This Dumb Industry: Lost Laughs in Leisure Suit Larry

By Shamus
on Oct 4, 2016
Filed under:
Column

Heads up: This post is going to have some rougher language than what I normally post. We’re going to be talking about the kinds of things teenagers type into videogame text parsers, which means we’re going to get into some naughty words and otherwise unusual subject matter for this blog. I don’t know why I’m warning you. I know you’re going to read it anyway. But it seems like the polite thing to do is to give people fair warning when you’re going to transition to a more graphic type of content. If you’ve got sunglasses you wear when you’re worried about seeing the word “fuck”, then now is the time to put them on. Actually, I guess you’re a sentence late. Shit. Sorry.

A few years ago I read a review of Leisure Suit Larry. The review was by a youngCompared to me, anyway. person who probably wasn’t around when the original game came out in 1987. The review was about as negative as you can get without declaring vendetta against the developers and their families. It basically dismissed the whole thing as ghastly, ugly, unfunny trash.

Screenshot of Lefty`s Bar from the 1987 original.

Screenshot of Lefty`s Bar from the 1987 original.

Leisure Suit Larry is an adventure game classic and I have many fond memories of it, so I dismissed this person as a crank who doesn’t appreciate a good dick joke – the kind of person who has decided to cultivate a sense of smug superiority in lieu of a sense of humor. But reading the review put me in the mood to play it again, so I picked up the 2013 remake and gave it a go.

What I discovered when I returned to the game in 2013 is that the reviewer was basically right. Maybe they were trying a little too hard to be offended by things and maybe their ignorance of old-school adventure game mechanics hampered their ability to understand the puzzles, but it was pretty hard to argue with their conclusions regarding the humor. The game wasn’t nearly as funny as I remembered it. It’s a strange sensation to revisit a joke that made you howl with laughter 30 years ago and find it doesn’t even cause you to move any of your facial muscles. Not even the potent forces of nostalgia could salvage it. It just wasn’t amusing or fun.

So what happened? Why did Larry stop being funny?

In Case You Missed It

Here is Lefty`s Bar from the 1991 remake. Pointless remakes of recent titles are not a new thing!

Here is Lefty`s Bar from the 1991 remake. Pointless remakes of recent titles are not a new thing!

For the young and innocent among you: The name has been shortened over the years. Originally it was titled “Leisure Suit Larry and the Land of the Lounge Lizards”. It’s an adventure game in the style of the Old Sierra titles like King’s Quest, Police Quest, or Space Quest. You walk around a lo-fi 16-color world, type broken sentence fragments into the parser, pick up inventory, and try to untangle the dream logic behind the various puzzlesStrangely enough, the puzzles were a lot less insane than its contemporaries. A few of them even made some kind of sense..

The game was remade with modernized graphics in 1991, and then again in 2013. The original was based on an even older work, a 1981 text-only game called SoftPorn Adventure. I never saw or even heard of SoftPorn Adventure until decades later when I looked up the series on Wikipedia. I know Leisure Suit Larry borrowed the premise and puzzles of SoftPorn, but I have no idea if they shared jokes or if the text game was even intended to be humorous at all.

In the game you control Larry Laffer, the original 40 year old virgin. He’s decided to hit the town and lose his virginity once and for all. He’s a dorky, balding (and in the remakes, also short and pudgy) traveling salesman in a Leisure SuitHe was also a stealth mockery of a salesman named Jerry who worked at developer Sierra On-Line back in the 80’s. He would come back from business trips with improbable tales of all of the incredibly hot women he’d bedded. The programming staff hated him and so borrowed a lot of his attributes for their loser protagonist. The leisure suit itself was mocking how old and anachronistic SoftPorn Adventure had become.. An important detail that gets lost on younger audiences is that Leisure Suits were faddish novelty clothing and that by 1987 they were shockingly, woefully out of date. The closest analogy I can make is this: Imagine a dumpy middle-aged white guy showing up at a rave in 2016 while wearing MC Hammer parachute pants and a Flava Flav clock. That was who Larry Laffer was. He was a man with breathtaking social ineptitude.

So your goal in the game is to overcome your seemingly insurmountable shortcomings with regard to looks, career prospects, social standing, personality, personal taste, and sex appeal, and somehow convince a woman to have sex with you. The game takes place in the city of Lost Wages (Las Vegas, obviously) and features a handful of locations: A dive bar, a convenience store, a 24 hour wedding chapel, a casino, a Hotel, and a few others.

Did You Know?

Here is Lefty`s Bar from the 2013 remake.

Here is Lefty`s Bar from the 2013 remake.

I’ve never heard anyone else mention this, but it’s a gameplay detail I discovered as a teenager. I noticed there was an in-game clock, and that the story began at 10PM. The clock ran in real-time. So I wondered what would happen if you let the game run until morning? What happens when the sun comes up? I correctly intuited that they wouldn’t have daytime versions of all of the locations. My guess was that the game would just ignore the clock and that the game would continue with night scenery. It turned out I was wrong.

But finding out was actually kind of difficult. You couldn’t just walk away from the game and come back 8 hours later, because the game randomly pops up messages that would stop the clock. It would tell you how bad your breath was getting, prompting you to use the breath spray object in your inventory. These messages come up every five minutes or so, meaning you’d have to sit there and hit enter every five minutes for 8 hours straight to keep the clock moving. After some experimenting, I found a situation where the game wouldn’t give you these messages. I know it had something to do with the alley beside Lefty’s Bar. Maybe it was hiding in the dumpster, or maybe it was hanging from the rope on the fire escapeIt’s a long story., but somewhere in that alley was a spot that disabled the breath spray prompts. Once I found that, I let the game run overnight and came back to see the result in the morning.

What happens when the sun comes up? Nothing right away. The game continues to run. But as soon as you walk outsideThe alley counts as an “indoor” location for some reason. the game ends. Larry realizes that the night has ended and that he’s still a virgin. So he pulls out a gun and blows his brains out. It was a surprisingly dark ending that I’m sure most people never saw.

Where Did The Funny Go?

Inside Lefty`s bar.

Inside Lefty`s bar.

