Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders Bits


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Zak McKracken was Lucasarts’ second ever SCUMM title. It didn’t really have the same impact as the various Monkey Island or Indiana Jones games, but it contained loads of personality and a few interesting twists on adventure game mechanics.

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It all started with a dream...

The good stuff:

  • Zak McKracken, the game’s protagonist, dreams of winning the Pulitzer Prize but is stuck working for The National Inquisitor, a trashy tabloid. Despite Zak’s disgruntlement, his job is a very good excuse to have the player investigate suspicious phenomenona and travel to exotic locales.

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    The red, underlined "LOOK!" arrow-sign was actually a breath of fresh air in a genre notorious for pixel-hunting.

  • The game came packaged with a print version of the National Inquisitor and featured headlines such as “Two-Headed Squirrel Attacks Two Campers At Once!” and “Scrambled Son Tries To Kill Parents With Eggs.” Incidentally, not everything in the newspaper is supposed to be fabricated — a concept that was a big part of Men in Black.
  • The game’s story revolves around a devious alien plot to overthrow humanity. This is achieved by a group of aliens — disguised in Groucho-style masks — running a phone company that’s slowly eroding earth’s intelligence through dial tones.

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    The FM Towns version of the game.

  • Being exposed to the aliens’ Mindbender machine results in game commands being sucked out from the user interface. This is a rather clever way of simulating Zak getting stupid. It also serves to gate the player and justify some rather perplexing behaviour.
  • The National Inquisitor doesn’t have the biggest budget, so Zak must pay for his own flights. Aside from being another logical gating mechanic, it also serves to tease the player with impossibly expensive flights. It’s debatable whether such red herrings are actually a good thing, but they add the illusion of scale.
  • A vital way of getting the funds to travel around the world is winning the lottery.
  • International flights also double as copy-protection, requiring the player to enter “Visa Codes” (that are provided in the game’s manual) when travelling outside of the US.

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    Yes, that King.

  • Zak can “mind-meld” with animals and control them, but this is often just an amusing distraction, e.g., making your goldfish smile or having a yak poop.
  • The game is split into five main parts, each one involving getting a piece of “The Device.” It’s a very non-linear approach — especially for an adventure game — as it allows the player to explore and the world in almost any order he wishes.
  • The game’s female characters were based on at-the-time significant others of the various individuals on the development team. One of these women was notorious for dyeing her hair, so her in-game equivalent appears with differently coloured hair every time she takes off her space helmet.
  • Zak’s pet goldfish is named Sushi.

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  1. #1 by Robert Schultz on May 28, 2009 - 7:02 am

    Ahhh, Zak McKracken. One of my favorite games of all time!
    I loved having to use the kazoo to wake up the bus driver. I also found it funny how in Maniac Mansion there is a chainsaw with no gas, but in Zak McKracken there is ‘Chainsaw Gas’ but no chainsaw. Funny stuff :)
    Or using a broom you find on Mars to sweep away dust from a solar panel for the mars monorail only to discover that the broom is an alien that wakes up and goes “Achoo!”

    Ahh great memories!

  2. #2 by The Management on May 28, 2009 - 12:49 pm

    Yup, moments like that are the reason I called my blog “Significant Bits.”

  3. #3 by Warren Kimmel on May 3, 2011 - 4:52 pm

    I spent a whole summer trying to finish Maniac Mansion. It was the same summer that the television show of the same name was on the air.

    I’ve never heard of Zak McKracken, but the graphics remind me of that summer of ’91. Actually, they look a bit better…

  4. #4 by Scott on May 5, 2011 - 7:12 pm

    I just discovered this site — so cool! So many awesome posts… including this, one of my favorite games from back in the day!

  5. #5 by Jim on June 5, 2011 - 3:17 am

    How long did this game last before it went off the radar? How come I never stumbled upon this back in the days…..

  6. #6 by unique hoodia hoodia on June 28, 2011 - 6:45 pm

    I wanted saying thanks to an individual just for this excellent read write-up! My spouse and i definitely appreciated each bit of it.

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