Andrew sits down with Thom Clancy.

Sun 5th Oct 2014 - 12:56pm General

Today I sat down with Thom Clancy, the son of the world famous Tom Clancy, Thom runs his own Webcomic and is currently creating his own consultancy company.

Hello Thom, for our readers that haven’t heard of you before, could you please introduce yourself?

I’m Thom Clancy, son of the author Tom Clancy and aspiring writer and video game professional. Since 2008, I’ve logged a little over two years as a Quality Assurance professional here in the Chicago area. In addition to that I hosted a live podcast called Geeks Anonymous for about six months and published a brief webcomic, Callsign: Bandit. Now though, I’m working on finishing Callsign: Bandit and taking my first steps into starting an independent consultancy company on top of a few personal
projects that I’m keeping quiet for the moment.

First of all, what is a typical day for Thom Clancy?

My typical day is actually pretty boring. I game, I try and write, I read up on the entertainment news that isn’t relationship gossip. On Wednesdays I try and pick up the good new comics. If I were a reality TV star, I’d be amazingly boring. I’d also never want to be a reality TV star but so long as I stay boring I think I’ll be safe from that fate.

Having a father like yours must be fantastic. He’s one of only 3 authors to have sold over 2 million copies of a single book prior to 2000. He also is massively famous in the Computer Gaming industry where he has an amazingly broad franchise of games bearing his name. Having a man like that in your life who has achieved so much on paper and in games, do you feel the need to try outdo him or perhaps even try and leave your mark in either of the industries?

It is a hard act to follow, isn’t it? I’d be lying if that thought didn’t always loom over everything I try to do because, as you said, he was immensely successful. Growing up, dad was always very proud of his success, as well he should be, so there’s always been some pressure to outdo him. I’m the only son and I have his name so it’s almost like I have a duty to follow in the family and be better. Much as I would like to surpass him, I try not to think about it too much. It’s a lot to think about and an epic undertaking that I’m not ready for yet. I may never be ready to set out on an artistic venture with the sole purpose of surpassing him and I don’t think I should ever want to. Dad’s work is good and very indicative of who he is as a person and I think that’s why it resonated so well with such a wide audience. I’m a very different person than he is but in many ways very similar so I think that whatever works I put out there will have some thematic similarities that will hopefully help them resonate with an equally broad audience but still be distinctly my own.

I don’t really want to be better than dad, I want to be different. I want to coexist as a peer and not as a competitor. In my ideal endgame, Thom Clancy and Tom Clancy live peacefully in the same world if that makes sense.

You release a web comic, what got you in to comics in the first place?

Reading them for the most part. I read a fair amount of comics growing up, significantly more of them than books actually. I wasn’t a very patient kid so books required a lot more patience than I was willing to give unless it was like Jurassic Park or something like that that had a gimmick that I was deeply invested in.

Comics were this middle ground between television and novels with their own unique style and brand of storytelling. Characters like Batman and Superman just wouldn’t work in a novel and really only worked in their animated versions because the things we believe they are capable of are out of reach of a normal human being. It’s cliche at this point but they really are the modern Olympians, the god-like archetypal characters.

Beyond the characters, the medium itself is just fun to work with. It lends itself to just about every kind of storytelling. Comedy is still a little hard as you can’t control the pace at which readers read but the really good writers and artists out there have this almost supernatural ability to glue your eyes to the correct panel and that just fascinates me.

If you went to Comic-Con who would you dress as? and why?

Either Captain America or Green Lantern. They might not be my favorite, that’s Batman, but they’re the characters that I find myself resonating with the most. For Captain America it’s his unwavering sense of integrity and justice, both of which are things I aspire to. Now let’s be honest here, who isn’t envious of Green Lantern’s ability to overcome fear? So many things in life are scary for various reasons and I would love to be able to overcome those everyday fears whether they be real or imagined. Also, the Green Lantern’s oath? Who doesn’t want to say that with an awesome power ring and probably hundreds of other people at Comic-Con??

I know you said earlier that you are creating a consultancy company, why did you take this career path?

