Earthworm Jim Creator Doug TenNapel Interview – Regressives, Manufactured Outrage, and More

I had the wonderful opportunity to finally interview Doug TenNapel, the creator of Earthworm Jim and The Neverhood, just to name a few of his projects.

A longstanding critic of the regressive horde that is slowly encroaching upon literally everything they can find, I wanted to pick Doug’s brain regarding his creative process, as well as how he deals with outrage.

You can find our interview below:

For those of our fans somehow unaware of your work – could you give us a brief rundown on your career?

It’s been a lot of work over the last 30 years so I’ll hit a few major works. I worked in video games making Earthworm Jim, The Neverhood and Skullmonkeys. In TV I made Project Geeker, Catscratch, and I was the show runner for the recent VeggieTales in the House. I’ve written and drawn over 17 graphic novels including Creature Tech, Gear, Cardboard and my Nnewts trilogy. I’ve also taught college and consulted in Hollywood on various productions.

What made you want to get into games initially?

I’ve just always loved playing games. I was raised on the Atari 2600 and coin-op arcade games. Plus it just so happened to be the only animation job I could find in San Diego around 1991.

Do you have a favorite licensed game or project you worked on? I’m a huge fan of Ren & Stimpy myself.

Ren and Stimpy was fun, but really, Neverhood is my favorite. It was kind of easy too.

Stop-motion animation is clearly something you love doing, and it shows in lots of your work – including Armikrog. What’s your favorite medium? Comics, film, games?

Comics are by far my favorite medium. It’s the one time I can do everything by myself and the thing that comes out the other end as the most like what I imagined. It’s a powerful medium.

What inspires you the most as a creator? Or do you typically prefer sitting at a blank canvas and feel things out?

Really, I just sit at a table or white and pound stuff out. It was never hard to create. I’ve pretty much made stuff every day my whole life. I do like to procrastinate a little by going out for food or play with the kids, I want to get everything out of the way so when I hit that blank paper I’m ready to devote myself to it.

Clearly, the event that prompted this interview is that flaccid Kotaku take on Earthworm Jim. Could you talk up the millennial critique of the game? It’s pretty baseless right?

This Kotaku article (source) is just the outrage of the day. They took an angle I disagree with, and I don’t mean that Earthworm Jim is beyond criticism. It’s full of flaws. But the author didn’t find any of them. I smelled an agenda from a mile away, and Kotaku should be thrilled with the traffic I got them!

Yes, even Kotaku needs some TenNapel outrage to pay the bills. I only want their prosperity and want people to read Kotaku… I just want Heather to be a better writer. That’s encouragement to keep going and get better.

There’s bad level design, there’s challenging level design, and then there’s critics who are just bad at video games (and somehow have a job). Does Earthworm Jim sit somewhere in between “just challenging enough” and “rage-inducing difficulty”?

I never found it unfair. It is hard, but it’s not mean-spirited. I have no idea the skill level of the Kotaku writer, but it sounds like he played it a few times, got frustrated and got mad. Never write an article when you’re mad. If I had my wish, I’d have him play the game on a Genesis system with original controllers. That’s about the best Earthworm Jim experience one can have.

Was the game meant to be mean-spirited at all? It always came off to me as a perfect example of 90s humor and satire.

This is where it gets hard, because I don’t know what the reviewer meant by it at all. There is nothing mean spirited in it. I mean, sure we put lawyers in hell, but even my lawyer found that pretty funny.

Everything we did in that game, just isn’t that big of a deal. We kind of farted it together and the idea that someone is studying it 25 years later is going to produce unintended results. It should be seen in the context of a 1994 Genesis game. It’s a good game.

Do you feel like anything and/or everything can be made fun of – or satirized?

That’s a tough one. I think anything can be made fun of one on one with friends. My best friends have insulted me every way possible. But out in public we’d probably be thrown in jail, and by thrown in jail I mean trying to be an intelligent person of conscience at Bleeding Cool. For mass media content like Earthworm Jim or most of my graphic novels, I pull back on jokes so that in general, most people won’t find stuff offensive. That’s almost always true for most mass media projects.

I have a hunch as to how you feel but I’m curious for your thoughts on censorship, and how it’s been actively promoted by internet regressives. Is censorship ever ok?

My problem with censorship is when it is selective. The idea that everything I believe should not be censored but everything you believe should be is a sucky way to do censorship. So if the censors aren’t going to take my values into consideration why should I take their values into consideration? It must be reciprocal.

But where we’re at in culture I see everyone taking a dump on everything so I always smell around when they turn into cultural church lady prudes when I say something. People who use censorship to target and shut down artists are no friends of artists or the audience. That said, employers who pay the bills can draw the line where they want on censorship. I try to respect the standards my employers set for me.

You openly supported GamerGate – that combined with your conservative views have frequently gotten you crucified by other games press. Has this lynchmob phenomenon ever made you consider swearing off social media? Having opinions? Existing?

