Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded – Interview With Al Lowe and Paul Trowe

With Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded successfully Kickstarted and recently reviewed by yours truly, I took the opportunity to interview series creator Al Lowe as well as Paul Trowe – CEO and founder of Replay Games – about their crowd-funding success, returning back to the Land of the Lounge Lizards and attempting to shift some of the misconceptions people may have about the series.

If you want to check out my review for some extra background to this review, then you can do so here.

I played the original Leisure Suit Larry quite a lot when I was younger, my parents weren’t the greatest role models…

Did they not know?

Oh, my dad knew. He used to help me get through the questions at the beginning, so it was quite nostalgic to see the questions still come up in the remake.

So you’ve played it? Excellent, it’s much better now. We’ve changed the ending quite a bit, too.

A lot of the early puzzles too; you used to solve the “Ken Sent Me” puzzle by looking at graffiti on a wall.

We also changed that horrible puzzle where the drunk gives you the remote control, that was a pain in the ass. We wanted to keep the flavour of the old games and the spirit of the situations and settings, but it gave people who knew the game a new challenge.

But they’re not just different because you can’t type in the commands any more..

But now you can click on so many more things! Every verb has a message of some sort or some dumb answer attached.

Was it a case of now you had the verb wheel you had to change the puzzles to reflect that?

No, not so much. We just wanted to break all the walkthroughs all over the internet. We also wanted to give people who’d played the game before a balance between nostalgia and newness. If we had just done an exact replica of the old game, people would be disappointed, but because the Kickstarter was successful we achieved some extra stretch goals and we got an extra hundred thousand dollars, it enabled us to do more, so we added a new girl and we added new puzzles, and changed the whole thing around the inflatable doll at the end, because in the old game that was nothing; you found it and you were done. Now there’s a whole new puzzle chain which I won’t talk about in case I spoil it, but adding the verb wheel made the puzzles a lot better. I wanted to fix those puzzles that bugged me for 25 years.

Were there any other puzzles, specifically, that really bugged you?

Oh yeah! First off, that drunk guy with the remote control, it didn’t make any sense, it was just crazy, and then the hammer and the pills in the window was very obscure, so we tried to give you some clues as to how that worked and then we changed and improved it.

I noticed that, there was the whole thing with the bungee cords this time around and it’s all about experimenting. I also really liked that a lot of the old deaths had returned.

That was another balancing act; the deaths were such a big part of that game, because frankly we didn’t have enough money to do all the things you could do, so we just killed you! But, because that was so important to the old game and we wanted to keep it, but at the same time people don’t want to be stuck and without a saved game, so we wanted to reward the people who remember dying but not make it a pain in the ass, so every time you die you’re right back where you were, so there’s no loss.

There are achievements for it this time, so I was going out of my way to keep killing him and unlock them all. I did notice that there’s no longer the Spanish fly death any more either.

Al: Did we miss that one?
Paul: The Taxi driver doesn’t kill you if you bring alcohol into the taxi any more, I think.

He still does, I got caught by that one.

Al: Does the Taxi driver still kill you if you don’t pay?

He does, but you have to go really out of your way to do it, you have to try and exit the taxi like five times. It’s a nice bit of nostalgia, like with the scene where you have to buy a condom.

Al: And those are actually people who backed the game on the Kickstarter, they sent us photographs and the artists drew them.

You’ve also got little extras like the Hollywood stars on the pavement…

Al: That was one of our last-minute stretch goals, we came up with that.
Paul: I came up with that! I came up with the stars on the side-walk and you said “let’s call it Larry’s Walk of Shame!”
Al: Alright, I’ll go with that.
Paul: I don’t design much…!

The unsung hero…

Al Lowe: No, he’s pretty well sung!

But they were a great way to add some extra jokes in!

Al Lowe: Well, we just insulted people who paid us, so that was wonderful.

You get to take their money and call them rude names, isn’t that the perfect world?

Al Lowe: Yeah!

