‘Leisure Suit Larry’ Creator Discusses the Return of Everyone’s Favorite Pixelated Perv [INTERVIEW]
Al Lowe, the writer, creator and programmer of the very funny and sexy ‘Leisure Suit Larry’ computer games, has a deep reverence and respect for the graphic adventure games he helped create almost 25 years ago.
Anyone who remembers when the most advanced video games were played on computers instead of consoles that had less colors than a box of crayons can easily understand why these projects were a labor of love for Lowe.
As the old cliche goes, they are his babes, er, babies.
So imagine the horror when his own creation was snatched out of his loving arms and forced to subject itself to humiliating abominations like the critically panned console games ‘Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude’ and the abysmal ‘Box Office Bust.’
“It was like watching a video of your son’s kidnappers,” Lowe said from his home in Washington. “On the one hand, you’re glad they are still alive but also it's like oh my God, look what they are doing to him.”
Thankfully, the feverish fandom for the lovable video game loser has yet to reach its high water mark. Lowe said a week doesn’t go by that he doesn’t get an email from someone who finds his comedy website, Allowe.com, asking if Leisure Suit Larry would ride again (so to speak).
Thanks in part to Double Fine founder Tim Schafer’s successful fundraising campaign on Kickstarter to fund an all new graphic adventure game, Lowe and Replay Games are making big plans to bring one of gaming’s funniest and most infamous players back to its roots with a “re-envisioning” of the game that made it all happen: ‘Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards.’
Lowe said Replay Games took the rights to redo his series of games after ‘Box Office Bust’ almost completely tarnished any good memories left of the original game. However, they couldn't find a publisher willing to take a risk on something that wasn’t another first person shooter, sci-fi RPG or two person fighting game.
“Major publishers are as locked into the blockbuster mentality as Hollywood was in the 60s and 50s,” Lowe said. “There are so many various levels now as well where things have to be approved and if they say yes and the game sucks and doesn’t sell, they know they are going to be looking for work and know they will be fired if they have a loser. That doesn’t promote risk taking.”
Lowe said Schafer’s Kickstarter success presented them with a model that could get them around the system and deliver something that he knew fans have wanted since the last good ‘Larry’ game hit the shelves.
“When Schafer’s campaign took off, we said screw the publishers,” he said. “We don’t need them anymore. We can go directly to the people who love the games.”
Anyone who has ever played a ‘Leisure Suit Larry’ game can easily understand why the fans have been clamoring for his return. Lowe and several other developers created the character while he worked as a coder and programmer for Sierra back in 1987 after the success of an adult, text based title called ‘Softporn Adventure’ for the Apple II.
“It was the only game Sierra published that had no graphics,” Lowe said. “It was a text only adventure game...and the game talked about itself as a person. It would say ‘I am your puppet master. You command me and I will do what you say.’ It had lines like that.”
The game did rather well for an adult title, selling 25,000 copies. Lowe also credited its success to software pirates who distributed bootleg copies of it to other Apple II users.
“So you could say that game had close to 100 percent penetration,” Lowe said followed by a hearty laugh.
Then after working on some titles for a few Walt Disney properties, Lowe and Sierra founder Ken Williams got the urge to do their own game. Lowe said he revisited ‘Softporn’ for inspiration.
“I told Ken, this game is so out of touch, it should be wearing a leisure suit and he laughed,” Lowe said.
He also wanted to do a comedy game that wasn’t afraid to make fun of itself or make the game's protagonist an "anti-hero." So he created Larry based partially on a traveling salesman who worked at Sierra and would often brag about his sexual exploits with the office of overworked programmers.
“I wanted a foil to make fun of,” Lowe said. “There were so many heroes in games, just so many games where it was about saving the princess or saving the galaxy and I wanted a game set in a current day setting about real...well, I hesitate to say they were normal people.”
Lowe and company worked on ‘Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards’ for three to four months. They also had one of the first beta testing phases in the games industry that asked players to “do everything you can think of to do” to predict moves or commands a player might make.
Then it hit the shelves and Lowe said it was “the worst selling product in the history of the company."
However, word of mouth became its main form of advertising and by Christmas, sales had doubled from month to month and created a new audience for the lascivious loser's adventures. They were so successful on their own that Sierra didn’t advertise the games' releases until the fifth title, ‘Passionate Patti Does a Little Undercover Work.’
Lowe said everything from the writing of the original games to the production were all done by people who had never done this kind of work before in game production, including himself.
“Nobody had any training,” he said. “We were all flying by the seat of our pants and making it up as we went along. It’s amazing that 25 years later that people are still talking about.”
Now thanks to Replay Games and a group of generous fans who have forked over $400,000 in Kickstarter donations as of April 18th, 2012, Larry will suit up again in an adventure game that takes him and Larry back to their roots. Lowe won’t be coding the game but Replay Games founder Paul Trowe said he and former Sierra designer Josh Mandel are very involved in the production from the story in the game to down the design of the promotional T-shirts.
“Al is a genius, pure and simple,” Trowe said by email. “Together with Josh Mandel, I have no doubt at all that we will be doing an amazing job at the ‘overhaul’ which is what I think we should have called it instead of ‘Reloaded’ since people simply think we’re doing a re-make of a re-make, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Al is the lead designer and the one who has final say over everything creative.”
Lowe said he’s just there “to make sure they don’t screw it up,” followed by his trademark booming fit of laughter.
And if the fans flock to the game the way they did with the other classics he loved to labor on 25 years ago, he said he’s certain it won’t be Larry’s last call.
“If the game sells, I can guarantee that there will be more of it,” Lowe said. “That’s the wonderful thing about capitalism. If you like something and you pay for it, than you can get more of it.”