American McGee interview

by Mark Asher

American McGee is currently finishing up American McGee's Alice for EA, a third person action adventure titles that really twists the knobs of the Lewis Carroll classic. When you play this guy's Alice, be prepared to be delighted or appalled, or a bit of both. (A shorter version of this interview first appeared in Computer Gaming World magazine. Thanks to CGW for allowing us to reprint this interview here.)

First the name. You obviously weren't born around April 15th. Also, any problems when travelling to...oh, say Iraq and other friendly countries?

April 19th is patriot’s day if that’s what you’re talking about. No, I was actually born on December 13th. As far as traveling, the most difficult was in Japan where saying, "I am American" will get you, "I know you are, but what is your name stupid?" Eventually I became "Takashi"… much easier that way. And the Japanese realize automatically that if you’re using a Japanese name it’s because your own name is something dumb. When I was 6, I once had a guy in a convenience store say, "I spit on your name!" Needless to say, he was promptly beaten up by the store patrons.

Tell us about the tatoo on your arm. What is it? Any other tatoos?

There are three tattoos on my body: two on my right arm, one on my left. Only one of them has any meaning, but I keep that a secret. The other two are basic tribal art. More are on the way…

Why Alice and is Beatrix Potter safe from your clutches?

Alice just seemed natural. The characters, the environments and the story are all so amazingly well adapted to becoming a video game. Everything about a truly gothic/Victorian Wonderland appealed to me. Beatrix is probably safe from my clutches… I don’t think parents (or kids for that matter) would appreciate my interpretation, but then again who knows?

Who's your favorite character in your Alice game?

It’s a split between the Jabberwock and Boojum. In terms of scale, these two are radically different, but they both possess a certain "creepiness" that I’ve yet to see in another game.

You got your first break by living in the same apartment complex as John Carmack. What if had lived next door to Sid Meier?

Something tells me that Sid and I wouldn’t have formed the same bond as John and I did. If it had happened though, I would have been just as honored to learn under Sid as I am for having the chance to learn with John. Actually, I think if I had lived next door to Sid he would have moved to another part of town.

What happened with the online gambling site you were affliated with for awhile?

It went under.

Why did you leave id?

I left id because of a difference of opinions. I have to say that the luckiest moment in my life (next to first of getting my job at id) was leaving id to do something on my own. Without my leaving, I could never have had the chance to see my life change as it has since moving out of Mesquite, TX. (Rodeo capital of the world! Ride ‘em cowboy!)

What are your favorite kinds of games to play?

Uh, not sure we can talk about that here. This is a family publication right?

What's cool about Alice?

Alice the character? That’s there’s a lot more to her than people are expecting.

Alice the game? That there’s a lot more to it than people are expecting.

Do you think Alice will upset fans of the book? Is this going to be a game that parents will let their kids play?

Upset? Not really. To date we’ve received tons of comments via the website ( and email. Of those comments I would say that maybe 1% of them have been negative. And of those negative responses, most are based on incorrect assumptions about what we’re doing with the characters and world.

This is going to be a game that parents will need to put some thought into before letting their kids play it. It is not a children’s game in any respect, and I think we’ve done a good job of making that clear to everyone. I would let my children play it, but they haven’t been born yet.

What's the craziest non-gaming stunt you've ever pulled?

If we narrow it down to stunts pulled in the US, and ones that I can retell without fear of legal action? My friends Chris, Eiso, and our respective wives/girlfriends like to do a sort of performance art on the weekends in San Francisco. Lately we’ve been wearing 80s rock-star hair and crazy outfits then going out to dinner at the nicest restaurant we can find. We call ourselves the "Fingerling Brothers" and generally try to cause as much havoc as possible. We were mistaken for Bon Jovi once! Rock on Bakimonos!

How is it working long-distance with developer Ritual? Any problems with the Quake 3 engine?

Rogue Entertainment (Dallas, TX) is actually the developer on Alice, not Ritual. I would probably say that working with Rogue on Alice is the best working relationship I’ve ever seen or been involved with. The Rogue guys have been doing such an amazing job that I’m often beside myself with a mixture of pride and astonishment. And no, the Quake 3 engine hasn’t given us any grief.

Why use a third-person view?

The third person view allows us to show emotion in Alice’s animation that would otherwise be lost. The animators here at Rogue are doing a great job of using this to it’s fullest potential.

Has immersing yourself in the world of Lewis Carroll given you any weird dreams at night?

I think it would be more accurate to say that the world of Lewis Carroll has immersed itself into my weird dreams at night.


A condensed version of this interview first appeared in Computer Gaming World magazine.  

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