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American McGee talks OZombie & Alice: Otherlands

Tuesday, 28 May 2013 08:04 GMT By Dave Cook

Alice: Otherlands and OZombie are the next potential projects from Spicy Horse. Studio founder American McGee tells VG247′s Dave Cook about, their plots, mechanics and possible multiplayer.

American McGee

McGee began his career at id Software and is now founder of Shanghai-based studio Spicy Horse.

The studio is known for the Alice series, and is currently working on Akaneiro, as well as concepts for Alice: Otherlands and OZombie.

Only one of the two concepts will make it to Kickstarter, but we won’t know which until the team is ready to announce the funding campaign.

You can check out early OZombie concepts and art over at the project’s Facebook hub.

Off the back of its successful Kickstarter campaign for Akaneiro: Demon Hunters, Shanghai-based studio Spicy Horse is looking at two potential follow-up projects to take down the crowd-funding route.

The first is tentatively titled Alice: Otherlands, which would be the third instalment of the popular trilogy based on the works of Lewis Carroll, and the second is OZombie, a twisted adventure based on the Wizard of Oz.

I caught up with studio founder American McGee to discuss both projects, and to get a clearer picture on what they both involve from a plot, gameplay and feature perspective.

But first I had to be sure of one thing, which was the status of the Alice IP at present, and McGee was happy to explain the current situation, confirming that he had spoken with EA on the matter.

McGee replied, “We’re simply trying to create a license that makes sense for us, that makes sense for EA, and also – to some degree – that makes sense to the fans.

“Already we’ve seen some feedback from the fans that suggests they’d like to see Spicy Horse having a certain amount of control and involvement with the IP going forward.

“So we’re trying to do something where all negotiations make sense for us, makes sense for EA and makes sense for the fans. It remains to be seen if we get there because that’s a lot to ask. Everybody’s got different ideas of what they’d like in an ideal situation, and so ultimately it may just be easier for everyone if we simply do OZombie.

“Whatever happens, we’re not going to make the announcement until the Kickstarter launches in July. Basically, even if I figure out next week with EA, that ‘Hey, we’re not going to do this, or we’re going to do that’, the fans and press won’t know which project it is until the day the Kickstarter goes live”.


This OZombie concept art shows Dorothy meeting the Tin Man.

With the fine details out of the way we started to discuss each project individually, starting with Alice in Otherlands. It’s conceptualised as a Unity 3D-powered, true sequel to Alice: Madness Returns and it’s set in London as the industrial revolution starts to take hold.

McGee explained the plot, and said, “The core concept is that she’s now, having completed the mission of the first game, mastered the psychological domain, and having completed the mission of the second game, mastered the physical domain. Alice has now achieved a level of super-power, which we’d like to see her use to travel into the Otherlands of other people’s minds.

“At that time in London there was a very rich collection of people present – everybody from Darwin and Thomas Edison, to Jack the Ripper and Mark Twain – just a huge number of literary, artistic and inventive people. So the idea would be that Alice would be travelling into the minds of the people she meets in London, and that’s the core gameplay mechanic; that the Otherlands become mental landscapes to adventure through.

“The third game would not be about Alice trying to save herself, as that’s kind of happened already. It would be about Alice trying to save London, trying to save the people around her, and what we’re envisioning is that she’s travelling into people’s minds to complete missions.

“Then in the outside world she’s building up a cross between London and Wonderland, which we refer to as ‘Londerland’, and so that’s becoming a sort of sanctuary for the children, the street urchins in London, and the base of power for Alice. All of this works toward a theme where she’s fighting against the growing industrialisation of the Victorian era”.


A piece of Madness Returns concept art showing Alice in London.

It’s an interesting concept that recalls the mind-hopping escapades of Double Fine’s Psychonauts, but with that classic dark edge that has become synonymous with Spicy Horse. It’s ambitious from a gameplay perspective too, but the scope of that ambition depends on whether or not the Kickstarter proceeds, and how much money it raises.

