Al Lowe is a game designer best known for his adventure games such as Leisure Suit Larry 1 through 7 (LSL 4 doesn’t really exist, but is jokingly referenced in other games) and Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist. He is also a very skilled saxophone player and has also taught other people how to play the saxophone as an instructor.
Like TFB, Al Lowe also knows the feeling of having his game taken away from him, only to have another developer make an inferior version without any of Al Lowe’s clever writing and humor in it. To this day, Sierra is continuing the Leisure Suit Larry series without Al Lowe’s presence.
With his years of experience in game design back in the day, I was curious about his feelings towards a Star Control, so I sent him an e-mail. This is what he wrote back to me:
"I wish them the best of luck‐‐because they'll need it!
Four years ago I formed a company to develop a new game, with new characters and even a new genre: action comedy. I figured, if it works in movies, it might work in games. And it did. We hired a great team, good programmers, creative artists, excellent level designers. The game design was strong and different, we had funny characters, it ran well and looked good, with next‐gen 3D graphics and good music and voiceover talent.
Then we took it to every major publisher. They seemed excited to meet us. Most of them said things like, "I love your games" and "I grew up laughing at you" even "I'm in games because of you." They started laughing when they saw the title. When we showed them what we had finished, they said things like "This is the first game I've seen in months that I actually might play" and "This is most original game we've seen in years."
So what happened? Every one of them asked us to show them "comparables," industry‐speak for "other games that are enough like yours that we can look at how they sold and predict how yours will sell." Since we had none, they didn't know what to do, so they opted out.
We laid off our staff and shut down the company.
And you wonder why video games have lost their creativity!?"
‐ Al Lowe
Even though he kept it simple with one sentence, he is right; TFB will need the best of luck in addition to our undying support in order for Activision to let them make a new Star Control sequel. His story about his cancelled game (Sam Suede: Undercover Exposure) is a sad one and an example that shows that publishers are afraid to try new things.
This doesn’t have a negative impact on my feelings towards a new Star Control. Al Lowe wanted to invent the action comedy genre, something that developers haven’t done. He never gave up on making his own games no matter the conditions, and hasn’t expressed any rage towards Sierra continuing Leisure Suit Larry without him. As of this writing, Al is no longer active in the gaming industry and continues to play saxophone at concerts and maintains a daily joke mailing list.
When I think about Toys for Bob, they survived by respecting their publisher’s wishes, no matter how bad they make us feel. Accolade allowed them to make Star Control I and II on their own, which were both amazing games for their time. When they moved to Crystal Dynamics, they remade SC2 with voiceovers and new music, which would eventually evolve into the free open source version known as The Ur-Quan Masters. TFB have also made games such as Pandemonium, The Horde and The Unholy War. When their contract ended with Crystal Dynamics, they started to develop games for Activision. Unfortunately, they never had a chance to develop a game that uses their own Intellectual Property and instead developed licensed games such as 102 Dalmations, Disney’s Extreme Skate Adventure, and Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam. While these games are good, they obviously cannot replace Star Control. Fred Ford had a good response when he was asked how he can make games like these after Star Control:
"We have chosen this as our career and we prefer to have food on the table. Games cost so much to make these days that originality was one of the first casualties. Paul and I are still biding our time."
‐ Fred Ford
I absolutely agree with him, since it is certainly better than to do nothing and not get paid. Now that the TFB family is a bit larger and with all the game development experience they’ve had over the years, Activision cannot ignore the fact that no matter how many licensed games they make, Star Control 1 and II will continue to be their best known games. If Activision allows them to make a third game, a true sequel to Star Control II, it will definitely leave a positive mark in the sci-fi genre and we will make sure that people are aware of Star Control this time, with the power of the internet. :D
There are so many Spore reviews that compared its space stage to Star Control II and that says that even though Spore is a highly-acclaimed game, it just cannot replace the majestic nature of Star Control.
In summary, it’s always risky to try new things and it will never succeed if people aren’t willing to support as much as they do with their other games. With the merging of Activision and Vivendi forming Activision Blizzard, I have no idea how this may affect than chances of a new Star Control. No matter what, TFB needs all the luck and support it can get in order to make a new Star Control a reality.
Thank you Al for taking the time to write back to me.