Despite the morbid threat of suicide, Leisure Suit Larry was hilarious to my 17 year old self when I played it in 1988, and yet I was numb to it in 2013. Why? Why has the funny left Leisure Suit Larry when Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Three Amigos still maintain a lot of their original charm? It would be easy to dismiss this as the damage inflicted by my ongoing reluctant slide to maturity, but I laughed while watching Spaceballs last year. While there are a lot of things you can call that movie, “mature” isn’t one of them.

The problem is that Leisure Suit Larry was very much a product of its time, and while the various remakes have given the game a graphical facelift, they can’t re-create the particular arrangement of gaming culture and gameplay tropes that made the original such a hit.

A Subversible Vehicle

A storybook romance this ain`t.

A storybook romance this ain`t.

The main joke of the game was that it constantly subverted the normal expectations established by the existing [$Genre] Quest titles, which were basically clean, family-friendly adventures. You had the same interface, the same pointless score bar at the top, the same style of inventory-driven puzzles. Except this game was about boning instead of saving the kingdom. It was a game about dick jokes and innuendo in a style of game that was usually a collection of common story tropes and lame puns.

The joke isn’t the joke itself, the joke is that this joke was told in this context. It was like a newscaster telling a dick joke, or hearing a Muppet say “fuck”. It was shocking and transgressive. Players had never seen a game “go there” before.

The joke – the idea of doing something edgy or profane in this kind of adventure game – was as old as the games themselves. It was born about thirty seconds after the first player booted up the original King’s Quest and typed “fart” into the command line. It was a joke players had been creating for themselves, and a joke that the games had stubbornly refused to participate in.

>FUCK PRINCESS
You don't have one of those.
>PISS ON FARMER
The farmer doesn't need one of those.
>TAKE SHIT
You don't see one of those here.
>SHOW KING MY DICK
I don't know what that means.

Leisure Suit Larry was just the first gameNot actually the first game. It was just the first one that became popular. to participate in the joke. Suddenly there was a game that would respond humorously to your shenanigans instead of replying with clinical bafflement. When you tried to screw someone (or everyone) the game understood your intent and explained why you couldn’t. Just having the game correctly parse these crude actions was a punchline all by itself. The fact that it followed up with a humorous reply was just gravy.

But today? That’s not even a joke anymore. We’ve got entire genres of games dedicated to ribald matters. We’ve got games about showering with your dad. Games about running a pornography empire. We’ve got action shmups engorged with homoerotic imagery. We’ve got match three games about trying to screw anime girls. Penises are no longer a secret in the world of videogames. It’s no longer shocking or edgy to make these kinds of jokes.

There’s nothing left to subvert.

Graphical upgrades

The character Fawn. Left is 1987, right is 2013.

The character Fawn. Left is 1987, right is 2013.

Another thing to kill the laughs for me was the move to better graphics. I know I’m already redlining on the scale of “stuff old guys say” in this article, but hear me out.

In the other adventure games, upgrading their graphics made it possible to create more moods. Once you had more than 16 colors to work with, you could make places that seemed genuinely spooky. Places that seemed forlorn. Cheerful. Vibrant. Muted. The designer had more options. But the 4-bit graphics of Leisure Suit Larry were already pretty good at conveying the mood of the world: Cheap, sleazy, and gaudy. As graphics got better, it created an odd distortion. Suddenly those pixelated ladies weren’t so pixelated anymore. Their presence began to overshadow the rest of the scene, and now the dominant mood was “vaguely titillating”. As the years went on and graphics continued to improve, this progressed to “overtly titillating”.

It was kind of funny to have a game make a fuss over how “sexy” a lady was when she had the same number of pixels as old 16-bit Mario. But once they started looking like actual pin-up girls, that dimension of the humor was lost. It gradually felt less like a joke about a guy who wants to hook up with sexy ladies and more a vehicle for actually looking at sexy ladies. This changes the tone of the jokes. It’s the difference between a comic where two stick figures are screwing, and the exact same joke told with photographs of real people. To wit: It’s no longer the exact same joke.

Spoiler: This is actually a hint for a puzzle.

Spoiler: This is actually a hint for a puzzle.

I’ve said before that there’s nothing more uncomfortable than someone else’s turn-on. That’s what the That’s My Fetish meme is all about. When you’ve got blocky graphics, there’s a certain distancing effect going on. The images are safe for everyone because you get the sense that nobody is really getting off to thisWhich isn’t remotely true of course. If the internet has taught us anything, it’s that there’s no boundaries to the things people will get off to..

But once the game starts delivering cheesecake images as a reward for progress, that safety is gone and lots of people get uncomfortable. “Ew. Are people really… uh… into these cartoon ladies?” You feel like you’ve stumbled into someone else’s kink. It’s no longer a game laughing at porn, it’s a game that is porn. (Ultra-tame, PG-13 porn. So… lousy porn. Great. Now NOBODY is happy.)

This is not to say that you’re a bad person if you like the newer games. I am not one to judge. By all means, enjoy what makes you happy. That’s what entertainment is for. It’s just that the move away from pixel graphics changed the nature of the humor and created something that could be off-putting to some people. It narrows the audience.

No Text Parser

The other thing that people dislike about the game is that a few of the joke characters are brute-force racial stereotypes. I REALLY don`t want to talk about that, so let`s acknowledge that it exists and move on.

The other thing that people dislike about the game is that a few of the joke characters are brute-force racial stereotypes. I REALLY don`t want to talk about that, so let`s acknowledge that it exists and move on.

The later remakes weren’t just modernized in terms of graphics, they were also modernized in terms of interface. Computer mice were finally standard, so games were moving away from text-based input to mouse-based input. Instead of trying to figure out what phrasing the game expected in order to “USE POTION ON GUARD”, you could just select the potion in your inventory and click on the guard. This solved the infuriating problem in these games where you couldn’t tell if you had the wrong solution to a puzzle, or if you had the right solution but weren’t using the right phrasing to describe it. It also solved this problem:

>EXAMINE PORTICULLUS
You don't see that here.
>EXAMINE BARS
You don't see that here.
>EXAMINE ENTRANCE
You don't see that here.
>EXAMINE DOOR
An iron portcullis stands before you, barring entrance to the castle.

