This is the second part of my Leisure Suit Larry venture. You can find the first part here.
With the ’80s becoming the ’90s, Al Lowe could finally, for the first time in three years, take a step back from Leisure Suit Larry. The trilogy had, commercially and critically, done extremely well with each installment selling around 250.000 copies, a remarkable feat measured in ’80s metrics.
The completion of Leisure Suit Larry III had required significant efforts. Lowe and his team had been working around the clock, to make it in time for the 1989 holiday season, and with the story now nicely tied up, Lowe swore that he would never do a Leisure Suit Larry 4.
Lowe didn’t completely abandon Larry and started working on a smaller project using Larry Laffer and the trademark humor from the games to create a spoof on popular desktop utility suites like the Norton Utilities. The Laffer Utilities provided you with wacky nonproductive pastimes that would make you look busy even when doing absolutely nothing worthwhile and came with the tagline, For everything you do at the office that has nothing to do with work.
The Laffer Utilities was released for MS-DOS in the fall of 1990. The first version of the software was, in typically Al Lowe fashion, labeled version 4.01.
A Windows 3.X version was released in 1992 to take advantage of Microsoft’s enhanced graphical user interface introduced with Windows 3.0, the first Windows to gain significant development and commercial traction
Following the release of The Laffer Utilities, Lowe and Ken Williams brainstormed on an online multiplayer Leisure Suit Larry title. Williams had, inspired by the Prodigy online service launched in 1988, invested two years developing the first game-only online environment, The Sierra Network. When the service was launched in May of 1991 the company was eager to add already known and successful games to the service to attract monthly paying customers.
While an office, for an online adaption of Leisure Suit Larry, was established and a team assembled in early 1991, the project was abandoned within a few months, when it became apparent that the project and the technical requirements had their own sets of challenges.
The previous year, the latest installment in the company’s flagship series, King’s Quest, had been released to numerous awards and massive success. Selling more than 500,000 copies it became Sierra On-Line’s best-selling game for the next five years.
Development had switched from the aging AGI to the new and up-to-date SCI1 framework allowing for beautiful and detailed 256 color VGA graphics and a point-and-click interface. With the internal development tools at Sierra being in a constant state of flux, there was a saying, only switch to the latest tools when Roberta Williams’ King’s Quest had been released using the same tools. Now, with the success of King’s Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder!, the other major franchises would all adopt the new framework.
Lowe was commissioned to continue his Leisure Suit Larry saga and began working on ideas for a 4th game. The two earlier titles had been story-driven and by tying everything up nicely in the 3rd, with Larry and Passionate Patti living happily ever after, continuing the story proved a challenge.
While struggling with how to start and continue the story, Lowe went down to the Sierra office in Oakhurst, in the hallway he was asked if he was working on a Leisure Suit Larry 4. With a cocky remark, he replied, No, Larry 5! Of course, I’m working on Larry 4! With the remark, he realized that by completely skipping the story of a 4th title he could write and design a new story unconstrained of what had happened in the previous game.
In 1991, when Lowe wrote the design document he incorporated some hints to what had happened in the time following the third title, allowing players to envision some of the missing story themselves. In true Lowe fashion, the new title was labeled Leisure Suit Larry 5 to much confusion to everybody else but himself and his team.
Furthermore, the design document shows some of the challenges of doing a Leisure Suit Larry game in the new era, where point-and-click interaction now was the expected standard. While the consumer market indeed praised the intuitive player-friendly interaction method, heralded primarily by main-competitor, Lucasfilm Games, the Leisure Suit Larry titles were very much built on the basis that players, using the text-parser could type in whatever they wanted (usually all kinds of profanities and absurd actions) and the game would respond with humorous messages. For this, a zipper action icon was added to the interface allowing players to perform these more raunchy actions.
The text parser had also allowed for the conception of nearly every thinkable (and unthinkable) puzzle resulting in time-consuming solutions when words or phrases had to be guessed, ultimately delivering lengthier and more difficult to complete games.
At the time, Williams and marketing had done a survey, using the warranty cards, people would send in and realized that a majority of players didn’t manage to complete the company’s adventure titles before moving on to other games. With this in mind Lowe’s Leisure Suit Larry 5 became the company’s guinea pig, for trying to create a more player-friendly and easier to complete adventure game while employing all the modern bells and whistles.
