Talk surrounding one project or another in the video game industry frequently becomes clouded by the need for public relations to establish a script and control the messaging. That makes it all the more refreshing to chat with Paul Trowe, the founder and president of Replay Games, and the vanguard of the crusade to bring Sierra On-Line’s classic Leisure Suit Larry series back into the public consciousness. Trowe is the rare straight shooter. His “script” is that of an excited gamer who is finally developing the game he’s been waiting forever to play.
Trowe is working with fellow Sierra vets Al Lowe, Larry‘s creator, and Josh Mandel, now Replay’s chief creative officer, on bringing the successfully Kickstarted Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded into the hands of fans of all (content-appropriate) ages. He admits that the whole thing is a little bit surreal, but in the best possible way. “Every once in awhile when Al and I are talking about design or when Josh and I are talking about narrative, I have to stop and say, ‘Let’s just stop talking for a second and appreciate the fact that we’re doing this.’ We’re really doing it. Every once in awhile we have that moment. It’s easy to keep your head down and just go 20 hours a day [appreciating it],” Trowe says with a wide grin on his face.
Why shouldn’t he be happy? Of all of Sierra’s extant franchises, Larry is the one that is most in danger of fading away. Sure, it’s the only one that we’ve seen new games connected to in the past 10 years, but Box Office Bust and Magna Cum Laude are offensively, aggressively problematic; the latter hovers at around 60 on Metacritic but the former dips below 20. Trowe is quick to blame the poor reception of those games on more than just bad design; they also failed at the most basic level of capturing the essence of what Larry is.
“I think that’s what the two Xbox games that bombed didn’t get,” Trowe says. “It wasn’t a game about sex. It was a game about lack of sex. The poor bastard never gets laid. The humor is in the reality of the situation. There’s a little bit of Larry in all of us. We’ve all been rejected. I think that’s why people can relate to Larry.”
“We’re definitely going to offend people.”
“We’re definitely going to offend people,” Trowe says of the potential for controversy, mere moments after showing off a mock-up of the game-within-the-game coin-op send-up of Angry Birds called Angry Broads. “But you know what? We offend people now! So what’s the difference? If they get really angry and really vocal, we’ll probably sell more units.”
“When CompUSA wouldn’t carry [Sierra’s] Phantasmagoria because it had a rape scene in it, it was really controversial and we sent out a press release. What happened? Our sales spiked. Everyone wanted to see what the controversy was about. It’s going to unfold how it unfolds. All we can do is make the best possible game with the best possible people with the best possible humor.”
“I could have ripped people off in the past by doing shady deals like people at Acclaim used to do, but I chose not to because I want to be in this industry in 40 years.”
The PC/Mac/Linux version of the game all feature the fully voiced audio, but Trowe confirms that the mobile versions – for iOS, Android, Blackberry, and even Ouya – will not. This is in part a logistical concern, but the feature difference also speaks to the larger challenge of working out the relative value of mobile platform releases that the industry currently faces. Some might disagree with Replay’s approach, but Trowe contends that offering added value to players on the PC side, many of whom are Kickstarter backers, is important.
“We figured a way to keep the price down on [mobile platforms] would be to not include the voices, but we may do [them] as a separate in-app purchase that plugs in. The game by itself is [1GB] and the voices are another [1GB]. It’s because there’s so much! We have over 3,500 lines of narrator alone, plus Larry doubles that, and then the other… characters that are in the game have dialogue also,” he says, adding, “It wouldn’t keep the cost down. It’s just that… we can’t charge $19.99. We won’t sell any copies. We’ve got to sell it for something within the [typical] price range that people are used to buying.”
Platform trickiness aside, Larry Reloaded promises to bring some new things to all platforms. Composer Austin Wintory delivers a delightful nod to fans of the original game in the intro. He also worked with a lyricist to put together a song for the cabaret that features a duet with Mandel, who himself wrote a whole stand-up bit for a newly added comedian at the club. Then there are Un-Achievements, a reward structure that sees the game nodding to players whenever they discover a fun new way to end Larry’s quest for booty.
So excited is Trowe about Larry‘s prospects that he’s already energized into talking about next steps. What’s surprising is that Kickstarter might not factor into that vision. “We haven’t decided whether we’re going to go back to Kickstarter or not,” he reveals. “I look at Kickstarter differently than my peers, like Brian Fargo, Richard Garriott, and some other people. Brian Fargo went back to Kickstarter even before he launched his [first] game.”
