Al Lowe Games


The Black Cauldron – (DOS) – 289.08 KB
Donald Duck’s Playground – (DOS) – 107.25 KB
Winnie The Pooh – (Apple ][ Image) 143.06 KB
Winnie The Pooh – (DOS) – 122.37 KB
Mickey’s Space Adventure – (DOS) – 351.25 KB
Troll’s Tale – (Apple ][ Image) – 45.27 KB
Troll’s Tale – (DOS) – 83.01 KB
Dragon’s Keep – (Co64 Image) – 65.23 KB – NOTE: A friend of Al Lowe’s said: It will work under Windows if you use a program called WinVice or CCS642.0.
Dragon’s Keep< – (Apple ][ Image) – 42 KB
The Laffer Utilities – (Windows 32Bit) – 3.58 MB
Softporn – (DOS) – 66.04 KB

Note About Donald Duck’s Playground, per Al Lowe:

Train Controller
The object of this game is to guide the train to the station shown by operating the levers. The levers are numbered, so find all the numbers on the map before starting. When the train is moving, operate the levers to move the tracks to create a route for the train.

Produce Sorter
Here you must put the fruit thrown at you into its corresponding box. It lands in a different spot each time. Watch the angle as it is thrown and move under it, then drop it in the matching bin.

Toy Store
Place the toys given to you in front of the identical toy on the shelf. Move the ladder to the left of the toy since you always climb with the toy in your right hand. If the toy is not centered on its mate, it will fall and cost you earnings. Watch the time, and be sure to pull the lever on the lower right side of the screen before the counter hits 0 or the passing train will cause all the toys will fall off the shelves.

Sort the luggage. Try to memorize the three-letter airport abbreviations on the sorting bins so you know which suitcases to grab. Don’t waste any time; this is the easiest game to earn money.

You can use the “X” key instead of the F10 key. (When the game was written all function keys were to the left of keyboard, with F10 at the bottom.)

Before there was Leisure Suit Larry, there was Softporn.

But what is Softporn – at least, how it relates to Sierra?

Here’s Al Lowe himself to talk about it:

What is Softporn? (Don’t be afraid to click the link! It’s a free download of the game!)

In 1981, a programmer named Chuck Benton was interested in doing database programming on the Apple ][, but he wasn’t sure if the tiny machine was up to it. As a “test case” he knocked out a little text-only adventure game. It worked pretty well. People who played the game liked it. So he called up the then largest publisher of Apple games to see if they were interested. They were.

And that’s how Sierra (then named On-Line Systems) published its only non-graphic game: Softporn.

Softporn became both famous and infamous when it received prominent coverage in Time Magazine’s first column on computer entertainment. Time even published the cover photo, showing a waiter delivering Champagne and an Apple ][ to three naked women in a hot tub. It was a highly successful product for its time.

How successful? Ken Williams, Sierra’s founder, swears that at a time when Apple had only sold 100,000 Apple ][ computers, Sierra had sold 25,000 copies of Softporn. (That’s even more impressive when you learn that everybody I knew that owned an Apple had a pirated copy!) Softporn was probably played by the highest percentage of computer owners of any game in history.

But soon thereafter, Sierra had the chance to acquire the software rights for all the Walt Disney characters…if they dropped that “nasty” game from the catalog. So of course they did. In fact, I wrote several titles for that Disney series. But, after a few years, the rights to the characters reverted back to Disney, which has kept them ever since.

So what does this have to do with Leisure Suit Larry?

In late 1986, I had just finished programming Roberta Williams’s King’s Quest III, and was talking with Ken Williams about my next project. We realized there were no games on the market that were adult in nature–everything was “save the princess” or “save the galaxy.” We reminisced a little about the old days and Softporn came up. Ken suggested I do an up-dated version, with “modern hi-res, 3-D” graphics, music, everything?

Since I hadn’t played the game in years, I said I’d have to take a copy home and play it before deciding.

