Classic Computer Magazine Archive START VOL. 4 NO. 9 / APRIL 1990

For The Fun Of It


In which Andrew Reese joins a cult,
David Plotkin joins the military and
Stephen Mortimer takes Atari by the hand.

Oh no! Sexy Sandy has boon abducted by psycho-
paths and is being hold in the sinister Maniac
Mansion. Do you have the stomach to save her
in the latest RPG from Lucasfilm?
Interstellar warriors, arise in SSI's Star Com-
mand! Take the captain's wheel and lead your
crow of eight, recruited and trained by yourself,
on critical missions through space.



Just as there are cult movies, so too are there cult games. One of those is Lucasfilm Games' Maniac Mansion, a crazy and funnyadventure game filled with monsters and madness.

Maniac Mansion was the first graphics adventure game from Lucasfilm Games, released in several formats in 1987, and quickly became a hit. The game creation system used on Zak McKracken and the Indy Adventure Game is called SCUMM, the Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion. It was in Maniac Mansion that Lucasfilm's unique point-and-click sentence builder for character control first appeared.

But it was not until late last year that Lucasfilm moved Maniac Mansion to the ST. Thankfully, they waited until they could use a later generation of SCUMM to produce higher resolution characters and screens. The wait was worth it; if you've seen Maniac Mansion on an Apple or Commodore 64, you know what I mean. It's also nice that you can install Maniac Mansion on a hard disk to speed up game play.

Uniquely Lucasfilm

Like other Lucasfilm graphics adventures, the Maniac Mansion screen is divided into five areas. At the top is a message line and immediately below it is the Animation Window, where all the action takes place. Next down is the Sentence Line, followed by Verbs and your Inventory. To make your character(s) do anything, you form a command sentence by clicking on a combination of verbs, items in your inventory and objects and creatures in the Animation Window. Since the parser that interprets your sentences needn't search through every possible word youcan think of, it can handle its limited vocabulary much more intelligently. For example, if you want to change a noun in your sentence, you just have to click on the new item and it will replace the appropriate noun.

Maniacal Plot

It seems that Sandy, a sweet, young cheerleader, is being held in the basement of the strange mansion owned by mad scientist Dr. Fred. Also in the mansion are Nurse Edna, Wierd Ed, Dead Cousin Ted, the Tentacle and another critter I won't reveal. Your task is to rescue Sandy from this collection of wierdos by directing a team of four teenagers, including Dave, Sandy's boyfriend, and two others you can choose. Each of the teenagers has a "talent" from playing heavy metal to typing.

The amazing and delightful thing about Maniac Mansion is that you can solve the game with anyteam of three, but the gameplay and puzzles will be different, depending on the make-up of the team. Win the game one way and you won't put it away--you'll want to try a different team. . .and then another. The graphics are quite good and the "cut-scenes" (inserted animation scenes that show you what's going on elsewhere) are very well done. This is a game that's fun to play with three of your friends (or kids) hanging over your shoulder, telling you what to try next. Just be sure that you save the game often, as there's no telling when one of your team will meet an untimely demise--like just going to the kitchen for a snack!

Liked the Game, But. . .

I like this kind of game, although for all the convenience of the command structure, I'd like to have the alternative of typing in the same words. It would be quite a bit faster, provided you can type reasonably well. The best of all possible worlds would be for Lucasfilm and Sierra On-Line to combine their interfaces.

Lucasfilm puts out the absolute best hint books I've ever seen and the one for Maniac Mansion is superb. It gives you four ways to cheat: color-encoded questions and answers, a list of objects and their uses, a map of the six floors of the mansion and finally a scene-by-scene explanation of one solution. You can get as much help as you want. I have mixed feelings about whether to recommend that you buy the hint book. The game is so much fun without it, that it's a shame to take short cuts and miss out on some of the designers' humor.

If you like graphics adventure games, you'll want Maniac Mansion. Absolutely. It's not only a cult classic, but a fun way to spend (quite) a few hours.



Star Command is a role-playing game where you guide a eight adventurers around the galaxy on their missions and battles in the far future. Game play is fun, but hampered a bit by cumbersome controls.

(Editor's Note: According to SSI, some copies of Star Command were released with a key-type virus. Any virus killer, such as George Woodside's V-Killer, will remove the virus. You can also return your disk to SSI and they will gladly replace it free of charge.)

Starting Out

Start out by picking your party of eight Pilots, Marines and Soldiers. You need at least two pilots (one to fly your ship and one to fly the dropboat down to planets). The other six members should be Marines or Soldiers. After selecting your recruits, you must train them. As each member completes a session, they either pass and achieve a higher skill rating or end up failing and doing "desk duty." At the end, you have the option to get rid of a poorly performing recruit and replace him with a fresh one.

The first thing you must understand is that you're poor. It quickly becomes apparent that you can't amass enough funds to get the equipment you need by honest means, so you must resort to raiding high-tech worlds and stealing items to sell at the space station. There's simply no choice.

