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Alice: Madness Returns – McGee on retracing Goth roots

Monday, 23 May 2011 07:04 GMT By Brenna Hillier

It’s been a decade since American McGee’s Alice brought Goth culture to gaming, but “dark” has since become standard. Can Madness Returns compete with today’s preoccupation with grit?

Alice: Madness Returns

Headed up by legendary ex-id Software dev American McGee.

Art direction by Adelaide-native Ken Wong.

Sequel to 2000′s American McGee’s Alice.

Due on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in mid June.

Ships with a download code for the original game.

Official site.

In 2000, the Gothic culture building since the 1980s was arguably at its peak: just mainstream enough to be affordable but still cliquey enough to feel special, shedding its punk associations. In 2011, the dark underground has all but been subsumed into alt-rock, punk, emo – perhaps even scene-kid and hipster. Skulls, crossbones and OTT hairstyles are everywhere, but the feeling’s not the same, American McGee agreed with VG247 on Friday.

“I think from the moment that we made the first game, there was a whole scene that was much more vibrant – you know, Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails,” the famed designer noted.

“I’ve actually read a bit on the transformation of that culture after nine-eleven, because at some point people were like, ‘Well, I’m just not fucking dark enough.’ You sort of had to give it up.

“But I think we’ve seen the sort of Victorian Gothic elements still remain – that’s a much more art and fashion-focussed version of the idea, right? I think as it applies to our game. There’s still an audience out there; there’s still aspects of the product they can appreciate.”

Art director Ken Wong adds that Spicy Horse isn’t interested in catering to a lucrative demographic with cash to burn on hot pink skull hoodies.

“I don’t think we’re making the product for any hip scene that’s going on,” he says.

“We’re going back to the roots of Victorian culture, where all that fetish and cool stuff comes from. We took inspiration from Gothic architecture, from fashion at the time, from surrealist artists, so I like to think that what we’re gonna offer sort of has an eternal appeal.”

In fact, this time around, the dark heart of the game beats harder – and smarter.

“The art aspect the Gothic part of the game this time around is much better informed,” McGee says.

“I dunno if I’d say it was a one-note dark [in the first game], but it wasn’t as varied as what we’ve produced this time around with Ken and his team really putting their minds to a lot of different elements of the Gothic, and the Victorian culture from the era.”

Quick Q&A with American 1

Have you thought about releasing any of your research and source material, a lá L.A. Noire’s interactive crime map?
“There’s a really beautiful book of art that Dark Horse has put out, that contains all of the work that Ken and his guys did, and a lot of the thoughts they were having about those pieces while they were making them.”

Certainly there was no conscious decision to incorporate inspiration from current fashion in the design, for example.

“It’s all of the period. One of the things we adhered to while working on the game was this concept was that anything you saw in Wonderland had to be the natural product of Alice’s imagination, which meant that the character of Alice need to have been exposed to that idea, that image or that experience in her real life,” McGee stresses.

“So we went back and researched music and literature and opera, news of the day, to make sure that we had a sense of the things she would have been immersed in, so that when we produced the fantastic [or] surreal elements of Wonderland, they could have a natural source.”

Nevertheless, enough time has passed that some of the gamers playing Madness Returns won’t remember the days when frock coats and fob watches walked the streets independent of doom, gloom, and other things ending with “oom” and on sale in all major retailers. Wong says Spicy Horse weren’t concerned about Madness Returns possibly being given the same labels as shadowsoft.

“I don’t think we were really thinking about how people would see us compared to like, Twilight or anything. We were working hard at making the most fun, visually appealing, awesome Alice game that we could,” he says.

“For me it’s as simple as that. Personally I see this in a different category,” McGee chimes in. “There are all sorts of different shades, right? I wouldn’t put this in the same book as something like Twilight for instance.

“I think Alice, in the first game, created a branch in that story’s fiction, and the character’s narrative, and one that’s quite viable and just like the original books, will live on. And this is an extension of that.

“As we see it, every generation spends some time to retell the tales from the past, and this us retelling the retelling of one of these tales, and I think it’ll live on despite whatever else is going on around it.”

The next folklore to receive Spicy Horse’s attention is one it has already explored through its mobile division, Spicy Pony. Akaneiro, a retelling of Red Riding Hood set in Feudal Japan, was released as an iPad storybook.

“Got a kinda dark Japanese spiritual twist to it,” McGee says. “We’re currently looking at adapting that into a PC online and mobile online game.”

Red Riding Hood is a popular subject for dark re-interpretation, but McGee seems unfazed, commenting that he enjoyed Belgian indie developer Tale of Taler’s take on the story: The Path.