Wow. Was it out of date! Its goal was to score three women during one night in Las Vegas. It had no protagonist, little or no plot, almost no text, understood almost no input. So I reported back to Ken: there’s no way I could bring this game into the 80’s unless he let me make fun of that life style. I said, “it’s so behind the times it might as well be wearing a leisure suit!” Everyone laughed. Hey, wait a minute….

Thus was born Leisure Suit Larry.

Back then, there were no graphics tools for PC’s, so Sierra had to create them. Consequently, they were always short of qualified artists. For the Leisure Suit Larry game, they could only spare Mark Crowe for four weeks because he was working full-time on another project (which became Space Quest I)! Mark worked weekends and evenings and busted his butt. After only four short weeks, he actually created everything you see on the screen in Land of the Lounge Lizards (although both Scott Murphy and I believe he sneaked a little Larry-time into his SQ-only-time).

Softporn’s puzzles, characters, and locations were all solid. I kept them all, although I’ve always regretted the “give the whiskey to the drunk” to get a remote control. I now wish I would have come up with something better.

But—the game had no sense of humor whatsoever. I decided to make fun of the main character whenever possible, mostly through the narrator’s voice (which was, of course only text in the original game).

Softporn had no central character. The text referred to the player as “master” and the game itself as a “puppet.” I decided to only refer to Larry as “you,” even though, obviously, “you” were typing and controlling a character named Larry. To me, saying “you take the key” made you feel more involved than “Larry takes the key.” It seems to have worked. Almost everyone I’ve spoken with says things like “How do I get the key?” never “How do I make Larry get the key?”

Softporn had mostly one description per scene. Since Mark Crowe’s background graphics were so detailed (especially for the state of the graphics art back then), I ended up adding hundreds of “look at that thing” messages. To keep the player interested, I tried to make the messages that gave clues clear and to make the rest humorous.

I believe I only kept one sentence of Chuck’s text. I loved his description of Lefty’s back room, something about “the peeling paint gives the roaches something to watch.”

Since the game wasn’t too big, I got it done in about three months. But this was the first non-children’s game I had written, so I was scared to death it would be “dumb” and not understand everything a player could type in.

So I convinced Ken we should try something new: beta-testing. He posted an announcement on CompuServe’s Gamers Forum asking anyone interested in beta-testing a new game should e-mail him a 100-word essay on “why I should get a free game.” It worked. We got scores of replies and ended up with a dozen great beta testers.

To track all the “you can’t do that here” errors (which is what the game says when it doesn’t have a clue what in the hell you typed it!), I wrote a special piece of code. Instead of just saying that phrase, it wrote a line to a file on the player’s game floppy. (Hard disks were few and far between back then.) That line told me the scene number, location, the phrase typed, and many other details about the state of the game at that time. I compiled all those files, sorted them scene by scene and added literally hundreds of responses to the game.

Those testers came up with some great inputs, showing where and when they were frustrated. And because of them, the game makes you think it understands much more than most games of that period.

After two months of testing and refinement, we finally shipped the game in June, 1987—to the worst initial sales in the history of Sierra! The game only sold 4,000 copies the first month. I figured I had just blown six months of my life, and had better do something fast, so when I was offered the chance to take over the programming on Police Quest I, I jumped at it.

While I worked day and night to get PQ out in time for Christmas, Larry did a strange thing. Word of mouth kept building, and every month it would see twice as many copies as the month before. By the new year, it was a huge hit.

In February, 1988, something happened that, as far as I know, remains unique in the games business: Police Quest had had a good Christmas, King’s Quest III was still selling like crazy, and Leisure Suit Larry had finally reached big numbers. For a grand total of one week, three games that I had programmed made the Softsell Top 10 simultaneously!