Lowe expanded on the multi-character approach used in the third title, with control periodically switching between Larry and Passionate Patti. Who together but apart would take on organized crime.
Larry finds himself in the adult film industry, working a low-level job for PornProdCorp, a mob-affiliated company. His boss, with an ulterior motive, sends him across the country to scout for models to appear in America’s Sexiest Home Videos. All while Patti gets hired by the FBI to dig up incriminating evidence on two record companies both suspected of hiding subliminal messages in their songs. Along with the story and plot, clues were given that Julius Biggs, the owner of America’s Sexiest Home Videos, had stolen the floppies of the fourth game causing Larry to become amnesiac.
Williams’ vision for Sierra On-Line had always been, given the continuous advancement in technology, to move its interactive products ever closer to what Hollywood was able to deliver. In 1989 Sierra opened up a new Creative Director position, hoping to bring in someone from the industry to aid in the work towards minimizing the gap between games and movies while still upkeeping a certain quality level across the company’s now many projects. Sierra reached out to Bill Davis and offered him the new position. Davis accepted and joined the company in July of 1989, bringing with him an impressive resume, having designed, directed, and co-directed more than 150 animated television commercials for some of the leading companies in the US, work that had earned him numerous awards, including an Emmy. Becoming head of the art and music department at Sierra not only fulfilled Davis’ many-year dream of putting the big city life in the rearview mirror but also as an opportunity for him to take art and animation into new and interesting directions.
With the move to 256 colors, graphics now could be rendered much more realistic, something Williams was very keen on, nonetheless Davis, rightfully so, opted for a more abstract art style, arguing that a realistic style would turn the game into something completely different. The exaggerated and artsy style came from Davis’ affection for Cubism and suited the character of the game very well. Backgrounds were hand-painted, scanned in, and overlayed with computer-drawn animation elements.
The depiction of Larry was very much based upon earlier design work done for the packaging and fitted very well with the overall art style portrayed.
Leisure Suit Larry 5 Passionate Patti Does a Little Undercover Work was released for the IBM/PC, Atari ST, and Amiga on the 7th of September 1991
The overall difficulty was greatly reduced, in comparison to earlier titles. Cutscenes could be skipped and being able to complete the game even by neglecting many items and puzzles, and without dying rendered the experience really out of character for a Sierra adventure game. While Sierra and the Leisure Suit Larry 5 team tried to hatch on to what made titles from companies like Lucasfilm Games both enjoyable and challenging at the same time, they in the process forgot themselves.
To loyal fans, the lack of death scenes was disappointing. While being a frustrating element it typically was done in humorous and spectacular fashion and played a big part in any Sierra adventure game experience.
Leisure Suit Larry was ready for the new decade with 256 colors and a point-and-click interface. The new more abstract art style fitted the game and its character extremely well. Creative Director Bill Davis really understood how art and style emphasized and conveyed a product and its personality.
While the game on the outside looked amazing, struggles adapting to the new era and customers’ expectations show throughout the game. The multi-player approach while interesting adds no real interaction or intertwining between the two stories.
A talkie version, that also would incorporate a studio audience that would randomly laugh at various lines, was discussed but never put into production
Lowe’s choice of completely skipping the 4th title, jumping straight to Leisure suit Larry 5, was not only needed for him to continue the saga but ultimately proved a great marketing stunt, creating a lot of publicity… and confusion with consumers. Even to this day, the missing Leisure Suit Larry 4 is an ongoing subject for discussion and conspiracies.
Leisure Suit Larry 5 sold around 250,000 copies, keeping in line with the sales figures of the earlier titles. But with the ever-growing consumer market, new titles should surpass earlier in sales giving the larger potential customer pool. Indications of a shifting and more competitive market were brewing on the horizon.
During 1990 and 1991, Sierra began working on SCI1 VGA remakes of all its original major adventure titles. The company had always offered a great variety of titles from its back catalog and now with a handful of years of technological advancement, modern remakes not only would cater to fans of the originals but with the much larger consumer market, also reach completely new customers.
