Bringing Back Maniac Mansion with Josh Fairhurst and Limited Run Games
The rerelease of the classic Lucasfilm Games adventure title is available for pre-order.
Back in 2015, Limited Run Games CEO and co-founder Josh Fairhurst and COO and co-founder Douglas Bogart noticed that it was becoming increasingly difficult for video gamers to own a permanent physical copy of new releases. “There was this progression from physical media to all-digital products,” Fairhurst explains. “[Digital media] services were being shut down… If you were one of the people who had bought a game, you lost ownership and could no longer access it. It was a shame and the taste of a potential future.”
To help guard against this growing issue, Fairhurst and Bogart established Limited Run Games. “We stepped in to do this to give people ownership of their games again,” Fairhurst says. “If something impacts them in a meaningful way and they want to reexperience that in 20 years, they don’t have to worry about that game being gone. I still go back to games from my childhood like the classic Lucasfilm Games titles. It’s important that they exist physically.”
The collaboration between Lucasfilm and Limited Run Games initially focused on classic Star Wars titles, but fan-favorite The Secret of Monkey Island was another early rerelease. “We were thrilled by how successful Monkey Island was,” says Fairhurst. “We expected it do well, but the reception was so beyond what we anticipated that we decided to go look at the other adventure games.”
Beginning in 1987, Lucasfilm released a string of point-and-click adventures with original stories defined by their quirky sense of humor and unique art designs. The first was 1987’s Maniac Mansion, created by Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick. Inspired in part by a love of B-movie horror flicks, Maniac Mansion gives players control of three oddly endearing teenagers as they infiltrate a strange house in order to rescue a kidnapped friend. The mansion’s bizarre inhabitants include the Edison Family (Dr. Fred, Nurse Edna, and Weird Ed) along with a couple of sentient tentacles: a purple one who aids Dr. Fred in his quest for world domination and a green one who aspires to fame as a rock star.
As Limited Run Games’ newest rerelease in alignment with Lucasfilm Games, Maniac Mansion is available in a number of boxed sets full of nostalgia and fun. In a way, it’s a full circle moment for the collaboration. Not only did its rambunctious, unforgettable story help set the tone for other Lucasfilm Games adventures, but its innovative source code written in the new “SCUMM” language (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion) formed the technical backbone for all of those subsequent games.
Though Fairhurst grew up loving titles like Monkey Island, he first encountered Maniac Mansion later in his gaming life. “I love the humor. Maniac Mansion is genuinely funny,” he says. “I didn’t see that in a lot of games in the 2000s. Most were trying to be edgy and cool, but the older Lucasfilm Games titles had genuinely funny characters and situations.”
In a process that feels like digital archaeology, the Limited Run team mines the original data straight from the period game discs and cartridges, making necessary adjustments to create the refined, authentic version playable on modern computers and consoles (or in the case of the NES, a brand-new cartridge that plays on the original console).
“Maniac Mansion was available on the Commodore 64, Amiga, and DOS computers, among others,” Fairhurst explains. “If you put the screenshots next to each other, they may not seem that wildly different, but there are nuances between each version, and players have emotions tied to specific versions depending on which one they played as a kid. We include back-ups of every possible version so there’s a way to experience each one. These boxes became sort of an archive for each game, with every version on a USB drive.”
In addition to the game itself, these limited-edition box sets feature a number of enticing items, including both recreations of original materials and brand-new surprises. In addition to a lenticular pin that portrays a Maniac Mansion hidden moment, the different boxed sets also include their respective soundtracks. “We record them straight from the actual hardware itself,” Fairhurst notes, “so the NES soundtrack comes right from the cartridge. It’s the same with the PC version, though we can also use an emulator. It’s all about accuracy.”
Another included piece is a double-sided poster featuring in-game artwork and a portrait of the Edison family seen originally on the game’s packaging (and painted by iconic artist Steve Purcell). Limited Run was able to offer up this artwork with the help of superfan Jan Hofmeister who dedicates his time to digitally restoring pieces of Lucasfilm game art. “It speaks to how meaningful these games are to fans,” says Fairhurst. “They’re willing to put in the time to help preserve these materials and celebrate them.”
Maniac Mansion and its fellow Lucasfilm Games adventure titles remain so beloved because “they kicked off an important era in gaming for a lot of people,” according to Fairhurst. “Prior to SCUMM and Lucasfilm Games, adventure games were very difficult. There was a high point of entry, and a lot of trial and error where almost everything would kill you.
“The Lucasfilm games gave kids an entry point into adventure games and games that had narratives,” Fairhurst continues. “Back then, many games didn’t have storylines. There was nothing like the crazy things you were doing in Lucasfilm games. That’s why so many people are passionate about these titles. They were formative experiences, and many people’s first interaction with real narrative and character development. A lot of people also played these games with their parents. These games were how they connected with their parents and they’re treasured memories that have transcended just being games. They are literal cornerstones in people’s lives.”
The fruits of this era are evident in people like Fairhurst himself, who are now part of the video game industry. Their experiences with the Lucasfilm Games classics are helping add new layers of richness and quality to the ever-changing medium. And now thanks to these Limited Run Games rereleases, fans today can discover the older titles for the first time.
“A lot of people are going back and exploring the history of games and filling in their knowledge,” Fairhurst concludes. “It’s great to be able to bring these products to people who want them physically but can’t buy the original boxes. I’m really proud that we get to work on these things. It’s beyond anything I thought I would work on when I was younger.”