The player doesn’t need to play “guess the synonym”. You don’t have awkward situations where the player needs to explain WHICH door they’re talking about if there happen to be several. You don’t need to worry about typos, misunderstood visualsThat blob of chunky pixels isn’t a statue in front of the wall, it’s an engraving., tricky spelling, ambiguous grammar, or the problem where the player is trying to interact with clutter items scattered around the scenery. You just give the player a mouse pointer and let them click on stuff.

But while the text parser was the source of all misery in a regular adventure game, in Larry’s world it was also the source of all humor. In fact, it was the frustration of having the game misunderstand you ten times in a row that often led players to type something rude or absurd into the command line. The frustration of being misunderstood by a parser is one of the reasons the profane responses of LSL were so cathartic.

When Larry got his remake, they gave you an “open zipper” icon to use when you wanted to do naughty things, and this murdered the humor. Instead of feeling subversive, it became a sanctioned action in the game. I mean, it was always a sanctioned action because the developers wrote text responses for it, but showing the icon to the player made it obvious. Instead of feeling like a prankster for typing, SCREW HOBO, the game was making it clear that this was an expected course of action. The surprise was gone, along with the sense of mischief.

It also removed a lot of the depth. You no longer had distinct responses for fuck, shit, piss, and whatever other profane things the player might devise. You had all of the “normal” icons, and then you had the zipper as a generic catch-all for “naughty stuff”.

Lost in Translation

The casino, where you could save-scum your way into riches. In fact, I think you HAD to in order to beat the game.

The casino, where you could save-scum your way into riches. In fact, I think you HAD to in order to beat the game.

So that was the original Leisure Suit Larry. It was a game that provided an absurdist joke about sexy pixel women that entertained an audience of people frustrated with text parsers by subverting genre expectations.

The recent in-name-only sequels went in totally the wrong direction and exacerbated everything that’s hindered the series over the years. The sexy content has been ramped up, the adventure game mechanics are gone, and you’re left with a fiddly game that rewards you with animated tits when you win. And long-time fans hated them. This wasn’t a Leisure Suit Larry game. This was a game that Leisure Suit Larry himself would be embarrassed to play.

Al Lowe, designer of the 1987 classic, said of these newer games, “It was like getting a video from your son’s kidnappers. On the one hand you’re glad he’s still alive, but oh shit what’ve they done to him!?”

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Footnotes:

[1] Compared to me, anyway.

[2] Strangely enough, the puzzles were a lot less insane than its contemporaries. A few of them even made some kind of sense.

[3] He was also a stealth mockery of a salesman named Jerry who worked at developer Sierra On-Line back in the 80’s. He would come back from business trips with improbable tales of all of the incredibly hot women he’d bedded. The programming staff hated him and so borrowed a lot of his attributes for their loser protagonist. The leisure suit itself was mocking how old and anachronistic SoftPorn Adventure had become.

[4] It’s a long story.

[5] The alley counts as an “indoor” location for some reason.

[6] Not actually the first game. It was just the first one that became popular.

[7] Which isn’t remotely true of course. If the internet has taught us anything, it’s that there’s no boundaries to the things people will get off to.

[8] That blob of chunky pixels isn’t a statue in front of the wall, it’s an engraving.


A Hundred!20There are 120 comments here. I really hope you like reading.

From the Archives:

  1. Rack says:

    The outrageous subversive tone you’re describing reminds me an awful lot of Ben There Dan That and Time Gentlemen please. It’s weird to see Leisure Suit Larry in described this context as someone who grew up only with the dire sequels.

    Also Ben There Dan That and Time Gentlemen Please are ace.

    • MadTinkerer says:

      I thought of this as well. BTDT is a sometimes-raunchy tribute to adventure games. LSL is both a raunchy parody of adventure games and a parody of raunchy sex comedies and porn tropes. In both cases the raunchy jokes are there because that’s what the developers find funny, but in LSL it’s also the focus of the story because it’s playing with sex comedy tropes.

      When videotape arrived, it destroyed porn theaters. When DVDs arrived it shook up the porn tape business. When the internet got popular it destroyed the porn DVD business. All of these things had repercussions for the once popular R rated raunchy comedy genre (yes, we have raunchy comedies still but they’re almost all heartless unwatchable factory products for stupid people). Leisure Suit Larry is a tribute to the comedy of the early 80s starring a guy who’s stuck in the 70s, a joke which is now multiple porn-pocalypses old.

      That’s the real tragedy of LSL. That not only is Larry himself hopelessly out of fashion, but the entire series is as well.

      (The funny thing to me is that I don’t even like raunchy comedies that well. I still haven’t seen Animal House or Porky’s. (I’m more familiar with the Carry On films and British comedies because that’s what I had during my teenage years.) I just know, from the previews alone, that they’re in a completely different league than the Scary Movie series or it’s imitators.)

    • Oooo, I have both of those, a friend gifted me them on Steam. I really need to give them a whirl.

      I would have been 7 when Leisure Suit Larry sauntered onto the dating scene, so…. bit before my time, and the remakes didn’t clip my interest-o-meter (and now, reading this, I’m glad). I did have brief encounters with more child-friendly text-based adventure games, though, and OMFG I hated playing “guess the right verb/syntax”! Never could get on with ’em. So part of me can completely relate to the appeal of a game that would actually respond to frustrated typed swearing – I’m sure I tried that in the LoTR Fellowship text adventure, before I got cross and threw the tapes across the room.

      • Tom says:

        Urgh, I’m reminded of possibly the most evil, *deliberately* obtuse parser moment Sierra ever perpetrated. In Space Quest II, there’s one point where you’ve met some friendly, helpful characters (for once!) who will open a hidden passage under a stone to progress further in the game when you’re ready. Their leader tells you that you need only say the word.

        I spent MONTHS trying to figure out how to tell them to open that passage for me. Trying to guess what “the word” was. “Open.” “Please open.” “Move the rock.” “Move the stone.” “SAY ‘yes.'” “SAY ‘open.'” “SAY ‘move the rock'” “I’m ready.” “SAY ‘I’m ready.'” The madness began…

        I can’t even remember how I did it in the end, I may even have phoned the damned helpline, or maybe I found the answer years later in an online walkthrough, after they became a thing that existed. Turns out there’s literally one exact combination of characters you can enter that works: you have to type “SAY THE WORD.”