While an original title could require $500.000 or more to develop, converting older successful titles, bringing them up to modern standards, was only a tenth of that. The opening title in the King’s Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest, Quest for Glory, and Leisure Suit Larry series all received a makeover.
Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizard was updated to 256 color graphics, a stereo music soundtrack, and a point-and-click interface using the same art style as Leisure Suit Larry 5. The remake played nearly identical to the original though some text was changed to mirror current 1991 events.
Despite being cheaper to produce the remakes still required skilled labor and resources, and with consumers primarily looking forward and not backward, the titles never gained enough traction to become a viable venture. In 1992 it was decided that no further updates from the company’s back catalog of adventure games were to be produced.
The remake of the original Leisure Suit Larry was released in the summer of 1991, only a few months prior to the release of Leisure Suit Larry 5, creating excitement for the upcoming release.
For a brief period of time the remake was sold in the original pink slipcase (left) before it was released in a newly designed box (right)
The VGA remake of Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards played very true to the original 1987 title. The art style, directed by Bill Davis, was similar to that used in the Larry 5 and fitted the game very well
In 1992, before continuing the tale of Larry Laffer, Lowe and Josh Mandel got together to write and design a new humoristic title that would tap into the ever-popular western theme. Mandel, who had joined Sierra in 1990, was appointed as a junior designer and project manager and assembled a team while Lowe, from his home, developed the story and overall design. The two ended up mix-matching their ideas into a finished story and game, loaded with humor and charm.
Freddy Pharkas was released in 1993 on floppies (left). In 1994 a CD-ROM version with voice-over and CD-quality music was released (right).
I’ve earlier written a short article on Freddy Pharkas, which can be found here.
Following the completion of Freddy Pharkas, Lowe finished the design document for the next installment in the Leisure Suit Larry series. With games, expectations, and ambitions getting bigger by the day and requiring significantly more resources, the size of development teams had to follow suit. To streamline production, Williams agreed for Lowe to set up a small office in Fresno, where the team could work efficiently throughout the entire process.
While development typically would start in December or early January, to ensure games got out in time for the all-important Christmas season, with the new office being renovated and a team of local residents needed to be assembled, development lost valuable time and didn’t get going until February of 1993.
Lowe had over the last three titles tried building upon the original concept with more intricate stories and plot designs all while trying to adapt to the advancement in technology, all of which had somewhat sidetracked the series from what initially had made the first game unique and enjoyable. The fourth title had proved a valuable learning lesson and now with a much better understanding of how to design a game around the point-and-click interface, Lowe went back to the roots, to try and capture the spirit of the original 1987 title and portray it gameplay in an up-to-date manner.
Having the team assembled in one place and with Lowe yet again overseeing the production resulted in a much better product than the previous title. Passionate Patti, the playable character introduced in the third title and who never really contributed much to the concept, was dropped. Larry could yet again roam freely, now at the fabulous La Costa Lotta health resort. Seducing, or at least try seducing beautiful women over the course of 4 days, without committing to a higher level plot or story.
During development, Sierra’s internal development team was scrambling to complete a new 32-bit version of the SCI framework, allowing for high-resolution Super VGA graphics. While the internal team had promised the new framework (SCI2) would be ready in time for Christmas. With a delayed start and a certain risk the new interpreter wouldn’t be completed in time, Lowe opted to maintain development in SCI1. The team proceeded to create the artwork in SVGA resolution and applied downscaled versions for SCI1. This resulted in an SVGA version fairly quickly could be assembled, when the SCI2 framework was ready.
Leisure Suit Larry 6 Shape up or Slip Out was released in late Autumn of 1993 and succeeded on everything the previous title had failed on. The puzzles were better, the writing was better and the premise, to seduce as many women as possible, was back to much acclaim from fans of the series.
Leisure Suit Larry 6 Shape Up or Slip Out, the fifth installment in the series, was released on floppies in late autumn of 1993 (left). Over the following months, the team completed an upgraded version with SVGA graphics and voiceover, released on CD-ROM in the Spring of 1994 (right)
Following the floppy release, which reached retailers before Christmas in 1993, Lowe and his team adopted the new SCI2 framework. Within a few months, they managed to not only convert Leisure Suit Larry 6 to SVGA but also add a quite excellent full voiceover along with some changes to the interface.
