The Leisure Suit Larry games are one of the most infamous game franchises of all time. Controversial for its time (and even still today), the games feature a pathetic protagonist that gamers have to help get lucky.
Before Leisure Suit Larry, no software company had been able to combine humor, 2D adventure gameplay, and sex into a commercially successful game before. From outraged retailers to an STD computer virus hoax, here are some things that you probably didn’t know about the Leisure Suit Larry games.
Al Lowe, Leisure Suit Larry’s Creator, Was A Public High School Music Teacher
Before he was a software developer, Al Lowe, the creator of the original Leisure Suit Larry games, was a high school music teacher. While still teaching, Lowe took a major interest in computer programming and started teaching himself game development. In 1982, Al Lowe created three kids games for the Apple II computer: Troll’s Tale, Bop-A-Bet, and Dragon’s Keep.
The gaming company, Sierra On-Line, liked Lowe’s games and offered to both acquire the games and give Lowe a job. And like that, Al Lowe left his high school teaching career behind to start making video games full time.
While at Sierra On-Line, Al Lowe initially worked on a series of games for kids, including Winnie Pooh in the Hundred-Acre Woods, Mickey’s Space Adventure, and Donald Duck’s Playground. But one of his biggest early projects was The Black Cauldron video game, which he wrote, programmed, and designed.
Lowe worked at Sierra for a total of 16 years and was a part of the creative teams for some of the biggest games of the 1980s and 1990s. His production credits include King’s Quest III, Police Quest I, and, of course, the Leisure Suit Larry series.
The Original Leisure Suit Larry Game Is Based On A Text-Only Adventure Game Called Softporn Adventure
One of the early games distributed by On-Line Systems (renamed Sierra On-Line in 1982) was a text-only game called Softporn Adventure (1981). Similar to Zork (1982) and other text-based games of the time, gamers used typed text commands to play the game.
Charles Benton, the creator of Softporn Adventure, never intended to release the game commercially. He just created the game for fun but was encouraged by his friends to independently publish it. While at a computer trade show, Ken Williams, president of Sierra On-Line, acquired a copy of the game. Williams liked Softporn Adventure and decided to release it as part of his company’s software catalog.
The provocative photo on the game’s box was shot at Ken and Roberta Williams’s home and features several naked female Sierra employees and a local waiter in a hot tub.
After losing a license from Disney to produce their games, Al Lowe and Ken Williams discussed making an updated visual version of Softporn Adventure. Lowe used Softporn’s storyline and added 2D graphics, jokes, dialogue, more puzzles, and a protagonist, Larry Laffer. Released in 1987, the updated version of Softporn Adventure was called Leisure Suit Larry in The Land of the Lounge Lizards.
The creator of Softporn Adventure, Chuck Benton, also has a credit in Leisure Suit Larry. Most of Leisure Suit Larry 1, including the plot, layout, and most of the puzzles, were pulled directly from Softporn Adventure.
Many Retailers Refused To Sell The Leisure Suit Larry Games
Several large electronics and computer chain stores refused to sell the Leisure Suit Larry games. One of the most noticeable stores on this list was RadioShack. At the time, RadioShack was owned by the conservative Christian, John Roach.
Even though RadioShack had been a major distribution partner for Sierra On-Line, RadioShack employees didn’t even want evaluation copies of the Leisure Suit Larry games sent to them. “They were so scared that they would get caught by John Roach,” said Lowe in a 2014 interview with Esquire.
Leisure Suit Larry’s Marketing Budget Was $0
Unsure how a game like Leisure Suit Larry might be received, Sierra’s president, Ken Williams, and the rest of the management team decided not to promote the game at all. Predictably, sales were terrible for the first couple of months. But thanks to word of mouth, Leisure Suit Larry in The Land of the Lounge Lizards quickly became one of the biggest games of the year. Six months after its release, Leisure Suit Larry in The Land Of The Lounge Lizards had already sold over 250,000 copies and was named “Best Fantasy, Role Playing or Adventure Game of 1987” by the Software Publishers Association.
You Can Skip The Age Verification By Pressing Command Or Alt-X
To help prevent younger gamers from playing Leisure Suit Larry, the game featured an age verification system. Gamers had to answer (5) challenging “adult” questions before being able to play Leisure Suit Larry in The Land Of The Lounge Lizards. The questions asked you to name things like Captain Kangaroo’s sidekick or Annette’s last name from The Mickey Mouse Club.