“Yeah, it’s great. Yeah, I really love the guys that are working on that,” he says.

“I’ve talked to them many times and I find their exploration of the medium to be really inspirational.”

Quick Q&A with American 2

Where do your sympathies lie in the debate on Lewis Carroll’s relationship with the real Alice Liddell?
“That, I don’t know, and we’re not qualified to comment on.”

What’s your favourite weapon?
“The obvious answer is the Vorpal Blade, because that’s her signature weapon.”

On the recent film – directed by Twilight lead Catherine Hardwicke and a similar product of the Mills-and-fangs school of dark fantasy – he is less enthusiastic.

“I don’t know that I would consider Twilight Gothic,” McGee protests.

“Have you seen the trailer for that Red Riding Hood film? I don’t know that I would consider that… There’s an episode of South Park that made me laugh because there was a whole Twilight thing taking over the school, and the Goth kids – the original Goth kids – were getting quite upset because they were being categorised as emo and Twilighters, so they had to go and destroy Hot Topic, the source of all evil.

“There’s categories within categories. I don’t think that what we’re working on will be hurt by that, and I also don’t think that the people who watch those movies will be turned off by our Alice and maybe some of our fans cross over and like the Twilight stuff.”

McGee was quick to reiterate that the market for shadowsoft had no effect on Madness Return’s development.

“Did we pander to or change our vision to try to adapt to whatever’s going with stuff like Twilight? No. Not in any way.”

Wonderland and the real world

Madness Return’s intro movie..

McGee is confident enough in the distinctiveness of his vision of Alice that he’d be keen to see a long-delayed film version come to light, describing the possibility of an adaptation as “fantastic”.

“We’d be really happy to see someone bring it into film or TV. In some ways the film project in some ways continues to live on, there are producers in Hollywood who are actively trying to see it made. Hollywood sometimes moves slowly. We’ll wait and see,” he says.

In fact, Spicy Horse incorporated a number of cinematic tricks in the development of Madness Returns. McGee lists his favourite derived character as the Red Queen, but praises the team’s work on the Carpenter.

“His performance in the game is fantastic – his lines are great, the acting of them, the movements in the game are great – and that’s all a function of the guy who animated him and did the motion capture for him.

“So that guy’s skills, his ability as an actor and an animator really show through.”

But is the wider world of media ready for McGee’s Alice, which features a less-than-subtle depiction of mental illness in a culture increasingly wary of loaded political questions on care and agency?

“You know, when we’re building these games, we’re using the concept of losing your mind as an edge. The terror, right?” McGee says.

“It’s difficult to be sensitive when in fact, this is the bludgeon that we’re using to create terror for Alice and for the audience.

“At the same time, there’s this concept of her having a strength about her that allows her to overcome that fear, that terror. If anything, there’s a message in there for peopler who are looking for one. Here’s a witty, intelligent and strong woman who’s able to fight past those demons.”

“We could go on making these games for the next 30 years”

Asked if there was anything left of the Carroll mythos to explore, both McGee and Wong seems to feel there was plenty of scope for more Alice games.

“We took a lot of stuff from the [Alice] books that couldn’t really make it into the game,” Wong says, giving the Lion and the Unicorn as an example that didn’t make the cut.

“We didn’t get the opportunity to really make it in the game, but we think that could have been something really amazing. That would be my favourite one.”

McGee seems to have his sights set higher.

“For me, the concept of Wonderland is this playground of the imagination. We could go on making these games for the next 30 years.

“The technology is always going to be playing catch-up with what you can imagine her being able to do. I think if we ever get the chance to make another one, it’ll just be, once again, trying to push the boundaries of the surreal or the strange actions that she can play out in the world.”

Alice: Madness Returns ships on June 16 for PC, PS3 and 360.

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8 Comments

  1. Patrick Garratt

    If my new PC doesn’t turn up today I’m going to have a cry. I’m going to play this on it.

    #1 4 years ago
  2. Edo

    #1 As you should,cause this game looks insane.

    #2 4 years ago
  3. kupocake

    Miyamoto is a “legendary designer”.

    American McGee was the third or fourth biggest name at an important developer. Not even Jon Romero attempted to cling to his celebrity as long as McGee. And the notion that we owe Alice for gothic culture in games is just comical. ID’s output is still drenched in that shit, as was all shooting circa 1997.

