Interview with Al Lowe, creator of Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded
Interview with Al Lowe, creator of Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded
After reviewing Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded, I decided to ask the creator, Al Lowe, a few questions about its production.
Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded is a remake of a 25 year old game, namely the one that put you on the map in the first place. How did it feel to go back to it after such a long time?
It was amazing, it was fun, it was a delight, it was the greatest experience I have ever had! It enabled me to: do something that I’ve wanted to do for many years, which was fix some of the dumb design decisions about the game. It allowed us to create new content and increase the size of the game and number of puzzles in the game, and mostly it allowed us to hire a really funny writer named Josh Mandel who produced tons and tons of really funny messages that people will encounter in the game. So I think we made the game ten times funnier, 50% longer and 50% more difficult. The real joy was going on Kickstarter and finding out that people still remembered. It’s been a long time as you said; it’s been 25 years since my first game and 15 since I produced my last Larry game. That’s a long time in gaming years! I was surprised and pleased that people actually remembered.
How did you decide which sections to keep, and more importantly what to change or add?
Oh it was easy, because there have been places that bugged me for years. Some I fixed in the 1991 remake, but some others have been a bit of a sore spot. I always felt that I should have fixed those in ’91 when I had a chance, but didn’t as we were working on Leisure Suit Larry 5 at the same time. I just eliminated all the places that really bugged me this time around. I kept in the gambling and taxi cab (as a way to spend money in the game) as it seemed like such an integral part of the first game. I know that people know how to cheat and get lots of money, but it was more of a nostalgia thing than an adherence to the game’s design. I think people would have been disappointed if they didn’t have any gambling in a town called Lost Wages.
I actually spent a good 45 minutes getting myself 10,000 dollars.
10,000? Well, that’ll carry you through the game.
5 minutes later is the section where Larry gets robbed.
[laughs] Yeah, she takes it all! It’s really not a good idea to bother with getting so much money. Just enough to get by.
Can you give an example of something you changed in the game?
Well I don’t want to spoil the game for people that haven’t played it yet, but there was one puzzle I always thought was lame that Chuck Benton wrote for Softporn back in 1981 and that I carried through in ’87 and ’91 as well. In the puzzle, you give some whiskey to a drunk, which seems like a logical puzzle, but then he gives you something out of left field: a remote control for a television set. That makes no sense at all and never did, so I always hated that puzzle. In this game, we not only put the remote control where you needed to use it and where it would logically be – near a television set – but we also put dead batteries inside so you’d need to find something else with batteries to replace the dead ones. I found it was a way to eliminate a problematic puzzle, and to make the game more intricate, a little more involved and give you more puzzles to solve.
How do you feel the industry has changed in the last 25 years?
Gosh, it would be easier to say how it stayed the same since almost everything has changed. Let me give you an example. When I did the first Larry game in 1987, I had to use two 360k floppies because it was just too big a game to fit on one disk. [laughs] Now your wristwatch has got more memory than that! It’s just crazy. Come to think about it, the full game was 500k. I didn’t come close to filling both floppy disks but I did have to use two because I couldn’t fit it all on one. So you can imagine going from one programmer, designer, musician, writer, director… what other jobs did I have on that game? I did everything on that game in five month’s time. I had one artist, Mark Crowe, who did all the animation and backgrounds in one month’s time of working evenings and weekends because he was employed full time working on Space Quest! So not only did Mark work on Space Quest all day, he did Larry 1 on evenings and weekends, and finished it in 4 weeks. That was a pretty small scale project by today’s standards. The remake takes entire gigabytes partly because we added voice acting for all the text, which I think makes the game a lot funnier. You can read jokes on screen to yourself, but they’re just not as funny as hearing them. I think humor is funniest in the aural medium, and I think that’s the best part of this project. Getting all the lines recorded, including the dialogue between the narrator and Larry and all the characters, took a lot up a lot of space but it certainly made the game funnier.
This game was funded via Kickstarter. How was development different from making a game with a regular publisher?
Well the game was partially funded by Kickstarter. If you see the game you’d know we couldn’t possibly have done everything we needed to do on that budget. There’s more money involved that we put into it than just the Kickstarter funds. One thing that really affected development was the way we tried to use Kickstarter backers in the game. One of our reward levels was to include different people in the game; if you pledge a certain amount you’ll see your likeness in the game. If you play the game you’ll see people that don’t really look like they fit in the game and they really don’t because they’re our Kickstarters. It was really fun writing the dialogue between Larry and them because we got to make fun of all the people that gave us this money. [laughs] Which was a hoot and I think they wouldn’t have expected anything less, do you?
Where do you see the future of Kickstarter as a platform for funding games?