One of my favorite Larry stories was when Hollywood called and wanted to do a movie based on Larry. No one at the studio who could make a decision had ever seen a computer, let alone played a computer game, so they flew me to Hollywood to demonstrate the game. There must have been 25 management types sitting around a big conference table, while I played the game for them. To get them involved, I asked them to call out what they wanted me to type. We were in Lefty’s bathroom when some smart-ass yelled, “masturbate.” I had no idea if I handled that input or not, but I dutifully typed it in. They started applauding when the answer popped up on screen: “The whole idea was to stop doing that, Larry!”


More from Al Lowe:

If you’ve finished Larry 3, you know I wrapped things up pretty tight and tied a big bow on it. I knew it was going to be the last of a trilogy and I wanted everything to turn out right. That’s why I had Larry “fall out of” the game and into the “back lot” of Sierra in a little homage to Blazing Saddles, one of my favorite comedies of all time. The final screen shows Passionate Patti sunbathing beside Bass Lake while new Sierra employee Larry starts programming a game for Ken Williams. “I think I’ll start in Lost Wages, outside a little bar named Lefty’s,” Larry says.

And that was to be the end of that.

Back then, no game had ever had more than three incarnations and I had no reason to think Larry would either. Ken and I started kicking around ideas for another project.

We decided to invent Internet gaming.

“No, wait,” you’re saying. “That was Al Gore, not Al Lowe!” Wrong, bit breath! We were so naive, so over-confident (so dumb?) that when Ken came up with the idea of adventure games where multiple-players could interact together via modems, we said, “Sure, Ken. Sounds great!” and actually sat down to do it.

It was going to be Leisure Suit Larry 4, the first multi-player on-line adventure game.

Jeff Stephenson had written much of the system code for the AGI and SCI languages. He was going to create the system. Matthew George would create the low-level communications code. I would be the designer and high-level applications programmer. The three of us grabbed an office and a coffee pot and started coding in January, 1991.

We had a few basic questions:

How will people connect up? The only way we knew was through dial-up modems, so we filled a computer with modems, then bought an expansion chassis and filled it with modems, then plugged in another chassis and kept daisy-chaining them together.

Could we expect 2400-baud modems? We opted to “demand” 1200-baud minimum speed but “recommend” the speedier new technology, which was, at that time, still quite expensive.

How do we handle the huge graphics files necessary? Easy. We planned to sell the game in a box, but require a modem. The game code, graphics, sounds, etc. would be on the floppies (no CD-ROMs either). Only minimum data would pass through the slow comm bottleneck.

How would players decide who was in their game? I came up with the concept of a “waiting room” where newcomers hung out until they found others who wanted to play.

How would I know what you were like? I created what we nicknamed “Facemaker,” which let you decorate your avatar with various eyes, noses, mouths, and hair (including bald, of course).

And on and on…

After a month or so, we knew we were in trouble. I decided to write a checkers game as a simple test case to see if we could actually move objects and communicate. It worked. But we were still a long way from making characters walk and communicate and interact.

So I wrote a backgammon game. Then chess. Still we had no system to support all the features needed for an adventure game. But we were having so much fun playing against each other, we decided to push what we had into a real product. Ken envisioned a product so simple that even his grandmother could use it. That became our goal.

My wife, Margaret, came up with the first name Constant Companion, because we figured anyone could log on at any time, day or night, and find someone else to play with. Constant Companion became The Sierra Network. TSN was quite successful in its day, especially considering the small numbers of players who also had modems.

Eventually, when TSN was losing 10 million dollars per year, Ken sold half of it to AT&T for 50 million dollars. I laughingly said Sierra was the only company to make money in on-line gaming: by selling out! Later AT&T would pay another 50 mil for the other half. They then sat on it for about a year before giving up and selling the whole thing to America On-Line for 10 million. AOL announced big plans, but never carried through and the whole thing withered up and died without ever seeing the light of day.

So Larry 4, the multi-player on-line adventure game, never saw the light of day. Then why is the next game Larry 5?

Why wasn’t Passionate Patti Does a Little Undercover Work named Larry 4?

