A Career Change for Commander Keen
Romero would lead development of Daikatana, a time-hopping first-person shooter centered around a legendary sword. “John’s was the big game,” says Michael McHale, an Eidos producer. “The expectation was this is going to be the next major first-person shooter. It should be the biggest game of the year when it comes out.”Hall’s project, Anachronox, was a simple idea quickly made exponentially more complicated. He’d just played Chrono Trigger, a wildly ambitious, time-travelling Japanese RPG, dense with story and characters, humor and pathos, and decided he would like to do that, too. Just as Keen had evolved out of an experiment to try and do Super Mario on a computer, the challenge of Westernizing the JRPG was enough of a goal for Hall to start. And if that was all he wanted to do, he could have got a job making PC ports of Final Fantasy, but for once he had the freedom, and the money, to dream bigger. He wanted to bring the 2D genre into a 3D world, like the ones id was making in Doom and Quake, filled with hundreds of bizarre aliens with unique and funny dialogue, different planets to explore, museums and red light districts to visit, minigames and collectibles, powers and spells to combine and customize, and characters who grew and changed.
“[We] clearly made a very major balls-up,” Eidos’ James Poole says today.
Learning on the Job
Hall was only a few years removed from id Software, and he was still largely the same person, but he’d become, with the success of Keen and Doom, a legend people wanted to work with, whose ideas were valued. He was so much happier. The team listened to him, they liked the project, there was an atmosphere of positivity and free-flowing creativity. Unlike at id, Hall didn’t have to worry about reconciling his vision with Romero’s; they each had their own sandbox, and were content to leave the other to it.
HENRIK JONSSON: He’s one of the greatest people I’ve ever worked with.
JAKE HUGHES: I liked Tom so much. He was very much in love with the game, and in love with making the game and being there for us and always creating a good, fun, positive vibe. Yeah, he was the best.
JOEY LIAW: I think Tom Hall is a creative genius.
RICHARD GAUBERT: Tom was very generous in the way he welcomed me into his universe and let me play with the toys, and I'll always appreciate that…. Remember that these characters and ideas had been living in his brain for years at that point, yet he was very open to new ideas and wasn't possessive or precious about what he had done.
LEE PERRY: Everybody liked working with Tom. He’s a genuinely really likable dude.
SQUIRREL EISERLOH: He is the most loving, caring person. If you were having a bad day, anyone on the team, he would set aside time to talk to you, sit down with you, figure out what can he do to help, what do you need. Just one of the most empathetic people I've ever met to this day. That really inspires loyalty. When you know someone will go to bat for you like that, and really has your back.