    #3 4 years ago
  4. Gurdil

    Wow I was really scared there! I’m really looking forward to playing this game and the beginning of the post had me thinking ‘oh boy you shouldn’t read that kind of stuff when you’re excited about a game!” The whole first part about Gothic is just terrible! WTF does it mean to see Goth everywhere when there isn’t and to mix everything?!? Fortunately, I didn’t stop reading and understood that McGee actually gets those differences when he started talking about the south park episode and how Twilight is in no way gothic. I’m no goth, nor emo, nor hipster, nor any shit like that but oh boy am I annoyed by all these misleading and just plain bad comparisons.

    That being said, I can’t wait for my Alice copy to be delivered! :D

    #4 4 years ago
  5. cheesy

    crazy game, just preordered cant wait to play it

    #5 4 years ago
  6. Moonwalker1982

    What i’ve seen so far (intro movies,gameplay movies,etc) it looks to be very cool. Very dark and twisted, i actually might simply buy this one in june. If the combat is good, and if there are no real downers, i’ll get it. The atmosphere is awesome.

    #6 4 years ago
  7. tenthousandgothsonacid

    That’s not bloody goth !

    [Goes back to his Fields of the Nephilm albums]

    #7 4 years ago
  8. OrbitMonkey

    “oh my goth!” Said the startled snake….

    #8 4 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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  • PS4 price cut to £299 in UK

    Sony has dropped the price of the PS4 in the UK. For a limited time only, you can grab the console for £299.99 from Argos, Game, Tesco and Very. Go to Amazon.co.uk and you’ll get it for £289. You’ve only got until April 28, then it goes back up to £349. Go, go, go. For […]

  • Mad Max: first ever gameplay footage revealed

    Today, we get to finally take our first look at gameplay from Mad Max. Avalanche and Warner Bros. have shown off the first gameplay trailer for Mad Max today. The trailer below offers a look at melee combat, car combat, customisation and much more. Give it a watch below: There are a few new screenshots […]

  • Overlord: Fellowship of Evil has four-player co-op like we figured

    Codemasters has pulled the veil back on the next Overlord game, and its a four-player co-op game called Overlord: Fellowship of Evil. Rhianna Pratchett is back to write the story. The game may be co-op at its core, but it can still be played single-player. Each of the four playable character have strengths and weaknesses, […]

  • Update now available for Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, Pokemon X and Y

    Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire along with Pokemon X and Y are being updated by Nintendo to fix a few bugs and in-game text. There’s also the possibility of a few hacks and exploits being fixed. Per Nintendo Life (via Serebii), both patches are 250-270 blocks in size, and it’s a mandatory update which […]

  • Side-scrolling cover shooter Not a Hero gets a demo

    Not a Hero, the upcoming game from OlliOlli developer Roll7, has received a demo. The demo for Not a Hero was made available today on Steam. In the game, you play as Steve, the campaign manager for BunnyLord. A time-travelling rabbit who’s running for mayor of London. Think this is an absurd premise? This trailer […]

  • You have until April 30 to export your Green Day: Rock Band tracks to Rock Band 3

    Harmonix has announced that those looking to export their song collection from Green Day: Rock Band into Rock Band 3 can only do so until the end of the month. April 30 will be the cutoff date for anyone who wants to export tracks from Green Day: Rock Band into their Rock Band 3 library, […]

  • Batman: Arkham Knight minimum, recommended, and ultra PC specs revealed

    Batman: Arkham Knight is looking like it’s going to be quite a taxing game. Nvidia has released a list of the minimum, recommended, and ultra PC requirements for Batman: Arkham Knight. Here’s the full thing: Minimum OS: Win 7 SP1, Win 8.1 (64-bit Operating System Required) Processor: Intel Core i5-750, 2.67 GHz | AMD Phenom […]

  • Bloodborne patch 1.03 is live, reduces loading times, fixes suspend/resume bugs, more

    Patch 1.03 is now live for Bloodborne. The patch reduces loading times, adds item descriptions to loading screens, and fixes other various bugs. From Software has pushed update 1.03 live to all Bloodborne owners. As promised, it reduces loading times by approximately 5 to 15 seconds. Another new addition is showing item descriptions instead of […]

  • Battlefield 4: first look at Community Map in action

    Get your first look at the map designed by the community of Battlefield 4. Battlefield 4′s community-designed map is a reality. DICE has recently updated CTE to include an early version of the map. It’s not fully textured as Westie is about to show you, but the layout is nearly finalised. Westie goes over the […]

  • Microsoft apologises for uploading misleading Witcher 3: Wild Hunt footage

    Xbox’s YouTube channel uploaded a video of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt yesterday that was captured from the PC build. The most recent gameplay video for the The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt appeared on the Xbox YouTube channel and showed a quest from the game’s opening section. A few minutes after it had gone live, […]

  • Assassin’s Creed creator’s new game is Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey

    Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is the game Assassin’s Creed creator Patrice Desilets has been working on. Patrice Desilets has just announced that the next game his indie studio Panache Digital Games is making is called Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey. The announcement comes from Desilets’s keynote at the Reboot Develop event in Croatia. The trailer started […]

  • Bloodborne: Cathedral Ward closed door mystery solved

    The mystery of the locked door at the bottom of the Cathedral Ward in Bloodborne has been solved. Bloodborne, like earlier From Software games, is filled with doors that don’t open the first time you try them. Some will give you “locked” messages, others “does not open from this side”. Some of these will open […]

  • Assassin’s Creed creator Patrice Desilets is revealing his next game now [UPDATE: ended]

    Patrice Desilets, one of the original creators of Assassin’s Creed is hosting a presentation where he’s expected to talk about his next project. Patrice Desilets has emerged once again. This time he’s attending development conference in Croatia. Desilets is giving a live keynote and there’s a good chance we’re going to hear about his next […]

  • Destiny House of Wolves: everything you need to know about gear upgrades & The Reef

    Bungie revealed plenty of important details in last night’s Destiny stream. Let’s go over everything. Alex wants to make sure you don’t miss any of the information revealed yesterday. Most of it affects all Destiny players too, even those who don’t intend on buying House of Wolves. During the first stream, Bungie explained the armour […]

  • Mod-friendly Galactic Civilizations 3 will leave Steam Early Access in May

    Galactic Civilizations 3 will leave Steam Early Access next month for a full release, Stardok has announced. The developer called the game the “largest and most diverse strategy sandbox to date,” as players have a variety of tools such as diplomatic treaties to resource exchanges, and United Planets resolutions to hundreds of research directions for […]

  • Ys 6: The Ark of Napishtim is out next week on PC – here’s the pre-order trailer

    Ys 6: The Ark of Napishtim will be released next week on PC, and today, we have a pre-order trailer for you. The game will be made available on April 28 for $19.99/€17.99/£13.99 on GOG, the Humble Store and Steam. Along with improvements over the original PSP version, it will contain less backtracking, controller support […]

  • Destiny: House of Wolves – full gear set up to level 34 in PvP and PvE, upgrades, more

    The Destiny: House of Wolves livestream this afternoon was chock full of information. Read onward for our full report. According to Bungie, Petra Venj, who serves the Queen, is the main story agent who leads the player through the main series of quests. Players who complete bounties will be able to level up in her […]

  • Destiny: House of Wolves – watch the livestream right here

    Bungie will host a Destiny: House of Wolves livestream at 2pm EDT today, and you can watch it right here. Watch live video from Bungie on www.twitch.tv The stream will introduce the new social space, The Reef, as well as gear upgrade paths. House of Wolves contains new Strike missions, The Prison of Elders three-player […]

  • FIFA Ultimate Team: week of April 22 team includes Barcelona, Chelsea players

    This week’s FIFA 15 Team of the Week is now available for FIFA Ultimate Team players. Each team member, as with previous weeks, is selected base on the previous weekend’s matches. Here’s the list of players now available: Starting GK: Claudio Bravo – FC Barcelona (Spain) CB: Leonardo Bonucci – Juventus (Italy) CB: Ömer Toprak […]

  • Sony’s Spring Fever Sale winds down with Shovel Knight and Call of Duty discounts

    It’s the final week of Sony’s Spring Fever Sale which means more games have been added to the mix. Shovel Knight, which launches today is one offer, and the rest are all Cal of Duty titles. The Taken movie series is on sale as well. With Shovel Knight available today on PlayStation 3, PS4 and […]

  • Drivers for Xbox controllers, voice messages, more features available in Xbox One preview

    Microsoft has announced new features coming to Xbox One and the Xbox App on Windows 10 through the preview program this month. Some of the new features have been requested by the community for both Xbox One and Xbox One SmartGlass. Here’s what to expect, straight from the horse’s mouth: Xbox on Windows 10 Game […]

  • Total War: Warhammer has been announced for PC, Mac, SteamOS

    Total War: Warhammer has been announced after previous teases from The Creative Assembly touched upon it. The game will contain “gigantic monsters, flying creatures, legendary heroes and storms of magical power.” It is also the first in a trilogy which includes two additional standalone titles and extra content packs. It will feature thousands of warriors […]

  • This video for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt features a quest from the prologue

    A new video for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has been released, showing off the Precious Cargo quest contained in the game’s prologue. The quest tasks Geralt with helping a merchant retrieve a mysterious box from the swamps. The scene looks familiar, but we’ve seen so many videos for the game it’s hard to tell […]