There are several reasons:

I always assumed the series would be a trilogy. It just seemed right. I was pleased that people enjoyed Larry 2 enough to convince Sierra that a third installment would be well received. Therefore, I made the ending of Larry 3 air tight: Larry and Patti were together at last; Larry was telling his life story through a computer game; it appeared they would live happily ever after, etc.

While Larry 3 was in “crunch mode,” I was working ’round the clock to get it out in time for the 1990 holiday shopping season. I grew tired. And tired of Larry. When Sierra employees asked me about the next Larry, my disgusted response was, “There’s not going to be a Larry 4! I’m stopping with three.”

When we finally gave up trying to develop a multi-player on-line adventure, I came up with some fun ideas for the fourth game, but I was stuck for a beginning. I couldn’t figure out how to start the story because I had left Larry and Patti living happily ever after, remember? How to get them out of Coarsegold?

When my design for the fourth game was well along, one day, in the hallway of Sierra, I ran into an employee I hadn’t seen for quite some time. Her first question was, “So what are you working on these days, Al? Larry 4?” And I, in true smart-ass fashion, replied, “No, Larry 5! Of course I’m working on Larry 4!”

A light bulb went off!

Why not? Who says sequels must always be “in order?”

I started bouncing the idea off people. Inevitably, their response was, “Larry 5? What happened to Larry 4?!”

That was exactly what I wanted. Suddenly I was completely freed from the restraints of the Larry 3 ending. I could have the new game begin anywhere. The idea was wacky, silly, dumb in a perfect “Larry-esque” way. And, it solved the “mind share” problem–how to grab people’s attention and make them think about the next Larry game and had they missed something?

And that, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is the whole truth about what happened to Larry 4!

Either that or my dog ate the floppies!


From Al Lowe:

After Larry 3 shipped, I thought the series had ended. Seeking another project, I spoke with Ken Williams about several game ideas. Maybe a humorous western game? (No, that came later; we called it Freddy Pharkas, Frontier Pharmacist.)

Ken offered instead something he had wanted to do for years: on-line gaming.

Back in the Dark Ages of the Commodore 64, Ken had published a helicopter flight simulator that included modem play. (I recall those Commodore modems were 300 baud, but I could be wrong. They might have been fast—1200!)

None of us knew anything about the Internet. Sure, we had all been on CompuServe and the other, lesser information services that were around back then. I’m sure I had read about something called ARPAnet, but we knew nothing about that. Remember, this was before there was a Cisco Systems. Ken thought there should be a way to play adventure games via modem.

So he assigned Jeff Stephenson (who was the head of Sierra’s AGI and SCI system programmers and responsible for much of the code of both of those languages) to work on a new programming language suitable for “modem gaming.” Jeff called it LSCI, for Large-model Script Code Interpreter. Later, when Sierra went public, someone in marketing made up the much more saleable phrase, “Sierra’s Creative Interpreter.” Jeff originally called it SCI simply because it ran scripts.

Ken also hired Matthew George as the “low level comm” guy to handle all the communications protocols. The three of us got a good-sized office and began filling it with wires and modems.

My job? Simple.

All I was had to do was to design the first interactive, multi-player, on-line adventure game.

Needless to say, I failed.

Hell, here it is a decade later, and still no one has done one. I now believe it’s impossible.

But, what did I know? I was young, foolish and confident—well, okay, definitely foolish. All I had to do was change adventures from single-person, sit-and-think, object-puzzles, inventory-manipulation, reading games to a game not requiring, or allowing, any of this. It had to be played by several players, where objects could be in any player’s possession, with no plot since everyone would be at a different place in the world…well, you can see that created conflicts that are impossible to resolve. But I wasn’t smart enough to realize that then.

Meanwhile, Jeff was reinventing the entire SCI code base, making many improvements while trying to make his code communicate with copies of itself running on an unknown number of machines of unknown speed delayed by unknown microseconds.