McGee explained that multiplayer is among the team’s goals, but that the bulk of the game would be am offline narrative single-player experience with exploration, combat and puzzles. Online facets such as co-op, tournaments, clans and PvP battles are also on the cards, but again, it is all dependant on the team getting the license and raising the necessary funds.

The less-problematic game to produce, OZombie is similar to the Alice trilogy in many ways. It also runs in Unity 3D and delivers a dark take on an otherwise whimsical fairytale story The game sees the realm of Oz turned into a dictatorship governed by the Scarecrow, and his lust for brains has turned everyone into husks.

However, McGee was keen to point out that you won’t be fighting traditional zombies or the undead at all. In fact, the term ‘zombie’ in this context applies to the populace of Oz, who have been beaten down by the Scarecrow’s regime so badly, that they are emotionless, conformist followers devoid of free-thought or ambition.

McGee explained, “When we talk about OZombie, the story revolves around the Scarecrow, and he is kind of crazy about brains, but the real story is that he’s trying to wipe out magic, creativity and beauty in Oz, and he’s trying to push everyone towards a very utilitarian, kind of Luddite anti-magic existence.


Don’t mess with the Tin Woodman, seriously. Don’t.

“The idea here is that Dorothy is going to come back into Oz, but this may even be Dorothy’s great, great granddaughter, we’re not sure yet. She’ll join forces with the Tin Woodman, the lion, she’ll have a version of Toto with her, and it’s not just about trying to fight against the Scarecrow and defeat the zombies.

“Really, the core of this will be trying to rebuild society, which means you’ll have to build up the infrastructure of the world. That means we’re going to be marrying some aspects of action, adventure, as well as resource-gathering and building mechanics into the core gameplay. All of this is very story-driven like Alice”.

Just like the Alice: Otherlands project, OZombie is conceptualised as having a narrative-driven single-player and a multiplayer component as well, which also depends on how well the Kickstarter funding drive goes. The world infrastructure aspect reminded me of Fable III’s kingdom-building, so I offered the comparison to McGee

He replied, “If you look at something like Fable – I mean, I love those games – those are incredible complex. you have to keep in mind that we’re on a budget that’s whatever the guys on Kickstarter want to give us. But a minimum is going to be around $1.5-$2 million, so we can’t be so ambitious as to suggest we’ll build a Fable-like RPG, plus all of the building stuff in there.

“It’s going to be something that’s a lighter presentation of some of those mechanics, so there would be resource collecting and then using them to build stuff. But the degree of freedom we give the players is probably going to be a lot more limited than you’d find in the traditional RTS or RPG genre. We’re really looking to make a streamlined experience out of it”.


OZombie’s witch is certainly a far cry from how she appears in the film.

Regardless of scope, OZombie is a neat take on the classic tale, and one that fans of the source material, and the twisted works of Spicy Horse should appreciate. It’ll take on a squad-based format, with Dorothy and chums blazing a trail across Oz, upgrading their combat abilities as they go.

The combat may not necessarily be real-time either, as McGee suggested that it may take on a stat-based, almost card fighter format instead. But as with most things right now, a lot of the finer details are open to change, depending once more on the Kickstarter strategy moving forward. It’s important to stress that most of this is not concrete at the time of writing.

In the end McGee views the audience and fans as Spicy Horse’s top priority. They’ll be – and have been – fully involved in the Kickstarter process and to ultimately decide – for example – how heavily the games lean towards action, narrative, or puzzles. It’s a malleable, transparent format, one that Kickstarter has become known for.

It gives the backers a true voice during production, and it’s something McGee and his team holds very dear indeed.

We’ll have more on both projects once Spicy Horse announces which one it is committing to Kickstarter, but for now, which would you like to see made first? Let us know below.