The short answer is that it was something new and different and a little bit scary. Everything worth doing should be a little bit frightening because it means you’re expanding your boundaries and doing something really new. The longer answer is that I wanted to find a way to apply the knowledge and theory that I’ve accumulated in my lifetime of gaming in a way that can be helpful to others. My time in QA gave me some very good insight into the process of making games. Admittedly, I’m not an expert but I’ve still learned some very valuable lessons early on my career that I think can be of use to others in the industry.

I’m part of the first wave of people that grew up alongside video games. Looking back, I can remember a time before internet access and cable television but I can’t remember a time without gaming. One of my first memories is watching my older sisters playing an old Atarti 2600. I’ve had a console of some sort all my life from the old Sega Master System all the way to my Xbox 360 and PS3 of today.

That said, there’s still a lot more that I have to learn. Richard Dansky, chief Clancy writer for Ubisoft is a bit of a mentor and hero of mine and in an article he was interviewed for on Kotaku he talked about barks being used as expository dialogue and that literally blew my mind. I looked back on every game that I had played since voice acting became commonplace and I was marveled at how I could overlook something so important. At first I was mortified because here I am portraying myself as an expert and consultant and I missed something that obvious and important but it also serves to help me expand my horizons and knowledge base. The moment I stop learning is the moment that my advice becomes useless.

I also hear you are a big fan of eSports from First Person to Real Time Strategy, what games do you mainly like to play? and watch?

The main games I play right now are Ghost Recon: Future Soldier and World of Warcraft. I’m on break from WoW right now but I love PvE endgame. I grew up in a household that stressed the importance of teamwork and that’s a value I carry over into my online gaming. Raiding in WoW exemplifies that as it requires each of the raid members to step into a different role for the success of the group. I enjoy Ghost Recon for similar reasons. The focus of the multiplayer is cooperative even in the competitive space. I love hopping in a group with two to five other people and working together to push objectives. eSports wise, I really enjoy watching the types of games that I don’t play. Starcraft II is a favorite of mine. I can understand the basics behind the gameplay but I’ve never been able to really get very good at it but that understanding allows me to pick up on what the players are doing and appreciate their playstyles. I also really like watching the competitive arena play in WoW and as a longtime
hunter, I was floored when the champion arena team had a hunter on it. I’d been saying for years that hunters were perfectly viable for arena so long as you had a high caliber player and someone
finally proved me right.

Since you started playing games from such a young age, what would have to be your all time favourite game?

I can’t nail down just one game on this, well, I probably could but I wouldn’t want to. What I will do is give you my top five in no particular order. The Legend of Zelda, Mass Effect 2, Halo: Combat Evolved, Final Fantasy IX, and Diablo. Those are the games that really shaped me as a gamer and an aspiring games writer. Diablo, especially, was highly influential on me as storyteller. It was one of the first experiences that I had with dark fantasy, with the notion that a hero could win but still end up losing.

Have you ever played Co-Op mode or played against your father in any game? What game was it? and what was the end result? (did you win?)

I think I got him to play the original Super Mario Brothers back in the late 80s and I don’t think he enjoyed it that much. While there were a few games that dad played, he wasn’t really much of a gamer himself. There were a few games that dad loved back in the Apple II era, the sci-fi tank sim Stellar 7 was his game of choice. He had an exercise bike set up in front of the old Apple II and would pedal away while blasting alien tanks in the old vector graphics. Needless to say, it was a single player only game. Given the huge leap forward since then, I’ve wanted to bring my Xbox over to his house and show him what games are capable of these and maybe I’ll do that this Christmas.

As you are currently building your consultancy company, have you ever thought about following in your fathers foot steps and creating a game with Ubisoft?

That’s pretty much the goal, to be the guy coming up with the stories and working to bring that to market. If Ubisoft came to me right now and asked me to make a game with them I’d give them an enthusiastic yes after a few skeptical questions to make they were on the level with the offer and submitted the offer on paper. Video games still have a lot of growing to do as the medium evolves into what it’s meant to be and I’d love to be one of the people that helps it get there.

If you could ever create a game, what would it be about and who would be in it?

