Al Lowe about the Game
on the creation
of Leisure Suit Larry
In late 1986, I had just finished programming Roberta Williams’s King’s Quest III, and was talking with Ken Williams about my next project. We realized there were no games on the market that were adult in nature - everything was "save the princess" or "save the galaxy." We reminisced a little about the old days and Softporn came up. Ken suggested I do an up-dated version, with "modern hi-res, 3-D" graphics, music, everything?
Since I hadn't played the game in years, I said I’d have to take a copy home and play it before deciding. Wow. Was it out of date! Its goal was to score three women during one night in Las Vegas. It had no protagonist, little or no plot, almost no text, understood almost no input. So I reported back to Ken: there’s no way I could bring this game into the 80’s unless he let me make fun of that life style. I said, "it’s so behind the times it might as well be wearing a leisure suit!" Everyone laughed. Hey, wait a minute....
Thus was born Leisure Suit Larry.
Back then, there were no graphics tools for PC’s, so Sierra had to create them. Consequently, they were always short of qualified artists. For the Leisure Suit Larry game, they could only spare Mark Crowe for four weeks because he was working full-time on another project (which became Space Quest I)! Mark worked weekends and evenings and busted his butt. After only four short weeks, he actually created everything you see on the screen in Land of the Lounge Lizards (although both Scott Murphy and I believe he sneaked a little Larry-time into his SQ-only-time).
Softporn’s puzzles, characters, and locations were all solid. I kept them all, although I’ve always regretted the "give the whiskey to the drunk and get a remote control." I wish I had come up with something better.
But - the game had no sense of humor whatsoever. I decided to make fun of the main character whenever possible, mostly through the narrator’s voice (which was, of course only text in the original game).
Softporn had no central character. The text referred to the player as "master" and the game itself as a "puppet." I decided to only refer to Larry as "you," even though, obviously, "you" were typing and controlling a character named Larry. To me, saying "you take the key" made you feel more involved than "Larry takes the key." It seems to have worked. Almost everyone I've spoken with says things like "How do I get the key?" never "How do I make Larry get the key?"
Softporn had mostly one description per scene. Since Mark Crowe’s background graphics were so detailed (especially for the state of the graphics art back then), I ended up adding hundreds of "look at that thing" messages. To keep the player interested, I tried to make the messages that gave clues clear and to make the rest humorous. I believe I only kept one sentence of Chuck’s [Chuck Benton, author of Softporn] text. I loved his description of Lefty’s back room, something about "the peeling paint gives the roaches something to watch."
Since the game wasn’t too big, I got it done in about three months. But this was the first non-children’s game I had written, so I was scared to death it would be "dumb" and not understand everything a player could type in.
So I convinced Ken we should try something new: beta-testing. He posted an announcement on CompuServe's Gamers Forum asking anyone interested in beta-testing a new game should e-mail him a 100-word essay on "why I should get a free game." It worked. We got scores of replies and ended up with a dozen great beta testers.
To track all the "you can’t do that here" errors (which is what the game says when it doesn’t have a clue what in the hell you typed it!), I wrote a special piece of code. Instead of just saying that phrase, it wrote a line to a file on the player's game floppy. (Hard disks were few and far between back then.) That line told me the scene number, location, the phrase typed, and many other details about the state of the game at that time. I compiled all those files, sorted them scene by scene and added literally hundreds of responses to the game.
Those testers came up with some great inputs, showing where and when they were frustrated. And because of them, the game makes you think it understands much more than most games of that period.
After two months of testing and refinement, we finally shipped the game in June, 1987—to the worst initial sales in the history of Sierra! The game only sold 4,000 copies the first month. I figured I had just blown six months of my life, and had better do something fast, so when I was offered the chance to take over the programming on Police Quest I, I jumped at it.
While I worked day and night to get PQ out in time for Christmas, Larry did a strange thing. Word of mouth kept building, and every month it would see twice as many copies as the month before. By the new year, it was a huge hit.