        Obvious, in hindsight. Really, quite clever – the game literally told you exactly what to do all along, and you never find out what the word even is! Playful, if you really want to stretch the definition… And sadistic as hell. Sierra’s people had talent, but they clearly also had issues. There are numerous clues, within many of their games and without, that theirs was not an entirely healthy work environment. (In Space Quest 6, I think there’s even a barely disguised remark in the in-game medical journal about a certain, named employee of Sierra having their head inserted in another part of their anatomy…)

        I think they were also notoriously slow to embrace change in the industry, stubbornly making games the way they’d always done when the likes of LucasArts (RIP) and Cyan were blazing ahead – and when they did try to catch up they gained the dubious honour of producing Lighthouse, the most unashamedly blatant of all the countless Myst clones, that STILL somehow managed to preserve all the hallmark flaws of their earlier work – pixel hunts, unwinnable states, etc. Apparently the lead designer was literally called into the boss’s office one day, shown a boxed copy of Myst, and asked, in as many words, “can you do this?”

  2. Christopher says:

    This is probably the most informative post I’ve read on this site. I watched a Let’s Play of Leisure Suit Larry 2 earlier this year and couldn’t for the life of me get it. Is this what people were jacking off to before the internet? Is this what they used to LAUGH at before the internet?? I couldn’t understand why it had ever been popular, and this explanation makes a lot of sense. I figured it was because I was just too late to the party(I turned 26 this year, born 1990), and while that’s technically true, I had no idea about the specifics.

    • Kylroy says:

      For comparison, I’m ten years older (so about halfway between you and Shamus), *hated* adventure games when they were a popular genre, and yet I still “got” LSL.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Is this what people were jacking off to before the internet?

      Nah.This is what we were jacking off to before the internet.

    • Echo Tango says:

      My first introduction to the LSL games was the 90s remake. I too, was confused, and didn’t know if this was supposed to be soft-core porn, or if I just didn’t “get” the joke, or whatever. Knowing what the original game was, and was meant to be, helped a lot. :)

    • Joe Informatico says:

      Nah, you had to hope a friend’s dad had a stash of Playboys you could raid, or find a Penthouse magazine someone hid at the park.

      • Sunshine says:

        There was this line in the series Spaced:
        “Tim, why don’t you find your porn in bushes by the road like everyone else?”
        “I can’t, I’m an adult now! I have to put it there!”

        That was in the ’90s, at about the last time the joke would be revelvant.

  3. Jokerman says:

    When i look at those two pictures of the women under “Graphical upgrades” even with the graphical differences, i think the first is better looking and a better fit for the game… she has a classical “playboy” look, that you would expect Larry to go for, the other girl has a much more modern, almost plain, run of the mill look about her, she looks like someone you could meet in real life.

    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

      Larry takes a pass at every woman to cross his path in these games, striking out with each one of them is what constitutes the plot.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Same.The pixely one looks prettier.Probably due to my brain filling in the obvious gaps in the crude drawing.

      • Alexander The 1st says:

        So what you’re saying is the pixelation is the game’s way of communicating the “Everybody looks more attractive when you’re drunk” effect?

      • chiefnewo says:

        Look at the pictures of the VGA versions. The EGA women are FAR more attractive than whatever the hell happened there.

        Now that I’ve posted this the internet will forever record my opinion on the attractiveness of cartoon women in an old adventure game.

  4. Da Mage says:

    A game from 1987….geez, I wasn’t even close to being born then…..hell even the first remake came out before I was born.

  5. Joshua says:

    1. I did like the parser games over the icons, despite the frustration. Of course, the spelling and synonyms were a bitch. “Tickle Uvula”……really?!? Never really did play Leisure Suite Larry though, beyond seeing the age check questions. I played Space Quest, Police Quest, and King’s Quest IV. Oh, and the Black Cauldron, a Sierra adaptation of the critically reviled movie adaptation of the popular book series.

    2. Also, some humor doesn’t age well.

    3. Along with 2, try going back and watching Revenge of the Nerds and/or Police Academy movies. Not so much with the funny.

    • Jokerman says:

      I feel like i have had a lot of “why did i even laugh at this” moments over the past few years looking back on old comedies.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      On the other hand,go back and watch blazing saddles and it still is funny.

    • I recently re-watched the Police Academy films and while I agree that they are nowhere near as funny as my young self found them, I was fascinated that they are not exactly identical. Some are notably funnier than others. The original and No.4 have some actual funny moments, and No.6 is weirdly surreal and kind of interesting (in a “oh my god why am I watching this at 3am” kind of way). Also, some of the jokes now have an absurdly un-PC tone, which almost makes them more transgressive than they were originally. This doesn’t make them good, mind you, but it is worth noting.

    • krellen says:

      Seinfeld was never funny.

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      So here’s my experience with LSL. I would be… not sure, anywhere between 12 and 14 I believe, PCs were just becoming a thing (in my country, it would be somewhat later than in the US) and our school pounced on this new and exciting thing and established what would in later years be called a “computer lab”. The problem was that nobody had any real idea what to teach, schools would grab almost anyone with a computer experience and the will to teach kids. After we went through the basic DOS commands and I think the Win 3.x interface (not sure if that would happen before or after the relevant event) our teacher at the time was struggling for content to fill the lessons, also, because pretty much nobody else in the school had more than a vague idea of what to do with a computer he was mostly left to his own devices. So one day he fired up the LSL game and let us have some fun with it.

      Now that some people are awash with shock and terror I feel I should add that English is not a native language for my country and while we did start to learn it at around the same time the odds of us getting to or understanding anything inappropriate were basically non-existent. I think between the ten or so of us we figured moving around, opening door, looking at things and we might have talked to someone but had no idea what they said.

  6. Tizzy says:

    I guess that as the women improve graphically, you lose some of the distance that keeps you safely separated from Larry. All of a sudden, the question “do I find this woman attractive” makes sense, and, whether the answer is yes or no, you find yourself uncomfortably close to being Larry, rather than being able to laugh at his pitiful life.