Well, I guess it depends on the other games. There have been some really high profile games funded on Kickstarter and so far we’re the only one to ship a product. I really hope the other ones pull through soon and reward their backers with a finished product. I’m proud of the job that we did. It was not easy to get the game done as quickly as we did. We spent not quite a year from the time that we picked a developer. We went through some turmoil at first when we did due diligence on the company that we thought was going to do the project and then found out that we didn’t think they were actually ready to do a game of this size and scale. In mid-stream we switched horses and fortunately found a great developer called N-Fusion that just did a great job. They provided beautiful artwork, wonderful code and some really great people to work with. It was a blast.
What part of the game was your favorite to design?
Well this time around it was the Jasmine puzzles. One of the big problems with Larry is finding some reason that a girl would be interested in him. I painted myself into a difficult spot with Larry because you’ve got a guy that’s an all out loser and at some point in the game some girl has got to actually say “Oh yeah I’ll talk to you or whatever if you play your cards right”. That’s a bit of a puzzle for me to figure out. On this one we decided that because we used up the traditional obvious female rewards with the other characters, like a rose, money and dancing and other stuff. With that I figure the only thing we omitted was perfume, so why don’t we make this gal interested in perfume? We took a vote of our Kickstarter backers and it wasn’t unanimous but they strongly indicated that they wanted an Oriental girl. We thought “well that’s out”, but we played up on that idea and came up with a girl that really has no other motivation in the game other than that she’s interested in her hobby and you need to have to find a way to produce something she likes. By the way, I really want people to not use a walkthrough because that takes away from the pleasure the game can provide. If you go look up on the internet and find that you have to do this, this, this and then that, you become nothing more than a crank turner. There’s no point in that. It’s not a movieola; you don’t have to sit there and spin the crank to see the game progress. The idea is that you’re figuring these things out and you have to think with your own head. That’s where you find the humour in the game, as doing that makes you click on everything and therefore you find all the funny messages that we hid in there for you. There’s gags hidden everywhere but you’ll miss them if you try to get through the game quickly. There’s no point in finishing this game; the reward is in the journey.
Which part was your favorite part to play?
You know I like a lot of the game. I’m not sure I have a favorite part. I enjoy the change in user interface and the touchscreen controls. I don’t think people have seen the latter as Apple has been sitting on the game for three weeks now. As soon as the iOS version and the Android version are available, I think you’ll be pleased with how well the game plays on a touchscreen. So far we’ve only gotten feedback from people on PCs and Mac. I should plug the Linux version as well as there are a lot of gamers on Linux and they don’t get a lot of love.
What was your favorite line?
Well, there’s ten thousand! We recorded dialogue for weeks. We literally had people in the studio for weeks on end. Golly, I think some of Josh’s lines, particularly in the exchange between Larry and the women, just crack me up. There’s an obvious path through the conversations with the women, but if you take the other paths it’s so much funnier. I think some of the hooker’s lines are just priceless. I just laugh out loud doing that section. Not doing it right, by the way, but doing the wrong stuff. One moment that comes to mind is that when we were auditioning women to play that role we had one woman that did an Eastern European accent. I found that bizarre as we made the woman purposely… how do I say this? Multicultural? It’s hard to tell her background is what I mean. I thought giving her an Eastern European accent would be really funny.
How do you feel about the critical and fan response?
So far the fan reception has been amazing. I think on Metacritic we’re something like an 88. I think some of the “professional” game reviewers don’t really get the point. Some of them thought I should change the game and make references to modern culture, make it more modernized, update the scenes and characters and everything. That wasn’t the point at all. What we were trying to do is provide a nostalgic trip back for people but also enable them to play it in a more efficient and fun manner, and to provide them with lots and lots of humour to go with it. I haven’t been as pleased as I’d hoped to be with the critical response, but the fan response has been really great. We’ve been getting tons and tons of emails from people that just loved the game. Some people played the games in the past and knew what to expect with this, and I didn’t want to stray too far from that expectation. I think that if we did a completely modern and new type of game the fans would have been mad at me. I’m happy with just pleasing them as this is a fan based product. We did kickstart this thing, after all.
Do you have any last words you’d like to say?
Don’t pirate the game. We didn’t put digital rights management in, and we’re trying to be as open and friendly as possible. We allow you to play it on whatever you want to. I would say respect us for that and give us a break and buy a copy. It’s too damn cheap! [laughs] We’re almost giving it away! [laughs] So the least you can do is grab a copy and pay for it. I also think you’ll be pleased when you play it on touchscreens when it does come out on phones and tablets.
Thanks again to Al Lowe for doing this interview. His website can be found here, the game can be found here, and the GYP review of it can be found here.