Younger gamers weren’t the only audience locked out by the age verification quiz. Because the quiz questions were so focused on American culture, International gamers found them to be extremely frustrating.
But there was a secret trick to skip the questions. Most people didn’t know it at the time, but you could skip the questions by pressing Alt-X (PC) or Command-X (Mac).
Leisure Suit Larry Helped Popularize Software Piracy
Between being either too hard to find in stores, to consumers being too embarrassed to buy the game, Leisure Suit Larry in The Land of the Lounge Lizards quickly became one of the most pirated computer games of the 1980s.
Sierra knew something was odd when they started selling a lot of hint books. “At one point we sold more hint books than copies of the game,” Al Lowe recalled.
The end result was thousands of computer users learning how to pirate games; a skill they would use again and again for years to come.
A Leisure Suit Larry Computer Virus Hoax… Became Real And Infected The European Banking System
Another reason why some people were hesitant to buy Leisure Suit Larry was a computer virus hoax. A bizarre rumor at the time claimed that your computer would get infected with a computer virus if Larry had unprotected sex with the prostitute in the game.
In reality, if a player visits the prostitute in the game without a condom, then Larry’s genitals start glowing and he dies. A computer STD does NOT get released on your computer. This isn’t something Sierra programmed into their game.
However, the hoax became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Hackers started infecting pirated copies of Leisure Suit Larry with computer viruses. Gamers didn’t need to visit the prostitute in the game to get infected, they just needed to put the floppy disk into their computer. The pirated copies of Leisure Suit Larry quickly infected computers across Europe including Switzerland, The Netherlands, the UK, and West Germany. At one point, the “Larry” virus even infected the European banking system.
A few years later in 1991, the “Larry virus” became a joke in Space Quest IV when an infected copy of Leisure Suit Larry caused the destruction of the Xenonian supercomputer.
Al Lowe Makes Several Cameos In The Game
There are plenty of hidden and inside jokes in Leisure Suit Larry, including references to some of the people who helped create the game.
- Before you can enter the storage room at Left’y Bar, gamers have to give the password “Ken sent me” to the pimp. This is a reference to the president of Sierra On-Line, Ken Williams. But a second password also works at the door: “Al sent me.” Either password will get you into the storage room.
- In the remake of Leisure Suit Larry, a character that looks like Al Lowe is sitting on a couch in the disco.
Leisure Suit Larry in The Land Of The Lounge Lizards Came With A Free Cocktail Napkin
Although Leisure Suit Larry in The Land Of The Lounge Lizards didn’t have an advertising budget, Sierra On-Line did try some creative marking ideas to help boost word of mouth. One of their marketing tactics was to include a Leisure Suit Larry branded cocktail napkin inside the game boxes. It was a creative conversation starter.
There’s a Time Limit To The Game
There’s one game scene that even most Leisure Suit Larry veterans have never seen, Larry’s sunrise suicide. Larry has to lose his virginity before dawn. If he doesn’t, he no longer has the will to live anymore.
The reason most gamers have never seen this scene is that most of them have figured out how to safely visit the prostitute above Lefty’s Bar and use a condom. The prostitute encounter will buy you some time, but you still have to complete the game.
The Original Leisure Suit Larry Game Has Been Remade Three Times
- First released in July 1987, the original Leisure Suit Larry featured 16 color EGA graphics and used the Adventure Game Interpreter (AGI) engine.
- In 1991, Sierra released an updated version of the game that used the Sierra Creative Interpreter (SCI) engine, 256 colors, and featured a more user-friendly icon-based interface. Gamers no longer had to use a text-based interface to play.
- Years later, in 2013, the game was rebuilt from the ground up for both desktop and mobile platforms. The new version was called Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded. Funding for the updated game, $655,000, was raised entirely through Kickstarter.
Leisure Suit Larry Is Part Of Gaming History
The original Leisure Suit Larry game, Leisure Suit Larry in The Land of the Lounge Lizards, is now widely regarded as the first adult graphic adventure game in history.
Over the years, the various Leisure Suit Larry games have sold over 2 million copies and been honored with several awards. In 1996, the Leisure Suit Larry series was ranked 85th top game of all time by Next Generation magazine. Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards was also given an award for the “Best Adventure, or Fantasy/Role-Playing Program” of 1987 by the Software Publishers Association in 1988.
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Frank Wilson is a retired teacher with over 30 years of combined experience in the education, small business technology, and real estate business. He now blogs as a hobby and spends most days tinkering with old computers. Wilson is passionate about tech, enjoys fishing, and loves drinking beer.