Last year, the future looked unexpectedly bright for Leisure Suit Larry. This year, however, the creator of the original 1987 classic PC game has told Kotaku that he's resigned from the publisher who brought Larry back to the public. In fact, Al Lowe may not be involved in the future of gaming's iconic loser lothario at all. Sex is part of the reason he's leaving but not in a way that many would find funny.
In 2012, a Kickstarter campaign to re-introduce the sleazy sex comedy series netted more than $US650,000 and work got underway to release a re-mastered version of the first Leisure Suit Larry game. Released this summer, Leisure Suit Larry Reloaded (reviewed here) ultimately fell short of the risqué pleasures of yesteryear, joining the ranks of crowdfunded titles that garner loads of cash but fizzle out when finally released.
Now, it's coming to light that one of the men who asked Larry fans for money has been exercising some strange behaviour that many who helped fund the project might find troubling. That behaviour appears, in part, to be the reason Larry's creator is no longer involved with the series' revival.
Leisure Suit Larry's re-emergence owes itself largely to three men -- Al Lowe, creator of the original 1987 classic PC game, stand-up comic Josh Mandel and Replay Games CEO Paul Trowe, whose company published Reloaded. Lowe essentially came back from retirement to lend his efforts to Reloaded, while Trowe's bio says he's been in the multimedia business for 25 years.
Kotaku has learned that, earlier this year, Trowe pleaded guilty to the offence of displaying harmful material to a minor. The offence is a class-A misdemeanour in the state of Texas, where both Replay and Trowe are based. As a result of the plea bargain, Trowe received two years' probation and agreed to attend sex offender counseling.
THE VIDEO INCIDENT
In the course of reporting this story, we've heard two very different versions of the 2012 incident that led to Trowe's guilty plea. The two versions share some common traits. In both, there's Trowe involved, at some point, in a sexual relationship with a young man. The young man's age is in dispute, either an older teenager or a guy in his mid 20s. The young man's identity has not been revealed, and a lack of charges tied to his age appear to clear Trowe of any issues related to a possible sexual encounter with a minor. Both accounts -- those of witness statements given to the police and Trowe's account given to Kotaku -- do agree that a girl with whom the young man was also in a relationship with was a minor. Trowe had a video of two men -- the young man and an older man -- having sex, and he showed that video to the girl.
Why that chain of events happens is where the two accounts widely diverge.
According to a search warrant affidavit dated August 7, 2012, the girlfriend of the younger man told police that Trowe called her on her cell phone last April. The account winds its way through details of a supposed parking lot meeting between Trowe, the girl and her mother, the purpose of which was supposedly for Trowe to tell the girlfriend that her boyfriend was cheating on her and that he had proof of it, in the form of a video involving the boy having sex with another person.
Ultimately, according to the girlfriend's statement, Trowe sent her the video of the boy "performing oral sex on an unknown man." Police investigating the matter viewed the video that Trowe sent to the young girl and showed a still image pulled from it to the young man. According to the search warrant affidavit, the young man identified his own face in the image.
Ultimately, who was sleeping with who wasn't the issue. The problem was that Trowe had sent a minor a video of people having sex. Trowe, however, told Kotaku that things didn't quite happen the way described above and he defended much of this as a private matter. "I'm gay. I'm out. I've been married to my husband for 15 years. In 2012, we had a threesome with a guy. He was 24 years old," Trowe said. "A day later I started getting text messages and phone calls from an unknown number saying, 'Who are you? Who is this? Why are you texting my boyfriend?' Blah-blah-blah. I was like, 'Who are you?'"
Trowe: "Had I known she was 16, I would have never sent her the video."
According to Trowe, he told the girl that the young man had sent him a video and that he was trying to warn the girl that her boyfriend was unfaithful. He says this angered her and maintains that he sent the video at her request.
Trowe says that the plea agreement came about because he wanted to avoid the messy public spectacle of a trial, in part to protect Al Lowe and the Leisure Suit Larry franchise. Trowe also says that he told other members of the Replay Games team about the incident months ago, after he signed the plea agreement.
"I feel like it's a big, big witch-hunt honestly," Trowe explained. "I don't know why somebody is trying to put this out there about me, but they are." Still, Trowe's allegation doesn't wash away the stench of the case's indisputable core fact: he showed a sex video to a stranger -- who happened to be an underage teenage girl.
LOWE'S AWKWARD EXIT
As reporting progressed on this story, Al Lowe's photo and biography disappeared from the Replay Games website. When contacted for comment last week over e-mail, Lowe replied to say that he resigned from all active roles in Replay Games on December 3.
Lowe: "As far as I know, Replay Games still has the rights to do Leisure Suit Larry games, but they'll have to do them without me."
"There were many reasons for my departure, including that  incident," Lowe told us, in response to a question about why he was leaving Replay. "As far as I know, Replay Games still has the rights (from Codemasters, owners of the I.P.) to do Leisure Suit Larry games, but they'll have to do them without me."
Yesterday, the website VentureBeat ran an article that announced Lowe's departure from Replay. The piece initially ran quotes that made it seem like Trowe and Lowe's close relationship was staying intact despite the latter's resignation. Within hours of publication that same article was updated. Lowe's quotes were struck through, and the story was rewritten to note that Lowe's leaving was not on good terms. VentureBeat added the following statement:
Update: After speaking with Al Lowe, we are correcting what he says are incorrect quotes attributed to him by Replay Games.
Trowe told us that Lowe's original comments for the Venture Beat article were taken from an earlier company conference call where Lowe spoke to the Replay team about leaving. Everyone does things they regret, and good people can make a bad judgment that runs them afoul of the law. Trowe clearly would rather undo the video incident of 2012 and move forward with his work making games. He'll be doing so, it seems, without Al Lowe at his side.