In February, 1988, something happened that, as far as I know, remains unique in the games business: Police Quest had had a good Christmas, King’s Quest III was still selling like crazy, and Leisure Suit Larry had finally reached big numbers. For a grand total of one week, three games that I had programmed made the Softsell Top 10 simultaneously!”
Al Lowe on the origin
of the Larry Theme:
[In May 1987] I happened to hear a story on National Public Radio's All Things Considered that day about how it was Irving Berlin's 99th birthday that day. When they played his 1929 song, Alexander's Ragtime Band, it sounded so unusual, so different, so fresh compared to most computer game music, that I decided to write something with the same pep, simplicity, humor, and out-of-sync attitude. I sat down at the piano, and within about 20 minutes, I had finished the Leisure Suit Larry Theme.”
Al Lowe on graphics
It was amazing how much stuff we packed in, but remember the pictures, they were vector graphics! In Larry 1, 2, and 3, those pictures were drawn by artists who started out drawing black lines and tracing them from point to point and then filling them with color. You know, I can't tell you how primitive they were, but there were very neat, in that you only stored the vectors, the start point and end point of the line. A whole screen would take 3k I guess. 64k VGA pictures, a lot of them would take 2k, 3k, and you still can't get compression like that. If we had had JPEGs…
A rather funny excerpt from Al Lowe's site
One of my favorite Larry stories was when Hollywood called and wanted to do a movie based on Larry. No one at the studio who could make a decision had ever seen a computer, let alone played a computer game, so they flew me to Hollywood to demonstrate the game. There must have been 25 management types sitting around a big conference table, while I played the game for them. To get them involved, I asked them to call out what they wanted me to type. We were in Lefty’s bathroom when some smart-ass yelled, "masturbate." I had no idea if I handled that input or not, but I dutifully typed it in. They started applauding when the answer popped up on screen: "The whole idea was to stop doing that, Larry!
Larry Laffer owes his first name to Jerry, a friend of Al Lowe who believed himself to be a great lover, and his last name to Arthur Laffer, an economist. Arthur Laffer for years had no idea about the games until Al Lowe sent him a letter. Lowe planned to program Laffer Utilities and asked his permission about it. Laffer gave the permission and also paid a visit to the Sierra On-line studios. Laffer's secretary had played the games for years, but never made a connection.
The game comes with a complete set of "panic programs", referring to similar situations where a player's boss would suddenly come into the office while playing. The panic programs are:
- Calculator: Sierra (probably wouldn't fool your boss anytime of day)
- Puzzle: Sierra (more complicated and even you don't understand what it means)
- Boss Key: Special (Ctrl-B) - of which you die in the process of fooling your boss (restart or restore).
At the beginning, after getting the rose from the table, if the player types look rose
the game will give the description: "A rose is a rose, is a rose, is a rose". This is a reference to the famous sentence by poetess Gertrude Stein
first used in Sacred Emily
The Russian version of the game makes so many changes (especially in the dialogues), that sometimes it seems to be a different game. All the puns and jokes based on the American culture have been replaced by Russian/Soviet ones, including the questions at the beginning. Just a small example: upon entering the bar, Larry can talk to the girl sitting nearby. In the Russian version, Larry says (with a heavy text accent): "Hi there, girl! I'm Givi! Givi Lafferadze!" For those who don't understand what the hell it means, "Givi" is a typical Georgian name, and so is the ending "-dze" for family names. In countless jokes and stories of the Soviet epoch, the Georgians were considered the most successful seducers.
The game was heavily copied, because Sierra claims they sold more hint books for this title than actual games.
Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards
was the first game to feature the famous Larry's Theme
as the title song. It was written by game designer Al Lowe and subsequently became a trademark of the series. Passionate jazz saxophone player Lowe performs the song ever since on various occasions. He did so in Larry's 7th adventure, Leisure Suit Larry: Love for Sail!
Information also contributed by
Bhatara Dewa Indra I,
- Computer Gaming World
- November 1996 (15th Anniversary Issue) - #69 on the "50 Best Games of All Time" list
- November 1996 (15th anniversary issue) –#5 Funniest Computer Game