Area536 :: Rebooted

Nov 10, 2023 - 3 minute read - C64 gamedev

So why did Larry never appear on the Commodore 64?

As I’m slowly plodding along porting Leisure Suit Larry to the Commodore 64, I was becoming ever more convinced that Sierra simply never bothered to do this because of technical limitations. While this may well be a significant part of the truth, there also seemed to be a far more human issue at play between Sierra’s leadership and Commodore at the time.

Sure there are Sierra titles for the Commodore 64. The most interesting one to me personally is Donald Duck’s Playground. This is a children’s game that plays like a collection of minigames in which Donald earns cash to build a beautiful playground for his nephews. The game is interesting to me because I used to actually play it a lot as a kid, and it was created by the same man who would later bring us Leisure Suit Larry. It’s interesting how a popular Disney licensecombines with one of the most controversial adult-themed games of the decade in the person of Al Lowe.

Donald Duck’s Playground, released in 1984, would be one of the last Commodore titles Sierra ever published. It had been a very bad year in the gaming industry as a whole due to what came to be known as the Great Video Game Crash and it hugely affected Sierra as well.

Managing director Ken Williams saw himself forced to let almost two thirds of his staff go in a single day. That must have hurt, and Ken allegedly blamed most of this on industry investors who had pushed publishers like him to go all-in on cartridge games. Williams then made the choice to avoid the toy market altogether and focus on stability, which he perceived in fully fledged computers like IBM’s PC.

While this explains why no Sierra titles appeared on the NES or other popular consoles of the time, it doesn’t explain why the C64 never got any love beyond the winding-down of an existing backlog of contracts.

As it turns out, Commodore management had decided to cut the price of the C64 so far down that it killed its older sibling the VIC-20 in the market almost overnight. It simply didn’t make sense anymore for anyone to buy a new VIC-20 over the C64, and many of the game cartridges that Sierra was still sitting on had been made for the older computer. That caused some major bad blood between Williams and Commodore’s Jack Tramiel.

Ken Wiliams apparently didn’t want anything more to do with Commodore’s “toy computer” regardless of who was at the helm after Tramiel left. Instead Williams went for the reliable, stable corporate blue of IBM.

Eventually a number of the “quests” were ported to Commodore’s later Amiga platform, but those were so badly done that they feel like a carless afterthought and a quick money grab. Such a move may have made commercial sense for Sierra at the time, but to me personally the Amiga deserved better than the bland 1-on-1 porting over of the EGA versions of things like Leisure Suit Larry.