate of Atlantis, and Monkey Island 1 and 2), Yet has never touched any of the later stuff like Day of the Tentacle, Curse of Monkey Island, Full Throttle, or Grim Fandango.

By the time they were released, my attention had kind of shifted from DOS games to console games, so none of them were really on my radar at the time. Now, with YouTube, I've seen bits and pieces of all of these games, and they look great, but I never got around to going back to them later on... I guess partially because I'm worried about how well they've aged, and partially because I'm so busy with newer stuff.

I'll likely end up picking up that re-release of Grim Fandango. Hopefully it's aged somewhat well.

Posted by eccentrix

@patrickklepek said:

@mb said:

I'm really curious to know how many Giant Bomb users have never even played games like Maniac Mansion, Day of The Tentacle, or Fate of Atlantis. Give the age of these titles, I bet it's a huge percentage and that is just so unfortunate.

Well, considering Maniac Mansion was released when I was two-years-old...

The first game I remember ever seeing, Super Mario Land, was released here when I was -2!

Edited by Chaser324

@mb said:

I'm really curious to know how many Giant Bomb users have never even played games like Maniac Mansion, Day of The Tentacle, or Fate of Atlantis. Give the age of these titles, I bet it's a huge percentage and that is just so unfortunate.

We can only hope that the recent Grim Fandango news will lead to more (Full Throttle and Day of the Tentacle, please!). There are some SCUMM engine games on Steam, so I encourage people to check them out if they haven't played any:

Moderator Online
Posted by MattyFTM
@mb said:

I'm really curious to know how many Giant Bomb users have never even played games like Maniac Mansion, Day of The Tentacle, or Fate of Atlantis. Give the age of these titles, I bet it's a huge percentage and that is just so unfortunate.

I played the Amiga version of Maniac Mansion when I was a kid, but I almost certainly didn't complete it, and I remember very little about it. But I was born two years after it came out, so that's hardly surprising.

Moderator
Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

I played Maniac Mansion and Day of the Tentacle, but it was so long ago that I don't remember much about either. I keep hoping that this refound love of LucasArts adventure games will lead to more SCUMMy adventure games. I'm all for the remake of Grim Fandango, and I'd like to see some of their other games get modern updates. But most importantly, I hope tihs leads to more and more designers taking chances on riskier adventure game designs. I think companies like Wadjet Eye are doing a great job of this, but I wouldn't mind seeing some competition.

Moderator
Posted by cooljammer00

Speaking of @patrickklepek's proposed design doc hub for designers, we're still waiting on that Amy Hennig/Chaos in the Windy City feature.

Posted by Silver-Streak

@sparky_buzzsaw: So, I love Wadjet Eye's games, but I would definitely not call their games "risky" adventure game design. They're about as classic as can be. Unless you meant risky design choices by making a point and click adventure game, upon which I heartily agree.

Posted by Strathy

The Dead Sea Scrolls of gaming.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@silver-streak: They're making classically styled adventure games with well-thought out puzzles, and each of their different IPs feels relatively fresh, if not always successful. To me, these days, those constitute a risky adventure game.

Moderator
Posted by Sinusoidal

Good advice. Loom is awesome and sadly eclipsed by the likes of Monkey Island, Full Throttle and Grim Fandango.

Posted by Kaineda77

What a nice layout, I wonder if its LateX

Posted by Y2Ken

@otterchaos: Y'know, I completely forgot about that. I did play a little of Maniac Mansion then, I guess. But I don't think I ever went through more than a little bit of it on that in-game PC.

Edited by NoWareMan9

One of my all time favorite games...

After Grim Fandango I hope to see this! (and then Zak McKracken!)

Posted by Silver-Streak

@sparky_buzzsaw: Ok. My apologies. Yes, we're talking about the same thing. They make classic adventure games, awesome ones, which is an exceedingly risky business decision in 2014.