Ron Gilbert shares original Maniac Mansion design document

ron gilbert shares original maniac mansion design document
Legendary game designer Ron Gilbert has posted the original design document for Maniac Mansion, his seminal 1987 point-and-click adventure game that kicked off LucasArts’ golden age of adventure gaming.

Gilbert created the 14-page spec with artist Gary Winnick to articulate their ideas and build interest among their colleagues at LucasArts (at the time Lucasfilm Games). It’s a refreshing and fascinating look back at an earlier era in game development when creativity ran a bit more rampant without the limitations of huge budgets and focus-tested precedent.

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.

The SCUMM engine would go on to be the backbone of LucasArts’ most beloved adventure games, such as The Curse of Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, and Full Throttle. Gilbert outlines the engine’s basic operations in the document, dividing the screen between a picture of the action, a list of verbs, and an inventory.

The ideas laid out there would set important precedents not just for graphic adventure games, but the syntax of how we interact with games as a whole. The fact that he uses quotation marks around the word “clicking” when he describes using a mouse to select one of the characters on screen speaks to how wide and undefined the field was for ways that people could interact with games.

maniac mansion design

Simplistic as some of it may seem, it is also striking how little has changed in the nearly three decades since Gilbert wrote this design. The game’s interlocking system of puzzles, each with multiple solutions based on the particular combination of characters you choose to bring, leading to different endings based on who you brought and what transpired would sound right at home in contemporary games. In fact, it sounds more or less like what The Cave was trying to do. Moreover, the freewheeling process he describes feels very akin to the ethos of the current indie games renaissance.

The whole document is available on Gilbert’s blog. It’s quick and edifying read for the nostalgic, the curious, or anyone interested in the design process. He also posted a few pages of early design notes for The Curse of Monkey Island earlier this year, if you want more insight.


Still trying to unlock your main in 'Super Smash Bros. Ultimate'? Try these tips

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is Nintendo’s biggest entry in the series to date with over 70 characters to unlock, but the process can feel tiresome. Here are our tips to unlock your roster as quickly as possible.

How to make a clan in ‘Destiny 2’ and where to go from there

Want to know how to make a clan in 'Destiny 2'? Here's everything you need to know, including how to design your clan's banner, earn extra loot, and help other players with guided games.

Apple Mac users should take a bite out of these awesome games

Contrary to popular belief, there exists a bevy of popular A-list games compatible for Mac computers. Take a look at our picks for the best Mac games available for Apple fans.

Relive Nintendo’s handheld golden age with the 25 best Game Boy Advance games

The Game Boy Advance was the swan song of the Game Boy era. It also happened to have a boatload of amazing games. We decided to countdown our 25 favorite GBA games. Check it out and let us know your favorites in the comments below!

Put down the controller and pick up the best phones for gaming on the go

Which phones are the best if all you want to do is play some mobile games? We've done the hard work and put together a list of the best gaming phones on Android and iOS, so you can keep playing and winning.

Need help getting the Sleeper Simulant in 'Destiny 2'? We’ve got you covered

The Sleeper Simulant is one of the coolest new Exotic weapons you can unlock in the Warmind expansion of Destiny 2, but it's an involved process that will take awhile. Here's everything you need to know.

Ditch the meditation app. 'Katamari Damacy Reroll' is pure gaming zen

Katamari Damacy Reroll brings the magic of the PS2 classic to Nintendo Switch and PC. With updated visuals and the same great, singular loop, Reroll stands the test of time. Katamari Damacy is the ultimate relaxation game.

Xbox One S vs. PlayStation 4 Slim: Which console is worth your money?

Microsoft's new Xbox One S and Sony's PlayStation 4 "Slim" have bucked the generational gaming console trend. But which of these stopgap systems is worth spending your paycheck on?

Check out the best Xbox One deals and bundles for December 2018

Microsoft's consoles are just as capable of streaming movies as they are of playing the latest games. Check out our top Xbox One deals and bundles, which include new and upcoming triple-A games like Battlefield V and Fallout 76.

Best Products of 2018

Our reception desk has so many brown boxes stacked up, it looks like a loading dock. We’re on a first-name basis with the UPS guy. We get new dishwashers more frequently than most people get new shoes. What we’re trying to say is: We…

The NES Classic is back in stock just in time for the holidays

The NES Classic is back in stock at multiple outlets at its original launch price of $60 in time for Christmas. Retailers offering it online are Walmart, GameStop, Target, and Best Buy -- if you're looking for the perfect holiday gift for…

Some ‘Fortnite’ players aren’t too happy with the new Infinity Blade weapon

The most recent update for Fortnite added the Infinity Blade melee weapon to battle royale, and some players aren't happy with how much it has changed the game during competitions.

Soulja Boy’s ‘new’ console appears to include stolen Nintendo games

Rapper Soulja Boy recently released his SouljaGame console, and it includes several emulated games that appear to be stolen from companies like Nintendo, SNK, and Capcom. A handheld version is also available.

Razer’s classic DeathAdder Elite gaming mouse drops to $40 on Amazon

If you're looking to pick up a new gaming mouse for the holidays, Amazon has you covered with this great deal on the classic Razer DeathAdder Elite gaming mouse with customizable buttons, RGB lighting, and a 16,000 DPI optical sensor.