Was it difficult bringing yourself back into the world of Leisure Suit Larry for Reloaded?

Al: It wasn’t difficult because the games kind of write themselves, I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve said “Oh, that sounds like a line from the game” this week. It just happens over and over, and all those double entendres are so much fun.

So, you had to update the script a little bit…

Al: A little bit, my ass!
Paul: We practically rewrote the entire thing!
Al: We retained probably 20% of the old script, and we probably have ten times as many lines than in the old script.
Paul: Everything is click-able, with every verb.
Al: He’s already done it all!

I spent way too much time unzipping Larry’s flies at everything…

Paul: Did you do it on the moose?

No, I didn’t!

Al: That’s one of the best ones! You can unzip on the buildings, on the fences, there are messages on the fences, you can unzip at the moon! You have to tell people that the joy of this game is not in finishing, it’s in the journey. The more you experiment and do, the happier you’ll be.

As you said earlier, you added a new girl – Jasmine – when you reached a stretch goal, how did you manage to make her puzzle thread fit in with the natural flow of the game?

Al: It was surprisingly easy, we did it in a manner of hours – to implement it took a lot longer than that – but the general idea was pretty quick. We asked the Kickstarters what they wanted in a woman, and the universal thing was “Asian”. Then it was coming up with what would be her desire, so once we had that motivation it was coming up with things that would be used to create – I’m trying not to give things away – the things that she wants.

The cat thing stumped me for quite a bit.

Al: I’ll bet, that was a good one. But it’s legit, we looked it up and everything!

It wasn’t just that, it was also trying to get the damn cat to appear! But at least it tied into the whole randomly generating characters like the bum who gives you money when you run out, or that guy who gives you an item you need for a puzzle.

Al: Yeah, those last two used to just be straight-up deaths in the old game, so we made those less frustrating.
Paul: By the way, did you see the Cabaret act? That was with Melora Hardin, and Josh Mandel wrote the lyrics, and Melora is in the Office-
Al: The American one. There was one in the UK as well.
Paul: It had different people?
Al: Ricky Gervais wrote the original, and I was so afraid when NBC announced they were going to do a version of it because I thought “they’re going to mess it up and it’s going to be terrible”, and then it turned out to be wonderful.

As you’ve proved, remakes can be good!

Al: That was our thinking, that it didn’t have to be crappily shovelled onto new media, it could be better. We can rebuild him again, better than ever!

Just had flashbacks to the conveyor-belt bit in the original [Note: dying outside in the original games would spawn a sequence where Larry's body would be lowered into a factory that was manufacturing new Larrys so you could immediately restart the game after you'd killed him]!

Al: See, again, we wanted to keep the old factory idea, but just do something fresh.

In the Monkey Island Special Editions there was a way you could play the original to compare it to the update, was that something you’d ever considered with Reloaded?

Al: Oh yeah, I loved those! The problem with that is, because of Sierra’s demise all the original source code, graphics, sound effects, everything is gone.
Paul: There’s still versions on GOG!
Al: Yeah, I guess we could have put those on, but we didn’t.

At the end you make it clear that Land of the Lounge Lizards isn’t the only one you want to remake, are there any other games in the series in particular that you wanted to remake more than the first one?

Al: Our goal is to remake them all, but 2 really has a lot of problems, and it was designed to play on six floppy disks, literally there are six levels and each one is self-contained. There were a few design flaws, but I’m very excited about having the chance to renew it.

Because I played it when I was lot younger all the sex jokes flew over my head, so I always saw it as the adventures of a man who was very pathetic and laughable.

Paul: Yeah, I didn’t really get some of the adult jokes until now.
Al: It’s about a guy who can’t get laid! And with the hooker and the condom, I think I educated a whole generation of gamers to the wisdom of using protection.

It’s how I learnt not to drink and drive! It’s one of those things where because the title’s 25 years old, a lot of people haven’t had the chance to play it, so you’ve got the chance to re-educate them so they don’t just dismiss it as “oh, it’s that game where you have sex”.

