The Fat Controller knows all about those bizarre Thomas the Tank Engine mods that have come out over the past several years. At least, he does now, after I showed a bunch to him.
Modders have been splicing Thomas into video games for the best part of a decade. What started as a joke Skyrim mod that replaced the RPG’s dragons with giant models of Thomas the Tank Engine has since spiraled into a staple format of the modding community. The children’s locomotive is now the regular, if unofficial face of the biggest triple-A games – his bright blue chassis inserted into their fictional worlds with all the subtlety that a hulking steam engine deserves.
That a game’s central character or antagonist might be replaced with Thomas is no longer a surprise, but rather an inevitability. When Elden Ring released earlier this year, it took less than a month for Thomas to make his way to The Lands Between.
But what does Thomas’s owner and operator, the Fat Controller, think of his number one engine being used this way? Perhaps understandably, he’s a little confused. Keith Wickham voiced the Fat Controller in the Thomas & Friends TV show for more than a decade, but never once encountered the Thomas modding craze.
I showed him clips of five Thomas the Tank Engine mods from various games – Cyberpunk 2077, Elden Ring, Resident Evil Village, Skyrim, and Elden Ring again, just because he seemed so pleased by that one the first time around. Bewilderment, astonishment, delight – we went through it all, and Wickham even offered a mod idea of his own.
Keith Wickham: This is really weird.
The Fat Controller would absolutely hate this. Thomas is out of control and there’s nothing he can do about it. They're not on rails, he can't order them about, he can't give them any special deliveries – and I assume he's not even in radio contact?
“You have been a very naughty boy, Thomas,” he’d say. “You have killed several pedestrians.”
I wouldn't fancy driving Thomas around the streets as a car. It's completely ridiculous. It's top-heavy, it's got steel wheels, not tires. It would chew up the tarmac. It would be horrendous.
KW: This one’s brilliant. This is much better than the [Cyberpunk 2077] one because it’s using him in a way that’s so ridiculous only video games can do it. A fire-breathing Thomas – that is the most absurd thing I've ever seen. It's breathtaking that somebody could do that.
What it is, is refreshing. I spent 12 years doing voices for this series, and it's basically the same thing: the same layout, the same trains, and they're doing the same things because it's for preschoolers. To see them doing other things which they would never do in an official video is fantastic.
I’m glad they didn’t use the voices, either, because that would have ruined it. It had the Thomas music; that was funny. It is funny. It’s properly witty.
I never play video games. I've done hundreds of voices for them, but I've never actually played any, ever. So anyone who spends hours doing this stuff, either they're mad, or you have to admire them for their determination.
Resident Evil Village
KW: If you were a child who’d grown up with Thomas, I wonder how many nightmares you'd have about this. You've grown up with this friendly engine that’s been nice to everybody, doing them favors, and is the number one engine on Sodor [the fictional island in Thomas & Friends]. Suddenly, he’s on top of a mad woman, you can’t shoot him, he's got an evil grin and lipstick. It's just insane.
It would scare the crap out of me if I was 11 or whatever. It would give you nightmares. And it would put you off women. You’d probably end up with a complex – you’d get your girlfriends to dress up with Thomas on their heads. It's nightmarish, but again very inventive.
I'll tell you what this video would be. This would be an episode where [the Fat Controller] has eaten a bad prawn, he's got food poisoning, and he's having a bad dream – that video would be the dream. She's saying, ‘Let's see what mom has got to show you now,’ because that’s Lady Hatt with Thomas on her head. He’d be shooting his own mother. It would be his nightmare. If that was inserted in an episode of Thomas as it stands, you’d have the Fat Controller waking up sweating at the end of it.
KW: How many games have I seen like this?
So Thomas is flying in to save this guy from having his head cut off, and there's some freight trucks around. Was he, what, a dragon before? Well, he's already got a boiler and a fire, and after all these years knocking about one island he must be mad. He must be completely crazy by now.
Do gamers like this stuff? Do they enjoy it? Do they find it off-putting? Would they prefer dragons? I think this is very funny. Putting him in another situation is witty. He doesn't talk, which is good. Although that might be funnier. Instead of a roar, Thomas’s voice came out.
If that was the Fat Controller [with his head on the axe block], that would be fantastic. “You have been a very useful engine,” he would say. “You have saved my life today, and I therefore give you the freedom of the island.” How the hell the Fat Controller would ever get in that situation is another matter. How would he ever get to the point of having his head cut off?
Elden Ring, again
KW: That’s very clever. Five minutes of that and Thomas would be in the repair shed. His wheels would be coming off and the Fat Controller would be angry because the budget would be overspent.
He would be very angry at Thomas straight off the bat because he's off his tracks, he's not doing what he's told, and he's damaging himself by fighting. I don't know what he’d think of the knight. He’d probably dismiss him, just push him off the island into the water. I don't think he’d be angry. “How dare you, Thomas, let this knight ride you”’ – if you’ll pardon the expression.
If Sodor looked like that, I’m sure there’d be a lot more very weird kids around. You’ve got people hanging up on crosses. It could be a bit of Sodor that no one’s ever seen. If you go through the Fat Controller’s house and through the wardrobe, that’s what you'll get. It's not Narnia, it’s a hideous nightmare land peopled by weird knights and Thomas.
TRG: Which of the Thomas mods was your favorite?
KW: It was the scary lady [Resident Evil Village]. Because it was a character. All the others are just using Thomas as a vehicle of some description, but she was actually a character. It was quite scary in a weird, psychological way.
TRG: If you were to make a Thomas mod, what would you create?
KW: I would make an entire game based on the engines of Sodor. But instead of them helping each other and the Fat Controller telling them to do things, they'd fight. Thomas & Friends: Battlezone.
Maybe it's an argument between the engine drivers. Of course, they’ve got diesels as well. They hate the diesels. Diesel One would be running after them, probably with a hood on; the angel of death. I might play that game – provided my voice was in it.
The Fat Controller would be the Overlord. He’d be huge in that game. He’d probably have a stick of fire or something. If you're going to make a game like that, I think he could probably pull himself up to 50 times his normal size and come out of the sky with a flaming top hat.
But it’s interesting. I had no idea people did this stuff.
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Callum is TechRadar Gaming’s News Writer. You’ll find him whipping up stories about all the latest happenings in the gaming world, as well as penning the odd feature and review. Before coming to TechRadar, he wrote freelance for various sites, including Clash, The Telegraph, and Gamesindustry.biz, and worked as a Staff Writer at Wargamer. Strategy games and RPGs are his bread and butter, but he’ll eat anything that spins a captivating narrative. He also loves tabletop games, and will happily chew your ear off about TTRPGs and board games.