Spatial Relations

The playing area consists of the entire galaxy. There is one triangular section which is considered relatively safe. It's bound by three space stations, which are used for fueling and supplies. To one side of this triangle is a zone almost completely overrun by pirates of human descent, and on the other side, an alien insectoid race holds sway. Needless to say, they are hostile.

The main playing screen consists of three sections. The first is an area across the bottom that lists commands. The second shows the status of each person in your party, and the last maps your environment.

The galaxy is divided into a grid 32 sectors high by 32 sectors wide. A small white cursor represents your ship; move it around the galaxy with the arrow keys. You must be careful, though, because traveling from sector to sector uses fuel. If you run out, you will eventually be rescued, but some of your men may starve to death waiting.

Two Things Can Happen

Basically only two things can happen in Star Command: communicating and fighting. Your encounters with other ships and beings are either friendly or hostile.

Space battles are broken into movement and firing phases. During the movement phase, you can rotate the ship into any direction and position your squad around, or jump into hyperspace if you think you're overmatched. In the firing phase, you can shoot ships in range and see results. Each turn fires off multiple shots, the exact number depending on the weapon. One annoying thing about combat is that all the guns that are targetted continue to fire even after the target is destroyed, wasting ammunition. After awhile, however, I was able to anticipate when a target was nearly destroyed and save my bullets.

You can try to board the enemy vessel, in which case the action becomes a personal confrontation between your six men (excluding the pilots) and the enemy crew. Such a confrontation can also occur if you send your party down to a planet surface. On a planet, you can retreat from the enemy; however, on a spaceship the combat must be resolved. Personal combat is much like ship combat. If talking fails, fight. One thing the manual never mentioned is that pirates can surrender, and you won't be allowed to shoot at them if they do, even though their surrender is not reported until the combat is over.

Questionable Commands

The controls for Star Command are somewhat cumbersome. They consist of single-key commands, and question/answer interaction. Sometimes the mouse pointer will work to make the selections. The graphics are also relatively simple, if not crude, but they do show you what you need to know. The game does not work under TOS 1.4, and pressing [Control]-[C] breaks into it. A number of bugs also showed up, including the fact that the upgraded weapons rating doesn't show up properly when you inspect your squad. There are also some things I never did figure out, such as why a weapon sometimes showed up with an asterisk next to it.

Despite these small annoyances, Star Command is quite playable. Since different missions show up each time you start a new game, it remains a challenge, and with all the complexities involved can absorb you for a long time.



The Lynx--is it a car, an animal? No, it's Atari's revolutionary color portable entertainment system! I was lucky enough to purchase one of the 70,000 units shipped to stores. Combined with local TV ads and features in magazines, most of these units were sold out in a few short weeks after their introduction in late November. Of course, all of the hype is justified: the games available for the Lynx are some of the most addicting in years and overall the system blows Nintendo's GameBoy out of the water.

Here it is! The Lynx, Atari's new, color,
portable entertainment system.

Impressive Package

The Lynx is made from high-impact plastic and features a color LCD screen with a resolution of 160x102 pixels. Sixteen colors are available from a palette of 4,096. The 4MHz processor keeps the action fast paced and custom chips handle tasks normally done in software.

The hardware allows for an infinite number of sprites, has a built-in scaling system to create realistic scenes as you approach or move away from objects and has collision detection. Internally, the joypad and buttons use switches with conductive rubber contacts that provide high reliability.

Finally, the Lynx is powered by six AA batteries or an AC powerpack. The batteries have a life of approximately four hours of use, and the unit shuts off automatically after a period of inactivity.

Game cards that can hold up to 8MB of information are inserted into a slot that is revealed when a hatch is opened on the side of the Lynx. Volume and screen contrast controls are on opposite sides of the unit that fits comfortably in the hand. Headphones can be connected for privacy and the screen can be flipped for left-handed users.

Games Included

Included with Lynx is California Games by Epyx. Four events--BMX racing, surfing, halfpipe skateboarding and footbag--provide for a great introduction to the system without the immediate need to purchase additional games.

Other games that exist include a Blue Lightning, Electrocop and The Gates of Zendocon.

High Quality

Atari's Lynx is a high-quality game system. Game action is very realistic, fast, and smooth. I have gone through three sets of batteries and several hours of AC power in only two weeks of use. Although I haven't found another Lynx to test this, multiple units can be connected by a ComLynx cable to allow multiplayer games with each player having their own perspective on the action. The number that can be connected is controlled by software. Surfing lets two people surf together at the same time, either helping or ramming each other.

Atari has a hit in their hands, literally, in Lynx.


Maniac Mansion, $49.95, and Maniac Mansion Hint Book, $12.95. Lucasfilm Ltd., P.O. Box 2009, San Rafael, CA 94912, (415) 662-1966.

Star Command, $49.95 SSI, 675 Almanor, Sunnyvale CA 94086, (408) 737-6800.

Lynx Game System, $150. Atari Corp., 1196 Borregas Ave., Sunnyvale, CA 94086, (408) 745-2000.