Thursday, 16 February 2012

Game 11: Maniac Mansion - Microwaving Hamsters

Dave Journal Entry 1: “Aaaaagghhhh!!!!! Damn freaks have taken my girlfriend!!!! OK Dave, get a grip…there’s a still a chance to save her. Today has been seriously messed up. There I was at high school when I saw this freaky looking Doctor kidnap Sandy. I followed them and they entered that scary looking mansion up on the hill. I didn’t dare go in there by myself, so I went back to school and told my friends what happened. Wendy and Bernard have offered to help me get Sandy back, which is awesome! I knew right off that Bernard’s tech skills would be useful, but I have to say I wasn’t sure how Wendy might be able to help, being that she’s a writer. It turns out they’ve both been of use, helping me to get past all sorts of obstacles, but I haven’t managed to find Sandy yet. This mansion is truly bizarre! There’s blood and slime all over everything and the three of us are doing our best not to be discovered while we search each room. We’ve found lots of stuff and managed to gain entrance to some of the locked areas, and even fed a strange green tentacle to make him let us pass! We’ve still got some leads that may or may not lead to Sandy, so I better stop writing and get back to it.”

Quite a few of you have been expecting me to really enjoy Maniac Mansion. There have even been suggestions that the game will in all likelihood lead the board by the time I’ve finished it. So far I have to say that there’s every chance it will, as it really does push the genre forward while being highly entertaining. I do have a few concerns about the way multiple characters and solutions play out, but there’s every chance those concerns will diminish over time as I get used to the game mechanics. Before I talk about any of that though, I’m very interested to know why the voters chose Bernard and Wendy in the recent poll. I can totally understand Bernard being a favourite as he would later reappear in Day of the Tentacle, but the choice of Wendy the writer is intriguing. Is it because her path through the game is particularly interesting, or is she just the character a lot of you guys chose when you first played through? Maybe there’s something more sinister going on and in fact taking Wendy into the mansion makes the game much more challenging? I must admit, the fact that she came from nowhere to win with a few days left (it was between Syd and Razor to accompany Bernard until then) suggests there may have been some foul play, but I can’t imagine anyone feels passionate enough to rig an Adventure Gamer poll (hopefully one day)!


The moon is so close to Earth that it's gravity affects the size of the human head

Regardless, I’ve entered the mansion with Dave, Bernard and Wendy, and can’t see any reason to regret that just yet. When I say entered, that wasn’t as easy as I just made it sound. You see, the door was locked, and it did take me a little while to figure out how to get in. Knocking resulted in an ugly dude (who I believe is named Weird Ed) coming down and opening the door, believing that a package has arrived for him. As soon as he saw that there was no package, he told my character to go away and slammed the door. My first reaction was that I needed to do something with the mailbox that would make him think that the package had actually arrived, which would then allow me to hide and then enter unseen while he checked it out. A few minutes of experimentation with the mailbox, including closing it, putting the little flag up, knocking on the door and then hiding, taught me two things about the game. Firstly, that it’s worth checking the most obvious solutions first when playing Maniac Mansion (the key is hidden beneath the doormat) and secondly, that the interface is far more advanced than all adventure games prior.


Don't press the New Kid button! It seriously limits the time you have to play Maniac Mansion!

It didn’t click straight away (probably due to the ICOM games making the counter-intuitive seem intuitive after enough practice). I spent the first few minutes clicking on verbs and then items only for nothing to happen, but I soon learnt that some verbs work differently than others, and simply selecting the verb and item didn’t complete the action. For example, clicking on the word “Open” and then clicking on the mailbox does not open the mailbox. It does however form the sentence “Open Mailbox”, so one further click on the mailbox opens it. In the same way, clicking the sign and then clicking “Read” does not read the sign, but clicking the word “Read” again will make it happen. I was initially a bit flummoxed by the “What is” option, as following the above method did not result in the game giving me a description of a chosen object. Soon enough I realised that you use “What is” by selecting it and moving it around the screen. Anything you put the cursor over appears in the sentence form (i.e. What is sign). This makes it extremely easy to find objects in any given room that you might be able to interact with, prior to choosing verbs such as “Push”, “Pull”, “Open”, “Close”, “Pick up” etc. etc. It only took a couple of minutes to master and is a huge improvement over everything that came before it in the genre.


What is it with light blue wallpaper in these adventure games? Maybe it was just the eighties.

