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Tom Hall of Ion Storm

An interview with Tom Hall of Ion Storm.

He is the mad genius behind games like Commander Keen, Rise Of The Triad, and Anachronox. He is the man who created the now infamous "Dopefish" character, which has since grown to take on a life of its own, with a cult following on the internet. He has played the world at chess, and beaten it.

And now he has been interviewed by EuroGamer.

The Dopefish makes his first appearance in Commander Keen IV

Keen's Dream

Tom Hall started his career in the gaming industry way back in 1987. "My first 'real' job (besides McDonalds and stuff) was at Softdisk in Shreveport. We did monthly software collections, everything from business apps to little games. Then [John] Romero, [John] Carmack, Adrian [Carmack], and I made Commander Keen, formed id Software, and the rest is history."

After Keen, Tom worked on Wolfenstein 3D, but then left id Software during the making of Doom because of creative differences. His destination was id's shareware publisher at the time, Apogee, better known today as 3D Realms. There he designed Rise Of The Triad, and began work on the ill fated Prey project.

"I love all of them", Tom told us, when we asked him to pick a favourite from the games he has worked on. "But I have special places in my heart for Commander Keen and Anachronox. In both games, I'm really getting to create a universe, a consistent reality, and fun characters that I really like."

Anachronox in action


Anachronox is Tom's latest brainchild, and his first game for Ion Storm, which he co-founded with John Romero in '96. "Romero was finishing up Quake, and I was working on Prey, and he called and mentioned the idea of a company where you could design exactly what you wanted. I said it would be a dream. Seven months later, we had left our former companies and [were] talking to publishers."

Tom looked for inspiration, and found it in an unusual place. "The name 'Anachronox' came to me .. well .. in the bathroom", he admits. "It seemed like the city that would be the home of the characters when you start the game. Then I looked at the word - it seemed to be made of 'anachronism' (something out of its proper time, or left over from the past) and 'nox' (poison). So, it meant 'poison from the past'. The idea grew from there."

He was also inspired by classic adventure and role playing games, including Japanese console titles. "Well, Square's Chrono Trigger was VERY inspiring. Everyone joining the team has to play it. Final Fantasy VII is great. The pleasant, quirky humor of Tim Shafer's games (Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, Grim Fandango) have been encouraging. And Shigeru Miyamoto's games and design philosophies have been very inspiring. He really knows how to keep the game experience fresh, and the fun level high."

Sly Boots, Stiletto Anyway, and Grumpos


Tom describes the end result as "a 3D, third person, science-fiction cinematic role-playing game".

"You start as a down-on-his-luck detective taking a small case, and that case grows into a galactic emergency, and you've got to do something. Like console games, you talk to people for information, you play interesting small mini-games, you battle tons of creatures, and you travel to many interesting places as you solve the mystery. The cinematics are wonderful, and all done in-engine. Battles happen in the environment, not in a 'battle room'. You never leave the constant level of reality, so you get really immersed. Also, it's an emotional story, which will be pretty new for games."

Graphically it should be more than a match for other role playing games as well, based as it is on a highly modified version of the Quake II engine. And when I say highly modified, I mean it. "We've got 24-bit textures with 8 bits of translucency, programmable particle effects, a powerful scripting language called APE (Anachronox Programming Environment), smart AI for NPCs, DirectMusic support, a spline-based camera scriptor, facial deformation and skeletons, and on and on."

Ironically, the original lead programmer for Anachronox was Corinne Yu, who has since left the company to work for 3D Realms on Prey, Tom Hall's old project. It's a small world...

Stiletto - "Stop talking to my breasts, Sly."


If everything goes to plan, Anachronox should be available early next year. So what do we have to look forward to? What will blow us away? "I love the amazing cinematics by our producer Jake Strider Hughes - he's actually gone to film school. I love the awesome environments by our artists - the first ones you see are done by that Animal, Seneca Menard. He did a whole city in one weekend."

"The writing is precious, done by Richard Gaubert - I laugh all the time. He wrote the script for an upcoming movie, 'Dean Quixote'. And the APE language by Squirrel is so fun and easy to use. It's making game content so easy to create. I could go on. Everyone on our team ROCKS."

If there's one thing Tom's never short of, it's enthusiasm. If there's another thing, it's ideas. In the past Tom has said that the story of Anachronox was just too big for one game, and when we asked him about it he confirmed that there will indeed be a sequel. "Oh yes. Part 2 will follow fairly soon after Part 1, though I won't give any dates! Most of the levels are done for Part 2, but we didn't want to rush you through the dozens and dozens in Part 1. You should get to enjoy a place before you have to move on. And of course, you come back often to various places."

There is one other important question which has to be asked though... Will the Dopefish be making an appearance? "I cannot confirm nor deny the presence of the Dopefish."

Tom ponders his next move on his way to humiliating the world


Of course, it's not all work. Tom recently took on the world at chess... "It was just a dumb parody of 'Kasparov vs. the World', which I was voting on", Tom explains. "I got the funny idea that I would challenge the world. Since I'd just gotten into chess, and had only played six games against real people, I was ready to get trounced, but it was funny that I was talking big about it."

It was slightly disturbing then that Tom won. I'm not sure what that says about the state of the world. "I was TOTALLY surprised I won", Tom admitted. "I blundered away a knight, and the world had me checked in two moves, and then [they] blew it. Then I actually thought of a couple good moves, and it was all over."

So, when do we get a rematch? "I doubt the world will get a replay. It was just a joke, though it was fun. I'll do it again if Kasparov does it again - how about that?"

Can't say fairer than that...

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