  7. Yurika Grant says:

    Ah, text-based adventure games, blast from my awesome past right there :D Had one of those on our old Amstrad CPC464, can’t remember which it was now, maybe Jewels of Darkness or something.

    Either way, the ‘innocent’ 8 year old me and my friends enjoyed playing this game. On one occasion it told us “You see a crocodile.”

    To which we promptly replied “fuck the crocodile.”

    We were amazed and impressed to have the game exclaim “don’t be disgusting!”

    • Mephane says:

      Some of these jokes still survived in point-and-click adventures. I don’t remember which game it was (possibly one of the Indiana Jones adventure games?), but in one of them I once used the “open” verb on a person and the protagonist would say “I am not a surgeon”.

      • Munkkidoesen says:

        I think you can also get a couple of reactions from Guybrush in the old monkey island games if you try to ‘pick up’ some of the NPCs. I could swear there was at least an ‘I’m not comfortable with that’ or two hidden in there – I spent a bit of time trying it out on various NPCs because even in those games there are a couple of annoyingly abstruse puzzles. Gosh-darned roulette door password in 2.

      • Tom says:

        To give Sierra due credit, Space Quest 4 actually played with this a bit. It’s a strictly point-and-click interface, but it actually has significant, valuable screen real estate set aside for two verb buttons – smell and taste – which are *entirely unnecessary* to complete the game. Their only purpose is to elicit silly responses when you use them on anything.

    • Hal says:

      I played a few text-based adventure games when I was a kid. The one I most specifically remember was a Winnie-the-Pooh game; no, I’m not sure why that one stands out, either.

      The Strong Bad “Thy Dungeonman” games that came out back in the 00’s were pretty good callbacks.

      The only Sierra adventure games I had any experience with was Hero Quest (aka Quest for Glory.) I loved those games, but I feel like the genre changed for the worse when it went from text parser to mouse icons, because that introduced the era of pixel hunting, aka “Click on everything until you solve the puzzle.”

    • Tizzy says:

      Some innocent 8-year old! ;-)

      Anyway, I do feel like Shamus is selling adventure games short. A lot of them had funny answers like those. To be honest, it was the only way to stop people from frothing at the mouth from frustration at the puzzles and parser.

  8. Wide And Nerdy® says:

    Looking at the 1987 to 1991 upgrade, that doesn’t feel pointless to me. I’m sorry, I’ve been playing games since before the Atari 2600, yet to me pretty much nothing from the NES era or before it holds up. The closest it comes is Shovel Knight which “cheats” all over the place.*

    Games don’t start holding up graphically for me until the Genesis and SNES and even then it depends a lot on the design (usually the more cartoony designs have a better chance of surviving whereas anything trying to mimic real life doesn’t. This latter category ages quickly, even with much more modern graphics.)

    *Yes I know, its to give you the NES era as you remember it, not as it actually was. And that was a great design decision. I strongly encourage indie devs not to be overly faithful in recreating the NES style.

    • Matt Downie says:

      I think everyone has their own personal ‘horribly dated’ period. For me, it’s the Playstation-One era. I’m fine with blocky 8-bit graphics (LSL looks pretty good considering it had a 16-color palette), or Playstation 2 games, but early textured-polygon 3D looks awful to me.

      • Kylroy says:

        Not just you. Early 3D is roundly agreed to look awful, game designers were so ecstatic about having a new toy to play with that they ignored the fact that it looked like a Cubist’s nightmare.

        • Alex says:

          For purely nostalgic reasons, here is the story how I skipped early 3D:

          I played the original Baldurs Gate and had a go at the original Thief when “Steam Sales” were still “budget re-releases”. These are 1998 games so let’s say I played them in 2000. The Thief experience, althogh universally considered a masterpiece, was enough for me to go “screw this I’m gonna stick to civilisation”. Which appently I really did for the ten years to come. I clearly remember CIV V being the first game I had “on steam” (bought retail but activated through steam), closely followed by New Vegas, coincidentally the first game I consciously saw advertised on TV. Both games were released in 2010.

          So in effect I experienced ten years of development in an instant. My mental model of what 3D looked like went directly from the original Thief (and admittedly some exposure to Counter Strike footage) to New Vegas. It was totally fascinating.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Civilization did dip into 3d too.I remember the hubbub when civiii first tried its hand on doing some 3d animation with its units,and how the fans hated it because that made modding the game extremely difficult.

            Of course,the 3d of a turn based strategy game is not the same as 3d of other games,but still.

      • Cinebeast says:

        I’m one of those weirdos who likes the PS1/N64 era of 3D graphics, and I always cheer a little when indie developers try their hand at using that era as an aesthetic.

        • Munkkidoesen says:

          Those games were in a strange sort of spot for me where I somehow remembered them looking worse than they actually do. I’m not completely certain as to why; possibly it has something to do with video hire shops renting out video games back then. Me and my school friends played all sorts of random crap from that generation.

          Haha. Not a bad memory, that.

      • tmtvl says:

        Compare Ace Combat 2 to Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere. PSX graphics evolved massively.

        Also, while humans did always look kinda off, I kinda appreciated the simplicity of the graphics in games like Spyro, Crash Bandicoot, and MediEvil.

      • Joe Informatico says:

        Right? The 2D sprites from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night are still decent, but any 3D character from the same era looks like an awkward twisted mannikin.

    • Kylroy says:

      People forget the rapid pace of graphical improvement throughout the 80s and 90s – the LSL original and remake ably demonstrate that in the space of four years, top-of-the-line games moved from very blocky pixels to a credible imitation of a cartoon.

      Whereas today, Doom 3 and (effectively) 4 come out over a decade apart and look awfully similar. Where they don’t, it’s usually more a matter of art direction than technological advance.

    • Echo Tango says:

      The real question is, “Are the graphics the only interesting thing in the game, or is there good gameplay, story, audio, etc?