Once I got inside (as Dave), I soon realised that the game was certainly not going to be a walk in the park. I passed through one doorway into the kitchen and was immediately captured by Dr Fred and imprisoned in a cell, with no apparent way to escape. My first thought was that perhaps, like in Black Cauldron, this is scripted and supposed to happen, but then I couldn’t help wondering whether the same thing would have happened if I’d entered the house with Bernard or Wendy (who were just standing around outside) instead of Dave. I restarted with Bernard (you switch characters with the function keys) and entered the kitchen…no sign of Dr Fred...does it only happen to Dave? I then restarted as Dave again to find out and this time Dr Fred wasn’t waiting in the kitchen so I wasn’t taken prisoner! This immediately raised concerns that some of the events occurring in Maniac Mansion are entirely random, particularly as I can’t see how random events could work in a game with so many solution complexities. If Bernard were to get imprisoned, is there a way to escape or would I need to finish the game without him? Would that even be possible given that puzzles requiring his skills would not be solvable? Could those same puzzles be solved by another character in a different way? My solution to all of this uncertainty has been to make sure none of my characters get captured, and if they do, to immediately reload and try again. However, apart from that initial random encounter with Dr Fred, all other encounters with the family seem to be entirely scripted and therefore easily avoidable once you reload.


Great! Two minutes in and I'm no better off than Sandy. Perhaps if I had the keys to the seckrit lab!

The other thing that’s on my mind is whether or not some of the items I’m picking up are only useful for characters that I’m not using. How do I know that I’m not completely wasting my time trying to solve something or looking to use a particular item that are only part of another character’s solution? Are certain items only available to pick up if you have the right character? One thing that makes me think that might be the answer is the developer liquid I tried to pick up, only for it to fall on the ground and smash. I imagine if I had Michael the photographer on the team, that wouldn’t have happened? As Bernard I can remove the tube from the radio, but perhaps I wouldn’t be able to do that if he wasn’t one of the college friends I chose to accompany Dave? If this isn’t the case, then surely the game will become pretty difficult once you’ve got stacks of items in your inventories that play no role in “your” solution. Anyway, I’m not asking anyone to actually answer all the questions I’m firing off. I’m simply expressing what’s been going through my head in the early stages of the game. I’m pretty sure it will all become clear one way or another over the next couple of days.


That's a question most teenagers would ask today!

So how far have I got? Well, I’ve found the hidden cassette tape and figured out that I can record onto it off the record player, but I’m not sure what I actually need it for. I’ve had Wendy edit the manuscript on the typewriter and seen the ad on TV with an address to send anything you want published. I’ve got Weird Ed’s package too, which means I now have some stamps to try to post it with, but haven’t attempted to do so. I’ve given the green tentacle stacks of food and then water, so he’s let me pass into the upper levels of the mansion. I’ve found a gold key, a silver key and a card key, but have so far only found a use for the silver key, which has given me access to the pool area. I assume I need to empty the pool to get the radio (another radio!), but haven’t yet figured out how to do it. One thing I would like an answer to (for 10 points) is whether or not I need to start again. When I originally found the tube in the old fashioned radio, instead of taking it with me, I had Bernard fix the radio itself with it. It’s only then that I found the much more modern looking radio in another room that is missing a tube and now don’t seem to have any way to retrieve the tube from the old one. Have I already hit a dead end!? I’m going to restart regardless, as it will only take about ten minutes to get all the way back to where I am, but I would like to know whether it’s a dead end. Anyway, I’m keen to get back to it. Talking about the game has just made me want to play it more!


Oh...and you can't microwave the hamster, despite what I read. Maybe it was removed for the enhanced version?

19 comments:

  1. You don't HAVE to reload just to keep the radio tube, as it won't dead end you (as far as I can remember), but it makes it easier if Bernard keeps it for a bit longer than to fix the old radio.

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    1. Thanks Lars-Erik. I've decided to start again regardless as I really want to know what the tube does in the other radio, but it's nice to know that the game isn't that easily dead-ended.

      10 points

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  2. I believe these kind of questions about solvability/dead-endness potential are actually part of a set of questions you might want to ask before any game. Unless you consider it cheating or unfair advance warning, given the scope of the task before you and the almost perverse nature of some of the games ahead in this regard (Leisure Suit Larry 2, I´m looking at you again), I think it wouldn't detract from the experience and actually save unneeded frustration.

    I don't recall any dead-end states in Maniac Mansion, though you can die if you're really dedicated. You can however get into sticky situations that will require extra effort to get out of - this I consider actually a strength of the game (example - you don't need to reload if a kid gets trapped).

