Lowe Level Noise

But by the time I got to Larry 7, I actually did know “how to do this!” But, damn the luck, that was the last one!

In my earlier, wistful post about ex-Sierra developers, we ended up somewhat brushing over Al Lowe‘s most recent exploits. Suitably then, Noise to Signal talked to the very esteemed game designer in an excellent, good-humoured interview last November. Last November?! Yeah – I had all but forgotten about it until I recently bumped into Narrative Flood’s recent discussion of the Leisure Suit Larry series. Though the interview is ostensibly on the longer side, it still remains a breeze to read through – and more than worth your time if you’re intrigued by Lowe’s trademark topics!

Leisure Suit Larry 2

Leisure Suit Larry 2

After all, Lowe has a fantastic reputation as a soft-spoken funnyman – with a dazzling résumé to boot. Nevertheless, having been unable to auctioneer his latest game, Sam Suede, off to publishers, the Leisure Suit auteur is now fully retired from the gaming industry. The interview thus courteously chooses to focus on themes from Lowe’s past, and that’s more than fine with us here at The Slowdown: We don’t have the “Time Machine” category for nothing!

After the jump, I’ve embellished paraphrase from the review with some commentary and tidbits of my own.

Lowe has, ever since building himself a wonderful career at Sierra On-Line (whence he was forcibly, discourteously removed), been delightfully open about whatever he happens to find wrong with the gaming industry. This makes Lowe a fun-tastic interviewee, as readers can always rely on Lowe to relay amusing anecdotes and nostalgia. This applies to this particular interview too, for much of its length is indeed spent lamenting the great decline of the adventure game.

Fortunately, Lowe has a clear-cut vision as to how things went down. For one, Lowe believes that both player expectations and qualifications have changed vastly since the 90s: “…people were used to solving puzzles. You had to be a puzzle solver just in order to get that damn DOS to work!”

Leisure Suit Larry 3

Leisure Suit Larry 3

He also pinpoints a more paradigmatic shift in the marketing and sales sectors: Bigger budgets, fewer hits and a focus on triple-A. Repeat after me. Lowe, however, prided himself in stringently keeping to his allotted budgets, and always sought to “…do something that won’t cost a lot of money but will sell enough that Sierra will make some money on it and I’ll make a little money on it, and then we can all do it all over again. But at the end of the adventure game business, that was lost, that philosophy went away.”

Lowe also emphasises the importance of the role Ken Williams, then-CEO of Sierra played in the business: “In the old days, Ken Williams was a committee of one. He’d strive to find a niche that wasn’t filled.” Roberta Williams actually echoes a very similar philosophy, in speaking of The Colonel’s Bequest:

I always like to look and see what people aren’t doing, what needs to be done to be different, unique, plus areas that people obviously have an interest in.1

Winnie the Pooh

Winnie the Pooh

Lowe also touches on difficulty level, a Sierra touchstone back when LucasArts games seldom allowed players to die, and states that “Of all the Sierra games, and of most adventure games, my games were always the easiest.” Indeed, and it’s very easy to forget that the father of Larry also has an impressive pedigree of children’s games too: Winnie the Pooh, Mickey’s Space Adventure and Donald Duck’s Playground are all available free of charge on Lowe’s site.

He also touches on the way he designed games:

“…made lots and lots of lists; lists of embarrassing situations that I could put him in, lists of jokes that I thought would be funny, and lists of things I could do that we hadn’t done before. And as they occurred to me, I’d build lists of special animations, sound effects, dialogue and jokes.”

These “lists” are intriguingly available in the game design section of his personal website. It contains documentation to Leisure Suit Larry 5, 6 and 7, Freddy Pharkas and Torin’s Passage, among others. These are important, intriguing points of comparison seldom available to other developers. I highly recommend to take a look if you’re even the littlest bit interested in game design; the documents contain some surprises indeed.

Leisure Suit Larry 5

Leisure Suit Larry 5

Finally, Lowe also discusses the oh-so-skewered public perception and marketing of the Larry series – a phenomenon, perhaps, that these latter-day “Larry” games, Magna Cum Laude and Box Office Bust, have now turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy: “…the packaging at least always promised much more sex than was actually in the games.”

I’ve explicitly paraphrased much of the interview now, but I hope you’ll still take a look at the interview in its entirety at Noise to Signal!

  1. 1989 Autumn Sierra News Magazine (PDF) []

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