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The many versions of Maniac Mansion: a dorky breakdown


Udvarnoky
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I’ve noticed sometimes in conversation that there’s confusion, which I share in, about how many distinct versions of Maniac Mansion there are, partially because of the way they’ve come to be labeled. Specifically, you’ll often see the computer versions bisected into “v1” and “v2”. When people use those terms, they tend to be talking about the two main graphic representations of the game, also commonly referred to as “original” and “enhanced” (and sometimes, “low-resolution” vs. “high-resolution”).

Despite the implication, there are in fact more than two versions of the game, even if you limit the scope to computer releases. I thought I’d try to lay them all out. The impetus for digging into this was really for me to get a handle on the release history of Maniac Mansion myself, but why not destroy other people’s time by sharing what I’ve learned?

A bit of housekeeping: The packaging images are taken from The LucasArts Museum, where you can find photos of virtually every printing, inside and out. Screenshots come from MobyGames. Grab a can of Pepsi and some wax fruit and let’s begin…

Release #1

The original release of Maniac Mansion was published for the Commodore 64 and Apple II in the fall of 1987. Nailing down exact release dates for older games can be tricky, but it seems it was a simultaneous release for both platforms in October. Here’s the front/back of the C64 box:

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And below are some screenshots from the C64 version. The Apple II presentation is a bit jankier, but they fundamentally have same graphics.

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Amusing trivia about the packaging: The spiel on the back of the box caused a bit of a ruckus due to its use of the word “lust” in that list of nouns on the right. Apparently, a parent shopping at Toys R Us noticed it, dropped dramatically upon their fainting chair, and complained to management about the obscenity that had been unleashed unto children. The retailer banned the product from their shelves, and thus marketing cleaned up their act for all subsequent releases.

Release #2

A couple of months later, in early 1988, the game was ported to IBM PCs (and since MS-DOS was the operating system, this is interchangeably referred to as a DOS port) as well as re-released on the Commodore 64. Here’s the front/back packaging of this release:

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Note that the back is redesigned. In terms of graphics, this release is nearly identical to the first release, and thus falls under the umbrella of the “v1” designation. Notably, the logo has been re-imagined into its more familiar “meteor tails” design, as you can see on the box along with a new tagline. The logo change is reflected in-game, on the character selection screen and opening sequence:

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There are other, more subtle visual differences compared to the original C64 version, but logo aside, screenshots from this release are virtually identical to the first release. On the audio side, the game is a bit quieter than the 1987 version, which had constant crickets in exteriors as well as a sound effect for the characters walking. Maybe these ever-present sounds were deemed annoying? Who knows.

Also, when I look at a playthrough of the original C64 version, I find that the characters walk at a decent clip and the cursor movements are silky-smooth, whereas this DOS version was always painfully slow in that regard. I think ScummVM “fixes” the walk speed, but if you play this version authentically (either on an actual DOS machine or via emulator like DREAMM or DOSBox) you’ll experience the choppiness I’m talking about. Finally, the IBM version of this release introduced the “Nuke’em Alarms” copy protection, which C64 and Apple II versions never had. Instead, the door ahead of you upon reaching the second floor landing is just a regular door.

Release #3

Finally, in 1989, the game was released yet again, this time with enhanced graphics (which is what people tend to mean when they talk about “v2”). In addition to being a re-release for IBM and Apple II, the game was further ported to Amiga and Atari ST with this version. Here is the front/back of the packaging, which features the familiar marble border typical of Lucasfilm Games titles from this period.

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Notice the studio came up with yet a third tagline, and gave Ron and Gary movie-director-style named credits that the studio came to take pride in. Note also that the rear packaging also has an all-new design, featuring an amazing oil painting of the Edison Family portrait by Steve Purcell. (I’ll also point out, since it’s sometimes misattributed, that Purcell is not responsible for the cover art for Maniac Mansion – that credit goes to Ken Macklin.)

Here are a few screenshots from this version, which is probably the most familiar one in the PC realm:

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Note when comparing the graphics that this isn’t an EGA vs. VGA situation like with Indy 3, Loom and Monkey 1. The “enhanced” version of Maniac Mansion is characterized by higher resolution compared to the original, which allowed things to be rendered in a bit more detail. Noteworthy about this version is that the Edisons are depicted as having green skin. The Nintendo port carried on that idea, while Day of the Tentacle opted to revert the family to flesh color. As the credits on these old games aren’t great, I am not sure who drew the enhanced graphics – perhaps it was Gary Winnick himself?

