From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett wrote Crapshoot, a column about rolling the dice to bring random obscure games back into the light. This week, it's time to take a look back at how the Lesisure Suit Larry series got its original kick-start.
Ah, Leisure Suit Larry. PC gaming's ultimate loser, if you don't count Les Manley and the guys who made Limbo of the Lost. The thing is though, his games get a bad rap. Some of them, anyway. The first three have more heart than you'd expect, and while things got a bit too sleazy in Larry 5 and 6, Larry 7 is actually a really fun, sex-positive comedy with the focus firmly on laughs. It's a solid series, which is why so many bothered contributing to a Kickstarter focused on a second remake of his first adventure.
Not everyone knows the original Leisure Suit Larry was itself a remake of an even older game, Softporn Adventure. Clearly, with a name like that—why, it must be filth! Let's hit the town!
While calling Leisure Suit Larry 1 a 'remake' of Softporn Adventure is technically accurate, in practice it's more of a complete rewrite verging on parody. Softporn isn't much of a comedy, just a short and deeply immature text adventure. The Larry series, for their sins, go for laughs. Sure, sex always played a part, but it was a relatively minor one considering the series' reputation, and they certainly weren't porn. If you bought them expecting anything but minor naughtiness, you were going to be disappointed. Most of the adult content was used as an excuse to get Larry into some horrible, humiliating situation, and throw in a few cheap gags regular adventures couldn't.
It was spectacularly tame. If you found an Easter Egg, you might get to see a few pixels of nipple every now and again. The rest of the time, the series lived happily in the land of peek-a-boo, innuendo, and variably naughty jokes. And random stuff like this.
Here's a good example of how the games were misunderstood over the years—the idea that Larry was a sex-mad pervert. He really wasn't. The first game, Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards, has him as a post-middle age, software-salesman virgin who essentially snaps one day and decides to reinvent himself as the coolest thing in the world. Unfortunately, he's about 10 years out of date, which is why he ends up standing outside a seedy bar in the even seedier town of Lost Wages with his last few dollars in his pocket, a can of breath spray, and no real idea where to go next.
From there, it's possible to get him laid in about two minutes. Walk into the bar. Solve the puzzle that gets him to a sex worker above it. Enjoy. Sure, if you want him to survive that encounter, you need to take a trip elsewhere to buy a condom first, but never mind. Quest complete, right?
Well, no. In practice, Larry's reaction to finally having sex is, essentially "Meh", or as the game puts it: "Although successful, you feel less than satisfied. Technically speaking, you're no longer a virgin—but for some reason the thrills just wasn't there. You vow to continue your quest until you please your heart, not just your other organs!" And then, if you skipped the condom, his cock explodes. Hey-ho.
This sets a tone for the opening trilogy. Larry isn't really after sex, as much as he and Sierra's marketing pretended otherwise. He's after love and companionship—and if that sounds like reaching, it's worth looking at what happens when he finds it. At the end of both Larry 1 and Larry 2, he finds a woman he falls for on at least a slightly deeper level, by 1987 graphic adventure games, at least, and as of the next game in the series is quite content to be with them as a one-woman man—until they kick him out of their lives and force him to don his leisure suit for another game of suffering for our entertainment.
It's largely because of this that he remains a sympathetic character. True, this doesn't really last, and as of Larry 6 he's firmly a guy who'd love to be a care-free hedonist if the cruel universe would just stop murdering him every two seconds, but it's an important part in the first few games.
So what's the main character of Softporn Adventure like? In fact, let's be specific. How does he react to that exact same situation? With sensitivity? With a moment of carnal regret? Self-realisation?
OK, with a name like "Softporn Adventure" you probably shouldn't expect the best writing in the universe, but even so, this game is jaw-droppingly awful. Even by the standards of the era, when a person would make a porn game and set the mood by calling it Granny's Place, it's bad with a capital oh-good-god-this-is-Baaaaaaaad. It's not simply weak comedy. It's like being faced with comedy's nemesis, mid-way through a covert mission to sprinkle salt in gaming's fertile foundations so no laughs can ever grow there again. It is... and I do not say this lightly... almost worse than Hopkins FBI.
It takes about a microsecond before any idea of getting the main character laid is replaced by wanting him to get into a taxi, have himself driven to the nearest sausage factory and stick his engorged penis into the nearest sharp-bladed instrument as a favour to the gene pool he has thankfully been kept out of. EVERY OTHER SENTENCE IS SHOUTED! like he showed up after smoking his own body weight in crystal meth. He spends much of the game bouncing between mocking you as the player and trying to nudge you in ways that the average drunken arse at a bar couldn't match if they actually were a giant pair of buttocks squishing into your face. If there's one saving grace in the entire game, and I'm speaking hypothetically here, it's that there are plenty of ways to kill this jackass throughout.
As a cheery aside, when you die, you get a 1/3 chance of him going to Hell. I realise this is meant to be a 1/3 chance of a second chance, but I find that an inferior result. It's a weird system though, which I haven't seen very often in games because it's really stupid. Instead of simply being allowed to reload your last save, you have to pick one of three doors—one of which does nothing, one of which puts you back where you were, unharmed, and one which quits with no chance to reload a save. A minor annoyance, yes, but anything that actively tries to be one is always worse than mere incompetence.
Especially when you know the kind of deaths you can face.
NO I AM DROWNING IN PUNCTUATION!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
This death is actually in the remakes too, though at least in those one you're rewarded by a full-on refuge in audacity-level animated sequence of the whole room filling up with water and stinky poo-poo.
