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American McGee talks about Kickstarter, next-gen consoles, triple “I” titles, and fart apps

“I want to be the next Walt Disney, only a little more wicked.” – American McGee

We’ve been anticipating American McGee’s Kickstarter announcement since he first started gauging interest for an Alice sequel on his Facebook page a few months ago. Teasing us ever so gently with ideas and images for Alice: Otherlands and OZombie, we still aren’t sure which project will be launched, but needless to say our interest is at at an all time high.

With just a few weeks away from the big reveal, we’ve been seeing concept art, potential tier level rewards and some pretty fancy pics of a dressed up McGee for the Kickstarter shoot – so we approached him with a few questions on the upcoming project and picked his brain about next-gen consoles, living in Asia and the game industry in general.

Below is our interview with McGee, as well as some exclusive concept art from OZombie that we’re happy to reveal to our readers today.

PE: How do you feel Kickstarter (or crowdfunding) has changed the game for independent game development?

McGee: It’s been an incredibly positive evolution. Just take a look at all of the amazing titles we’ve seen go through the process so far – none of those games would have seen the light of day without Kickstarter. You’ve got relatively obscure indie studios pitching alongside long-time industry “names,” and they’re operating on a level playing field. Ideas live and die on their creativity and a team’s ability to pitch their vision and capability.

A traditional publisher with a plan to take a couple of careful “bets” per year could never compete with this nearly infinite amount of enthusiasm and support. One thing I really love is that it’s a self-supporting and self-sustaining community – it makes fans publishers, developers as publishers.

We’re now able to see all these developments through to release without the filtering or “direction” from a publisher, their marketing department or feedback groups. It’s like micro-brewed unfiltered beer compared to mass produced Bud Lite.

PE: How is the progress going getting the Alice rights from EA?

McGee: Cannot comment in detail on this, but will say the talks are ongoing and we at Spicy Horse are doing everything we can to find a way forward.

PE: If/When Alice: Otherlands or OZombie hits Kickstarter, we expect it will exceed its goal (see Torment’s example) – what kind of stretch goals might we see? More gameplay? Multiplayer?

McGee: I can’t comment on this in detail because we’re still undecided on which project we’ll Kickstart in July. What I can say is that we’re developing content and campaigns for both Alice: Otherlands and OZombie. There’s a lot of overlap in terms of general design, development team, tools, tech, production budget, etc. – so we can manage pre-production on both ideas simultaneously and efficiently.

PE: Are you planning on building Alice: Otherlands or OZombie in Unreal Engine 3?

McGee: Whichever project goes forward, we’re planning to use the Unity3D engine due to the fact that over the past two years or so, we’ve worked with Unity3D to build some really unique cross-platform/device technology. We’re now able to deliver high-quality 3D gameplay across all platforms targeted by Unity3D (PC/Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS and Android), and we’re able to do this with real-time synchronous multiplayer.

What this means is, you can be on an Android tablet playing in real time against your friends who are on Windows, Mac or Linux – and from a variety of web portals or via a downloadable, stand-alone client. There are some really interesting features we can build around this technology.

PE: If you go with Alice: Otherlands, might we see Susie Brann and Roger Jackson return?

McGee: We’d love to bring them, along with Chris Vrenna, back to the project. And I could see having them involved with OZombie as well. There are ongoing conversations with a range of people who have been involved in the Alice and other Spicy Horse projects – all of them willing and committed to coming on board and helping us out.

PE: Do you ever want to develop AAA games again?

McGee: I’d like to think that the games we’re developing these days are AAA targeted at a wide range of devices and platforms. The idea of “III” (Triple I, for Indie) came up in something I was reading the other day, and I think that’s a good way to think about what we’re trying to do – take our AAA experience from something like Alice: Madness Returns and apply it to client, online, web and mobile games for Windows, Mac, Linux and more.

We really want to raise the bar on what people should expect when playing games that are presented across a wide range of platforms. Given the nature of where the technology is heading in the next 12 months, I think we’ll start seeing 360 and PS3 quality graphics on tablets by Christmas 2013, and we want to be ready with content for that transitional shift.

If you ask me if we should think about doing something for the next-gen consoles (maybe that’s AAAA?), I certainly wouldn’t rule out this possibility. For me, there’s nothing to be gained in predicting the “end” of a particular type of game, or suggesting that mobile is going to “beat” console or vice-versa.

It seems to me we’re heading towards an ever more diverse game ecosystem where there will always be more players, platforms and devices than any single developer or publisher will ever be able to address alone. If we’re given an opportunity to work on another large-scale console game, I’d certainly give it strong consideration.

PE: What do you think of the PS4 and Xbox One?

McGee: I’ve commented on these consoles in other interviews and my words are always twisted to make it sound like I’m “against” consoles and “for” mobile or web games. The comments below these interviews always contain sentiments like, “Well, that guy’s a douche because he likes mobile and web games now.”

Hey, Mr. Commenter, you know what? You’re the douche for being unable to recognize that change is part of the world we live in! Funny thing is, I’ve been making games long enough (going on 21 years now) to have seen this sort of brand vs brand, device vs device “war” play out many, many times. All the gnashing of teeth and spitting of blood will do nothing to stop the inevitable march of technological progress.

That being said, I think consoles as we know them are going away – if not after this cycle, then the next. What we know today as “mobile devices” will continue to get smaller, faster and more powerful. Alternate input/output devices like the Oculus Rift and Kinect will evolve, merge and eventually replace our caveman-like mouse/keyboard and touch screen setups. This also means that mobile games as we know them today are going to go away also.

The same can be said for “web games”, free to play games, retail games…they’re all going away. Actually, I think it’s all converging towards a sort of singularity in gaming where everything we see evolving and shifting today will end up in “uber-products” that take the best elements from each variation and combine them into Matrix-like realities that will be hard to distinguish from true life.

That kind of thinking might be some pretty crazy shit, but it’ll somehow end up as a headline or a comment where I’m saying, “consoles are dead.”

PE: Seen any next-gen SDK?

McGee: Yep, but can’t comment.

PE: How has living and working in Asia influenced your creative process?

McGee: Living in Asia has influenced my brain in many ways, which I would imagine has an impact on the creative process. Being in Asia for more than nine years has given me a chance t really learn and understand the culture, language and market. It’s been a wonderful time and I feel lucky to have built a strong and expressive studio with a track record developing unique titles for over seven years.

For me, the creative process has always been a collaborative one, so the most obvious influence of being here (the one you might notice if you visited our studio) is that I’m often communicating ideas to the team directly in Chinese. If you’d have asked me back in my days at id Software whether I’d one day be doing game design in Chinese, I’d have laughed you out of the room.

PE: What advice would you give to young video game designers?

McGee: The main thing is, get out there and start developing right now. There’s never been a better time to be a kid with a passion for games and too much time on your hands. When I was a kid, I had a Commodore 64 and a tape drive.

If I made a “game”, it got uploaded to some BBS somewhere and maybe 20 people downloaded it. These days, the only thing standing between being a young game designer and being the next Supercell is the $99 Apple Developer fee, an iPhone, Mac and the next “Fart App” idea.

I’m not suggesting that you should make another Fart App, but I’m saying it’s an awesome time with all the tools, platforms and off the shelf engines you have at your disposal. Get started!

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We really appreciate American McGee taking the time to answer our questions and look forward to your comments.

Alice: Otherlands or OZombie will be announced on Kickstarter in July.

Author

Alex Co