Joe Kucan — theatrical terrorist


206 In English // 05.05.2020

In 2014 I’ve managed to make an interview with Joseph D. Kucan, former Westwood Studios’ video director, widely known for his role of Kane in Comman & Conquer series. The interview was for Mail.ru — russian internet media giant. Here is uncutted verson of the text.

Young and happy Nod leader

Hello, Alexander. I’m sorry for the delay; I’ve been extremely busy. My theatre company, A Public Fit, just closed our inaugural show, Foxfinder by Dawn King. By all accounts it was a tremendous success and I’m just now catching my breath after a hectic couple of months. I’ll do my best to answer all of your questions!

You are holding the Guinness Record as the longest recurring actor in any video game franchise to date, so we thought you’d never leave gaming industry — but you did. Why so? And what are you doing now?

I didn’t leave the gaming industry so much as IT left ME! As you know, Electronic Arts decided to end the Tiberian storyline in the Command & Conquer franchise, pretty much guaranteeing that Kane would no longer be making any of his trademarked resurrections. Since then, the gaming industry has not been exactly beating a path through the Las Vegas desert to my door. I spend my time these days with construction projects around my house and busying myself with A Public Fit, a theatre compnay I co-founded with my girlfriend. We stage monthly readings of plays we consider «overlooked» and have just recently closed our first full-scale production — a dystopian fable called Foxfinder by Dawn King.

C&C: Tiberian Sun

We’ve stumbled upon your crowdfunding project at IndeieGoGo, A Public Fit. Could you explain the idea behind the project? How is it different from other theatres? Why did you choose to participate?

Stumbled upon it, did you? How much did you contribute? HOW MUCH?? A Public Fit started when my girlfriend and I were reading a play that we both found difficult to visualize. So we recruited a group of friends to read it out loud, hoping that hearing the text would help us to better evaluate the quality of the story. Afterwards, we had a spirited debate about the merits and shortcomings of the material and we realized pretty early on that it was the discussion following the reading that we most enjoyed. We decided to do it again the following month; our little group of 8 turned into 12 and the month after that it swelled to 20 and the month after that it grew again to, like, 35. We soon outgrew our living room as word spread among the Las Vegas theatre community that we were doing monthly readings. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to be involved and came to join in the ensuing debates.

We moved the readings to a downtown Las Vegas arts venue called The Window and began publicizing them, opening them up to a wider audience. The readings were fun, free and feisty as we invited everyone who attended to stay for the moderated discussions following each performance. But we were hungry for more. So a number of months ago we committed our resources to producing a full-scale production of a play that would run for a couple weeks. And, true to our mandate to treat each performance as the beginning of an unending conversation, we invited the audience to stick around following each show to engage us in discussion about the themes, style and subtext of the play — a lively affair we took to calling «The Buzzz.» Audiences loved it and on average we had 60-80% of the crowd hang around to discuss the evening’s event. We are now regrouping, assessing our experience and deciding what our next full-scale project will be. Las Vegas has a number of community theatres but suffers from the lack of a truly professional acting company; we are trying to fill that gap. And through it all, we continue to do our free monthly readings!

We know that your brother Daniel wrote a book on martial arts. We even saw your AMA session at Reddit, promoting the book. Did it help to boost the sales?

I can’t say whether or not it helped with sales; Daniel steadfastly refuses to let me audit his accounting ledgers! I will say that I’m a big fan of the books and encourage everyone to check them out at amazon.com. They are ridiculously well-written and tell a great story. But I wouldn’t say that they were strictly «on martial arts.» Instead, they’re the collected stories of an aging prize fighter, written in his unique voice and told with great panache. People get beat up, make no mistake. But they’re more poetic than martial, more stylized than titillating. If I were you, I would stop reading this interview RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND and head on over to Amazon and buy the whole set before they’re all sold out. THAT’S how good this book is — there’s a very real danger of all the electronic versions being COMPLETELY SOLD OUT!

You’ve said that after the Westwood times you’ve become a pro in poker. What’s the biggest pot you’ve won in one night?

The biggest single pot I ever won was $3800.00. I was playing no-limit hold-em on the strip and was dealt pocket Aces. There was a lot of action pre-flop and I chose to slow play my hand, hoping that enough cash would build that the right flop would allow me to make a quick decision and push the table around a little bit. The flop comes 3S 6C 9D and there’s a bet and 2 raises. The button had folded so I’m last to act and I push all-in and am immediately called by a woman at the far end of the table. I honestly hadn’t realized she was in the hand because I felt that the real threats were in the blinds — maybe a couple of straight draws. Everyone else folds and she turns over pocket 9 for a set and I’m figuring it’s all over for me. The turn comes a QC and then, out of nowhere, the dealer spikes a red ace on the river. I win with a set of Aces and the woman hurls her busted 9s across the table at the dealer. The only thing I feel bad about is not paying attention to her in the first place and not seeing the flopped set in her eyes.

