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American In China: McGee On Making It Work In Shanghai
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American In China: McGee On Making It Work In Shanghai

January 22, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

It makes sense. In fact, I think people don't necessarily figure out the right places to add the personality or add the touch. That's the question, right?

AM: Yeah. I don't know; it's just been a kind of rule that's been with me, I don't know since when. I mean, I think a part of it was when I was at EA, they gave me a job for some time that was to go out and to look at teams that were in trouble...

So I had this job which turned into basically, executioner, because what they were trying to do is ask me to take what I knew about making games and then go and visit these teams that were in trouble, and then work with the teams to try and resolve their problems or kill the team.

It got to a point where when I would come in the door of a studio, guys in the studio would start crying because they knew that I was there to uncover what was wrong, and then kill the team.

And what I saw was, so many times over and over again, decisions made in design, or in the tech, or in creative, that were these giant, unreasonable attempts at some kind of innovation that the technology, or the hardware, or team, or somebody wasn't ready for.

I just saw it so many times, again and again. And a lot of times you'd see what was a good core idea messed up by something like, say 10 years ago, a team trying to make a completely destructible environment.

And you're like, "Guys, give it another 10 years." And even now, 10 years later it's still hard to say anybody has done that, right? But 10 years ago, you'd see guys that set out on a mission to build a game and their core idea was a fully destructible environment.

That's the kind of like innovation for the sake of innovation, but taking too big a bite. And I just saw it too many times; I guess that's where that came from.

How long did you do that at EA?

AM: Until I got really depressed and threatened to quit. It was actually the first thing that I did. They brought me on to work. It was really this weird, mysterious thing. I got flown out, mysteriously, to North Carolina and told that I had to be quiet -- "You can't talk about what you're going to see."

And they walked me in and there was Michael Crichton. Michael Crichton wanted to make a game. They said, "We want you to work with Michael Crichton on this thing." And I signed on to it and I almost immediately started telling EA, "You've got to kill this thing. You can't make this game; it's really bad."

And so I fought so hard to get my first project killed that they then said, "Wow, you're really good at this." That game subsequently went out and sold one copy, literally. It's called Timeline. They did a really bad movie based on it as well.

It does not ring a bell.

AM: Yeah, so they were like, "Wow, you're quite good at this identifying and killing problem teams." So I think I ended up doing that for maybe six or eight months and then I finally said, "No more." And they were flying me all over the world to do this and I just was like, "I can't, I can't."


Wow, that's amazing. What year was that?

AM: Well, I'd left, or been fired from, id. I would've been starting EA [around] 2000...

That's crazy. I could always look up Timeline on GameFAQs...

AM: Oh yeah. It ended up being published by Eidos. It's funny. He's actually got a history of making really bad games that sink developers, Crichton does. But nobody really knows about it. Now he's dead, so I guess we'll never find out. His secret will go to the grave with him. He was an exceptionally cool guy; really nice guy to work with. I felt bad to be the guy that killed the project at EA.

It was just a disaster.

AM: It was really bad. It was really, really bad.

It seems like there still hasn't been a lot of opportunity for outside creatives to come in and really actually capitalize properly on the possibilities of games. Is it because they don't understand the medium, do you think? Or have you not worked with anybody else?

AM: Well, in that instance, there was a sort of basic misunderstanding about what was attractive in an interactive entertainment product, right? But then you've got game creators that struggled with that problem as well. So it's not to say that...

Apparently Steven Spielberg did okay with Boom Blox and maybe had something to do with Medal of Honor. And there are people out there that can bring something of an idea. I wouldn't preclude other entertainment people from being able to make games but...

No, I wouldn't say it's not possible, I just haven't seen it. Even Boom Blox is a limited success given the creative potential, I guess. It's a good game and it sold well. But I can't think of a great really "this is it!" moment for an external creative.

AM: No, I'm sure it'll happen. I mean, I think the tools are getting to be ubiquitous enough and close enough to what Hollywood people understand in terms of building sets.

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