      Missile Command is still totally playable and fun today, despite the almost non-existent graphics. Skyward Sword has good graphics despite (depending on who you ask), its bad gameplay. However, Friday the 13th has really confusing, difficult, potentially-impossible-to-win gameplay, and doesn’t even have any redeeming graphics to look at.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      The Scott Pilgrim vs. The World game is done as an homage to 8/16-bit era beat-’em-ups like River City Ransom and Streets of Rage. And it plays so much better than any of its inspirations, but it wasn’t until the 3rd stage that the difference really smacked me in the face. There were at least two dozen enemies on the screen at the same time, of at least five visually distinct types (not just palette swaps), moving swiftly and acting more or less independently. I remember a lot of NES games where the framerate would drop drastically, causing visible clipping, when more than three identical enemy sprites (assets) appeared on the screen at once, and I definitely do not have nostalgia for that.

  9. MichaelGC says:

    I remember playing this as a young teen. It had this peculiar age-verification system which worked by asking you questions only an adult would know the answers to.

    This was long before the internet, of course, so it ended up being a fun IRL minigame where you had to get your parents to tell you who Spiro Agnew was without letting on why you needed to know who Spiro Agnew was…

    • MrGuy says:

      Honestly, this was perhaps my favorite part of the original.

      “Gone With The Wind” is about:
      a.) outer space
      b.) the old West
      c.) meteorology
      d.) 4 hours long.

    • I went looking through the comments to see if anyone mentioned this! It is, quite literally, more or less the only thing I remember from the old LSL games.

      Hear that young’uns? Copy protection was more fun than the game, back in my day…

      • Matt Downie says:

        That wasn’t copy-protection, was it? It was age verification. A shame the internet sites that ask you to prove you’re over 18 these days are willing to take your word for it rather than ask you trivia questions about…

        Oh, now I just depressed myself by realising that today’s 18-year-olds are too young to remember the year 2005… I’m so old…

    • Andy_Panthro says:

      As someone who played the Larry games when I was too young to get most of the jokes (I was probably around eight or nine?), those age verification questions were pretty difficult, and also very American. In a way, I guess you could say it was educational!

      • Bubble181 says:

        This was my problem with them. I knew lots of useless trivia about my OWN country back then, but American trivia? How the heck should I know who won the Superbowl 10 years ago?! (I don’t remember if that was for LSL or another game, mind you). Even my parents won’t know!

        Of course, we just got lists of the answers at school >_> <_<

        • Jarenth says:

          Yeah, same memory and problems here. I ended up brute-force memorizing the answers (that I didn’t understand) to the questions (that I also didn’t understand) until just the sentences and the shapes of the words started becoming giveaways.

          I learned later there was a way to skip the age verification questions, but it just didn’t feel right.

        • jd says:

          “but American trivia? How the heck should I know who won the Superbowl 10 years ago?!”

          Heck, I’m an American but couldn’t tell you who won a sports ball event 10 days ago, let alone 10 years ago. I hate sports.

  10. MrGuy says:

    I completely agree that the “recent” LSL games lost the magic and humor of the original.

    My complaint about them is the same complaint I have about the Bethesda Fallout games-they forgot what made them good in the first place. It’s not the setting so much as the tone and the unexpected twists.

    FO3 faithfully preserves a lot of the setting aspects from Fallout, even the ones that don’t make sense. It’s a desert, even though Washington DC is built on a former swamp. Water’s a big deal, even though that doesn’t make sense. There’s nostalgia for a ’50’s era vibe, even though it’s 200 years later. And there’s an epic quest to save people. But those weren’t the things that made Fallout, well, Fallout.

    What made the game interesting was the exploration of an unfamiliar world where you didn’t know the rules. What made it interesting was the choice of character traits and skills that had meaning in how you could interact with the world. What made it interesting was that you weren’t a super badass, even near the end game – you were just some guy picked to do the job (calling you “the chosen one” is a clever joke). What made it interesting were hidden easter eggs you know you might have missed, which made you proud to have discovered. What made it interesting was a mean streak of black humor. Like watching a good comedian, you had to get the joke – they wouldn’t sit you down and explain it in case you missed why it was funny.

    The new LSL retains the setting and basic plot structure of the original LSL. What they missed was every piece of joy of the unexpected. You no longer needed to wonder “how far will they go with this?” – it’s all telegraphed. The joy of discovering something naughty the devs would let you get away with is gone with the “be naughty!” button on the screen staring you in the face. And the “shocking payoff” isn’t that shocking anymore – Commander Shepard gets more action than Larry, and that’s not even the point of Mass Effect.

    Going through the motions with better graphics isn’t the way you recapture the magic. First you have to understand what the magic WAS.

    • Yurika Grant says:

      I wouldn’t say Bethesda ‘forgot’ what made Fallout great. They never understood it from day 1. But yeah, agreed otherwise :)

      I’ll add that Fallout was largely about civilisations and how they rise, fall, and continue. Whereas Bethesda just treats it as a setting in which to put ‘hilarious’ hijinx with about as much depth as a puddle.

  11. vrittis says:

    I’d like to propose the following: when you must refer to your age, or the one of an hypothetical reader that may be as experienced as you are, please use a metric we can all understand, eg. milli-rutskarn.

  12. Fists says:

    Was anyone else expecting “engorged with homoerotic imagery” to be a gears of war burn?

  13. Ninety-Three says:

    This was a game that Leisure Suit Larry himself would be embarrassed play.

    Missing a “to” there.

  14. “I don’t know why I’m warning you. I know you’re going to read it anyway.”

    Don’t worry Shamus, we are all sufficiently immature around here.

  15. potatoejenkins says:

    This solved the infuriating problem in these games where you couldn’t tell if you had the wrong solution to a puzzle, or if you had the right solution but weren’t using the right phrasing to describe it.

    And that’s why my Arthur Dent will forever be mauled by a yellow bulldozer. I never actually got past the intro of the Hitchiker text adventure. Though it was equally entertaining to find out how many things Arthur could do in his house before succumbing to his inevitable fate. I believe I even managed to brush my teeth once. It was a victory (and I refuse to ever look up anything close to a guide on this one).

    Oh, I miss that game.

    And even as someone as obsessed with a games graphics as I, I always back away a few steps when people claim a game to be “realistic” and having “stunning visuals”. Do all games need to? I guess this articles proofs: No. And some even shouldn’t.

