It has been announced that Leisure Suit Larry creator Al Lowe has left developers Replay. In what is turning into one of the more peculiar and uncomfortable stories, it seems that Lowe has chosen to leave the company at the same time as news of a sex offence by the company's president, Paul Trowe, has emerged. Trowe was arrested in October last year for showing "harmful materials to a minor", and plead no contest in April this year. He was guilty of showing a film of gay sex to a 15 year old girl, in a matter that's as convoluted as it is sad. And it seems this might just be one small aspect of a very bizarre story.
The story that Lowe had left the company was broken two nights ago by VentureBeat, and the strange twists and turns begin even then. In their original story a bundle of quotes suggested that Lowe's leaving was amicable. VentureBeat quoted Lowe as saying,
"Replay Games and I had a great, long run, but it’s time for me to go back to doing the things I love, spending time with my family, taking care of my wife, and playing in my big band. I really had a blast during the Leisure Suit Larry Kickstarter and throughout development, especially packing those all boxes! I’m not leaving for any other reason than to just return to retirement. I’m 67 years old. I don’t know how many years I have left, and the ones I do have left I want to spend with my family and friends."
But extremely strangely, it seems that these quotes didn't come from Lowe at all, and were supplied by Replay, which could well mean they were supplied by Trowe. Lowe quickly got in touch with VB to correct this, and they say made it clear that the break up was certainly acrimonious. They quote him saying,
"My agreement with Replay Games was for a two-year period, which recently ended. Due to numerous reasons, I have decided not to renew our agreement and to return to retirement."
Their story then concludes on a quote from Trowe that appears to be at the least, fanciful.
"It’s really a shame to see the father of Leisure Suit Larry go back in to retirement. I’m glad we’re still best friends and will continue to talk and consult with each other. Expect a special announcement from us in January. Al was the most fun person on our team, always quick to crack a joke on company meetings, and was always the ‘go to’ person for anything Larry. He always will be."
Fanciful, because when Kotaku spoke to Al Lowe, he had quite a different understanding.
"There were many reasons for my departure, including that  incident. 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."
He added on Twitter:
@AdventureL0ver It is the end of my association with Paul Trowe and Replay Games. I don't know what the future holds for Leisure Suit Larry
— Al Lowe (@allowe) December 12, 2013
Paul Trowe's incident is ambiguous in the telling, the only apparent certainty being its conclusion where he did not contest the charge of showing inappropriate materials to a minor. In the Kotaku piece, it seems that convoluted events allegedly revolved around Trowe having had a threesome with his husband and a third man, who, it seems, may have been in a relationship with the 15 year old girl. Or not. According to two different versions of the events, either Trowe sent this girl a video of an older man having sex with her boyfriend, or they met and he showed it to her. And since this girl was 15, this was an offence. The specific details seem confused, and we don't speculate either way. And frankly we don't care. All we know for certain is that Trowe did not contest the charge, and received two years' probation, and agreed to attend sex offender counselling. Trowe said to Kotaku that he didn't contest because he "wanted to avoid the messy public spectacle of a trial, in part to protect Al Lowe and the Leisure Suit Larry franchise." (Quoting Kotaku, not Trowe directly.) That is, it must be said, a really quite astonishing claim - not fighting a charge of a sexual offence to a minor to protect the reputation of a colleague seems either an ill-advised act of extreme martyrdom, or possibly unrealistic.
Of course, what remains strange is why this is all kicking off now. Trowe's plea was in April, and he says he told the team about it then. So why has this all come out only now? At the moment, we don't know.
What we do know, however, is that Trowe has a reputation for pissing off an enormous number of people. And he's showing no signs of slowing down, with extraordinary tweets still being fired out in the last 24 hours. From reading his Twitter timeline, it seems Trowe's wont is to publicly state private matters about individuals. Just last night he targeted games producer Billy Joe Cain in an extraordinary series of deliberately offensive tweets, accusing Cain and Cain's wife of all manner of things.
UPDATE: Trowe has since deleted these tweets, but we took screengrabs.
He also accused Cain of trying to extort money from Replay.
That is likely to go further.
In November this year, Trowe outed a transexual woman and former colleague via his Twitter account, having previously said to her, "you're the worst looking transsexual I have ever seen" on her Facebook wall. I'm not linking to this, since it could only cause further pain for the recipient, but have seen the statements first hand. They come across as purely spiteful, revenge for negative remarks made about Trowe.
Around the same time, Trowe is also alleged to have launched attacks against Space Quest creators Scott Murphy and Mark Crowe, as well as Gabriel Knight's Jane Jensen. He also turned his attentions to Corey Cole, co-creator of the Quest For Glory games. The Coles teamed up with Israeli developers The Adventure Mob, to try to help them with their adventure project, Bolt Riley. (The Kickstarter for the game went on to fail to garner enough attention, and fell far short of its goal, and certainly drew concern with apparently exaggerated claims made regarding the Coles' involvement.) The Adventure Mob were the team who were originally supposed to work on Replay's remake of Leisure Suit Larry, and were named in the successful Kickstarter as a part of the team who would deliver the project. However, this was not to be the case. What actually went down between Replay and The Adventure Mob remains contested, with both sides unhappy with the other, but they certainly didn't part on good terms. So when Cole took to Facebook to plug the Bolt Riley fundraise, Trowe appeared in the comments.
There he was quick to berate The Adventure Mob and specifically Oded Sharon, accuse them of having "no employees", and in what appears to be his signature move, state something that appears to have come from a private conversation, whether true or not. This time it was to say,
"Why you continue to work with this guy is beyond my comprehension, especially when BOTH of you told me at GDC this year that you thought he was "sleazy"and "shifty"."
Cole responded emphatically denying making any such comments about Sharon, triggering a slew of attacks from Trowe, accusation after accusation, often based in private conversations or meetings and always without evidence, and crucially, under a post that had nothing to do with him or his projects. And while the he-said/she-said arguments don't show anyone to be in the right or wrong, it represents a frequent propensity to hang private laundry out in public, and to do it with a good deal of viciousness.
While RPS certainly does not demand so-called "professional" behaviour from game developers, what we have seen is a pattern of angry and often cruel attacks on former colleagues, frequently attempting to bring up private information, or undermine others' work through insinuation or direct claims of wrongdoing. None of this is a claim on who might have been right or wrong, screwed or screwer, and doesn't suggest that other parties haven't behaved poorly, because we simply do not know. But it certainly makes for an unpleasant and sad display.
As Kickstarter backers for the Larry game become increasingly furious about the lack of physical rewards reaching them, and with Josh Mandel having also silently quit the company recently, it's certainly interesting times at Replay Games. They still have the rights to create Leisure Suit Larry games, for now, licensed from Codemasters. But without Lowe on board, that's going to be a trickier business.
As for Trowe, he's certainly leaving a trail of very cross people in his wake.
We've reached out to Al Lowe to see if he would like to clarify any of the issues mentioned. All of Trowe's remarks have been taken from his public social networking accounts, within context.