The golden age of adventure games may be long behind us (though Telltale is doing a good job of carrying the banner), but stories behind SCUMM, the technology that drove classics including Maniac Mansion, Full Throttle and Sam & Max: Hit the Road continue to pop up every so often. The latest yarn comes from Aric Wilmunder, who helped developed the engine with Ron Gilbert.
In a six-age article on Gamasutra, Wilmunder explains some of the technical aspects of SCUMM, including how it was able to transform command words into compact bytecode, as well as be sufficiently reusable that the differences in language between Maniac Mansion and Full Throttle were surprisingly small:
SCUMM, or Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion was the tool that tokenized the scripts and also merged all of the game assets together into the files that we shipped on the disk. The version of SCUMM that was used for Maniac probably shared 80 percent or more of the commands used in later games such as Full Throttle. Once the language was developed, most of the key commands did not require modifications. “walk bernard to clock” and “walk ben to motorcycle” were essentially unchanged.
He also mentions some of the interesting names given to the tools the complemented SCUMM. You had “BYLE”, “SPIT” and “FLEM”, but there was one that went a little too far:
For a short time we had a tool called SMEGMA. One of the programmers had a child and told us that when babies are born, their first bowel movements consist of this. Well, he was mistaken and it turns out that substance is called Meconium. We hadn’t bothered to look up Smegma, we just liked the sound of it. Once we did, the name changed a few days later.
If you don’t mind the occasional bit of programmer speak (which, to be honest, is mostly lightweight), there are plenty of gems to be found in the article.