    • Kris Browne says:

      Just a heads up, if you miss HHg2tG you can play it in the browser Here.

      This game was huge for me because Douglas Adams actually participated in it’s creation, wrote jokes which would only work in the IF format and dropped stuff that just didn’t fit… He worked in a wide variety of mediums with the HHG story and in each one he adapted to the possibilities and constraints in the medium to make things work… Brilliant.

      • Bubble181 says:

        Hey! That….that works at work! It isn’t blocked! HUZZAH!

      • potatoejenkins says:

        Thank you very much! Time to get Arthur killed again. :D

        Him participating in it’s creation was the only reason I looked it up in the first place. I was very worried it might be just another case of “let’s slap a popular name on it and call it a day”, but reading about how involved he was in it’s creation and then playing it – it’s recognisably Douglas Adams.

    • MrGuy says:

      I’m kinda sorry I finished it, because I suspect it could never hold the joy it did when I had to figure everything out from scratch.

      I only “cheated” once, which at the time could only be done by buying an InvisiClues booklet. I got stuck at how to keep that darn cleaning robot from snatching my babblefish after I got it out of the vending machine.

      InvisiClues, for you young ‘uns, gives a set of increasingly direct hints to solve a problem. You reveal the first clue, which is usually very vague, and maybe that’s enough for you. If it’s not, you move on to the next hint, until eventually you figure it out or you get to the last clue, which tells you the answer.

      Say you keep getting beat up by a thug in the alley behind the apartment building. You’d look for a hint like “How can I defeat the thug in the alley?” They might start with “He seems like he’s looking for a fight,” and the next clue might be “You’re not strong enough to fight him with your bare hands,” followed by “Maybe you should try to even the odds a bit,” followed by “A weapon would be nice,” followed by “Maybe something sharp?” followed by “Search Glenn’s kitchen for the butcher knife.”

      I still remember the InvisiClues for this problem. The hints actually gave you several increasingly Rube Goldberg pieces to a very complicated solution, each of which would progress the way in which you failed a bit, interspersed with encouraging words. My favorite was “Grown men have been known to weep at this point…”

      For those who care/remember, the solution was (I believe) to stack a pile of junk mail on top of your briefcase which you’d placed to block the small door the cleaning robot came out of, so that when you got your fish, the robot would knock all the mail into the air, so that the second, flying cleaning robot would be too preoccupied to catch the fish as it sailed through the air and into your ear.

      • potatoejenkins says:

        It’s a shame something like that is no longer available for games. Today we get quest markers and fan wikis not bothering to hide spoilers if their life depends on it.

        The former makes me sad, the latter makes me angry.

        The only thing closest to InvisiClues nowadays would be gamefaqs, I guess. *shudder*

        • Sven says:

          There’s actually a website called uhs-hints, which does something similar. It provides increasingly more detailed hints, with the last one typically being the full solution. Since (I think) the hints are submitted by random people, quality varies greatly between games and sometimes the hints can be more obtuse than the puzzle, so you have no choice but to continue until the last one, but at least the idea is there.

      • Tom says:

        Adams was a fiend. That puzzle was specifically designed so that you could carefully work out each of the many convoluted steps necessary to complete it, but then even if you were flawlessly methodical and didn’t waste a single move, the dispenser would run out of fish JUST as you’d got it all set up right. The only way to solve it without knowledge not provided by the game itself is to get suckered once and then reload.

    • ThaneofFife says:

      One of my all-time favorite games had a really interesting hybrid system of text, early 90’s graphics (in 2.5D), photo portraits of characters, and occasional full-motion video gifs. The game was Betrayal at Krondor, and was one of the first giant open-world fantasy RPGs.

      The text layer was where the majority of the story was told (and it was very well-written), and the graphics mainly provided the interface to interact with the story. The exception was combat, where you would see your enemies from a distance and use your judgment to decide whether there were too many to face.

      I was really hoping that more games would take this approach, because it adds so much depth to a game, but I really haven’t seen anything like it since then (and the less said about the sequel, Return to Krondor, the better).

    • Anachronist says:

      Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was a fiendishly complicated and funny adventure game. I loved it too. I got further than the intro, spent a lot of time solving that Babel fish puzzle, but didn’t find the time to finish the game. That game was unique in that it actually lied to you. Deliberately. You had to be persistent. Something like this:

      > Enter room
      You’re in a room.
      > Look around
      You see a table with a chair near it.
      > Look around
      There is nothing else of interest here.
      > Look around
      Seriously, there isn’t anything in this room that would interest you.
      > Look around
      I told you, there’s nothing here.
      > Look around
      Oh, all right. You see a hammer and a ball of string on the table.

      I may be embellishing a bit… the point is, something like that could be pulled off only in a text adventure. A graphics-heavy game couldn’t do that.

  16. Leslee says:

    I played Leisure Suit Larry when I was in the Army and thought it was hysterical at the time.

    I also watched the movie “Heavy Metal” in a theatre when it first came out and thought it was mind-blowing.

    I think both of these cultural phenomenons can only be explained by the fact that they were originally enjoyed by a generation that had not yet experienced the internet. They were subversive because us Gen Xers didn’t have easy access to every type of adult content imaginable.

    Now, in hindsight, both seem lame and mildly offensive.

  17. Daemian Lucifer says:

    This wasn’t a Leisure Suit Larry game. This was a game that Leisure Suit Larry himself would be embarrassed play.

    Just like duke nukem forever.This seems to be a trend.

  18. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Leisure Suit Larry is an adventure game classic and I have many fond memories of it, so I dismissed this person as a crank who doesn’t appreciate a good dick joke

    You definitely should watch some of the south park episodes.If you were baffled by the pokemon go phenomenon,then that should be the Chinpokomon episode,otherwise Make love not warcraft.Douche and turd is also pretty relevant during your election year(which is why the new season of south park is referencing it).

    • Syal says:

      There’s a citation specifically for marching with Emperor Hirohito in the middle of the Chinpokomon episode recap, that just links to the IMDB page for the entire episode. That’s hilarious.

      Let it never be said that Wikipedia is not a comedy site.

