I’m sitting in my office with the speakerphone on and listening to one of my artistic heroes – Tom Abernathy – speak as his creation The Freak from Destroy All Humans! 2. Yes, this really happened and it was …. awesome.
Our discussion covers how Tom started his career, his past achievements, and what more he wants to give us.
When I first started speaking with him, I didn’t understand him. Where was the angst-ridden melancholy that is so familiar in so many artists? Where was the bitterness? I realized that his artistic process was totally different from that of a TV and movie writer who spends their artistic career in a great deal of isolation punctuated by a team of constructive criticism and clearly defined tasks. His job touches all facets of the creative process, allowing him to fully realize his creative voice and vision.
Tom’s video game narrative career influenced or decided the dialogue, direction, and casting of many of our most beloved games. His career began in Los Angeles doing coverage – summarizing and reviewing scripts to determine if they were worth making. He did this job for twenty-five dollars a script. Through a connection, Joseph Donaldson, Tom was able to get a job writing scripts for Activision Studios. It was not like today. Tom said, “The writing [for games] was terrible then.” The video game writing done by the designers and producers who had little need for professional writers at that time. His first game “Dark Reign 2” did not do well and Tom’s future as a professional game writer was uncertain. However, something occurred in 2004 that made him eagerly look for work in TV, Film, or Games – he had a baby on the way.
Once again, Joseph Donaldson pushed Tom’s name forward as the head writer. This was for Destroy All Humans!, a Mars Attacks set in the 1950s where you played the Alien Invader. Tom had a unique take on both the people who inhabited the world and the Hero of the game – Crypto.
Tom brought the satirical humor to DAH! Tom created the premise that “the 50s were Ward and June Clever and Eisenhower exterior, but everything going on in their minds must be depraved and wild.” Since Crypto was able to read minds, as he leveled towns and harvested human brains, we got to read and hear the unspoken, providing both comic relief and clues to completing missions. He wanted Crypto to be “two parts Jack Nicholson and one part Charlton Heston.”
This was revolutionary because unlike the characters in “Doom” and other FPS, Crypto had a personality and a story. Although Crypto would be insulted to read this, he had real humanity. This will shock many fans, but “the original [Crypto voice] had a stilted tone like the 50s saucer movies”. YIKES! Tom wanted Crypto to be a “cowboy walking id, very American individualist.” Therefore, it was “Jack Nicholson for id and Charlton Heston for cowboy.” He continued. “[Crypto] needed the pomposity of Charlton Heston, [he] needed arrogance/confidence with swagger like Soylent Green. TOUGH!”
What was Tom’s role besides being the writer? Were people lording over him? How much freedom did he have? It turns out that he had A LOT of artistic control. Why? “The [game developers] were in Brisbane and [he] only interacted with them by phone and email.” Therefore, the geographic separation allowed Tom to have immense creative influence that would not have been afforded to him otherwise. For example, Tom knew what he wanted Crypto to sound like and Tom was able to do the casting. Yes, creatives – he got to do the casting.
DAH!2 Crypto was pitched as a James Bond/Austin Powers. There was a pause in the discussion and I had to ask about The Freak and if it was true that he was the voice? Yes!!! “The voice director, Doug Carrigan, and I realized that, in all our months-long work to get the important parts cast and recorded, there was one reasonably significant role we had totally forgotten about: The Freak. [We] were out of money and time, we had no choice but for me to hop in the booth and perform The Freak myself in what was probably the final 15 minutes of the entire series of recording sessions. Apologies to Bobcat Goldthwaite; I had zero time to come up with an original take on the character, so I just decided to commit to the idea of Goldthwaite on a really bad acid trip.” Yes, he did the voice for me and it was …. EPIC!!!
I asked him about the DAH!2 side missions. “Leanne Taylor did a ton of work [assigned] late in production.” Leanne Taylor – from me- THANK YOU!!!
I asked him about getting Anthony Stewart Head to play Ponsonby, who would’ve been a get for the time. This was an interesting story because it not only reflected the creative process for a narrative, but also the limits of their power. Tom had directed and recorded another actor to play Poncenby. “I had cast an older man who brought out the humor and after he was recorded, THQ UK Marketing emails – “We want you to cast a ‘name’ actor from the UK so we can sell more units over here.” I was curious as to Tom’s reaction. “Not great. No one ever bought a game because someone voice acted in it because you don’t see the actors!”
What’s Happening Now?
“The story is like Matrix meets Fringe. “There are mechs, known as Metamods, that come in both software and hardware version. The hardware versions are actual 3-D printed action figures as much as ten or twelve inches tall, with 200 coats of paint and more than 20 points of articulation.” I didn’t really understand this until I watched the above video. There are toys and a video game component. In other words, this will be really badass. Most importantly, “you don’t have to pour tons of money into the game to be successful! Jumo the company behind the game- wants players to get value with or without investing money.” There are RPG components, platform, and toy components!
Given Tom’s track record of bringing story and humanity to games, this will be a MUST BUY for the holidays!