In 1990 Lucasfilm Games (now Lucasarts) were the Blizzard of the hilarious adventure game subgenre. Everything they touched was gold, and sold like heroin in an orphanage. At the same time, the NES was the console of the era, crushing all competitors under a gray boot of market share, and absorbing every IP available. As such it's no surprise that Lucasfilm Games' Maniac Mansion -- a 1987 hit adventure title -- would find its way to the NES, but what was shocking is how ready Nintendo was to slap down anything even remotely related to sex, anatomy, drugs, violence, pubic hair, the letter "L," and woodland animals not wearing pants.
Thankfully, the Internet serves as a timeless archive for opinions, historical records and really whiny personal pages about how Todd is a total bastard who only smokes pot and hangs out with his loser friends and never has time for me anymore unless he wants to screw and no one understands me and my parents think I'm on drugs and the new Disturbed album is soooo good.
With that in mind (well, at least that first bit), I bring you this: the story of Douglas Crockford, a former employee of Lucasfilm Games who was responsible for dealing with Nintendo's draconian policies during the porting of Maniac Mansion. He goes into great detail about how insane The Big N was and how bizarre many of their requests were. Hit the jump for my favorite bits, or just go read the entire thing at that link up there.
For those unfamiliar with Maniac Mansion, Ron Gilbert, or anything of any importance from the last thirty years, here's Doug's synopsis of the game:
He fails to mention how utterly hilarious the title was. It was a brand new world when you came in contact with characters capable of gallows humor or sexual innuendo, and Maniac Mansion -- like Sam and Max and the Monkey Island games -- proves once again that Ron Gilbert is much funnier than any of you.
Even with all the dark humor and vague references to sex, all of the Lucasfilm Games' adventures were tame. Nothing contained within them would have upset the censors at ABC or CBS, and sitcoms of the time regularly went much further. Of course, Nintendo ruled with an iron fist, and that iron fist just so happened to be made of soft-shelled crabs, and sensitive young girls. To wit:
Of course, it was Nintendo's game to play as they saw fit, but they didn't even seem to have a good idea of what their own standards were, or if they did they certainly had no ability to adequately explain them. Doug continues:
If that wasn't enough to cause devs to tear their hair out in bloody clumps (which would also have to be censored), Nintendo seemingly went batshit insane from time to time:
Obviously working under the old regime was no fun. Now developers are allowed to go to much greater lengths with sex, violence and statues with landing strips, and we can thank the powers of capitalist competition for that. If you ever find yourself hoping for a day when we once again only have one console to choose from, or you become frustrated over the violence-in-games debate, take a few moments to read over how it used to be, and pray to the ghost of Lenny Bruce that we'll never again go down that route.