Well I don’t want to go into too many details because there are a few game pitches I’m working on right now but I want to find ways to take existing genres and turn them into something entirely new. For example, a shooter where you might not shoot people in the traditional sense of the word. The most important thing for me though is making a single player experience that is interesting and compelling with strong characters that have a definite arc of their own. An example I’ve been using a lot lately is Sam Fisher from Splinter Cell: Conviction. Despite everything going on in the game, that story really boils down to the conflict within a man between justice and revenge and which one of those wins out. While the main story of the game was also very compelling, it’s that inner conflict that really gave that game meaning for me and that’s exactly the kind of thing I would want to do.

Apart from games what else do you like day to day?

I’m a pretty simple guy with mostly simple pleasures in life. I have a regular gaming group with some former co-workers where we play Dungeons & Dragons and well as Star Wars D20. We play 3.5 for D&D in case anyone was wondering. We have three different campaigns going, none of which I’m running though I have run some table top campaigns in the past. My Netflix account gets a lot of love as well, I’m working on Breaking Bad right now on my own and introducing my wife to Star Trek: The Next Generation. She was always more an original series person so I’m doing what I can to show her why Picard is better than Kirk. That’s right, I said Picard is a better captain than Kirk. I try to catch as many movies as I can each year. The last few that I got a chance to see were The Amazing Spider-man and Prometheus. I loved both of them, especially Prometheus which I saw twice. I love seeing movies in theatres, not just because the scale of the experience is much better than you can get at home but because of the audience. If you’re lucky enough to get a good audience, there’s this great shared experience to the whole thing that you just can’t get anywhere else aside from traditional theatre but that’s an entirely subject altogether.

What was it like getting your scuba certification?

It was both the singular most freeing and isolating experience I’ve ever had. It’s freeing because
there you are suspended in the water column able to go where ever you want but you’re so
amazingly alone at the same time. I was never more than five or six feet from my wife throughout
the whole experience but we’re only able to communicate through hand signals so I was pretty
much alone with my thoughts the whole time. Scuba diving is probably the coolest thing I’ve ever
done in my life and I’ve done some pretty amazing things but it’s also the one thing I’ve wanted to
do my whole life that I’d never been able to do.

My family was never as adventurous as I wanted to be. I always rode roller coasters alone and they still look at me funny when I say that I want to go skydiving or bungee jumping but my wife also has that sense of adventure. She started taking scuba lessons for her school, she’s getting her doctorate in Forensic Psychology, and she invited me along knowing how much I had wanted to give it a shot. It’s been very rewarding for the both of us because it’s something we can share that isn’t competitive, scuba exists solely for the purposes of fun and expanding human knowledge which is something that we can both get behind. I’ve said it to her a few times but I’d like to take this opportunity to reiterate that I can’t adequately express my gratitude to my wife for reminding me of that sense of adventure I had as a kid and getting scuba certified with me. Now that I’m certified though, it’s adventure time! My goal is to swim with a shark. They scare the hell out of me but they also deeply fascinate me.

You mentioned movies are one of your primary loves, could you name (if possible) your top 5 movies of all time?

You’re going to notice a big commonality between most of these once I start in on them so here they are in no particular order. Saving Private Ryan, Jurassic Park, Jaws, Alien, and The Dark Knight. Return of the Jedi almost made that list but Batman won in the tie breaker. I love Speilberg movies. He does such a great job of balancing spectacle with these deeply human stories. Looking at Jurassic Park, it’s easy to say that it’s just a disaster movie with dinosaurs instead of an earthquake or fire but, as much as I love the dinosaurs in that first movie, it’s more a movie about a man learning how to better himself. The core of that story is the transformation of Dr. Grant from a bit of a curmudgeon who hates kids to this caring and heroic father figure. Just a real quick aside here, I would have picked Return of the Jedi over The Empire Strikes Back because I just enjoy it more. Empire is a superior film but Jedi just has one of the best space battles of all time and the second fight between Luke and Vader eclipses their first encounter. It also shows that a director can still show the spectacle of the fight without losing the emotional weight of the whole thing, a lesson that I think Lucas forgot in between the original trilogy and the new.

Thank you so much for your time, it has been fantastic finding out more about you and I am sure our readers will love hearing your stories.

Would like to give a mention to anyone out there?

I’d like to thank you for this forum to let people get an idea of who I am as a person.



Andrew Heppinstall

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