Later in 1989, this exact same version of the game was reprinted in a budget release for IBM – same box, but with less paraphernalia inside (no dormitory bulletin board poster!), a single 3.5” diskette (IBM customers got both a 3.5” and a 5.25” in the preceding package) and cheaper printing choices for the manual(s) and diskette label. There were a couple of other games that received this kind of budget reprinting that year, including Indy 3. You can compare the contents of the full-bodied version here with the cheapo version here.

The "enhanced" version of the game is also what was found in the Classic Adventures pack (a compilation of the first five SCUMM games) in 1992. However, the version included as an Easter Egg in Day of the Tentacle (1993) was the “original graphics” DOS version (1988). In Day of the Tentacle Remastered, they decided to make the game-within-a-game the “enhanced” version instead.

Today, When you buy Maniac Mansion standalone from Steam or GOG, it’ll launch by default as the “enhanced graphics” version (which by now has come to specifically mean the 1989 DOS port), but if you back out of the game to the ScummVM launcher, you’ll find that you have the data files for the “original graphics” version (which by now has come to specifically mean the 1988 DOS port) as well. Unfortunately, as with all the SCUMM games offered on digital storefronts that come bundled with ScummVM, you don’t get the native interpreter.

The Console Ports

The first console release was for the Famicom (the Japanese equivalent of the NES) in 1988. Its development outsourced to Jaleco (which also published it), it’s a version of the game notorious for its general weirdness.

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Perhaps that weirdness is why, when LucasArts decided to make an NES version in 1990, they opted to start over with their own 8-bit attempt rather than simply translating this release. While Jaleco remained the publisher of this port, it was developed by Realtime Associates in collaboration with LucasArts itself, and thus was a much better adaptation, censorship courtesy of a flexing Nintendo of America aside. Trivia: Dave Grossman, Tim Schafer, and Jennifer Sward all served as “object taggers” on this port during their SCUMMlette days – it may be the first credited role for all three of them.

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On the mythbusting front: You might have heard that Nintendo discovered the infamous hamster-nuking feature after the fact and forced its removal, thus making the pre-crackdown cartridges rare. This is only partially true. Nintendo did in fact discover the feature only after the game shipped in America, did in fact pitch a fit, and did in fact order that all subsequent printings remove it. However, the game didn’t sell well enough in the U.S. to justify a second printing (though the initial printing was a large one, I think of a quarter of a million units), so the removal only got applied to the international releases. Therefore, all U.S. copies have the feature, and all non-U.S. copies do not. The hamster-nuking cartridges are not rare, merely regional.

Maniac Mansion Deluxe

This is the fan-made VGA makeover that was released in 2004. It also removes some dead-ends that plagued the original game and adds a lot of observational dialog. (As the original game had a “Read” verb instead of “Look at”, there was unfortunately barely any incidental dialog.)

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I point this version out because the 256-color treatment is so tastefully done (and looking very Thimbleweek Park-esque indeed) that it’s sometimes mistaken for official. But the “enhanced graphics” release from 1989 is the last version of Maniac Mansion officially produced. At least, until they let Ron loose on a special edition…

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Very nice post! This article also makes some very interesting comparisons.

 

9 hours ago, Udvarnoky said:

However, the version included as an Easter Egg in Day of the Tentacle (1993) was the “original graphics” DOS version (1988).

 

For the non-English releases which had an official V2 port, that version was used instead for the original DOTT easter-egg. (As usual, the modern remaster didn't bother to include any translation for the original Maniac Mansion, as fas as I can say, and GOG doesn't want to sell any original translation of Maniac Mansion either…).

 

Also, I seem to remember that a joke on the character selection screen was a bit lost when the game was upgraded. The description for each character would come in two parts, and for some characters, the second part of the sentence was making fun of them ("Michael - award-wining photographer… / …for the college newspaper.") The V2 releases would just display this at once, but part of the joke was in the original pause between the two lines.

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How odd that they made them green after the original release. I thought they were always that way, making DoTT seem like the one messing with the colours. What a gravely mistaken accusation.

 

They seem a bit off colour in the family portrait, which perhaps influenced the change. Not sure if the portrait existed prior to the enhanced version.

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As I was exposed to this game (and indeed, the SCUMM catalog as a whole) through the NES version, the "irradiated" Edisons was always my preferred flavor. Maybe losing that nuclear reactor restored some skin health by the time of DOTT.

 

That's fascinating, @dwa, about the enhanced version being included in DOTT for non-English releases. It makes it even more of a mystery to me why they would go with the older graphics version stateside when the update had become the defacto version by then. I wonder if the team just preferred the synchronicity of the flesh-colored Edisons or simply the idea of going full vintage. I also wondered if maybe the negligible difference in size between v1 and v2 was not so negligible in the context of DOTT's floppy disk release, but I guess we can rule that out.

