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Interview with Al Lowe

High school ex-teacher, designer, programmer, saxophonist and, what's even more important, creator of funniest adventure games such as Freddy Pharkas or Torin's Passage and father of brilliant Larry Laffer. Great Al Lowe chatted away with us about his personal philosophy, his games and his views of the industry

# By Paco García |

Interview with Al Lowe

Aventura y CÍA: Despite the fact that you are one of the most approachable ex-designers from Sierra, we haven't learned very much of you lately. Have you cut yourself off from computer entertainment? In the last years you have probably had enough spare time to play some game or other. Which was the last adventure game you played? Which is, in your opinion, the company that makes now the best adventure games?


Al Lowe: If you haven't heard from me lately, it's only because you haven't been visiting www.allowe.com regularly. I've been busily posting humor, stories about the "good old days" at Sierra, inside stories about Leisure Suit Larry, and much more there. I try not to play games any more. It's just too depressing. I loved Spellcasting, Space Quest, Monkey Island, and many more humorous games.

Don't gamers laugh any more?

AyC: A few weeks ago we had the pleasure in talking with an ex-coworker of yours, Josh Mandel, who said he would be very happy to make another game with you. In Aventura y Cia we would really like to be witness of a new uniting. What would you say in view of a hypothetical proposal from Josh? Haven't you ever thought in proposing one of your colleagues to work again with you in a new project?


AL: I'd love to work with Josh again; only one thing stands in my way. Money. Plain and simple, there just doesn't seem to be the market today for the kind of games I enjoy making. And if there's no possibility of reward, why take the risk? Adventure games are expensive to create. I have no desire to work a year, spend all the money I have, and end up with... the pleasure of the experience. Sorry. I'm a capitalist. I did 15 years of public school teaching for my "missionary work."

AyC: Since the 80s, videogaming has changed a lot, but the adventure games seem to have reached its evolutionary limit. Loyal adventure gamers that we are, we are worried about the future of our beloved genre. Despite the great success that these games have in Europe, there are fewer companies which dare to make adventures each time, most of them saying that the strict genre of "Graphic Adventure" is now totally exploited. We definitely refuse to believe this, but the truth is that there isn't much innovation within this kind of game. What would you do if you felt an absolute necessity, almost physiological, of making an innovatory adventure game?

AL: Light up a big cigar, pour myself a double shot of whiskey, and head for my patio with this morning's New York Times. <grin> Seriously, that just won't happen. When you've created 28 games, seen them professionally produced, widely advertised and promoted, internationally published, and sold to millions, why would I want to produce a game "just for fun?"

AyC: You've been making adventure games for years, and most of them had a great success, surviving to the pass of 15 years. What is the formula to make an instantaneous classic?

AL:There's only one secret: and that's a secret! <grin>

I think there are many things that go into making a good game. Here are just a few. It has to be fun. Consistent. Fair. Interesting. Non-obvious. Slightly different, but not too different. Accessible within the first hour of play, but with enough depth so that you don't finish quickly. Interesting, well-developed characters. A plot that reveals itself to you as you play. An over-arching concept that ties the game together.

Oh, yeah. Sex and humor helps, too! <grin>


AyC: Let's talk about our friend Larry. This character, which you created 15 years ago, has become an icon in the world of computer entertainment, being one of the most played franchises, and even one of the most pirated ones. That hot touch the game had made it a "special" product in Sierra's catalogue. How come an adult game, politically incorrect (I got myself crazy to get through those age-check tests!!) was included between such others as King's Quest or Space Quest? It was even considered as "scandalous" (which isn't completely true, I played it myself and I didn't ever get shocked), so much so that, from what the legends tell, you were "friendly" pressed by several groups to make your second Larry "lighter." What made Al Lowe wake up some day, and say, «I want to make an obscene game?»

AL: I don't consider any of my games obscene (which means, "offensive to accepted standards of decency or modesty"). Hell, I wasn't offended, nor were any of my friends, nor the millions of players who paid for it and never exercised the "money-back guarantee" that came in every package.

What I did want to do was make people laugh. And to me, a bumbling dolt 40 years old and still a virgin with nothing on his mind but sex and yet unable to score seemed funny-and still does!

AyC: We have a physical doubt: if Larry was a forty-ish in 1987, now he should approximately 55 years old, and he keeps since then as an actual stallion. What is the secret of Larry's virility? Maybe the king of polyester works by the means of Viagra?

AL: It's a well-known fact that wearing polyester makes your skin younger. And remember: Robin was a young boy for 50 years. Say-and he lived with a wealthy attractive older man. And they never dated…

AyC: Mr. Laffer was an example to follow by most of the libidinous young people (and a big percentage of thirty-year-old people) from many countries, Spain included. Many have tried to follow the lessons of the twentieth century Casanova (although only a few could reach his level). A character such as this doesn't born overnight. Did you get the inspiration from somebody or it was some kind of Frankenstein, made with pieces of beach wolves, and other specimens of that sort?

AL: Larry was styled after a type of person that I knew but didn't respect. He was easy to insult. The hard part of designing those games was to find an excuse so that at least one woman per game would actually accept him!


AyC: Joking apart, one must admit that Larry has become one of the most charismatic characters ever created in an adventure game. Most of us got very sad after learning that the King of Polyester would not ever be back in our screens, and even more after watching the ending of "Love for Sail!" We thought it was all lost, but very recently the press have published some hopeful declarations about the return of the old Sierra, and the revival of the old series, abandoned until now. We've also talked with Jane Jensen and Josh Mandel and none of both rule out the possibility of returning to the company, now leaded by Mike Ryder. Furthermore, Jane stated her interest in making another game. Do you think that Sierra will be the same that it was?

AL: Of course not. Those were special times and we were in a special place. But could Sierra produce great adventure games again? Of course. All it takes is commitment, interest, time, support, and money. Lots of it.

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