Microsoft Sued Over ‘Gears of War’ Character

PHILADELPHIA (CN) – A former professional wrestler with one career game for the NFL, Lenwood Hamilton is something of a local legend in Philadelphia. He claims in court that the makers of “Gears of War” stole his likeness for the blockbuster video game.

Since its debut in 2006, the “Gears of War” series has generated over $1 billion in revenue. Microsoft bought the franchise from developer Epic Games in 2014, and “Hard Rock” Hamilton says he realized he was an unwitting star of the game a year later.

Set on the fictional planet Sera, the first GOW game allows players to choose an avatar from Delta Squad to do battle with a subterranean enemy known as the Locust Horde. Hamilton says the character based on him, Augustus “Cole Train” Cole, is the only one of the four main avatar characters who is black.

Crucially, according to the Jan. 11 federal complaint filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the character is voiced by a man who did business with Hamilton in the 1990s, Lester Speight.

Hamilton says he had been working at as a motivational speaker around this time and organized Soul City Wrestling in 1996 to promote wrestling as family entertainment.

Speight joined the picture two years later, according to the complaint, when a talent scout recruited him to participate in some Soul City events.

An exhibit filed with the complaint shows a promotional poster for a 1998 Soul City Wrestling event at Viking Hall in Philadelphia featuring “Hard Rock” Hamilton and Speight as “Rasta the Urban Warrior.” Some details for Hamilton’s wrestling persona, according to the complaint, included a derby hat and wristbands.

Speight allegedly tried to sell Hamilton on his video game ideas even back then, “but Hamilton told Speight he was not interested in doing a video game centering on violence.”

Hamilton concedes that he was “not familiar with video games in general,” and learned about his doppelganger in “Gears of War” from one of his son’s playmates.

Speight won an award for “Best Voiceover” for his performance as Cole Train, according to the complaint, which notes that the character copies Hamilton’s “appearance, dress, voice and tag lines.”

In addition to both being black, Hamilton notes that both he and the Cole Train avatar “played professional football (although in Gears of War the game is called ‘thrashball’), [and that] Cole Train’s number is 83 (same year that Hamilton played for the Philadelphia Eagles 1983).” (Parentheses in original.)

Other parallels include a “derby hat, wristbands, a front gold tooth, and a striking resemblance of both physiognomy and body build,” the complaint states.

Hamilton included photo comparisons as exhibits with his lawsuit.

Microsoft and its subsidiary The Coalition published “Gears of War: Ultimate Edition” in 2015, and “Gears of War 4” a year later.

Hamilton notes that his was a “hard scrabble life” – a rape charge during his college football days threatened to sideline his career in the early ’80s.

Though found guilty, “the woman later recanted her testimony and the charges were dropped,” according to the complaint.

Hamilton said the stigmatization and notoriety he suffered as a result of the ordeal were more difficult to erase.

A resident of Norristown, Hamilton is represented by attorney Bruce Chasan.

Alleging violations of the Lanham Act and invasion of privacy, among other charges, Hamilton seeks punitive damages.

Neither Chasan nor a spokesman or Microsoft returned phone calls seeking comment.

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