  • Limited public beta for The Elder Scrolls Online kicks off tomorrow on consoles

    The limited public beta for The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited will launch on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One tomorrow, and Sony has provided details on the tester for those who’ve been invited to participate. The beta test contains the full version of the game and will run from April 23-27, and will start and […]

  • Dying Light debuts in second place on Media Create charts

    Techland’s Dying Light made its debut in Japan lats week, coming in a respectable second place behind Nintendo’s Girls Mode 3: Kirakira Code. The zombie shooter sold 25,530 units on PlayStation 4, while the top earner for the week moved a little over 55,000 units on 3DS. Another western release when landed on the chart, […]

  • Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven will release in the west this June

    Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven has been given a release date by XSEED Games, which announced the localization back in February. The title will launch for 3DS in North America on June 2 digitally and through retail. It will be an eShop only title in Europe and Australia when it releases on June 4. A […]

  • This Overlord video teases four new faces of evil

    A new Overlord game is in the works, going by the previous teasing and this video – which teases the possibility of four-payer co-op. Or just four characters to choose from. We don’t know just yet – all we know is the team is asking you to “join the fellowship.” A new entry in the […]

  • GTA movie will star Daniel Radcliffe as Rockstar’s Sam Houser, the BBC confirms

    The GTA movie Game Changer will star Daniel Radcliffe as Rockstar co-founder and president Sam Houser, theBBC has confirmed. The BBC also confirmed Bill Paxton will play Jack Thompson, a role Paxton already confirmed last week when speaking with Deadline. Here’s the synopsis per the BBC: “Conceived for an adult audience, this special 90-minute drama […]

  • Take a look at Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold’s Classic Mode

    Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold’s Classic Mode has received a trailer today. Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold will come with two modes, Classic and Story. Classic Mode was trailered today and in it, you’ll get to make your party by choosing from 13 classes. You’ll be able to customise them too using the character creation tool. Revamped […]

  • Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows to come with new challenge mode

    Shovel Knight’s upcoming expansion Plague of Shadows will bring with it a new challenge mode. Shovel Knight developer Yacht Club Games has revealed the challenge mode, one of the new additions coming to the game with the free Plague of Shadows expansion. “Are you more into digging than distillation? Already have your Feats book long […]

  • Nvidia releases complete graphical guide for GTA 5

    Those with GeForce cards will be happy to know that Nvidia has released a comprehensive graphical tweaks guide for GTA 5. Nvidia usually produces graphical guides for the big AAA games, and GTA 5 is no different. Their guides offer in-depth coverage of each in-game setting, how much they affect framerate, if they can be […]

  • Cthulhu voodoo: why Bloodborne is the best Lovecraftian game

    Sherif Said tackles Bloodborne’s links to Lovecraftian horror, explaining why you should face the madness and immerse yourself in its lore. Spoilers inside. No other game could commit to its themes so religiously without feeling the need to compromise its vision and veer towards accessibility. Bloodborne stands tall above any game that dares attach itself […]

  • WWE 2K15 is coming to PC this year

    WWE 2K15 will make its way to PC this spring. WWE announced that WWE 2K15 will make its debut on PC in the spring. The game will be based on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions, both of which came out in November. MyCareer and 2K Showaces modes are included, as well as all […]

  • GTA 5 PC: new mod adds snow to GTA Online

    If you’re looking to get some snow in your GTA Online, someone figured out a way. Modder ECB2 created a mod that works with GTA Online on PC. The mod is called “Snow in GTA Online” and it does what it says on the tin. YouTube channel imperfectplayers captured a video showing it in action. […]

  • Deals with Gold: Call of Duty edition

    Xbox Live Deals with Gold for the week of April 20 are now live with mostly Call of Duty games. Various Call of Duty games are on sale on Xbox One and Xbox 360 through Xbox Live this week. Indie games Never Alone and We Are Doomed managed to sneak in as well. With the […]

  • Mortal Kombat X: PSN sign in problems fixed in new patch

    Patch 1.03 is now live for Mortal Kombat X and it brings an end to the aggravating sing in issue encountered by some users on PS4. Mortal Kombat X 1.03 patch has been released. The patch fixes bug CE-34878-0, which affected the PlayStation 4 version. The bug caused users to have to log in and […]

  • GTA 5 PC: new patch fixes Windows Media Player issue, getting stuck in the clouds

    GTA 5 has received a new patch on PC to fix issues caused by the lack of Windows Media Player and getting stuck between online matches. Patch 335.1 is now available to all owners of GTA 5 on PC. The strange issue that affected those who didn’t have Windows Media Player installed, has been fixed. […]