Nearly ten years after the release of American McGee's Alice, the PC action adventure sequel to Lewis Carroll's classic children's novels, Electronic Arts has announced that original project leader McGee and executive producer R.J. Berg are working on a multiplatform followup, Alice: Madness Returns.
Developed by Shanghai-based Spicy Horse Games, which also released the episodic game series American McGee's Grimm, Alice: Madness Returns is the latest in a string of games from numerous publishers attempting to capitalize on the cult popularity of aging PC-exclusive classics. Unlike many of those titles, however, Madness Returns is helmed by the series' original creators who want to build on their own work rather than reboot a franchise.
With the recent release of the Tim Burton-directed film Alice in Wonderland, public attention on the public domain property is high. Gamasutra sat down with McGee and Berg to discuss the expectations for the series and the character, returning to a game after a decade away, and making games in Shanghai.
How long have you been working on this? Did you pitch it to EA, or vice versa?
RJ Berg: We've been working on it for the better part of three years. EA came to us in Shanghai and suggested that this product American and I had worked on ten years ago was due for a redo. [laughs]
We had made the first game only on the PC, but their interest was that the game could come out on console and PC, and that just intrigued us because it's something that American and I have wanted to do from the outset. We begin making different proposals and taking care of different logistical things, and we've been working on the game itself for about 18 months.
I know you two have been working together for quite a long time. How did you start? Have you been working together ever since?
American McGee: I had been at EA for several months at Maxis, when they were working on The Sims. The Sims team finally ejected me because I kept suggesting ways to kill the Sims in horrible ways, so I came over to Redwood Shores.
I was, shortly thereafter, introduced to RJ, and we were told to get to work on an original IP. We finished the Alice project, and then for a while we went out separate ways, then came back together again when I got to Shanghai to start up this studio there called Spicy Horse.
The last three years have been a very, very focused effort working together on new projects.
Have you done anything else at Spicy Horse besides American McGee's Grimm and now Alice 2?
AM: We started the studio on Grimm, and that ran for two years. It was a really, really fun time for both of us, and for of course the team we build out there.
Alice: Madness Returns has been the primary focus of everyone in the studio since then. We've gone from, at the end of Grimm, 35 people to now 75 people. [Bringing on] another 40 people is a really big undertaking.
We do also have a small R&D team that plays around with Kinect stuff on 360, and they're doing some iPad and iPhone stuff as well.
Is this a fairly direct sequel? These days, we're awash in reboots and reimaginings and all these phrases.
RJB: It's a little bit of both. It is a direct narrative sequel. It picks up where the last game left off, but it in no way requires that someone had played Alice 1 in order to get what's happening in Alice 2.
The connection is strong enough that, if you understood what had happened in Alice, by the time you get to the end of this one, it will color in more what took place there. It sheds new light on the events that took place.
It's the same character. Now her life has changed from living in London, having left the asylum, and facing a new threat, but she's using the same tool of Wonderland to confront that and overcome it.
I remember that, as someone who was almost exclusively a PC gamer at the time Alice came out, the notion of that kind of hybrid action/adventure/platformer thing was pretty unusual for the PC.
Do you see this new game occupying a similar gameplay space?
RJB: I think it probably is a hybrid, although we don't think about it quite that way. We thought about Alice as entertainment. It wasn't to try and carve out any new space as a game or anything like that. It's just that the elements that we thought we could carry off well -- great art, solid story, great music, challenging puzzling, exploring, platforming at a certain level that wasn't Nintendo-esque but was influenced by Nintendo -- became our sense of how to most convincingly, persuasively, and entertainingly tell that story we had.
She's a wonderful character, this heroic character, this sad character. And to bring her face-to-face with what bothered her, put her in her secure place -- Wonderland -- and to present that fantasy world in a certain way, it required these elements.
Those elements will be reprised in Alice: Madness Returns. That's the way we think that story is best told, with that combination of elements.