Exclusive Interview with American McGee and His Alice: Otherlands Project
I recently sat down to interview American McGee, creator of the Alice and Alice: Madness Returns games and the upcoming project, Alice: Otherlands.
There has been some misconception about the purpose of his most recent project; while some believed it to be a third installment in the series, it's actually a series of short films acting as an experiment to test the waters of a third game.
Currently in talks with EA about the license for another Alice title, McGee is hoping to use Alice: Otherlands (which will feature Alice entering the minds of Londoners to save them from the antagonist whose identity and purpose remain a mystery) to prove that interest in the franchise is still alive and growing.
The Kickstarter project will use its funds for purchasing the film rights to Alice. The project is ongoing and has raised a little over half of its overall goal, with ten days remaining.
Let’s get the worst-case scenario question out of the way: what are your plans if you can’t purchase the film rights for Alice? Will talks with EA about licensing continue, or would that be the end of the Alice franchise?
American: "It would be a pretty bad sign about the health of the property. It's important to keep in mind that my talks with EA are not necessarily related to them funding and publishing the next Alice. I'm hoping to raise independent funding and go with alternative publishing. Due to the sensitive nature of our talks I can't go into further details. But I will say this funding would not come via Kickstarter, since we're talking about a budget greater than even the most successful game campaign. That being the case, the success of the Otherlands campaign would signal to potential investors that there's a strong market desire for more Alice content.
"As for the future of the Alice franchise in the event the campaign fails... it's hard to predict. For my part, I would want to walk away from the property for a while. I don't think there's much point in ignoring signals from the market - if people aren't interested then there's nothing I can (or want to do) to force the issue."
As for a feature film, what are your ideal plans for this? Will it be live-action, or animated? Will it include shorts from Otherlands, or will it stand alone?
American: "I'm exploring ways to get a feature film made here in China. The film industry here is producing some really spectacular content - and there's a lot of interest in turning local production capability on a Western story for a global audience. To this end, I'm speaking with directors, producers, studios and investors. There's a lot of strong interest in the idea. I think we may find ourselves in the right place at the right time on this project.
"Not sure yet whether it will be animated or live action. Both ideas are being explored. One question that comes up repeatedly is, "why isn't there more Western cartoon content dealing with violent themes?" Japanese anime handles this stuff all the time - and there's a significant audience for that content in the US. Why not do the same with Alice?
"The Otherlands animations aren't built to go into the larger feature film project. They will stand alone - and I hope we'll be in a position to continually create new ones long into the future."
Will Susie Brann continue voice-acting for Alice in Otherlands? What about for the feature film?
American: "I'm working to secure her involvement (and that of Roger Jackson) as we speak. Expect an official announcement on this in the coming days."
Spicy Horse has been around forever—how has your studio grown from projects like Alice?
American: "We've been here nearly 8 years now. I think we're still technically the largest indie Western development studio in China. While working on Madness Returns we peaked at around 80 internal employees. These days we're a more manageable 50 in Shanghai with another 5 in the US. We've gone through multiple "pivots." Our first project was an ambitious episodic PC game. Then we made a AAA console title. Today we're doing online/mobile multiplayer games. Throughout these shifts we've learned a lot, made a ton of mistakes and grown in many interesting ways."
If the campaign is successful, any ideas on how long we can expect the DVD/Blu-Ray/Digital video content to be?
American: "Depends on how much funding we raise. Around the 250k~300k mark (what we're trending towards now) I think we can deliver upwards of 30 minutes of animated content. That would be divided into individual shorts - so we could end up with 5 or more animations. We will also keep the PayPal store open - and I'm working on sources of outside funding - so that we can continue making more animations above and beyond what's supported by the campaign."
You mentioned on your AMA that we can expect the see the return of select characters from Wonderland, and that some may appear as demons which haunt Alice. Can you give us an example of a demon we might see in someone’s mind as Alice wanders through it?
American: "Alice's demons are her doubts, fears and negative emotions. While exploring the mind of Edison, for example, we might see something that reminds Alice of the fire that destroyed her family. That in turn could lead to a brief appearance of the Mad Hatter or other character - taunting or teasing Alice with a negative emotion."
If you could change one thing about either of the Alice games (story, development, etc), what would it be?
American: "Well, the first game happened so long ago, I don't think much about changing it. For Madness Returns I really wish we'd had more time at the end to polish the game. I would have compressed the action, removed a lot of the "filler" content and fixed some of the more annoying bugs. Then again, this sort of wishing in hindsight isn't going to resolve any of those issues - the best I can do now is learn from those mistakes and make sure future efforts avoid repeating them."