  19. Drlemaster says:

    I am, I think, a year or two older than Shamus. My freshman year of college, my suitemate had the softporn text adventure, and later picked up Leisure Suit Larry. Have hung out while he played both, I can confirm the story, jokes, and even text are virtually identical. (Larry did add some visual gags where they could.) It did seem pretty funny at the time, but I would agree with Shamus that all the humor came from being a videogame that was naughty on purpose.

  20. Chuck Henebry says:

    An insightful article on a much-maligned game.

    But I was hoping for some reference to the great, parodic text-parsing game released about 10 years ago at homestarrunner.com: Peasant’s Quest:

    Throw Baby

  21. Kelerak says:

    This may or may not be related to the article, but I had a similar experience replaying Postal 2, a game that 14 year old edgelord me adored, but current me is pretty sure this game is terrible but is still astounded by this game. It’s a deliberately offensive game, much like the first Postal was, but the depth of the supposed satire is as shallow as a puddle. The characters that are immediately hostile to you, such as the RWS protesters and the book burners, are shallow one-off jokes that really don’t amount to much beyond “lol geddit”. Its content might have been “profound” for the time, but it certainly hasn’t aged well in the slightest, as its gameplay was somehow outdated already, and this was a year before Half-Life 2 came out.

    I’m still intrigued by it at least as a period piece. It does resonate as a game that dared to be all of the things video games were being criticized for at the time, and its interesting to see how some of the elements in that game have been overall accepted as part of the medium nowadays. It’s interesting to compare Postal 2 to Grand Theft Auto 5, as it provides some interesting comparisons where the shallow satire and “controversial” nature has been so culturally ingrained that it’s seen as normal, with GTA5 being one of the most expensive and highly successful games to make and still retaining that naive mentality that earlier installments and Postal 2 share in thinking that its offensive and shallow jokes are profound.

    So, basically, Postal 2 aged poorly, but aged poorly in a way I find interesting.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Postal 2 was never satirical.It was just offensive in order to offend.Also to have fun doing stupid shit,like pee in peoples mouths and set stuff on fire.

      Its also the only game that made me uncomfortable.Not because of the violence,but because of the realistic cat sounds.Used that silencer once,then I immediately regretted it.

      • Kelerak says:

        That’s also interesting, because the younger edgier me thought it was hysterical, and now it disturbs me on a very deep level.

        I have no idea what that says, to be honest.

  22. Daemian Lucifer says:

    @Echo Tango
    Hah,the moderation filter doesnt like you dissing the panther.

  23. Andy_Panthro says:

    Ah, I grew up on the Sierra adventure games (and the Ultima games), and saw Leisure Suit Larry at a far too young age. Space Quest was more my kind of humour though (Essentially the adventure game precursor to Futurama, in many ways).

    I’m a regular over at The Adventure Gamer, where there’s a group that’s blogging through all of the graphical adventure games in order. Leisure Suit Larry (1987) was covered back in 2012: http://advgamer.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/game-10-leisure-suit-larry-i.html and since then we’ve made it to 1992 and currently dissecting Star Trek 25th Anniversary.

  24. Guile says:

    I actually quite liked the ‘recent’ Leisure Suit Larry set in college (so, original xbox?). It was ridiculous and juvenile, but he was in college! So, y’know, obviously.

    If he was having a threesome with a waitress and an old school arcade game, if he was transplanted into the brain of a monkey while trying to score with an animal rights activist, if he’s using Saturday morning cartoons to pretend to be a spy to a sorority leader who is a Russian spy for some reason… if it turns out Larry is so bad at sex that he turns a poor girl gay and then has a three-person duet (not sure what those are called) in a gay bar with her later…

    I kind of lost my train of thought there. I guess that even despite the dumb move to college-type minigames like playing beer pong instead of a text adventure, it was still pretty funny in a ribald kind of way, and at least the conversations, themes and even the minigames were appropriate college material.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      I think I appreciate what that game was trying to do, and it was at least good timing: American Pie and a whole bunch of sequels, direct-to-video spin-offs, and wannabes meant that the early 2000s had some kind of a market for that kind of teen/college-age raunchy comedy. I just found playing the minigames tedious, and distracting from the jokes.

      • Guile says:

        No question. But the jokes were actually pretty funny! I just wanted to make that distinction.

        Of course, I don’t want to go back and play it again in case they haven’t aged well into my late 20s…

    • AndyL says:

      I also enjoyed LSL:MCL.

      For it’s conversation system if nothing else. I’d love to see that conversation system used in a new game. Any new game.

  25. Halceon says:

    Oh man. I actually had LSL (one of the older ones) on my computer when I was like 8. I never could play it, because it had an age gate that asked questions about US pop culture that kids weren’t supposed to know. As a kid in Latvia, I had no chance.

  26. Zaxares says:

    Woah… I never knew about the suicide ending to LSL! Thanks for revealing something about an old game I loved as a kid that I didn’t know up until now, Shamus. :D

    Overall, I agree with your assessment. The later games tried to go down the path of being more titillatory, but in doing so, it moved further away from being a comedy game. The sequels basically felt like they couldn’t decide what they wanted to be.

  27. Mortuorum says:

    Fawn has aged pretty well. I think she’s had some work done.

  28. The Gneech says:

    I played the original LSL “back in the day;” for the most part it was just corn that was mildly amusing but not even in the same league as Sam & Max or other entries along those lines.

    But the red box that read “CENSORED” pulsing up and down when you finally had sex with someone? THAT was hilarious.

    -The Gneech

    • Tom says:

      I disagree; the bouncing censorship box was merely very funny. When it went on long enough for the entire theme tune to play out and start over, then flipped upside down and carried on, THEN it was hilarious!

  29. kdansky says:

    As much as I always like reading your blog since the early days, this essay is probably one of your very best. The reason why Larry as a game fails today is hardly talked about, and you found an explanation that makes perfect sense.

  30. AndyL says:

    I think the slow death of the humor is part of why the game seems more … I dunno, despicable now.

    Back then it was clear the Larry was a loser, and the whole point of the game was to make fun of him. …But as the humor drains away, so does that whole perspective. Without its humor, you just have a game where the hero is trying to cynically manipulate ladies into sleeping with him. That’s only OK if we’re laughing at Larry.

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