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4 Comments

  1. Richenbaum

    I guess it would maybe be best to do Alice 3 first since they’re already familiar with that type of game. Then they can take their time figuring out this new project, which does sound great. I’d gladly support either one if they needed it though.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. SameeR_Fisher

    “But a minimum is going to be around $1.5-$2 million”

    Not sure he will be able to hit that goal.

    “The combat may not necessarily be real-time either, as McGee suggested that it may take on a stat-based, almost card fighter format instead.”

    & the game lost its appeal.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. latalavera

    Les deux ont l’air géniaux!!

    Mais ma préférence va quand même à Alice: Otherlands car “le pays des merveilles amoché reste dans ton cœur…pour l’instant!” signifie pour moi qu’il faut ABSOLUMENT une suite à ce conte noir!

    Un grand sourire de chat du Cheshire. Please I want it!!!

    #3 2 years ago
  4. aliceinreverse

    i know this is extremely selfish of me. but…

    i have a pretty decent amount of money towards a kickstarter for alice, already saved.

    if oz is the kickstarter, i don’t think i will get involved.

    i love you american mcgee, but i love alice. i also have to agree with SameeR_Fisher that the combat issue is a let down.

    #4 2 years ago

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    SWERY 65 has shown off D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die running on PC at GDC this week, teasing that a possible port may be on the way. D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die is SWERY 65′s latest project. An episodic detective affair, D4 came out on Xbox One last September and utilised Kinect as its main […]

  • Valve’s Lighthouse, VR controllers and more explained

    Valve’s less-talked about prototype VR controllers and its Lighthouse technology have been shown in more detail. When HTC announced Vive, the VR headset it’s working on with Valve, it mentioned “base stations” and ergonomic controllers. Now we know what they meant by that. The controllers are still in prototype phase, and will look better when […]

  • Listen to two professional Counter-Strike players explain why Dust2 is so popular

    Hear what makes iconic Counter-Strike map Dust2 one of the most popular maps in shooter history from two former eSports players. Sal “Volcano” Garozzo and Shawn “FMPONE” Snelling are both retired professional Counter-Strike players who are currently working as designers. At GDC this year, the pair hosted a panel titled “Community Level Design for Competitive […]

  • Core Morpheus hardware locked in, no plans for wireless version

    Sony has finalised the core hardware for its VR headset Project Morpheus, and does not currently plan on releasing a wireless version. SCE Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida spoke to Gamespot at GDC and confirmed that the core hardware of Morpheus is “pretty much done” but that “lots of tweaks and improvements” are still being […]

  • Watch the full Phil Spencer keynote from GDC 2015

    The full GDC 2015 keynote of Xbox boss Phil Spencer is now available to watch. In case you missed last nights’s Phil Spencer keynote at GDC 2015, the whole thing has been made available to watch on YouTube. The address is titled “The Future of Gaming Across the Microsoft Ecosytem,” and it’s where Spencer announced […]

  • Elite: Dangerous won’t be “dumbed down” for Xbox One

    The Xbox One version of Elite: Dangerous will in fact be the same as the PC one. Elite: Dangerous developer Frontier came out on stage last night at GDC to announce the game making its console debut on Xbox One. Some have feared that the port would not provide the same experience as the PC […]

  • Virtual reality: by gum, it’s really happening

    Virtual reality has exited the realm of peripheral gimmick and turned into something that just might go mainstream. VR has an uphill battle ahead of it. The tech is going to be expensive, and there are a number of problems that need to be solved before it could be considered an inclusive technology (motion sickness, […]

  • Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor takes Game of the Year at GDC Awards 2015

    And the winner is: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor beat out Alien: Isolation, Bayonetta 2, Destiny, and Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft to win Game of the Year at the Game Developer’s Choice Awards 2015. Elsewhere in the awards, Ustwo’s mobile hit Monument Valley was a stand-out favourite, with wins in the Innovation, […]

