While most graphical adventure games place you in the role of an explorer seeking to make progress by solving puzzles and interacting with key characters, the Leisure Suit Larry series has always been slightly different. Humorist and game designer Al Lowe developed the series with both puzzle-solving and racy humor in mind. The series gave rise to more than a dozen games, the last of which was released in 1999, and after all these years, publisher Sierra Entertainment has decided to add a new game to the series for the PC, PlayStation 2, and Xbox. But why? Alex Rodberg of Sierra explains in this first designer diary.
The Leisure Suit's Back in Style
By Alex Rodberg
Brand Manager, Sierra Entertainment
Wait! Who let a "suit" write a designer diary?!? [Editor's note: Alex Rodberg works in Sierra's marketing department.] Well, if you're a fan of Leisure Suit Larry and want to know the whole story about the upcoming sequel, this is where it starts. And the first thing you need to know is this: I don't wear a suit. The second thing you need to know is that I manage some Sierra brands for Vivendi Universal Games. That means I do everything from concept planning to making the box and ads.
Like many of you, I played the original Leisure Suit Larry (in the Land of the Lounge Lizards) when I was in school. The humor, the bravado, the raciness were quite distinctive for the time. More than a decade later, I was interviewing at Sierra for a job, and they had me wait in an office between interviews. As I looked around at the Larry standee, the boxes on the wall, I realized whose office I was in--Al Lowe's! No interview I had that day made my heart race as fast as being in the office of the man who made the funniest series of games in history. I didn't get to meet Al that day (he was on vacation), but my reaction reminded me just how powerful an impact games can have on a person's life.
I did some consumer research a few years ago. It showed that Leisure Suit Larry was one of Sierra's most recognizable characters. People said they wanted a sequel to Larry more than any other Sierra game except Half-Life. But other research showed that the new generation of gamers had never heard of Larry, nor had any idea of what a leisure suit even was. Moreover, the adventure genre on the PC seemed dead. The numbers backed it up. With the advent of 3D shooters, old-style adventure games couldn't seem to attract a large-enough audience. It was a dead-end proposition businesswise.
But as a gamer, I knew that Larry could be a major hit. There just isn't another game that handles that subject matter and humor as well. How to reconcile my desires as a gamer with my job to earn the company money?
At one meeting I stood up and said I wanted to bring back Leisure Suit Larry. I suggested that Larry could grace not just the PC monitors, but also living room TVs on next-generation consoles. If adventure games weren't popular, then we would make a different game featuring Mr. Laffer. How would we do that and not abandon all that was loved about the original?
Actually, it was simple. I explained that what was important about Larry was not the point-and-click interface, but the humor. No matter what Larry was doing, whether swinging on the vines of Nontoonyt Island or playing shuffleboard on a cruise ship, Larry was about two things: chasing girls and getting a laugh. Yet in an industry that could give Hollywood a run for its money as far as big explosions and special effects, we don't even have a genre called "comedy." There have been games with lots of humor. No One Lives Forever comes to mind. And there have been attempts at comedy: Conker's Bad Fur Day for the Nintendo 64 console and A Fork in the Tale for the PC (I'd be impressed if anyone still remembers that one). But no games have consistently succeeded in making people laugh; no games have been as memorable as Leisure Suit Larry. So, not an adventure game. A comedy.
I played some clips from American Pie, There's Something About Mary, and Animal House and explained, "This is what Larry is about." It's about chasing girls, getting into trouble, and misadventures.
"It'll be controversial!" they said.
"It's supposed to be." I replied.
"It won't be suitable for kids!" they exclaimed.
"Neither is Grand Theft Auto III," I replied.
"Will making this game violate our company sexual harassment policy?"
"OK, then close the door and roll that video of Cameron Diaz again."
Another 30 minutes of charts and spreadsheets and sales-projections arrows reaching off the page, and I had them convinced to let me explore the concept.
For us the challenges and real work had just begun. We needed to find a good cross-platform developer and explore design concepts. While selling Larry as a "comedy" to the top brass allowed us to briefly ignore the "adventure" stigma, we still had to make sure that gameplay was both fun and relevant to the series. Nobody here wanted to bring Larry back in a platform jumper or a first-person shooter.
While this project requires a lot of extra effort and attention, in a way, it has its own rewards. Only when you're working on a Leisure Suit Larry game can you find yourself sitting in a meeting that could easily have been called "From Frontal Nudity to Midget Mimes: What to Include and What to Leave out of the Game." But that's a story for another time.