Leisure Suit Larry 6 was a major upgrade, in every aspect, from the previous title. The writing was better, the humor was better, and the women even more beautiful. The game returned to the structure of the original 1987 title, allowing for a confined but sandbox-like game. It used the same art style as earlier but with a bit of added funkyíness.
With the 1994 CD-ROM release, Larry spoke for the first time and it felt and sounded just right
By 1993, Sierra On-Line had reached a size that made it difficult to attract senior personnel to rural small town Oakhurst and relocated its headquarter and most of the key administrative staff, to the Seattle area.
After the completion of Leisure Suit Larry 6, Lowe left Oakhurst for Seattle where he together with professional musician and producer, Mark Seibert, assembled a team for a new non-mature adventure game, designed to be enjoyed by parents and kids as a shared experience. Torin’s Passage was completed and released on Halloween in 1995, for the IBM/PC and the Macintosh.
Torin’s Passage, released in 1995, was a break from the adult-themed Leisure Suit Larry games. The game was intended to be the first in a series of five games but due to relatively small sales figures, combined with both Sierra and the consumer market heading in new directions, the plan was abandoned
The majority of the team from Torin’s Passage would remain together and move on to the development of Lowe’s 6th Leisure Suit Larry game. Now, with a decade of Larry and adventure game experience, Lowe finally felt he knew what he was doing. The road had been an experiment in not only writing, storytelling, and design but in production and technology as well.
Initially, the team discussed the possibility of taking advantage of the newest technology by employing full-motion video with live-action actors shot on bluescreen but quickly realized the whole universe only had worked because it was presented using technology not able to deliver photorealistic graphics, Larry and his universe was a cartoon a needed to be treated like it. Turning to video could rather easily turn a mature but innocent concept into a completely different beast and the team decided to use the same cartoon style used in Torin’s Passage.
Throughout development everybody on the team could chip in with ideas and weekly meetings were held to make sure everybody was on the same page, resulting in better writing and more spicy dialogues and humor.
Combining Lowe’s accumulated experience and having a well-assembled team led to what most would consider the best title in the series.
Leisure Suit Larry Love for Sail was released in 1996 and became Al Lowe’s last original Leisure Suit Larry title. By many regarded as the best in the series.
The franchise would eventually continue but without Lowe’s involvement, needless to say, what followed years later was disastrous.
It would take another 20 years before Larry Laffer yet again had his own game
Leisure Suit Larry Love for Sail when released in 1996 was the first title in the series to receive a Mature ESRB rating, not only was the writing and dialogues riskier but it also showed more adult imagery than earlier titles. It was received with mixed reviews, the time had clearly moved on from ’70s leisure suits and sexual innuendo content and humor. Not only were new genres capturing the desire of gamers everywhere, but adventure games, in the classical sense, were being overtaken by new concepts. In September of 1993, the Miller brother’s Myst had been released to massive commercial success. Over the next five years, the game continued to set new metrics for AAA titles in the ’90s. By 1998 the title had sold almost 4 million copies, becoming the best-selling computer game in the US.
Prior to the release of Leisure Suit Larry Love for Sail, Lowe’s saga, combined, had surpassed 2 million sold copies, Love for Sail would go on to sell around 280.000 copies, very much in line with earlier titles but too small a number for a flagship title in the mid-’90s and far from enough to cover the millions of dollars spent on development and manufacturing.
Leisure Suit Larry Love for Sail received a Mature ESBR rating when released in 1996.
While all earlier titles had been limited visually to contemporary technology, the new hi-res cartoon style was probably the only way to rightfully go.
The game reintroduced a simple text parser for a few actions, a throwback to the titles of the ’80s, did it make sense, not really
In the next part, we’ll look at the time following Love for Sail, the Leisure Suit Larry compilations, spinoffs, and modern takes on the universe.
While all of my items are sealed I had the opportunity to borrow a few of my brother’s open copies
Sources: Allow.com, Wikipedia, The Sierra Adventure by Shawn Mills, MEL Magazine, Sierra News Magazine spring 1990, IGN, Ralph Roberts…