The Game Industry's Dark Storyteller: American McGee. Part One: Alice Appears (Topic)

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The Game Industry's Dark Storyteller: American McGee. Part One: Alice Appears


When I was 13 years old, I continued to actively dive into the world of the gaming industry. 2011 was probably one of the most prolific of the last 10 years for games that are considered cult today: Skyrim, The Witcher 2, Portal 2, Batman Arckham City, Deus Ex: Human Revolation, LA Noire, Uncharted 3, MK 9. Dark Souls ... What a wonderful time. And in this fountain of masterpieces, I accidentally met the project Alice Madness Returns, which amazed me no less than all the games listed above, and discovered the work of American McGee.

We wrote about this talented game designer in our article about the fathers of the game industry. Alas, most of this man's projects are failures, but I would call them underestimated. All of his works have an irresistible dark charm that sets them apart from other dark tales. Today we will analyze in detail the life, work and games of American McGee.

Tough American childhood

American was born in Dallas (Texas) in 72. His mother, a retired hippie, was, as the game designer himself called her, "a rather eccentric, creative and a bit strange person." First of all, this can be seen in the fact that she named her son American [this is how his name is translated into USA, but with your permission, we will continue to call him American]. As the game designer said, in college his mother had a girlfriend who named her daughter America. His mother, inspired, followed her example when her son was born.

I saw Father American only once in my life, on my 13th birthday. Often, from a male environment, he had only constantly changing stepfathers, until one day his mother began living with a transgender woman. When he was 11, his uncle gave him a computer, and then he began to learn the high-level programming language BASIC. In general, the family was not rich. In addition, as a child, he constantly faced religious pressure from others, which in the future played a role in his development as a person. In his interview, he recalled:

“My inspiration comes from dark things (laughs). I like dark music, dark movies and dark fantasy. I wonder why I am so keen on things of a dark nature?


I think it probably has a lot to do with my upbringing. I was raised in a multitude of religions. Very early on, I began to rebel against this in a smart manner. I began to analyze all the basic principles of the religion that was imposed on me. I think moving in the dark direction was just a rebellious affair on my part, but over the years it has become a big part of who I am. I just have an attraction to this dark side of things - that's my aesthetic. ”

At the age of 16, he once returned home and found it empty. The mother sold the house in secret from her son. With the proceeds, she bought two plane tickets, paid for her partner's gender reassignment surgery, and left Americana to her fate. All he has left: books, clothes and a Commodore 64.


John Carmack is to blame

The next few years he was worn in different professions and dwellings. He managed to work as a mechanic at Volkswagen, a dishwasher, polished rings in jewelry, and also worked as a salesman, and later as a manager in a music store. In parallel with this, he actively studied programming.

At 21, life has led him to be a neighbor of John Carmack, co-founder of idSoftware. Even then, John noticed that his neighbor is quite intelligent, and even creative, and invited him to work at idSoftware in those support. However, due to his talent, American quickly climbed the career ladder to a game designer and music manager.


He became one of the so-called second generation of the studio's developers, and was the game designer for games like The Ultimate Doom, Doom II, Quake and Quake II. All the scariest levels in the game are his handiwork. So he worked there until 1998 until he was fired. McGee called that day the most significant in his life:

“I felt a mixture of terror and freedom that was so significant and powerful - it combined all the good and bad over the years that I spent with Carmack, Romero and others ... I was kicked out into the world to learn to fend for myself” - he says.

American McGee's Alice is the darkest fairy tale in the entire industry

I am a big fan of the fairy tales "Alice in Wonderland" and "Alice Through the Looking Glass" since early virginity. It has always been painful for me to see how different people and companies try and interpret it in a new way. However, only American McGee remains the only person who managed to do this, really showing the whole story in a different way, in terms of mental illness. But most importantly, he was able to preserve that very miraculous miracle. Truth in a more beautiful and aesthetic way.


After parting with idSoftware, the American made a deal with the devil [he guessed it, of course] by the name of Electronic Arts. There he began creating his game, which has become a cult classic in the industry.

American McGee's Alice was his first project to be described as an "inside out fairy tale." Alice Lidel, as in the original, happily visited her Wonderland, but one day a fire broke out in her house, which killed her entire family. Since then, she has been moved by her sanity, and Wonderland has turned into a nightmare generated by her schizophrenia, where she has to fight the ghosts of her past.


All the heroes we are accustomed to are met as moved and moved characters, one way or another reflecting what her Wonderland has become. My favorites are Tweedledee and Tweedledum, who have become vile overseers in the mental hospital. Although, as a result, the game takes place in the same time period as the original work, the author had more radical versions of the interpretation of the story in the present tense.


In an interview with Gamasutra, American talked about two early concepts. In the first, Alice lived in a vile and poor family in a trailer park, one day we can distinguish her, he began to beat her and, as a result, broke a bottle on her head. Then she would have suffered an injury and Wonderland became hell. According to the author's idea, while she was unconsciously in Wonderland, in her life Alice would not be responsible for her actions, which would lead to various problems.

“In this story, whenever she defeated an enemy in Wonderland, it happened in parallel with a certain event in reality and would usually mean killing someone. So the idea was that she defeats the first boss and then wakes up to find that her stepfather has been killed, and that she was the one who did it. You know, it was a rather dark perception of history, "says the game designer.


The second option is less violent, but at the same time "acidic". Alice would be a raver. At one of the raves, when she went to the toilet to take another dose of the author's mixture of drugs, they would have struck her in the mind so that she might not have regained consciousness. The idea was to get back from this drug rush.

“She came back to reality all the time, either in the club, in the ambulance or in the hospital; you know, stuff like that. There have been many different versions of how she got to Wonderland and what she tried to overcome while she was there. I think the story we ended up with was the most natural sequel - or at least the one that made the most sense. ”


As a result, we have Alice, born on the Quake engine, with an inimitable atmosphere and music from Chris Vrenn.

Alice is perfect for me in everything: in characters, concept, atmosphere and mechanics. The game community also gave a high rating to the game, with a score of 9 out of 10. Today it has a Metacritic score of 85.


An interesting story is connected with the title, which contains the name of the main developer. Even Kojima did not allow this, although for the sake of the phrase "A Hideo Kojima Games" he plows like a horse. The American says that he feels strange about this fact, as he perfectly understands how many people have invested in the game. However, this was a commercial decision of EA, which gave out the loot. In their opinion, this would highlight the individuality of the product, and after American himself abandoned the idea, he was no longer invited to meetings to discuss the name.


In continuation of the material about the creative path of American McGee, we will tell you about his failed games, the second Alice and the future.

Continued article

The Topic of Article: The Game Industry's Dark Storyteller: American McGee. Part One: Alice Appears.
Author: Jake Pinkman