Language Is A Virus: A Talk With Pandemic's Tom Abernathy
October 25, 2007 Page 1 of 5
Writer William S. Burroughs once said, “Language is a virus from outer space”. Well game writer Tom Abernathy has written plenty of dialogue for aliens, including those in the Destroy All Humans! series, and some of it is pretty way-out-there.
At Austin GDC -- prior to the Electronic Arts buyout of Pandemic and BioWare -- Gamasutra had a chance to talk with Pandemic Studios’ senior writer/designer, whose credits include Heavy Gear, both Destroy All Humans! titles, and the upcoming Saboteur, as well as numerous film, TV and theater projects.
We chatted to Abernathy about Destroy All Humans!, Australia, Pamela Anderson movies, and -– oh yeah -- writing for games:
Are you based in Los Angeles?
Tom Abernathy: I am based in Los Angeles. Contrary to popular misconstruance at times, I am not based in Australia, although the team who made the [first] two Destroy All Humans! games is based in Australia.
Good then. You don't sound like you're based in Australia.
TA: No, in no way. Although I did get to visit a couple of times during those processes, and that was a lot of fun.
What's the development scene like down there?
TA: Interestingly, Brisbane is the center. It is the hot spot of game development in Australia, which is kind of weird, because it's not one of the three or four largest cities, I don't think. You would expect Sydney or Melbourne, but no, it happens to be Brisbane, which is kind of wacky, but that's the way it is. Actually, there's a fair amount of game development going on down there. There is an Australian game industry. They have their own awards and organizations and sort of thing. Our Pandemic studio down there has a very preeminent place among the independent developers in Australia.
Destroy All Humans! is kind of an odd thing, though, because it's a game that THQ didn't market hard, I think, in Australia -- not like they did other places. The funny thing is, the first game came out and was a pretty decent-sized hit here, and the guys on the team over there really had no idea. It wasn't like it is for some of us here, where for a while surrounding your release, you're seeing some TV ads or print ads.
They weren't seeing anything, and so they had no sense of it being a success. So one of the things I got to do when I went down there was to be able to communicate to them just how well it was doing. We would get some fan mail, oddly enough from kids a lot, 12 or 13 years old -- probably the ones who get into the potty humor aspect of Destroy All Humans!, which there is a little of. Well, not potty, so much as crude, juvenile sexual stuff.
Pictured: throwing cows around. Not pictured: stuff.
There's also throwing cows around and stuff.
TA: Right. Exactly. And the farting stuff. Parenthetically, you haven't lived until you've heard a voice actor who specializes in cows and chickens do a cow farting. The man can do Hamlet as a cow and you would understand it, I swear to God. Incredible. But anyway, I was able to show them the fan mail and tell them about the letters we were getting and that the game was really scoring with some people, and that really made them happy. The second game I think got a little more recognition down there.
Yeah, because they're kind of isolated from the rest of the universe. It's something of an island!
TA: There's something of that, yes! It's an interesting place, because I think we think of them being very culturally related to England, but they think of themselves as being almost not culturally related at all to England. They think of themselves as being much more culturally related to America.
In a way, they are. We're both colonies and refugees of the Queen's country.
TA: But they're flabbergasted that Americans could confuse their accent with an English accent, because to them, they just don't see that similarity at all.
Americans aren't always that smart, either.
TA: That's true.
They give us too much credit.
TA: Perhaps. I always like pleasing Australians and New Zealanders by being able to tell the difference between those two, because New Zealanders hate being mistaken for being Australian, and probably vice versa. But they are sort of isolated in weird and interesting ways. I mean, they have four channels of television. It's funny, because there are a lot of ways in which they are very much like America, but there are other ways in which they're clearly hungry for American culture in a lot of ways. A lot of guys down there, they'll download Battlestar Galactica off of iTunes, and all that kind of stuff. It's not a totally different thing, but it is different.
Are you sure they don't download it off of BitTorrent?
TA: Some of them do, some of them do. Yes.
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