July 17, 2013

Leisure Suit Larry 2 Preloaded

Looking for Looking For Love In All The Wrong Places... in slightly different places...

Good lord! If you squint, that's almost filth!

Good lord! If you squint, that’s almost filth!

Leisure Suit Larry Reloaded landed the other week – check out my Rock Paper Shotgun review here. I actually played it through the other month, so running through the final review code to check for important changes allowed for a certain amount of thinking time, specifically about the team’s intention to go on and make a similar remake of Larry 2. This honestly seems like a pretty bad idea, because Larry 2 is – to use an official adventure gaming term here – ‘a bloody mess’. It’s full of dead-man-walking moments, Sierra Sudden Death Syndrome, and above all else, the plot is insane. Larry 1 ends with our hero falling in love with a beautiful woman in Not Las Vegas. Larry 2 ends with him blowing up a supervillain’s volcano lair with a molotov cocktail.

This is a thing that actually happened.

So, I got to thinking – purely for the heck of it, much like in PC Gamer’s Let’s Reboot series – about how it might be possible to fix the game without throwing everything out (though admittedly, not worrying too much about budget on the grounds that hypotheticals don’t have those). Is this how it necessarily should be done? No, of course not. Just one way, purely because it felt like an amusing design problem to play with.

It's not really mentioned, but that leisure suit must pick up insane sweat during this adventure.

In England, it would have been Shell Suit Barry. Very different game.

While the full story was covered in the Crap Shoot I wrote ages ago, here’s a quick summary. After meeting the love of his life, Eve, in the first game, Larry travels to LA to move in with her and live happily ever after. Unfortunately, she only vaguely remembers her one night stand, isn’t happy to see him, and kicks him out with nothing but the dollar in his pocket. That dollar is just enough for Larry to buy a lottery ticket, which he cheats to win, making him incredibly wealthy. Due to a mix-up, he also ends up winning a cruise with a beautiful but less than pleasant girl called Barbara on a TV dating show. Who gives her ticket to her dominatrix mother.

The catch, and where the story goes off the rails, is that while shopping for supplies, he walks into a music store and ends up accidentally giving a passphrase to the Russian spy who runs it. She gives him an onklunk with a microfiche in it (and incidentally, do you think spies ever bemoan that they will never get to smuggle a meeecrofeeeche out of the country again?) that results in Larry being chased around the world by the KGB. After many near death experiences, he ends up marooned on another island, Nontoonyt, where he falls in love with a native girl called Kalalau. To marry her though, her father insists he defeat their local supervillain, which he does, and is once again set to live happily ever after… until the next game.

Quite a long way from buying a condom at a convenience store, isn’t it?

lar2_5

Right. What are our key problems here? (Not getting as granular as individual puzzles, obviously)

First, along with the story being nonsensical, Larry 2 has a tricky structure. Like a lot of adventures at the time, each area of the game is isolated and there’s no real hint of what’s going on. Only when you’re on the cruise ship for instance do you find out that you need to escape on a lifeboat and survive for an extended period of time at sea, but the items required to do this can only be bought or acquired earlier, in Los Angeles.

(A lot of the time, this design was so that games could be split across floppy disks more easily, without the need for constant swapping. Now, that’s not an issue we need to worry about, or need to feel limited by. Still, the hub system is core to Larry 2′s journey based narrative progression, so remains a factor to deal with.)

Second, the story doesn’t fit the Larry series at all. It was a diversion into more traditional adventuring that made sense when it seemed like the series was going to struggle. After Larry 3 went back to a more traditional formula though, it really stands out. It’s also largely forgotten about after a while, with Larry simply throwing the onklunk away near the end and never even knowing about the meecrofeeche he’s being chased for.

Third, Larry 2 doesn’t have a vast amount of character. At the time, Larry was essentially a blank, with the series rolling with second-person narrative. This is the easiest to fix, as Larry Reloaded already demonstrates. A good narrator and more back and forth will be fine. Still, who Larry is presents us with an easy opportunity that sorts out much of the game’s problems in one go – turn it from actual events into a ludicrously tall tale.

Larry 2 - aka the Larry game where any attempt to have him get lucky leads to instant death. One of its many weird elements...

Larry’s attempts to get lucky in the sequel all met with painful death. All of them.

So, the scene. A dark piano bar, location not relevant. A beautiful woman, her colours only hinted at the edges of the shadow, contributes freely to the smoky atmosphere. As light piano and sax plays, Larry approaches with a glass of something sinful in hand. “The barkeeper said you bought me a drink?” he says. “You looked like you needed a drink,” she replies, blowing a little smoke in his face. “What brings you here, Larry Laffer?”

Or similar words to that effect. The gist though is that Larry 2 is now told in flashback, and a somewhat non-linear one at that. The first key mechanic change is that we use the fact that Larry’s path moves him geographically to our advantage. We have four key areas – Los Angeles, the Cruise Ship, the Tropical Island and Nontoonyt – with a couple of bridging areas in the middle, like the plane flight Larry takes from the island. These are unlocked via progress, as you’d expect, but with the ability to open up a map of Larry’s journey and return to past areas. (To make this more manageable, any with nothing to do get greyed out until needed, and as of Nontoonyt, the game would likely focus there until the endgame, bar any flashback type situations).

Larry 2 isn't a huge game, but its big scenes and wide reach made it feel epic in the 80s.

Larry 2 isn’t a huge game, but its big scenes and wide reach made it feel epic in the 80s.

