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American McGee & RJ Berg On The Continuation Of Alice
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American McGee & RJ Berg On The Continuation Of Alice

August 23, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

You mentioned the improvements in technology, and perhaps your improvement as developers. What has changed that you believe will allow you to make a better game?

RJB: Well, I think that first and foremost, it's being able to identify an audience on the console that has not only a tolerance but a hunger for deep story games. We understand that that audience is attracted to the same things we once thought were just important on the PC. It's made us better about decisions with respect to art and how we display certain circumstances, how we storytell with exposition in ways that we previously might have thought were too opaque or too subtle.

In fact, our audience is plenty sophisticated. They've been brought up by a bunch of really terrific titles that make us really confident that the way we've told this story is not only cleaner but is more visually entertaining, attractive, and imaginative, and will trigger in the audience a kind of collaborative response.

But it's about Alice. I think often, players end up trying to figure out what the designer was doing rather than what the character is doing. That is not a problem in this incarnation of Alice, and I mark that as the most important thing. The player will feel that they're playing that character rather than playing the designer's mind.

Do you do a lot of playtesting to try to really hone that result?

AM: We have internal playtesting, and we're building up a big internal and external playtesting group [here at EA headquarters] to take feedback from them as well. We've been doing playtesting since there was something to play, but "official" playtesting kicks off soon.

RJB: And this is a wonderful for collaboration with EA Partners. It's something that we just couldn't get enough fresh eyes on, whereas the EAP organization is able to roll through testing resources. It's an important piece of what they can offer our development process.

Is it a challenge working with a publisher halfway around the world?

AM: It's been something we've tackled with technology. I'd say that, you know, they come out to visit a lot, and that's really helpful. They send a lot of feedback, and they're sensitive to the thing we're trying to build. They pay a lot of attention to it.

We send them builds every week. I don't think that the distance has in any way hindered their ability to help or our ability to listen to them. It’s the new world. The globe is this small.

RJB: When it's 4 o'clock in the afternoon at Redwood Shores, it's 7 o'clock the next day in Shanghai.

So you've got maybe an hour or two to really get your video conferencing in.

RJB: Yeah. [laughs]

Is this game American McGee's Alice: Madness Returns, or is it just Alice: Madness Returns?

AM: We don't know.

RJB: So far, it's Alice: Madness Returns definitely. Whether American's name or Spicy Horse or anything else is attached to it will be EAP's decision.

How did that become such a consistent prefix to your game titles?

RJB: That wasn't American's choice at all. In the first game, which I was also the executive producer of, that decision was made on the basis of American's reputation with the Quake technology.

The Quake technology is what powered the first game. It was thought by other heads that his name had enough cachet to improve its chances in the market, that Alice in itself would communicate something Disney-esque, and that we'd have to work too hard. Somehow, this Quake connection would be a quick read. That's the way that went down. That was not American's choice. That was not my choice.

And then it just stuck?

RJB: It did.

AM: At some point, the next party says, "Oh, someone's invested some resources in this. This is a marketable thing." There's no denying that it has an ability to catch eyeballs. I can't say it's certain that it's always catching the right ones or in the right way.

What's it like developing games in Shanghai? It seems like a lot of the studios there are very outsourcing-focused, but you guys are making full games.

AM: We came into that market at the right time because, like you said, there was a lot of outsourcing that was going on there, but very little by way of original development.

When I first came up, it was actually to help a group start an outsourcing studio, but I quickly recognized that this bubble was about to burst. People had spent enough time building the assets and achieving the level of quality necessary to do triple-A game production.

An opportunity came to start a studio, and I don't think that the decision would have been as obvious a few years earlier, but at that moment, you could see the crest of the wave. You knew to jump on, and sure enough, we felt tremendously lucky just in the way that the local talent has risen to this challenge, and also in our ability to attract creative individuals from all over the world.

People really want to come out and see this, because there's nothing like Shanghai right now at this time in history. It's on fire. It's been really fun.

RJB: It's like offering a group of copy editors a chance to be writers, where you have lots and lots of talent but no real latitude. You offer people who have been doing one thing with all their talent an opportunity to do another kind of thing, and you respect what they're doing. It's been an amazing experience.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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