As an aside, finding deaths in Sierra games was actually pretty fun. Their designers often spent a lot of time implementing interesting and ridiculously long-winded ones to take the sting out of it. Here's a quick compilation of deaths. Watch out for the Factory one especially.
At this point, I'd usually skip sarcastically through the game to talk about some of the weird stuff that happens. And that was the plan. Unfortunately, playing through to find suitably eye-rolling stuff, there's surprisingly little to say. The quality level is just so crap, it doesn't deserve mockery.
Instead, here's a quick summary. Over the course of one night in this sleazy town, both Larry and Softporn Adventure's hateful main character have more or less the same adventure: a whirlwind romance with a girl from a disco who marries him for his money, then takes his money and leaves him tied spread-eagle to his honeymoon bed, yet somehow still able to cut those ropes with a knife he collected earlier. Picking himself up, he either sleeps with a hooker or doesn't, since it doesn't actually matter, before stealing some drugs from a sleazy apartment, and finally falling head-over-heels for one last woman, Eve, whose heart he wins with an apple—an apple she takes with surprisingly good grace considering that she's naked in a jacuzzi, and dealing with a guy who just broke into her penthouse.
Got that? Good. Then I'll let Softporn Adventure speak for itself. Prepare yourself, if you dare, for the sexiest game of 1981! You are not prepared for this level of sexiness!
Scene 1: Unnamed Guy Meets A Girl In The Disco And Is Annoying About It
Cute and innocent! Just the way I like my women. Oh, this girl is great! She has a beautiful California tan...and pert little breasts...a trim waist...and well-rounded hips! I dream about getting this nice a girl. I hope you play this game well enough so I can have my jollys with her! You could make your puppet a very happy man!
I like to imagine this would go something like this.
Scene 2: Idiot Guy Gives Stolen Pills To Other Girl, Gets Dumber
The blonde looks at the pills and says, 'Thanks! I love this stuff!' She takes a pill...her nipples start to stand up! Wow!! She's breathing heavily...I hope she rapes me!! She says, 'So long, sucker! I'm going to go see my boy friend!' She disappears down the stairs....
Scene 3: OH GOD JUST SHUT UP AND DIE
The elevator doors open. I get in. As the doors close, music starts playing. It's the usual elevator stuff...boring! We start to move...after a few seconds the elevator stops. The doors open and I get out.
Mmmmm. This is a peeping tom's paradise! Across the way is another hotel. Ah hah! The curtains are open at one window! The bathroom door opens and a girl walks out. Holy cow! Her boobs are huge- and look at the way they sway as she strides across the room! Now she's taking a large sausage-shaped object and looking at it longingly! Damn! She shut the curtain!
Scene 4: In Which This Whole Game Becomes Strangely Reminiscent Of That Bit In The 40 Year Old Virgin Where Steve Carrell's Character Accidentally Gives Away That He Has Less Experience Than A Eunuch By Using A Poorly Chosen Description Of Breasts As Being Like Bags Of Sand, I'm Not Saying That This Is Definitely True Of The Designer Of Course, I'm Just Saying Is All
She hops out of the tub- the steam rising from her skin...her body is the best looking I've ever seen!! Then she comes up to me and gives the best time of my life! Well...I guess that's it! As your puppet in this game, I thank you for the pleasure you have brought me.... So long...I've got to get back to my new girl here! Keep it up! Thy quest is over!
Wow. I haven't seen anything this hot since I locked myself in a walk-in freezer!
Once again, I remind you: this game ended up kicking off one of adventure gaming's longest-running franchises. Maniac Mansion? Two games. Quest for Glory? Five. Last Half of Darkness? At last count, about 7,653,124, and none of them the "Last Half", but never mind. Softporn Adventure? Six games by Sierra, plus a few festering pools of trouser gravy created by other teams. Makes you think, huh?
Except there's a reason. Softporn Adventure is absolutely dreadful and only a moron would defend it even as a product of its time. In parodying it though, Al Lowe created something that deserves to be remembered fondly. For all the crap it gets, Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards was one of the first graphic adventures to take on the real world instead of some fantasy cartoon kingdom. Its version of Lost Wages, no longer just a few scraps of text shat out with a parser that can't even understand the command "Go North", has a sense of actual place to it. Go into the Casino in the original and you just get a couple of rooms and a bad Blackjack game. In Leisure Suit Larry, you can wander into a comedy club by the main elevator, sit down, and 'enjoy' a whole set. Where the original only understood the most basic commands, the sequel was built with a tool that let Lowe see what people were typing and write lines and jokes accordingly, allowing for a world that encouraged experimentation.
(Admittedly, the nature of the game meant that these commands would usually be stuff like "masturbate", but where Larry would kick back, "The whole point was to stop doing that!", the best Softporn Adventure can offer is "I don't know how to masturbate something!" Which would explain why the main character is so dribblingly desperate to get laid, I guess—though I still wish he'd gone with good ol' castration.)
Here's a quick snapshot of Larry through the ages—from Softporn Adventure to the brand new Lefty's Bar of the remakes. How far he's come... and how often. Yes, I said that. And no, I am not ashamed. Well, not much, anyway. Maybe a little.
Oh, and yes. This is indeed the game with a naked Roberta Williams on the box. I mention this only because someone had to. Here's a more interesting bit of trivia: Roman soldiers in Britain used to rub themselves with nettles to fight the cold. They didn't enjoy it, but at least they had the nettles.