 

How is the enhanced version "cracked" in non-English DOTT? Is the security door forced open there as well?

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15 hours ago, ThunderPeel2001 said:

Maniac Mansion Deluxe was praised by Ron himself. It's a shame it's so hard to find/run these days, because it basically is the best version of the game.

I heard somewhere that Neil Cicierega composed some of the tracks for the game. Maniac Mansion Deluxe has to be the best fan remake of a game ever (sorry Black Mesa). 

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I mean... I sort of read Thimbleweed Park as a Maniac Mansion sequel.

 

Thimbleweed actually made me change how I play Maniac Mansion. Previously I imprisoned or ignored Dave the full game. After talking to Sandy and him so pleasantly in Thimbleweed, I like to use him more. I pretend that he's the only character who can use the excercise machine; that gets it done!

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1 hour ago, BaronGrackle said:

I mean... I sort of read Thimbleweed Park as a Maniac Mansion sequel.

 

Thimbleweed actually made me change how I play Maniac Mansion. Previously I imprisoned or ignored Dave the full game. After talking to Sandy and him so pleasantly in Thimbleweed, I like to use him more. I pretend that he's the only character who can use the excercise machine; that gets it done!

I need to do a playthrough with Jeff, the poor guy can only fix the phone. 

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1 hour ago, Staple Remover said:

I need to do a playthrough with Jeff, the poor guy can only fix the phone. 


But hey, if you're not playing Bernard? It's nice to have the phone puzzle to replace "get caught by Edna then sneak someone else through then get caught by Edna again".

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couple fun facts, just for the heck of it:

 

All versions of Maniac Mansion past the first Apple II/C64 version are technically censored. At the ending where Fred tells Dave "don't be a tuna head", in the first version Fred tells Dave "don't be an ****." (IIRC the swear in question was 'asshole').  That surprised the crap out of me when I first played it.

 

The keypad for the steel door looks like it was removed in the NES versions but it was actually made small and transparent. It's hard to find, but possible - and, yes - entering the wrong key code does blow the house up.

 

In the NES versions you can enter 0000 for the code on the lab door, skipping the arcade section. I use that when I feel like playing Maniac Mansion so I can do a play through of around 5 minutes - making the game a fun diversion at times when I get bored.

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Reminds me of an interview I did with Ron in 2004, revealing Maniac Mansion was almost positively filthy:

 

Quote

 


Ron: I remember back when I was doing Maniac Mansion, I wanted to use the word "shit" in it...

Jake: Because there were unruly teenagers in it, or what?

Ron: Well, I don't know. It was kind of interesting. I went to the guy who was running the games division at the time, and I wanted, you know, I wanted to say "shit." It was really important to me, part of "the artistic expression of the game." And yeah, he really challenged me about it it. "Why do you want to say this?" So it was really interesting. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the only reason I wanted to use the swear word was that it was cool, it was cool to swear. And I realized, "Geez, what, am I twelve again?"

 

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9 hours ago, Jenni said:

All versions of Maniac Mansion past the first Apple II/C64 version are technically censored. At the ending where Fred tells Dave "don't be a tuna head", in the first version Fred tells Dave "don't be an ****." (IIRC the swear in question was 'asshole').  That surprised the crap out of me when I first played it.

 

Scandalous!

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On 8/11/2022 at 3:15 PM, Udvarnoky said:

That's fascinating, @dwa, about the enhanced version being included in DOTT for non-English releases. It makes it even more of a mystery to me why they would go with the older graphics version stateside when the update had become the defacto version by then. I wonder if the team just preferred the synchronicity of the flesh-colored Edisons or simply the idea of going full vintage. I also wondered if maybe the negligible difference in size between v1 and v2 was not so negligible in the context of DOTT's floppy disk release, but I guess we can rule that out.

 

I feel like I remember one of the original developers (Tim? Dave?) saying that they chose to include the earliest possible release for each language, for maximum retro effect, yes. I have no idea where I may have seen that, though…

 

And yeah, looking at the keyboard, that computer in Ed's room is probably meant to be a C64!

 

On 8/11/2022 at 3:15 PM, Udvarnoky said:

 

How is the enhanced version "cracked" in non-English DOTT? Is the security door forced open there as well?

 

Yes. I wonder if it's as badly cracked as the English V2 version that's sold on GOG (i.e. it breaks some other puzzles along the way).

 

When I was a kid and I was playing DOTT, using Ed's computer really freaked me out. My nice funny game was suddenly replaced by something really ugly, I thought it was a virus or something! And I had no idea how to quit that, so I Ctrl-Alt-Del and never triggered this action again, for years!

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