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    1. No wonder they spent months on event combinations! The sheer amount of different things the player could do but might not in this game is enormous, and I'm only a short way into it.

      I like your suggestion about asking prior to beginning games whether there are any dead ends. I don't see that as cheating as much as it is lowering the chance that I'll spend two days trying to achieve something that's not achievable. It will still be up to me to figure out when I really have been dead-ended.

      Maybe I'll end up with a short list of things to know before going in...

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    2. Another one is time limit actually. Not for any other reason than the fact I'm blogging my way through each game. That means I waste valuable time taking notes and screenshots when the clock could be ticking away without me knowing. I knew there was a time limit in Leisure Suit Larry so I regularly saved, took notes and screenshots, then restored before moving on.

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  3. PS. I believe not all kids will agree to microwave the hamster. Not that it's needed to finish the game :-)

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    1. Ah...that makes sense! It also makes sense that Bernard, Wendy and Dave would not be the type of people that would actually do it.

      Razor on the other hand...

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  4. hmm... but Bernard can use the tube best in a device located somewhere in the 3rd floor (later in the game), so if he can't back the tube from the old radio I would reconsider reloading...
    (although not absolutely necessary, i think Wendy's special abilities could make up for that)

    and actually there are 2 ways of escaping the dungeon prison (for the first way you don't need any object, just 4 hands and keen eyes)

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    1. Four hands? Does it involve the skeleton?

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  5. Its been a long time since I last played MM, but I think you can Open the radio again and take the tube anytime you need it.

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    1. No, I tried and tried, but it would no longer see the tube as an item I could interact with. No fair!

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  6. Definitely not a dead end. It is possible to escape the prison, you just need to find a way out of the door. For the hamster in the microwave trick, you'll need to use someone more rebellious.

    I believe the game works off an internal timer, so events like meeting Dr. Fred in the Kitchen or the package being delivered happen at about the same game time each time you play.

    I thought New Kid switches to the next kid... does it do something else in this version?

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    1. My New Kid comment was a joke Zenic. I must have pressed the New Kid button at some point, as now I have a two year old daughter running around that stops me from spending more time playing Maniac Mansion.

      I wouldn't have it any other way of course. :)

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    2. yes, over my head with that one...

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  7. As Zenic said, getting a kid imprisoned is not a problem (unless all the kids are in prison without any way to get away - then it's time to restore). Sometimes you might even want to get a character to imprison a kid.

    I actually don't remember Dr. Fred in the kitchen, are you sure it wasn't Edna (Fred's wife)? If it truly was Fred, you might have just been a bit quicker the first time you played the game: the position of the occupants of the house are pretty much governed by a timer.

    MM does not really hint very well which items will be useful and for which characters, but every available object can be taken by any character, unless taking the object requires some special skill (like taking a radio tube from the radio requires special engineering abilities; then again, being a good photographer doesn't apparently make one good at taking bottles without breaking them).

    Deimar might be right that you can just make Bernard take the tube again. If not, the tube is not completely essential, but it will open some possibilities that would be otherwise inaccessible.

    BTW, have you seen the poster that arrived with some versions of the game? There's nothing really crucial, but there are some more or less obscure hints for some puzzles (and probably many red herrings) and some background for various characters. Here's one place to see it (although the text is a bit too small to read):
    http://www.maniacmansionfan.50webs.com/images/pc%20hint%20poster.jpg

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    1. To be honest, I can't be sure that it wasn't Edna. I was fairly shocked that the protagnist was locked away in captivity within the first two minutes of playing and didn't pay an awful lot of attention to who it was that put him there.

      I didn't know anything about that poster! I'll try to find a better quality one and have a read.

      Definitely 10 points for that.

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  8. Woah, this looks like a really tricky game, with specialized characters and all. It would make it daunting for someone like me - who wants to see all the scenes and interesting dialogue that the game has to offer.

    I found a clearer version of the poster that Ilmari provided. I love stuff like this.

    http://www.tentakelvilla.de/specials/inbox/mm_poster.jpg

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    1. Unless of course Amy K. finds one for me! That's perfect! (printing it now)

      10 more companion assist points. I feel like I really do have a great bunch of companions along for the ride now! :)

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    2. I'm glad to be of help. :)

      That said, I wonder who will reach 100 first?

      Oh, look, a unicorn! *dashes off like mad to the next blog post* ;)

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