“As a business decision, it’s a good way to test the market and see if something is a viable product instead of putting a couple of million dollars into a project and then having it fail, as nine out of 10 games do,” Trowe continues. “I know the next Larry game is going to be successful because we’ve got Al and Josh and [Sierra veteran Leslie Balfour]. I could have ripped people off in the past by doing shady deals like people at Acclaim used to do, but I chose not to because I want to be in this industry in 40 years. I want the relationships with people in 40 years. I don’t want to rip anybody off.”
Trowe admits here that Larry Reloaded is overbudget – a familiar story for many Kickstarter successes, it seems – but that he’s willingly thrown his own money into keeping the project alive. The release is on target for May 2013; delays are an unavoidable possibility, and Trowe refuses to release the game until it’s ready, but he feels confident that the game will be there. The playable demo that he shows us reinforces that confidence. There are clearly still tweaks to be made, but a month should be plenty for developer N-Fusion Interactive to get it done.
“I’m not rich, but I can sleep at night and I know I’m doing good to my fellow man so I’m not going to go anywhere bad when I die. I’m happy to live my life like that even though money’s always a question. I rest on the fact that if I stay true to who I am then nothing bad is going to happen to me,” Trowe concludes. It’s hard not to buy into this infectious enthusiasm. Especially as the plan for what’s coming after Reloaded is laid out. There’s more Larry to come of course, though whether it’s a remake of the second game or an all-new eighth game remains to be seen.
“I talked to the guys at Activision and they were like, ‘No, we’re pulling [the King’s Quest license from Telltale] because we’re going to do it ourselves.'”
Activision holds the keys to most Sierra properties, so that’s where approval to use Graham, Sonny Bonds, and other Sierra favorites would have to come from. It’s still early days for the casino game plans, however, so there’s nothing much to say just yet. “If we got Activision’s permission [to bring in other Sierra characters] we could, but I haven’t asked them yet,” Trowe explains. “We haven’t even written the design document yet. But I know I want to make a free-to-play game, because free-to-play is not going anywhere and I need to diversify from premium download games. I do have a great franchise here, so I want to make other types of games [that aren’t] point-and-click adventure games.”
Replay is also planning post-release support for Reloaded in the form of actual content updates. One idea on the table involves turning the aforementioned Angry Birds coin-op game-within-the-game into an actual, functioning arcade machine. The most exciting possibility, however, hinges entirely on how Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded resonates with today’s audiences. Perk up, longtime Sierra fans. Company founders Ken and Roberta Williams have been doing some chatting with their former employee-turned-Larry crusader.
“I want to do a game with Roberta,” Trowe said matter-of-factly. “I emailed Ken and Roberta, [and] Roberta said that she will do another game depending on how the outcome of our first one goes. I will do my absolute fucking very best not only because I would anyway, but because I want Roberta to be proud of us and I want to work with her again.”
A new Roberta Williams game doesn’t automatically mean a new King’s Quest game, unfortunately. Trowe is unsure of Activision’s willingness to hand over the rights to the series. Reports from a couple of years back put those right in the hands of Telltale Games, the California-based studio behind 2012’s critically acclaimed The Walking Dead series. Now Telltale is preparing to turn its attention to a similar episodic treatment of Bill Willingham’s Fables. According to Trowe, Telltale is out of the King’s Quest picture.
“They had [the King’s Quest rights], and we were going to license it from them to make the remakes. I wouldn’t do a King’s Quest without Roberta. [Telltale senior VP of publishing] Steve Allison told me that they have the rights but they don’t have the bandwidth.” Allison offered to look into sub-licensing King’s Quest out to Replay, but Trowe hit a dead end when he brought the conversation over to Activision. “I talked to the guys at Activision and they were like, ‘No, we’re pulling it [from Telltale] because we’re going to do it ourselves.'”
This is the first public mention of Activision’s plans for King’s Quest since the Telltale connection was first revealed in early 2011. We’ve reached out to Activision for comment and will update accordingly when we hear back. Think about the possibilities though. More Leisure Suit Larry, post-release content updates, a planned F2P casino game, and the possibility of an entirely new game from Roberta Williams. It’s like 1987 all over again. Trowe is just as much excited gamer as he is industry professional, but wouldn’t you be too?