American McGee is a man who needs little introduction, as his name has become synonymous with his most famous creation: the traumatized Alice, star of the dark and surreal American McGee's Alice and the upcoming Alice: Madness Returns. I recently had the chance to talk to McGee about a everything from his early days at id Software to the upcoming revival of the infamous Alice. Check it out after the break.
FEARnet: Your first job in the industry was working for id Software, probably the first "rock star" developer, on milestone titles like DOOM and Quake. How did working for such a major player influence your later work?
American McGee: It influenced my movement in the industry - made opening certain doors easier - but in terms of my development work... the time at id actually drove me away from the 1st Person Shooter genre. After so many years of chainsaws and demons, it seemed time for a change, so my first big project at EA was the very surreal Alice.
Alice: Madness Returns looks like it's going to be darker and more twisted than its predecessor. Were there any ideas left on the cutting room floor that were deemed "too much" in terms of tone or content?
Content in the game is driven purely by Alice as a character. We had a rule during development - everything seen in Wonderland had to come from an experience Alice had in her real-world life. That constraint forced us to think of interesting ways to present really fantastic or horrifying themes using only the elements of Alice's imagination. So most everything we created "fit" within the constraint, but we still ended up with a lot of content that we just couldn't find room for in the game. A lot of that ended up in an art book recently published by Dark Horse Comics (The Art of Alice: Madness Returns).
American McGee's Alice seemed to hit most, if not all, of the major characters and locations from Carroll's book. How did you approach the new game, which looks to blend both the familiar and the new, while still remaining somewhat faithful to the original text?
The books are such an amazing resource - and there's so much content in them that even if we made an Alice 3 we'd still have new places and characters to explore. With the first game we explored mainly the characters and locations found in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, whereas with Madness Returns we've included all that content plus a lot of new characters and locations from Through the Looking Glass. Our artists also invented quite a few new characters and locations - inspired by Alice's life since the end of the books.
Between your published games (Alice, Grimm) and your unfinished work (Red, Oz), a lot of your work revolves around the concept of taking children's literature an mythology into a much darker, nastier place. What is it about "twisting" these stories that you find so appealing?
My "narrative tone" seems to have been established when I was young - and my childhood was pretty dark. The appeal for me just feels natural. Exploration of these darker themes is a healthy outlet for me - as I think it must be for the audiences who consume these products. Beyond that, these tales all contain wildly diverse characters, locations and narrative structures - which makes them fantastic material for adaption, whether that be into films, books or games.
Expanding on the previous question, are there any characters you're dying to give that American McGee touch to?
The studio just started work adapting Red Riding Hood into a lite-RPG for PC/Mobile. It'll be free to play, casual and heavily stylized - working off the "Akaneiro" story we wrapped around Red Riding Hood (which you can download to your iPad in storybook form). Beyond that, we've got a huge library of ideas based on fairy tales ready to be turned into new games - just need time to see them built.