Dave Grossman and Tim Schafer co-led the game's development, their first time in such a role. The pair carried over a limited amount of elements from Maniac Mansion and forwent the character selection aspect to simplify development. Inspirations included Chuck Jones cartoons and the history of the United States. Day of the Tentacle is the eighth LucasArts title to use the SCUMM engine, and the company's first title to feature voice acting.
The game was released simultaneously on floppy disk and CD-ROM to critical acclaim and commercial success. Critics focused on its cartoon-style visuals and comedic elements. Day of the Tentacle has featured regularly in lists of "top" games published more than two decades after its release, and aspects have been referenced in popular culture.