  • Alien: Isolation was prototyped in third-person – video

    Alien: Isolation is one of the most effectively scary triple-A games in years, but it didn’t start off a perfect creation of pure terror. Creative Assembly prototyped Alien: Isolation in third-person perspective before they nailed down the final approach. The developer revealed this during a GDC 2015 presentation, and it’s a good reminder that games […]

  • Madden 15 added to EA Vault

    Madden 15 is now included in EA’s all-you-can-eat subscriber service. Madden 15 is the ninth game to be added to the EA Vault, a stash of games available on demand for EA Access subscribers. It's still Madden Season for EA Access members – Madden NFL 15 is now in The Vault for all members. Go […]

  • Source Engine 2 doesn’t have hidden costs or royalties – but is Steam exclusive

    Three major engines went free at GDC 2015, and each of them is monetising in a different way. There’s been a heck of a lot of discussion about development tools and the costs associated with them during GDC 2015. First Epic announced that Unreal Engine 4 would be free, bar royalities on successful releases. Then […]

  • Final Fantasy creator hates sequels

    Final Fantasy, a byword in prolific franchises, was created by a man who hates sequel. Final Fantasy games are famous for being reinvented with each core release, and it was not until series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi began to withdraw from the franchise after Final Fantasy 9 that we started seeing regular sequels and spin-offs. Speaking […]

  • Guardian complaints led to the closure of Destiny’s Loot Cave

    Destiny players are to blame for the shuttering of the much loved Loot Cave. Early in Destiny‘s history, many players got hugely excited about the “Loot Cave”. Accessible shortly after starting the game for the first time, this high-volume spawn point allowed players to stand in one place, taking out waves and waves of low-level […]

  • Xbox and PC games boss Phil Harrison to leave Microsoft – rumour

    Microsoft Interactive Entertainment Business VP and EMEA head of games Phil Harrison is rumoured to have thrown in the towel. Microsoft has not issued a statement on Harrison’s alleged departure, despite repeated questioning by press at GDC 2015. Instead, word comes via multiple sources speaking to GamesIndustry at the show. According to the rumours, Harrison […]

  • Metal Gear Online commentated trailer explains stuffed dog – but not invisibility

    Metal Gear Online developer Kojima Productions has provided significantly more insight into how the multiplayer side of The Phantom Pain works. Metal Gear Online is the online multiplayer component of Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain. Konami hasn’t shared a great deal about it yet, but we did see a very cool Metal Gear […]

  • Elite: Dangerous Xbox One trailer shows off space MMO

    If Elite: Dangerous looks this good on Xbox One we have nothing to complain about. Microsoft revealed Elite: Dangerous is coming to Xbox One this year during its GDC presentations today. We don’t know very much about the port, but I suppose we ought to have expected it; Frontier Developments has a very close relationship […]

  • Battletoads to appear in Shovel Knight Xbox One

    A Battletoads remake must be on the horizon. Right? Right?? The Battletoads will appear in the upcoming Xbox One version of Shovel Knight, Yacht Club Games revealed today. The Battletoads drop in for a fight! Shovel Knight is headed to Xbox One and meets up with @RareLtd brawling trio! pic.twitter.com/OCQIuWbH3W — Yacht Club Games (@YachtClubGames) […]

  • The Division pre-alpha footage leaks, Ubisoft says it’s well out of date

    The Division fans finally got a look at Ubisoft’s MMO this week, but the publisher has said the footage is not in any way representative. Pre-alpha footage of the The Division was leaked this week, but has since been thoroughly smacked down by takedown notices. All that remains are a few screenshots and a GIF: […]

  • Microsoft HoloLens designer killed in hit and run accident

    Very sad news out of Redmond this week, as Mike Ey was killed in a tragic accident. Ey, 30, was one of the key project designers on Microsoft’s HoloLens AR headset. He was killed on Saturday morning in a rear-end collision. The driver of the second vehicle fled the scene but was tracked down by […]

