Les Manley, a wannabe Larry Laffer

While the majority of adventure games in the ’80s had their fair share of obscure puzzles, dead ends, and game-breaking mechanics, their stories still managed to capture the imagination of a generation, catapulting players into captivating, fictitious worlds of fantasy.
As the decade came to a close the genre had evolved from simple text-only games to fully graphical experiences, and with new contenders emerging, the approach to adventure game design was being challenged… for the better.
Companies like Lucasfilm Games challenged the best the genre had to offer with games that focused on better puzzle design, better game mechanics, and overall better interaction. The technological advancement was also more than ever moving the personal computer towards becoming a true multimedia device heralding the genre into its golden age with 256 colors, a mouse-driven point-and-click interface, and sound and music like never before.
In the midst of these changing times, a game was born that not only failed to pick up on where the genre was heading but also didn’t quite manage to utilize the technology to its advantage.

The success of Sierra On-Line’s myriad of adventure games throughout the ’80s inspired numerous game designers to tap into the commercial successful genre. Al Lowe’s hugely popular adult-themed Leisure Suit Larry series, now in 1989 running on its third installment, was nothing short of a best seller and a favorite among many adventure game players. Lowe’s humor and the adult-oriented fictional world clearly inspired programmer and game designer Steven Cartwright who not only wanted to create a superior adventure game engine but also a game to prove its worth. Cartwright had joined Activision in 1982 as one of the company’s first hired game designers and had spent the next few years developing action titles for video consoles and home computers. In 1988 Cartwright joined Accolade, the company Activision founders Alan Miller and Bob Whitehead had started in 1984, where he met former Infocom game designer and programmer Michael Berlyn.

While Infocom had ruled the text adventure genre and consequently the text parser throughout the better part of the ’80s, with numerous fantastic fictional pieces, the company never managed to embrace the graphic adventure before it was too late. By 1988, rising costs and falling profits, worsened by the lack of new products and technical issues with its MS-DOS products, caused, now-owner, Activision to shut down the company in 1989 which scattered now-former Infocom employees around the industry.
At Accolade, Cartwright and Berlyn began work on a new adventure programming engine to be used in Accolade’s first true adventure game, Les Manley in: Search for the King

Search for the King offered a simple but quite catchy story by Cartwright. Les Manley, a nerdy socially awkward nobody who works as a manual videotape rewinder at a failing fourth rated TV-Station (in a three-channel market) overhears his boss’s dubious plan to improve the station’s ratings by offering a million dollars to the person who succeeds in locating “the King”, Elvis. Manley sees an opportunity to not only win a million dollars but also an opportunity to impress the boss’s lovely female secretary, and the girl of his dreams, Stella Hart. Manley, in his lunch break, sets off on a journey that takes him from New York across the US to Las Vegas and an Elvis impersonators` convention, to the King’s mansion all in search of big bucks, beautiful babes, and the King himself.

Les Manley in: Search for the King was released in 1990 for the IBM/PC and the Commodore Amiga.

While only being 16 color EGA, the game still looked great. Accolade had a very distinctive, bright, and lovely style in its EGA titles

Les Manley in Search for the King was completed and published in 1990, a tough time to be publishing an adventure game when your box didn’t have the Sierra or Lucasfilm name on it. That year Lucasfilm published Loom and The Secret of Monkey Island and Sierra shipped its 5th installment in its King’s Quest saga, the company’s first SCI1 adventure game featuring 256 color VGA and a fully mouse-driven point-and-click interface. Les Manley paled in comparison with its subpar 16-color EGA graphics and now obsolete text-parser-driven interface. But the technical limitations weren’t the game’s biggest issues, it had some of the most illogical puzzles ever to have been put in a game and its text parser, though elaborate, was a nightmare. All in all, the game was extremely difficult for nearly all the wrong reasons. While there indeed were a few highlights the game was mostly full of miserable punchlines, cliches, and sloppy humor. Free of the charm, the personality, and the humor, the game it clearly was inspired by, had.
Despite its flaws and lack of technical abilities, it did manage to get above-average reviews and apparently fared well enough for Accolade to greenlight a “sequel”.

While Berlyn went on to create Altered Destiny, using the same adventure game engine, Cartwright started work on the next chapter in the Les Manley series, Les Manley in: Lost in L.A. Now up to par from a technical standpoint with 256 colors, digitized actors, and a point-and-click interface. Lost in L.A. follows Manley as he embarks on a pursuit of a stalker, who has been kidnapping celebrities around Hollywood, sifting through actors, rock stars, and of course, gorgeous babes, all while trying to unravel the mystery.
The game was allegedly the first to use real-life actors, shot in front of a blue screen. While it was a neat gimmick and did work in some places alongside the rest of the art style, I’m not sure why this route was chosen but I guess it makes just as much sense as creating the game in the first place. Besides the technological improvements, the puzzle design was also better and the game could actually be completed fairly easily and without the use of a hint book… or supernatural powers.

Les Manley in: Lost in L.A. was released in 1991, and only for the IBM/PC.
The great cover art was done by Artist Boris Vallejo who also created some stunning covers for Legend Entertainment

Les Manley in Lost in: L.A. received, like its predecessor, only average reviews, but was rated for its graphics and sound, still the game showcased a somewhat flawed design and really missed the opportunity to be a great adventure game. The title became the last true adventure game from Accolade, which left the adventure game genre for others to pursue.
In 1993, Cartwright left Accolade for a position at Electronic Arts.

One thought on “Les Manley, a wannabe Larry Laffer

  1. … and Berlyn went on to create the infamous Bubsy, which gets the dubious Accolade(TM) of being the only platform game ever designed by an interactive fiction veteran.

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