Matt was trying to decide just how many 2400-baud modems he could deal with. He found an expansion chassis for the old AT machines. We got several of those, plugged them into one main computer using every ISA slot available, then filled each slot in each expansion chassis with a modem. I think he got up to 32 modems in 4 chassis linked by ribbon cable to one poor old, brand new, high speed 386 with a whopping 8 megabytes of RAM. The local small-town telephone company loved us. We got 32 new phone lines into our office that week, each with Central Office rollover.

As I sweated out my design issues, I realized this system wouldn’t be viable for months. Maybe I could make some board games to test the new language’s communication ability? When they actually ran, and we could play checkers through dialup modems, we thought we were hot stuff! So I added chess. Still no system. So I added backgammon. I was running out of board games.

Ken insisted that the system be “easy enough so my grandmother can play bridge on it.” That necessitated quite a bit of work creating a front end, changing from one game to another, handling “waiting rooms” for people to gather, what happens when the 33rd player logs in and finds himself on another server with zero people, even though his buddy just phoned him and was on, etc. etc. And what did you look like? I made a “Mr. Potato Head” interface when you could decorate your own characters. Of course, all the graphics would be on disk. Your character would tell the other players how you looked by a string of digits: 2, 5, 1, 5, 3, etc. This meant you had face #2, with hair #5, eyes #1, etc. 1200 baud modems, remember?

But how could all this make money? Ken thought we would need 50,000 subscribers just to break even. Jeff, Matt, and I computed that it would take 40 fulltime employees just to stuff modems into expansion chassis and connect them to phone lines to handle those 50,000. And what about long distance? There were no 5-cent per minutes telephone calls back then. Even the cheapest long distance service was pricey. Maybe we should scatter servers throughout the United States? Where? How?

After six months, I realized my folly and begged off the project. Since I was not a salaried employee, but only got paid a percentage of sales, it was going to be years before I would see income. The sales department was clamoring for Larry 4. I decided to give it to them. (Of course, it ended up being named Larry 5, but that’s another story, kiddies.)

And what would we call this thing? Ken thought it would be perfect for lonely people who wanted to play a game with another human instead of a computer. My wife, Margaret, thought up the original name: “Constant Companion.” We liked it, but it didn’t stick. “The Sierra Network” was its name for years.

Years later, when TSN had its own building filled with hundreds of employees, they tried to create a “Larryland.” It was never an adventure game, but was a pretty fun environment with gambling and chat.

About then, when TSN was losing millions of dollars for Sierra each year, Ken sold half-interest in it to AT&T for $50 million. They renamed it “The ImagiNation Network” and immediately took out “Larryland” because it was “too risqué.”

A year later, AT&T bought the other half for another $50 million. We joked that Sierra was the only company that ever made a profit from on-line gaming! At that time, it was true. Ironically, AT&T started many big improvements, but in a year or so ended up selling INN to AOL for much less. Then AOL sat on it until it died.

But that’s another story, kiddies.


From Al Lowe:
Jason Piel, Background Designer for Larry7 first drew Dildo and brought it to one of our team meetings. Everyone laughed as soon as saw it, so I knew we had to add it to the game if possible.

It turned out to be fairly easy to program, so, once the game was done and the Quality Assurance department’s flow of bugs dropped to a trickle, the programmers started added Dildo wherever they could. They had time enough to add 32 before we shipped!

Game Producer Mark Seibert went home one night and recorded the music. The vocal (“Yeah, baby!”) was recorded Animator Bill O’Brien imitating the owner/operator of the BBQ joint where Team Larry often ate lunch.

Now how’s that for an inside story?

Character Sketches for Leisure Suit Larry 7:

Annette Boning by Bill O’Brien
Captain Thygh by Bill O’Brien
Drew Baringmore by Bill O’Brien
Drew Baringmore by Bill O’Brien (Warning: Contains Nudity)
Xqstz by Al Eufrasio