Family, love and honest work: Lost Planet 3’s Jim Peyton and the actor who gave him a soul
The main character of Lost Planet 3 isn't your usual run-of-the-mill video game protagonist. He's not a space pirate or an escaped convict or a faceless marine. He's a husband and a father, and those aspects of his character define his journey.
Lost Planet 3 is the story of a working man caught up in extraordinary circumstances.
“He’s only there to provide for his wife and kid,” Bill Watterson, the voice and motion capture actor behind Jim Peyton, told the Report. “He lives for the video messages to and from his family, and it kills him that he can’t be there.”
The game takes place on E.D.N III, a sort of ice planet that's being mined for resources to send back to Earth. Jim Peyton is nobody of particular importance, a miner working off-world to provide for his family back home.
Rust Belt, ice planet, same difference
Like the previous games in the Lost Planet series, the newest installment is a shooter imbued with elements of horror and mech gameplay, but despite the sci-fi setting the game has a distinct American Heartland vibe.
There are hulking mechs all over, but they're not called mechs. They're called Rigs. The music you hear inside the Rigs isn't a sweeping symphonic score. It's country music. The main character is just another hardworking guy, and Watterson himself, the man behind Peyton, is part of what imbues him with that working class feel.
“I’m a very blue collar-minded kind of guy,” said Watterson, a Cleveland native working in Los Angeles. “I’m at my happiest when somebody says, ‘you see those forty boxes over there? We’ve gotta move ‘em over here.' And I’m like, 'you got it!' I’m gonna throw my back into it, break a sweat, I know exactly what to do. I’m gonna do it right and get it done.”
“I think that absolutely comes from growing up in a Rust Belt town, and it’s not hard to imagine being away from my family trying to make a living,” he said, referencing Peyton's situation at the beginning of Lost Planet 3.
“I can’t make a living as an actor in Cleveland, and I miss my family every day,”he continued. “Certainly I can imagine being in a foreign place and being lonely, and being there because it’s not going to work at home. I lived in Europe for a few years playing in rock and roll bands, and it’s very lonely…a lot of wandering the streets alone. So I totally relate to that. If I could have made a living creatively in Cleveland I don’t think I ever would have come to Los Angeles.”
The luckiest picture frame
It's the similarities between Watterson and Peyton that may have scored him the gig in the first place. That said, Watterson is also an experienced actor, and had just finished doing motion capture work on the groundbreaking LA Noire, playing bit roles and filling in for main characters when scenes needed to be redone.
But the job also came from a bit of luck. The auditions for Lost Planet 3 were done online through a self-submission of a monologue. From the get-go he was on the right track, sporting a big beard and cowboy boots.
“So I’m doing the monologue and at one point there’s something about ‘I miss you guys and I want to hold you again,’ and I had this picture frame I’m looking at,” Watterson told me. The frame was actually a secret cheat. It had the words of the monologue taped to the front. “So I check in on the dialogue to make sure I’m reading it right, but I did it at a moment when I was talking about the family.”
The team at Spark Unlimited, the development team behind Lost Planet 3, told Watterson that was the moment when they knew they found their leading man, thinking that Watterson was so caught up in the emotion of the dialogue that he was staring longingly at the frame. Watterson joked that he waited until after the contracts were signed to tell them the truth about what happened.
Lucky or not, Watterson's still been able to keep the job over the three years from inception to release.
“I got a great Christmas card from Spark, and one of the guys wrote, ‘Thanks for making Jim less of a dude and more of a dad,’” Watterson said. “Which is great, because there’s a fatherly instinct here that you don’t get in a lot of your third-person shooters which star these huge dudes that are just killing machines.”
An actual man's man
The fatherly instinct ties right back to that Heartland vibe. This is a game that seems to have been made to appeal emotionally to the average person, not just those who like to shoot space bugs. Although it's got space bug shooting too.
I can't help but think of Peyton as a similar mixture. He might not be a buff space marine, but he's still something of a fantasy character for one simple reason: he's the best possible person. From the perspective of an average middle-class person, he's the ultimate man's man.
Usually the term, “man's man” refers to tough guys who beat people up, but I think that's inaccurate. The real man's man, the person people actually respect, is a guy who puts everything on hold and sacrifices everything for his family. He's kind and friendly, and would help you change a tire any time. The real man's man is intelligent, but only shows it in his actions.
That's not to say this trait is somehow exclusive to males, though. Whatever the gender, our real heroes are people who go to work every day to help and support whoever it is they care about. In our fantasies, we want to be space-faring ultra heroes, but in reality, most of us just want to be as good as Jim.