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Interview with American McGee
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Interview with American McGee

July 25, 2001 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 2

How do you balance action and story? A lot of people have tried it and failed miserably.

I think we did a pretty good job. We were trying to follow some rules so the player wouldn't be overburdened with too much story and cinematics—I don't know if they can be considered hard and fast rules. I don't think that there is any sort of secret to that, it's just sort of feeling your way through and making sure that when you're playing this thing, it's actually fun. So that when someone who doesn't care about the story is playing, they can skip past the parts that are boring them. Then, when somebody is playing who is interested in the story but doesn't care that much about the action, make sure that their experience is equally gratifying by being involved with the characters, the narrative, and so forth. It's just a balancing act.

I think that Alice, for me anyway, was a first attempt at a good adventure storytelling game. I've learned a lot from it. I think that there's a lot that we've learned that we can apply to what we do next. It's a new frontier as far as storytelling goes. I think we've got a lot to learn from Hollywood, and we've got a lot to learn from ourselves, and from books and so forth. There's a lot out there that we need to pay attention to, to make that experience more enjoyable.

In terms of the story, how are you going to prevent the player from becoming bored when so much of Alice is familiar?

I don't know if that was a problem with Alice or not. I was certainly always thrilled to see what was next (though usually I knew what it was) because of the visual beauty, the sound effects, and the music—I think that if you create compelling content, people will go along for the ride.

I don't think that there is any sort of secret to balancing action and story, it's just sort of feeling your way through and making sure that when you're playing this thing, it's actually fun.

How important is replay value in a game?

It depends. There are games where I want to sit down and replay over and over again, that are like racing games, sports games, and things like that. They're more like adrenaline games. I think Alice might fall halfway between that category. Again, it's more of a story experience. You don't necessarily watch the same movie over and over again. The same would hold true for this: you don't necessarily play this game over and over again. I didn't set out trying to create a game that people were going to say, "Okay, I've finished. Now I want to play it again, and again, and again." It's one of those things that's like, "I've finished it." Then a couple of months later, or a year later, they pull it off the shelf and go, "You know, this was cool the first time around. I'm going to play it again and see what I missed." That kind of thing.

A lot of your levels have a very linear design to them: very beautiful to look at, but there seemed to be very little benefit to exploration. What's your thought on linear vs. non-linear?

Well, the problem is that people expect that because their computer is a computer that they should be getting a non-linear experience—or I should say an experience that has multiple paths. What they don't understand is that there are books that you can read that say, "If you choose to fight the monster, turn to page whatever." They have branching paths, but that kind of experience isn't really very popular in books, and it's failed miserably in movies. I think that people put a lot more weight on that; they put a lot more value to that than I think there really is. As developers, we could slave and kill ourselves producing a game that's got, say, four different paths in it throughout the entire game. The problem is that we're creating four different games when we do that, which is exponentially more costly and time consuming to produce. I don't know if the benefit is really all that great. Sure it might add replay value, but if path one isn't quite as much fun as path two, then what was the point? You know what I'm saying? I have yet to sit down and play a game and say, "This sucks because I couldn't go on a million different paths to get to the end of this thing." Just like when I read a book, I'm not expecting to read through it and have it change as I'm reading through it. I don't know, I just look at it a little bit differently than I think a lot of people do. I feel like it's a way to tell a story, and traditionally stories are told in a linear fashion. Just because it's being told on a computer doesn't mean that we have to figure out a way to tell it in a non-linear fashion.

In the postmortem of Alice, everything in the "what went wrong" section all revolved around time constraints and the problems that stemmed from that. Why did you choose to make a game with such a short development time?

Well, that's like asking, "Why did you choose to do it with a long development time?" We could have spent more money, and taken more time. We probably would have ended up with a better product, but the problem was that we weren't given that opportunity. It wasn't my choice to say, "This is how much it's going to cost, and this is how much time were going to get." That's really more up to EA to decide that.

Multiplayer was another aspect of the game that you left out. Again, was that due to time constraint or did you feel that it was unimportant?

It was both. Again, we could have taken the time to do that. I don't think that it would have added much to the experience because we set out with the specific goal to tell the story of Alice right? Adding a death-match in there, or any kind of multiplayer, I think would have taken away from the time that we had to produce the single player experience. So, there was that, and also we just had a hard time trying to figure out what that multiplayer experience would have been. I mean, would you have Alice chase the Cheshire Cat around with a rocket launcher and blow him up? The one thing that I wish we could have done multiplayer wise, would have been to do a cooperative version multiplayer, but again that would have been super time consuming and expensive.

Can we expect to see Alice coming out on a console?

I actually designed it to be a console game. From the outset, that was my original intention. I wanted to do it on the PC first to prove that it could be done, but everything that I did was geared towards playing more on the console. I think that eventually EA will do a PS2 version of it.

Are you completely happy with Alice?

Yes and no. That was my first attempt at a game by myself, you know, designed from scratch. Therefore, in regards to that, yeah, I'm extremely happy because it has managed to sell really well, it has gotten great reviews, and I think that we were a success. There are things that I wish that we had had more time to do.

Such as?

We could have had a lot more characters. We could have had a little bit less linear play through the maps. We dropped some sections out of the game, some areas that we had to cut due to time constraints. That was about it, except I wish that our gameplay had been more varied. When we started off, the original idea was to take a lot of Lewis Carroll's actual puzzle work that he did, and implement that into the game somehow. That never really came to life because we didn't have enough time.

Was it a big risk deviating from the standard "space alien versus space marine" since that genre obviously sells well?

I think it was a pretty big risk, but we felt like we knew we were doing something that was going to work. I tried to take as few risks as possible with it, while still trying to come up with new ideas. I think that paid off.

Can you talk about what you're doing next?

Yeah, I've got a deal with Miramax Films. It's a writing, producing, and directing deal. That'll be the focus of my life for the next while, probably October and November of this year. They basically have an option for me to direct a film. I'll probably end up directing some straight to video Hellraiser 34 movie or something like that. I'm talking with some guys in the music industry right now—two different record labels that want me to direct some music videos. Those guys are actually going to put me through music video director school, and let me try my hand at some low budget videos. So, that's the stuff I can talk about. I think I can talk about the fact that me and a few partners of mine are going to try to start a video game company that is also a media company. We'll be tied in with Hollywood, Miramax, and a few other movie companies—basically working on big licensed properties. Say if Batman were to come out, we would do the game based on that. That kind of stuff and at the same time also explore a couple of game ideas that I have.

How important do you think it is to simultaneously combine the process of making a game and making a movie, and using the resources from each?

I think we have so much to learn from Hollywood, and at the same time, Hollywood is interested in learning what we're doing. I still feel like storytelling video games are in their infancy. Alice is a first step; from what I understand, Deus Ex did a good job of it. I just got the demo kit for Metal Gear Solid—they used the most beautiful cinematography, and it seems that they have good storytelling. I think that there's a lot to learn [from Hollywood], and I feel that there's some convergence that should be taken advantage of. That's what we're trying to achieve.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 2

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