I think it was a lot harder back in 2011 when I was doing this alone. I’d say something and the silent majority stayed silent. But since then, people have learned that being silent is how you lose an argument with a vocal, totalitarian left. I get the same amount of support as I get detractors so at least now there is a debate happening. It’s never good when one side silences the other. I’ve seen my side do it to the other guy and that doesn’t sit well with me.

But social media is deceptive, because it seems to be what the whole world thinks. It’s not. It’s what the vocal minority on both sides think of something and they are a limited sample of the whole world of thought. We get this tiny feed and it looks like reality, even when I have 12,000 followers on Twitter. But it’s a skewed sample. So is Kotaku. So is Fox News, or the comments section of your favorite anything. It has far more psychological weight in the individual than it does in reality.

Have your personal beliefs always been an issue for other people in the arts and entertainment industry? Shouldn’t this be a non-issue?

Oh, yes. I’ve always told people what I think and believe. I do think it SHOULD be an issue because I think ideas, beliefs, and values are so important. I often wonder what else is as important? But in order for me to tell you who I really am I need to speak freely and you need to be frank with me.

People take issue with me because I’m blunt. I am. That is a good thing sometimes and it’s a bad thing sometimes. I’ve helped a lot of people and I’ve hurt a lot of people. But I’m not trying to injure you, I’m trying to tell you who I am.

What’s weird about the arts is I was told that philosophically it was the wild west, that anything goes, but I quickly learned it’s anything but. These people are so programmed by culture to fit within these tiny brackets that when someone like me comes along they just freak the hell out.

I’ve noticed lots of outlets have refused fair coverage of your projects in the past, because of your personal beliefs. How common is this from your perspective?

It’s not that common, but it does happen. Liberals go into mass media more than conservatives so I’m just going to see more liberal bias in mass media. That’s just human nature. When it happens it’s always the same thing, because they all think the same.

I would love a unique take or criticism of me or my work. These people are boring. That’s part of the reason why I keep inviting my critics to call, Skype or email me. I could make this interesting, and they want anything but a conversation to be stimulating or interesting. They just want to jam an angle down our throat and don’t want facts or human beings to get in the way.

You’ve always kept your personal beliefs out of your profession, noting almost all of them disagree with you. Why do armchair warriors desperately cling to things they disagree with?

I’m really comfortable in my own skin. It took a long time to get here but someone making ignorant comments about me doesn’t shake me, it actually confirms what I know about my critics. But I do work with all kinds of people and they make me a richer person.

I’ve hired transsexuals, Scientologists, Commies, Mormons, racists, vegans, all kinds of people I don’t agree with. In general, I just get to know them and we put our heads down and work our butts off. We make good stuff, and that’s what I’m paid to do.

Should a creator and their creations be considered separately? A la “The Death of the Author”?

I know I do that. Why in the world would I consider the artist when all I care about is what’s in front of me? I read Richard Dawkins and I don’t care what kind of guy he is. I want to read the book for what it is. The whole question of separating the art from the artist is a stupid cliché distributed over the net to train idiots not to think for themselves.

Why did art critics not ask about separating the art from the artist in the 1980s? Because we used to be adults who could look at the work of someone we disagreed with and just the work on its own merit, not the hands that made it. In logic it’s called a Genetic Fallacy to criticize an argument because of where it came from. It’s a fallacy.

You frequently come off to me as someone who doesn’t back down from your beliefs, religious or not. Should this be the right approach to take in combating the regressive hivemind?

This isn’t just something to use against the left, it’s something I use on anybody anywhere. Why should I back down from my beliefs or my religion, politics or philosophy? If they’re wrong, demonstrate they are wrong and I’ll change them. But shaming, peer pressuring, calling names, death threats, none of that will change my mind.

I don’t think most who disagree with me have any idea what I think or why I think it. That hive mind you speak of does not like it when someone gets out of line. I’m way out of their line and they can’t sleep until I think like them. I don’t lose sleep that they are idiots. They’re burning all of their calories on this.

If you ever could, would you return to Earthworm Jim? Maybe if Interplay asked you to come aboard for that project that’s supposedly still in development. Kickstarter perhaps?

I would always be open to that project but I have a lot of demands to keep it from being a waste of time. I would want the original team, I would want creative control, guaranteed royalties etc… it’s all the kind of things that owners and controllers of IPs don’t like. And I’m sure by now you can tell how wonderfully flexible I am about these things. If it happens it probably won’t be with me.

To close out – what words of wisdom do you have for your fans?

To my fans I would say to consider others as better than yourself, to love your enemies and consider what God has done.

Niche Gamer regularly interviews developers on a variety of subjects—if you’re a developer and want to chat with us, please contact us!

Brandon Orselli


Big Papa Overlord at Niche Gamer, Nicchiban, and Pretentious Media. Italian. Dad. Outlaw fighting for a better game industry. I also write about music, food, & beer.