Though not as critically pilloried as the latest installment, the Leisure Suit Larry series was never what one might describe as terribly sophisticated or especially erudite. The Sierra-published graphic adventure games of the late '80s and early '90s were instead the innuendo-laden chronicles of a pitiable, aging, sex-starved man with all the depth of a reservoir tip.
So when Al Lowe, the original creator and designer of the Leisure Suit Larry games, says that the industry has actually "immatured" in the years since he made his mark, maybe there's cause for concern.
"It's regressed," Lowe told GameSpot in an interview this week. "I'm the perpetual optimist and I always think that things are getting better. But the gaming business has gotten very, very different in the past 10 years, and it's straining my optimism. I don't want to be an old fuddy duddy here, but on the other hand I need to see some signs of hope, and light, and enlightenment from the business."
Lowe acknowledges the shortcomings of his own library of games, but underscores a key difference between those early efforts and the sex-obsessed games of today.
"While my games were always sexist and misogynistic, they were always showing people that was the wrong way as opposed to the ideal way," Lowe explained.
Lowe's view comes from outside the industry these days, given that the creator stepped away from gaming and the Leisure Suit Larry franchise in general a little more than a decade ago. These days his primary creative outlet is his very own humor site, AlLowe.com, but it wasn't so long ago that he sought to get back into gaming. A 2006 attempt to return with a new studio in iBase Entertainment fell short after the company's first project, Sam Suede: Undercover Exposure, failed to find a publishing deal.
Lowe said that when iBase shopped the project to publishers, it received an abundance of positive feedback. However, every publisher wanted to know about comparables--previously released games like it that could be used to help create sales projections.
"When we said we didn't have any comparables because there are no other games quite like this, they all said, 'We can't publish it then. We can only look at things that sold well and try and do the same thing again,'" Lowe said. "I think part of it goes back to the big corporate mentality where the people who are making the decisions really are afraid of what's going to happen if they make a mistake."
That's not to say that humor-based games don't get made--although the new Leisure Suit Larry almost didn't hit store shelves. Dropped last summer by Activision Blizzard after the absorption of its previous publisher, Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust was released last month to excoriating reviews. Lowe hasn't played the game yet, and based on negative word of mouth, he's not sure he ever will.
It wasn't Larry's first voyage without Lowe. In 2004, High Voltage Software and Vivendi Games released Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude on multiple platforms. Lowe did actually play that game, and though he acknowledged that the developers had some good ideas when it came to updating the main character and revamping the gameplay, they ultimately missed the point.
"I think they thought the game was about sex and big boobs. While I never shied away from that, I don't think that's what the game is about," Lowe said, adding, "It's a bunch of pixels, you know? It's not real women. If you want pornography or sex, you can rent a DVD for $2 or something. You don't need to put that in a computer game. It just doesn't work. For me, it never worked at least."
As for whether or not he would ever go back to Larry, Lowe gave the E-rated quip, "Gosh, I think Box Office Bust has taken care of that answer for me."
More excerpts from the interview--including Lowe's take on the death of Leisure Suit Larry publisher Sierra Entertainment--will be included in the April 21 episode of GameSpot presents The HotSpot.