Interview: Doom Thatcher’s Techbase Creator Calls Her An “Eternal Source Of Inspiration”
Jim Purvis talks Boris Johnson, Hades actor Laila Berzins, One Piece, and more.
“For the first couple of days, I was more or less wandering aimlessly – making little bases and factories and the like – until I saw a tweet from SpewlieAndrews that joked about how he’d spend an eternity roaming Hell to find Margaret Thatcher,” Thatcher’s Techbase creator Jim Purvis tells me. “I decided to channel all my anger about the Tory government’s response to the pandemic and Brexit – and everything else in British life – into a Doom mod.”
Purvis is a Scot from Coatbridge, a town just outside Glasgow. As such, there’s nobody better to make a mod about mowing down hellish versions of Thatcher. Scotland faced the brunt of her time as Prime Minister so much so that even by Tory MP standards, she was unpopular. It’s no wonder then that Purvis calls Britain the ‘Tenth Circle of Hell’ in his mod. While he was born the year Thatcher stepped down, her impact was felt throughout his childhood. Techbase was a way for him to channel that hatred of Britain and Thatcher into something satirical and cathartic – she was his “eternal source of inspiration.”
“From the beginning of the project, I knew I wanted to include a homage to a scene from the anime and manga series One Piece,” Purvis tells me, sharing a link to a YouTube video where protagonist Luffy burns down a flag. “It’s incredibly powerful, and I thought it fit thematically with the ideas of Thatcher’s Techbase. One random lunchtime – a few months after starting development – I was watching a Decino video about special properties of Doom objects and found there was a Commander Keen object in the game that hangs by the neck from ceilings and falls down when you shoot it. It was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me, as I realised you could turn Commander Keen’s sprite into a British flag that burns to ash when you shoot at it.”
However, using Thatcher’s likeness wasn’t enough for Purvis. He wanted to bring her to life as an avatar for decades of frustration, so he put a voice to the face. It sounds eerily familiar like we’re actually trudging through lava pits and ancient ruins to mow down a cyber demon with her head plastered on top. But she sounds familiar in two respects because the actor channels a Thatcher-esque character from Hades. Laila Berzins, the voice of Demeter – Goddess of Life and Death – also brings life to Thatcher. Supplying the death is up to you.
“I’m a big fan of the voice actor Gianni Matragrano,” Purvis says. “I decided to ask him out of the blue if he knew anyone who could do a Thatcher impersonation. When he pointed out to me that Laila Berzins already did a performance for Hades that was borderline Thatcher in tone already, I realised that she was going to be the perfect choice for the job. I sent her a pitch and a few lines to read, and within a few hours, she had already sent me everything I needed for the game without even needing a second take. She is a consummate professional and a really nice person.”
With Thatcher now ceremoniously brought to life in a ritual of fire and 8-bit gore, Purvis had a hit on his hands. But the aim was never to go big or make something viral. It started as a fun little project to get into Doom’s modding scene. To paint a picture, it was the beginning of the pandemic, he was trapped indoors, and he was playing a lot of video games. Eternal reared its head but the £60 price tag was a bit steep so Purvis grabbed Doom 64 for £1.99 instead. He found that he loved the originals and, like a lot of us, had the itch for more. To scratch it, he dove into the modding scene.
“I got a huge kick out of ‘90s mods like Star Wars Doom, The Simpsons Doom, and Doom 2: Hellraiser,” Purvis says. “I never considered that I could actually create one myself, though, until Tim Rogers laid down a gauntlet in his Action Button Reviews Doom video later in the year. He suggested that no one could reasonably call themselves a true fan of Doom until they attempted to make their own Doom map, and I more or less took the bait. I watched that video right before the 2020 winter lockdown began, so it seemed like the perfect time to learn Doom Builder, Slade, and other Doom modding tools.”
Somewhere along the way, he found inspiration to make his mod Thatcher-based. It was a personal challenge and a bit of fun in a depressing time, something he could share with his Scottish mates and fellow Thatcher haters. But it did blow up and go viral – he found plenty of haters whether they were in Portugal, Scotland, or Northern England. There is a bubbling anti-Thatcher sentiment and people were quietly waiting for something like this even if they didn’t realize it. All the same, it was back home where Purvis was focused. When he handed it to his pals, they called him a “bastard for making the game too hard.”
“I was surprised to find that a lot of hardcore Doom modders and wadders actually enjoyed Thatcher’s Techbase,” Purvis says. “I got some really nice messages from Doomworld community members and Doom YouTubers who tried out the WAD – turns out there are quite a few Doom modders who hate Margaret Thatcher! Who knew? My assumption was Doom modders would tear the game to shreds for being nowhere near the levels of quality that other Doom creators are putting out in 2021, but I got a lot of positive feedback and constructive criticism. For a game that’s all about blood and guts and hate and anger, it’s a surprisingly kind and welcoming community.”
Despite all the success he’s had with Thatcher’s Techbase, a mod all about Boris Johnson seems unlikely. After all – as Purvis says – “We’re playing Johnson’s Techbase right now.”