Most people who play the “Gears of War” video games encounter an engrossing first-person shooter about beefy future humans using machine guns fixed with chain saws to dismember a violent reptilian foe.
But when Lenwood Hamilton turned on the game for the first time in the winter of 2015, he says his gaze was focused on something different: his own face.
Hamilton, a burly 6-foot-2 former football player turned pro wrestler, claims the makers of the “Gears of War” series stole his mannerisms, speaking style and his face — and used them to help make more than a billion dollars off a video game.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court last week, Hamilton said he’s entitled to profits and royalties from the game, which has grossed more than a billion dollars in part because of the popularity of the Augustus “Cole Train” Cole character.
Through his attorney, Hamilton declined to comment to The Washington Post. The companies named in the lawsuit — Epic Games Inc. and Microsoft — also declined to comment.
The link between the game and Hamilton is Lester Speight, who once worked for a company Hamilton created and, the lawsuit claims, tried to talk Hamilton into doing the video game. Speight voiced the “Cole Train” character.
But Speight’s publicist, Mel Moore, told The Washington Post that the voice-over is an original creation.
“It’s Lester’s voice,” she said. “He’s the voice of the character. I don’t even know who Lenwood Hamilton is.”
Hamilton, a Pennsylvania native, played high school football in Philadelphia, then at North Carolina State and Southern University in Baton Rouge.
On his website and in the lawsuit, he says his career never recovered from accusations of rape by a woman he had sex with at a hotel in Baton Rouge in 1982. Hamilton was arrested, tried and found guilty. He spent more than four months in jail, until the woman recanted her testimony, two witnesses said they lied and the charges were dropped.
But the stigma of rape followed him, he said on his website and in newspaper stories.
“I’ve gone through hell,” he said in one newspaper clipping around that time that he posted on his website. “I spent four months and 16 days in jail during this thing. Those were miserable days, and days I can’t get back.”
He held on to dreams of a football career, but it was nearly over.
His football dreams dissolving, he turned to pro wrestling. His alter-ego was “Hard Rock” Hamilton and he competed in bouts in Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico.
By then, Hamilton also had started talking more about his past. He claimed abuse at the hands of family members and in children’s homes he had been shuttled to. He saw wrestling as a way of reaching inner city youth, and he tried to build connections between his new company, Soul City Wrestling, and Philadelphia organizations that targeted at-risk youth.
Speight was one of the wrestlers Soul City employed.
On July 25, 1998, at a wrestling event after-party, Speight “discussed plans for a video game with Hamilton,” according to the lawsuit. Another associate talked about it in 2005.
But violence had featured heavily into Hamilton’s formative years, when he claimed he was abused at the hands of a great uncle, a mother’s boyfriend and people at the group homes he was shuttled to. He declined the video game offers.
His former associates went on planning without him. And Speight became connected with the “Gears of War” franchise, which has grossed a billion dollars in sales and produced several sequels, according to Forbes magazine.
The franchise, which is owned by Microsoft, focuses on a conflict between future humans and reptilian hominids known as the Locust Horde.
“Cole Train” is one of the most popular characters. He’s a flamboyant, wisecracking, foul-mouthed former athlete. In 2015, the game did a contest for players to make a “Cole Train” rap.
— MSPoweruser (@mspoweruser) January 14, 2017
Hamilton says there are many similarities between him and “Cole Train.” Both are black. They both played professional football, although in “Gears of War” the game is called Thrashball. Cole Train’s number was 83, the same year Hamilton tried out unsuccessfully for the Philadelphia Eagles. They both wear derby hats and wristbands, and have a front gold tooth.
And, the suit says, there is ” a striking resemblance of both physiognomy and body build.”
“Gears of War” produced a sequel in 2008, and additional installments in 2011, 2013 and 2016. In January, 2014, Microsoft acquired the rights to the “Gears of War” video games.
Soul City Wrestling was headed in the other direction. It sponsored its final wrestling event in 2011. And Hamilton turned his attention toward other endeavors, like raising his children.
He didn’t hear of “Gears of War” until his son’s friend came over to play in 2015.
Hamilton, the boy told them, looked just like “Cole Train.”