Inherit The Earth - FVD visitors interview Talin

Were you / are you still part of the furry fandom? Do you get bothered much by rabid furry ITE fans?
I have never been part of the central core of furry fandom. While I do collect things like Rhidipurrt/Elfquest/Cerebus, I consider a lot of the art that is passed around at conventions kind of, well, crass and lacking subtlety. Pornographic rather than erotic. While I appreciate the sensuality of furred forms, I am not into XXX drawings.

However, I have a lot of friends who are furry fans. I wanted to take the energy and intensity of furry fandom and "whitebread" it, that is make it acceptable to a mainstream audience. I also wanted to emulate some of the feeling of Watership Down or Beatrix Potter.

One thing I wanted to explore was the whole notion of animal stereotypes. You'll notice that all of the characters in the game conform to the "traditional" animal stereotypes, but with a twist. For examples, in the traditional view of foxes (The con man from Pinochio, Reynard the fox, etc.) foxes are crafty and steal things. Well, in ITE foxes _are_ clever, but they are kind of rustic, and like the Gypsies, they have a slightly different notion of property rights than the other tribes do. So they have a reputation for being thieves. Similarly, in the traditional view, Elks are stately and noble - but here, they are also decadent. With the rats I played off of the phrases "pack rat" as well as "you sneaky rat", and also took a page from "The secret of Nihm", to make the rats monk-like figures who hid their "ratness" behind dark cloaks so as not to offend others. I also made them collectors of information rather than bright baubles. Similarly, the Boars are kind of belligerant and hostile, but they are also kind of like jolly vikings. This "stereotype with a twist" is true of the ferrets, wildcats, wolves, and all the other races. It's one aspect of the game I am particularly proud of.

A strange thing happened to me while I was working on this. I was thinking really hard about animal characters, and I started seeing them everywhere. It's not something you notice unless you're looking for it, but there are humanoid animals everywhere in our society, on greeting cards, fast food restaurants, TV commercials. It's kind of amazing the stuff that we simians project onto the non-simian lifeforms. There's some really deep need here that I don't quite understand, and the more I sensed this need the more I was interested in exploring it. Eventually I started seeing animal shapes in things like arrangements of leaves - at one point I swore I saw an Elk waiting at a bus stop, and then realized it was a silhouette of a man, with a dead tree just behind him, so that the branches of the tree looked like antlers.

I don't get bothered by Furry fans at all. I get about one fan letter a month, sometimes because of ITE, but more often because of Faery Tale or Music-X. I really enjoy these letters. (Most of the geographical features in FTA2 are named after people who sent me letters.) Most of the people who I know at conventions have never seen ITE, so I don't get "mobbed" ever. Although I sometimes get stressed out from getting too much attention in a short period of time, most of the time I don't get enough human contact, rather than too much of it.

I should mention that there was one letter I got from a young man in Estonia, which affected me very deeply. This fellow had originally pirated the game, along with thousands of other games. He said that he lived a very violent life - until he played Inherit the Earth. He had always liked foxes, and never dreamed of the idea of "becoming" a fox, as he was able to do in the game. He says that after playing it, he couldn't eat for three days - he said that he began "see the difference between good and evil" and began to "believe in the power of love". He said that since that time (a year before), he hadn't pirated a single game.

Anyway, I feel that if it could have that strong of an effect on one person, think about how many might have had a slightly lesser effect? I have always attempted to weave a hidden spiritual thread into my games, something so subtle that only a few people would actually consciously sense it (and a few have mentioned it to me.) I've long been fascinated by the idea of portraying love in a computer game.

Another shot of the wildcat tribe - this time in a much lighter mood. As Rif says himself, the cats sure know how to throw a party!

ITE has the best female/male ratio of important characters, of all similar games I have played. Does this reflect the real f/m ratio of the working group or just the fact that they're Furries?
Actually, this was a deliberate attempt on my part to make a game which had a neutral gender balance. That is, I didn't want to make a game for "girls", or a game for "boys", but a game for people.

However, a lot of women did work on the game, mostly on the art side. Lisa Jennings, who you mention earlier, was one of the key figures on the art team, as was the art director Allison Hershey. Carolly Hauksdottir helped out with the design, as did Lisa and Allison.

The Gypsy Cat, one of many female characters populating ITE. Lisa Jennings said in her interview that the gypsy cat is one of the few remnants of when the game was not aimed towards children. Not surprising, considering she tries in a not-so-subtle manner to invite Rif to "a soft bed".

Are you still actively involved in the games business, and would you consider going back if 'no'?
First, you might want to read my Slashdot essay "Why being a computer game programmer sucks." located here.

Right now I am doing e-commerce in digital wallets. Would I consider going back? Sort of. Like I said, I'm really interested in social design and community engineering, and I would work on anything that involved that, even a game.

What I really, really want is the freedom that I had back in 1986 to work on anything I bloody well wanted to. I could just spew onto the screen whatever came into my mind, and it would sell 50,000 copies. Those were the days! (Geez, I sound like a "grizzled veteran"!)

In the mean time, I am working on some open source game creation tools. In particular, I am creating a sprite animation editor (very similar to the one used in ITE) for the KDE 2.0 desktop environment. You can find out more about the project here.

(This page created by FVD webmaster, 16/4/2000)