Al: It was one of the very few games that had an anti-hero, how many games can you say that has a protagonist like Larry? That’s what makes it funny, and how many games are funny?

Did it take long to get back into the humour of the series?

Al: No, no, no, it’s so easy. When we were first creating the game I wasn’t very sure of my comedic voice, I’d never done a comedy in my life before the first Larry, so I wasn’t sure how to handle it, but once I figured out that I’m the narrator and I can just make fun of this poor putz at any time, that’s when those dialogues between Larry and the narrator got funny, because I see the games as more about the routine humiliation of Larry.

With the Kickstarter backers, a lot of the additions fit in quite well…

Al: Well, it wasn’t as easy as you’d think, I’m glad you think we made it look easy, but it took quite a while to figure out how to work them into the game itself, but we did all that as we planned the Kickstarter, not during production. It was all planned a year ago, before we put the Kickstarter up, but when we put those reward levels up and the reward levels themselves were funny, and I think that gave people the sense of “yeah, we’re going to do this”.

The voice of Larry’s returned, was it a struggle getting the old band back together?

Al: Not at all! Jan Rabson is a wonderful voice actor, and he jumped at the chance, he was very happy to do it and we’re very happy with him, he’s a great actor. He’s not at all like Larry, he’s happily married with two children. We got him in the studio and I gave him the line, “I’m Larry, hehehe, Larry Laffer”, you know that line? He immediately went “Haha”, then “I’ve got it” and we started and he was back again, it was so easy!

You said the script’s about ten times bigger, how much longer did it take you to write the rest of the script?

Al: Months. Mostly while the art was being done we were writing text as well, but a lot of the text couldn’t be written until we saw what the artists had come up with, so a lot of it we had to react to the process. We did it the old way, we didn’t do it like nowadays where someone sits in a room and manufactures a spec script, and it’s taken to another room where someone draws exactly what’s said on the paper. This was much more “what can you see there? What can we do there?” And “how can we put that in?” We had a great background artist who came up with all these wacky things, I love all the plants, all the paintings on the walls, the sculpture, all the things he did were just priceless. All those, there was originally no text for any of that stuff, so all of that had to be added when we saw the art, and we reacted to it, so for example we’d say “look at those funny looking plants, what are we going to do with those?”

I mentioned people who only know of the series through hearsay, and the Kickstarter is full of people who’ve played the original, so what about those who haven’t?

Al: I’d say to them that it’s the chance to do something you’ve never done in a video game, probably never, which is laugh. The whole goal of the game is to make people laugh, and to provide them a long, slow journey through this odd world, and that’s uncommon today in games. Most people just race through to the end, they wanna pop through, get through it and then they’re done. This is not at all like that, it’s a more contemplative, thoughtful process – I’m sure there were times when you stopped and thought “what the hell do I do now?” – and that’s the whole point of it. But with that comes the realisation, the joy when you figure out the puzzle, it’s like “yes, I’m smarter than them!” And that feeling is great, you don’t get that a lot now, there are so many titles today that are called adventure games that are like “click here, click here and you’re done”, and this is nothing like that. I don’t wanna disappoint the people who are doing the point and click games that are very simple and take no time to get through, but this is one that will challenge you and take you a while.

Before I left, Al had one last piece of wisdom to impart:

With Larry, we put in a mixture of his personality that he was a loser, but by the end of the game you like him, he was trying, but he just wasn’t very good, but he was lovable, and that’s a pretty rare thing to find. The other thing was that I tried to be aware – we had a lot of women like Roberta Williams and Jane Jensen – we had a lot of female game players, and I didn’t want to alienate them. So, while it looks misogynistic, it’s really pretty much the opposite; the men are the dumb guys and the women are the smart people. A lot of people played Larry and loved it, and laughed at him, the women especially. And we had Passionate Patty, as far as I know that was the first title where you changed protagonists in the middle of the game, and I don’t know if it ever got any recognition for that, but I was proud of it.

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