How does it feel to live in the game, when everything depends on the hand and fate (and a little bit of mathematics & psychology, evidently)? Personally we imagine it being like in the movie Maverick with Mel Gibson. And in reality?

I haven’t played seriously in awhile. But it was never too dramatic for me. I never played with an enormous bankroll or got myself involved in a game that was bigger than my wallet. My margin was very low and and I didn’t need much of a win to push me away from the table.

Let’s talk about other games — for PC and consoles. Our main question on this: is it easier now to make acquaintance with girls since you are the main villain in the most famous RTS series? It’s a well-known fact, that ladies are somehow more attracted to bad guys.

Yes, I am near-constantly surrounded by super models; they’re pesky, like gnats. And I swat them away like gnats too, but this only seems to tantalize them more and more. I ear naught but caviar, I drink naught but champagne. I drive a solid gold motorcycle. It is a well-documented FACT that in between trips down the runway, Victoria’s Secret underwear models pass the time backstage with LAN parties of C&C tournaments, so of course I am their idealized man. Most of them, however, seem mysteriously loyal to GDI. Probably because of all the starving.

How the image of Kane was born? Since what age are you so cool, bald and bearded?

Well, I was bald at birth so it wasn’t really uncharted territory when I shaved my head at 28. The notion of the scary bald guy sprang, I assume, from the fact that in the 90’s Westwood was populated almost entirely by weaselly little computer nerds who jumped in terror at the whiff of even the slightest hint of testosterone, so pushing them around was really no challenge at all. I had been roughing up Ted Morris for lunch money almost from the first day I started working at the place and since Ted’s shrieks of compliance could be heard across the entire campus it wasn’t long before my reputation had solidified.

Imagine you had the budget for any movie star at the times of the first C&C — whom would you cast for Kane?

Pauley Shore. No question, and without hesitation: Pauley Shore.

It all started with Kane being the leader of terrorists. Then he entered Stalin HQ and helped poisoning him. Later on (in the dark times of EA) we’ve been told he’s some kind of an ancient being, who use tiberium to lure the aliens to the Earth, so they build teleport towers, so Kane could escape from our planet. So who is Mr. Kane, really? And what was the initial concept for him? How far did EA make you go from it?

When Eydie Laramore and I first envisioned the character back in the early 90’s, we purposely kept as many specifics about the origin, nature and goals of Kane as mysterious as possible. It seemed to us that a lot of the questions that the players had about Kane would either keep them invested in the storyline or else they’d just make up their own answers to satisfy themselves. I liked this approach because it seemed the most realistic — no one really knows much about the true nature of the larger-than-life people that exist in the world other than what we access through the filter of the media. A lot of the early images of Kane in the game are literally filtered through various media agents, as well as through the Seth character, and so I really like the ambiguity of the reality of Kane. Towards the end though, clearly EA felt the need to be much more specific…

The making of Red Alert

Kane said in C&C that he invented the word “tiberium”. And who is the actual author of it?

The way I remember it, I was. But i’m sure that Eydie remembers herself as the author. And I’ll bet that Brent W. Spiny believes he made it up himself.

Political propaganda can be very persuasive. We believe that both in the US and USSR everything was fine with it. When you worked on Red Alert, how strong did you believe in the possibility of event portrayed in the game? Could you even imagine the full-scale war between the SU and the US?

No, I never felt that the Cold War would lead to any full-blown military conflict. I try to be very sensitive as to when I’m being pushed in a certain direction through fear-mongering or jingoism. It’s probably naive of me but it never occurred to me that the threat of war was anything other than political opportunism to funnel money into absurd military budgets, a gimmick that continues in our country to this day.

Do you play video games? Can you name a couple of your favourites? Maybe there are good poker simulators?

I truly enjoyed the «Bioshock» games; the level of complexity in tone and story-telling was near-genius in my opinion and raised the bar for not just «games as art» but also, somehow, «games as literature.» I loved the atmosphere of «Dishonored» and spent a lot of time exploring its dystopian environment; it made me want to create a game based on «The Threepenny Opera.» These days, I spend a LOT of time playing «2048.» …

Kari Wuehrer as Tanya

Could you name your favourite game in C&C franchise? And tell why namely this one?