This is both used for rewinding after deaths, as in games like Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time, and for more fluidly offering objectives/callbacks. As an example, there’d be no need to psychically be aware of the cruise ship escape – now, Larry would get into the boat and there could be an exchange like “You survived a month at sea with no provisions?” “What? No! Of course not! I’d prepared!”, with characters or objects potentially only being added to the world as necessary for some puzzles. Larry is after all a monstrously unreliable narrator. Who in turn has a much better, snarkier narrator in his head, as usual. Both of whom are also reacting to a third, guest narrator more interested in picking the story apart than helping to tell it to the player.

It’s an approach that wouldn’t work for a long or complex game, but Larry 2 is relatively short – not too much wasted shoe leather, and with far more scope for doing things for comedy and experimentation rather than worrying about creating fiendish puzzles. Both the structure and improved modern graphics offer plenty of scope for more slapstick style comedy, even within the old puzzles – something as simple as Larry losing his shorts while diving in the cruise ship pool, emerging to see a kid running off with them on a pole, or more set-piecey, like being starving after his voyage at sea and being forced by the narrator to eat a few items from a smorgasbord of local foods that made the dinner in Temple of Doom look like a McDonalds menu.

It also allows lots of opportunities for trimming the fat and adding new sequences. Most of the jungle puzzles for instance were pretty awful, and could be done better with a jaunty tune as Larry crosses a map and we see pop-up images of him facing pirahnas and angry cannibals and whatever else. Other bits though can now become interactive, whether or not they officially happened. Now, the first time Larry gets abducted by the KGB allows for a daring, clearly-bullshit spy-escape sequence ending with the admission that no, he didn’t even know the KGB were after him until much, much later on. Still, sounded cool, right? (“No,” she replies, coldly, for reasons that become much more obvious after a few hours, if they’re not already painfully so.)

In a series with a million deaths, saxaphone reeds up the fingernails remains the king of the ouchies.

In a series with a million deaths, saxaphone reeds up the fingernails remains the king of the ouchies.

Another extra detail involves the antagonists. It’s worth keeping the KGB as running antagonists, but making it into more of a joke. The first step is to switch the girl in the music shop who gives Larry the onklunk for an older woman who’s been waiting literally decades for someone to come along and take it off her damn hands. When Larry accidentally takes it, she pings her boss – an incompetent KGB major and his team who’ve long been assigned somewhere nice and remote by the real spies. They’ve yet to acknowledge the Cold War ending despite the pay cheques drying up years ago, and now fund themselves by selling tanks and other equipment on eBay. They offer excellent prices, and have a surprisingly good seller rating.

They’re also now the ones chasing Larry round the world, with neither the Americans nor Russians as a whole giving even the faintest damn about an old meeecrofeeeeche they don’t even have a machine to read any more. When Larry finally reaches the supervillain, it’s also to the discovery that he’s long since ceased to be a threat, with his superweapons dusty and and broken from a lack of use. He just likes going “Mwah-ha-ha!” at people, who politely ignore him, and being fanned by pretty native girls who pretend to be hypnotised slave types because they’re paid well to indulge that fantasy and he’s too old to act on any others he might have. Only the local tribe is bothered by his presence at all, and it turns out that it’s not because he’s a threat to them, but because they want the land around his volcano for redevelopment. Larry still blows up his lair, but it’s an accident, and he ends up apologising for it before going off to marry his lady-love, the native girl Kalalau.

And then she goes and spoils it all by saying something cruel like "I'm leaving you."

And then she goes and spoils it all by saying something cruel like “I’m leaving you.”

And that’s essentially the end of Larry 2 as-was.

Our framing story also adds a little bit to the end though, when Larry finally realises what the player hopefully did hours ago, that for once, he never actually told the woman he’s talking to his name. Yes, she’s one of the KGB agents who spent the whole game trying to seduce and kill him, and as the snarky narrator might put it “Didn’t see that one coming, did you? Everyone else did.” Being Larry of course, he doesn’t realise until he’s handcuffed to a bed with a gun in his face… and probably a fair bit after that as well. Still, that gives scope for one final flashback to clear up the final fate of the onklunk in a slightly more satisfying way than just dropping it, and adding that while he did in fact marry Kalalau, it didn’t work. Afterwards, he met someone else and thought it was going to, but… well, things happened. Maybe some day, some sequel, they’ll meet again.

Yep. This is all taking place in the gap between Larry 3 and Larry 5. No missing floppies required, and more importantly, no need to ruin the joke about Larry 4 not existing by ever actually trying to make it.

Anyway, cue slapstick final confrontation, escape from death, credits, yadda yadda. And we’re out!

Ah, ye olde times when Larry was a normal looking 40-year old guy instead of a tiny cartoon troll...

Ah, ye olde times when Larry was a normal looking 40-year old guy instead of a tiny cartoon troll…

All of this is simply extrapolating on the part of Larry 2 with the most potential for comedy – the spy farce that hasn’t been done that often in gaming (aside from the wonderful No One Lives Forever series, of course) but has plenty of possibilities. By making Larry the narrator, the break in style becomes integrated into the story. The occasional bursts of non-linearity make better use of the different settings, in a way that we can do now but couldn’t then. Yet despite all that, it’s still Larry 2 underneath, and still gets Larry into position for the start of the third game – a sequel that stuck closer to the first game’s concepts in a new location, and established the pattern that the rest of the series would follow. That one needs much less fixing to work.

Anyway, those are my off-the-cuff thoughts after playing the first remake, anyway. I look forward to seeing what Al Lowe, Josh Mandel and co actually end up doing with this crazy game, even if I’d much rather see them get the greenlight to make something new instead. The originals are still perfectly playable via GOG.COM, and while budgets might not stretch to a modern equivalent of something as fancy as Love For Sail, and it’s about time for a new adventure capable of washing away the memory of those last two godawful sequels. Brr.

Right. That was fun. Now, about that Monkey Island pitch…

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