Leisure Suit Larry Team on Sex, Comedy and Kickstarter
We chat with Al Lowe, Josh Mandel and Paul Trowe about reviving the old Sierra franchise in a modern era
A little less than a month ago, Replay Games managed to reach its goal on Kickstarter to bring back the old Sierra adventure franchise Leisure Suit Larry. The first game dates back to 1987 and was far ahead of its time with mature sexual themes and plenty of comedy.
It's an interesting move to bring back the series now, and it's one that Replay Games' Paul Trowe (once the first beta tester at Leisure Suit Larry publisher Sierra Online) has been pushing for for quite some time.
GamesIndustry International recently spoke on the phone with Trowe, series writer Al Lowe and fellow Sierra colleague Josh Mandel about the Kickstarter run, the evolution of the industry, and why there still hasn't been much in the way of sex and/or comedy in today's games.
We began by asking the trio why the time is right now, after all these years. Ultimately, they believe that their success could help breathe new life into the adventure genre.
"This is the 25th anniversary of the very first Leisure Suit Larry game, so we thought this might be a good time to strike while the iron is hot. I think it might have been possible without Kickstarter, but it would have been a lot more difficult," Mandel acknowledged.
"One of the advantages of Kickstarter is not only that we've raised all this money in support for the game, but we've also made an extremely strong showing to publishers who might be watching, to Sierra fans out there who long ago thought they were completely disenfranchised. There is a strong desire out there, people are wanting and willing to play these games again and they are willing to put their money where their mouth is, sometimes to an obscene degree. I think that can help the entire adventure game genre."
"They tried to make games based around sex rather than games based around comedy. I think ultimately it was the comedy that drew the audience"
Lowe added that Trowe really was the instigator for the whole project. He pushed tirelessly to get the rights to the series. "Paul has been trying for years to obtain the rights for these games, and believes strongly in adventure games, particularly in Sierra adventure games. He wanted to see the games come back from the dead. He obtained the rights after years, literally years of struggle. When the rights came back into his hands, he contacted the rest of us and said 'hey, let's put the band back together,' and all of us jumped on board. It was exciting," Lowe noted.
Even a quarter of a century later, there have been very, very few games like Leisure Suit Larry. Most developers seem reluctant to tackle comedy or the "taboo" subject matter of sex or sexual themes. Combining these things in a manner that's actually engaging is no easy task.
"The last few years were pretty bad at Vivendi. They tried to do without Al and Josh, and they failed pretty miserably. They tried to make games based around sex rather than games based around comedy. I think ultimately it was the comedy that drew the audience," noted Trowe.
Indeed, while sex may grab attention, what drew people in and kept them entertained was the comedy - something Lowe is immensely proud of.
"Drama is easy, comedy is hard," said Lowe. "Personally I believe it's hard to do it in a video game. I think it's been difficult because you don't know what sequence someone is going to play the game. With most comedy, jokes are set up in advance and people have seen the set up. That's not always the case in video games. It's just harder."
"You got to remember when this game came out, there was no ESRB. The ESRB was one of the things that we helped found because we wanted to make it clear to users that these were not games for children"
As for the sexual themes present in the game, Lowe was proud to be a pioneer for the industry in that regard. "I'm really proud of the ground we broke with Larry and it seems to me that now just about everything is OK in video games. The things we'll be doing in Larry [the remake] are far from the cutting edge - which it was 25 years ago, of course," he remarked.
Lowe added that there shouldn't be any concerns about the game being slapped with an AO rating. "We'll have a Mature rating. You got to remember when this game came out, there was no ESRB. The ESRB was one of the things that we helped found because we wanted to make it clear to users that these were not games for children," he said.
For Mandel, while he and his Sierra buddies are happy to have brought comedy and sex to gaming, he's also a bit saddened by the lack of diversity. It's as if all games fall into one of a few, predetermined genres.
"Everything seems to center around war or dystopian post-apocalyptic futures... I think we're seeing a deficit of new and interesting genres... and that's been a real shame"
"I think there has been an unfortunate consolidation in the genre of games that people are playing. Everything seems to center around war or dystopian post-apocalyptic futures," Mandel commented. "A publisher will come out with a game and if it is successful in that genre, not only will they turn out endless sequels and add-on packs and variations on the theme, but other publishers will seek to cash in on the trend and release games on the genre. I think we're seeing a deficit of new and interesting genres for computer entertainment in general and that's been a real shame."
Mandel believes this lack of diversity is one of the real reasons that he and Replay games have a chance to reinvigorate the market.
"What seems clear from today's games and today's market is that people are hurting for variety. They are hurting for humor. That is in some way our entry point back into the market," he said, with Lowe adding, "We're the cure."
If it turns out that the market reacts as positively to Leisure Suit Larry as Kickstarter did, we could be seeing a lot more from former Sierra members. "The success of this project will determine the future," Trowe explained. "While I would love to predict what we will we do, I can only say what I aspire and hope to do. We're going to do what the fans tell us to do; it's as simple as that. If this thing is successful, if it sells, I can guarantee you we will do more. If people stay away in droves then we won't worry about doing new properties."
With Wasteland 2 from Brian Fargo and Moebius from Jane Jensen also seeing success on Kickstarter, Mandel, Lowe and Trowe are confident that adventure gaming is making a genuine comeback.
"I think that this is going to be a true revival. I think that one of the things that has laid the groundwork is the great interest in the casual adventure/hidden object games," Mandel observed. "Those are immensely popular, but they have always sort of centered on the same sort of supernatural mystery kind of conglomerate. I think the massive amounts of users out there are ready to expand into adventures that touch on different genres that are longer, and are a little more complex than just touching hidden objects."
"The groundwork has been laid; it has been laid by fans that over the years have never shown any signs of slowing and have been making these amazing fan-games with tremendous production values. All of those things combined with Kickstarter seem to be coming together, and conditions seem to be more favorable now for resurgence now than they ever have been in the last twenty years."
Mandel also believes the trend ties in quite nicely with the explosion in smartphone and tablet gaming. "My belief is that adventure games are wonderful for a short-term player, particularly for mobile phone players and iPad players. I think you will see a lot of tablet players and a lot of phone players enjoy this 'new' format of product. I think it is a perfect game for that category," he said.
Before closing, we also asked the trio about their experience with Kickstarter. Is it really that easy to succeed? What advice do they have for aspiring developers who are hoping to generate some funding from Kickstarter?
Lowe quipped, "I'd advise that they start six months ago." That's not to say that developers can't be successful with it now, but it takes a lot of hard work and devotion.
"One of the first things people need to realize, which I personally did not realize when we started, was that I thought you set up your Kickstarter and then sit back for the next few weeks and then let it take on a life of its own, but it does not. It was daily work," Lowe remarked. "People wanted feedback; they had questions, hundreds and hundreds of questions. We had to refresh the tiers every so often, come up with new items. It was really work every single day."
He concluded, "So I would say it is not a slam dunk. You better be prepared to work your tail off to publicize and get people through to that page."