I am particularly proud of C&C’s first venture into true internet gameplay: «Sole Survivor.» This game was truly ahead of its time and I was sad to realize how few gamers appreciated its metaphoric symbolism and homage to Alfred Jarry’s 1896 revolutionary masterpiece «Ubu Roi.» Much as Jarry’s play is seen as a precursor to the Theatre of the Absurd, surely «Sole Survivor» is notable for it’s influence on such titles as» Grand Theft Auto: V» and «Aquaman: Battle for Atlantis.»

What about your favourite Westwood game outside C&C franchise (and tell us why it’s so)?

I have a soft-spot in my heart for «The Legend of Kyrandia.» It was the first Westwood game I was ever exposed to and honestly opened the door to my career at Westwood. I had played «King’s Quest» and «Police Quest» and really thought adventure games were just about the coolest things ever long before I’d ever even heard of Westwood Studios. «The Legend of Kyrandia» made me smile then and even now, when I think about it, it makes me smile to this day. I also happen to think «Blade Runner» is a hell of a game.

Do you think there’s any chance to resurrect those old bestselling Westwood franchises like Kyrandia via crowdfunding?

How funny — I mention Kyrandia and up it pops! I’m IN! Put me down for $50!

We know that you’ve been in Russia at Igromir Expo. What surprised you the most this time in Russia?

I was most surprised by the remarkable ability of 5’11» Russian women to navigate ice-covered streets in 6″ heels and mini-skirts. Seriously. It was snowing so hard I couldn’t take a full breath without inhaling a pint of water and all around me these impossibly tall beauties with legs that seemed to start at their necks were charging across sheets of ice as if they were wearing football spikes. I’d never seen anything like it. And it seemed that the colder it got the fewer clothes they felt the need to wear. It was both arousing and terrifying! Russian women are FIERCE!

We’d like to talk a bit more about mobile tech. What mobile phone(s) you are using now? And why?

I’m a devotee of the Samsung Galaxy, mostly because I like having the ability to customize my battery without having to use a pry-bar and a sledge-hammer. Also, in my experience the Samsung has a superior camera that holds up well over time. PS — if Samsung would like to pay me for this unprompted celebrity endorsement, I’m not ashamed of cashing a big, fat, corporate check…

##3##

Do you remember you first mobile phone? What model it was?

I do: it was a Pantech C300 and it was tiny and ugly and it was my favorite! I loved it even more than my smart phone! PS — if Pantech would like to pay me for this unprompted celebrity endorsement, I’m still not ashamed of cashing a big, fat, corporate check…

Can you describe the most useful mobile apps you are using for work and in everyday life?

I’m really mostly Luddite, but I have to admit that I regularly use Happy Cow to find great restaurants whenever I travel. I’m a strict vegetarian and I love being guided to good , creative veggie food. And speaking of travelling, since I’m an American and therefore can only barely speak ONE language, I like Word Lens a lot as a sign translator for when I’m overseas.

Joe Kucan and Frank Klepacki, circa 2019

Of all the modern communication channels which ones do you prefer the most? Facebook, instagram, twitter?

Actually, I don’t participate in any social media — that includes Facebook, Twitter even LinkedIn. A Public Fit uses Facebook to publicize events and performances, and although that’s proven to be very useful I just can’t bring myself to keep up with any of that stuff on a personal level. I’ve been told that there are a number of «Joe Kucan» Facebook pages but I’ve never seen them and none of them is me. I find it all to be a colossal waste of time.

Have you ever used mobile phone in some unusual or unconventional way? (like a bottle opener, or something like that)

I called a bet with a cell phone once, telling a buddy «heads or tails?» and then tossing it into the air. I didn’t have a coin with me so I had to improvise. It came up heads as I recall and I lost. I always lose…

Maybe there was a situation in your career when a mobile phone totally saved the day? Can you share it?

Jeez — do you guys work for the mobile phone industry? No, I’ve never had any day saved by a mobile phone. I did have a day saved by Batman once, but that’s another story.

What do you think about mobile games? Do you play them? Сan you name your favourite mobile games?

I think we have yet to see the mobile game that breaks out of the genre to be anything other than a time-waster. That being said, I waste a ridiculous amount of time playing «2048» on my phone…

Well, that’s the lot! Again, I’m sorry for the delay. I hope you find some of this interesting. Good luck with your career promoting the use of mobile phones!