Sunday, March 14, 2021

Superstar Programmer David Warhol Discusses Working on Maniac Mansion for the NES!


With The NES Omnibus: The Nintendo Entertainment System and Its Games, Volume 2 (M-Z) now available for pre-order, I thought it would be fun to post some essays from Volume 1. It was a huge honor for me when legendary programmer David Warhol agreed to write nostalgic stories for my Omnibus books. In addition to designing games for the Intellivision, he programmed several NES games, including Maniac Mansion. Here’s his recollection of working on the game, reprinted from The Nintendo Entertainment System and Its Games, Volume 1 (A–L):

It was as big a technical challenge as it was an honor to port Maniac Mansion from the Commodore 64 to the NES. Early on in development, we decided to use as much of the original engine and scripts as possible as opposed to re-coding it from scratch. It required fitting the entire game from 360k floppy into 128k ROM, splitting the screen between scrolling and static sections which I’m pretty sure the NES can’t do (we covered it up as well we could but there is still a visible tear), and porting the entire SCUMM tool chain to NES.

The original game doesn’t have wall-to-wall music, but NES games almost always did. As we approached the end of the project the publisher asked, “Where’s the music?”, to which we scrambled and added nearly a dozen custom songs (my favorite of the NES music I’ve produced). During approval, Nintendo flagged some content as inappropriate, including the infamous “put hamster in microwave,” which was removed. Also, at the last minute at their request, we removed a “nude” statue, not realizing a game scripter placed the “blow up mansion” button invisibly behind the statue to remove it from the game. The invisible button is still there, and it works!

Embarrassingly, some code to initialize the ROM bank switching chip was left out and undiscovered until after the first manufacturing run of a few hundred thousand units (it worked in test cartridges fine but not in the manufactured version). Fortunately, by clearing the RAM during manufacturing, the mechanism worked.

~ David Warhol, former programmer for Mattel Electronics (on the Intellivision), founder of Realtime Associates, Inc.

US residents can order signed copies of my books HERE.

No comments:

Post a Comment