  • AMD throws support behind VR with new low-latency anti-nausea tech

    GPU manufacturer AMD has released a new SDK compatible with “a broad set of VR devices”. Called LiquidVR, the tech is designed to “bring better content, comfort, and compatibility to VR applications” including games, simulation, entertainment, education, social media, travel, medicine, real estate and ecommerce, apparently. AMD said maintaining comfort and realism in VR environments […]

  • Danganronpa 3 in the works, but a long way off yet

    A new Danganronpa is happening. Danganronpa 3 is in the very, very early production stages, writer Kodaka Kazutaka has confirmed. Nothing about the project is “set in stone”, Kazutaka told Polygon, so there are no details to share yet; the characters and story may change several times before being finalised. The writer said he’s weighing […]

  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare MLG Pro League 2015 schedule announced

    Major League Gaming has announced the full schedule for the 2015 Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare MLG Pro League. The eSpots firm revealed two more seasons of Pro League, a live Relegation tournament for Season Three, and a season ending World Championship with $250,000 up for grabs You can watch all the action on MLG.tv […]

  • Happy Birthday PlayStation 2, you are almost old enough to drive

    Amidst all the GDC 2015 hoopla today, we forgot to wish PlayStation 2 a Happy Birthday. The system turned 15 years old today, going by its March 4, 2000 launch date in Japan. It was released in the west that autumn, and had shipped 100 million units in less than six years post launch. PS2 […]

  • Here’s what the final version of Valve’s Steam Controller looks like

    A look at the updated Steam Controller has surfaced via a hands-on post from Polygon. Valve said what you see in the images below is the final version of the controller. The controller has gone through numerous revisions since it was first revealed, but it seems Valve has decided on two touch pads which work […]

  • The Sims, SimCity developer closed down

    The Sims 4 developer Maxis has been shuttered, EA has confirmed. The Sims, SimCity and the rest of the Sim franchise has traditionally been helmed by Maxis, which had its flagship studio in Emeryville, California. Now EA has confirmed with Kotaku that this studio is being closed. “Today we are consolidating Maxis IP development to […]

  • Gigantic MOBA coming to Windows 10 and Xbox One with cross-play

    Today during GDC 2015, Microsoft announced that the new IP from Motiga called Gigantic will be cross-play enabled. Slated for Windows 10 and Xbox One, the five-on-five third-person battle arena game allows the player to select from an array of heroes with distinctive powers and play styles. Players will then make their way through areas […]

  • Here’s a look at Unreal Tournament DirectX 12 gameplay

    Epic Games is creating Unreal Tournament using Unreal Engine 4 running on DirectX 12, which Microsoft says “sets a new bar for visual fidelity.” DirectX 12 is a single API developers can access across Windows devices, which can result in a 20% improvement in performance over DX11 running on the same machine. The Unreal Tournament […]

  • Wireless adapter for Xbox One controllers out later this year

    Microsoft announced at GDC 2015 today it will that all wireless Xbox gaming accessories will be designed for and supported on both Xbox One consoles and Windows 10 PCs moving forward. Later this year, a wireless adapter will be released, allowing current Xbox controllers and future devices to be used wirelessly on PCs. This will […]

  • Microsoft offers up more details on Spencer’s GDC 2015 talk

    Microsoft has provided more details on Cross-Buy functionality between Windows 10 and Xbox One as well as the Xbox Live SKU and other announcements made during Phil Spencer’s talk today. During the session, the head of Xbox shared “the next step” in the company’s plans for a unified platform across all Windows 10 devices which […]

  • Wasteland 2 is coming to PlayStation 4 this summer

    Wasteland 2 is coming to PlayStation 4 as a Game of the Year Edition. inXile Entertainment announced the news on the PS Blog, noting the edition contains enhancements and improvements. The game has been ported to Unity 5, which was announced over the weekend, providing upgraded visual effects, “improved character models, upgraded environments, and Unity […]

  • Cross-Buy detailed for Windows 10 and Xbox One; Elite: Dangerous coming to Xbox One

    During Xbox boss Phil Spencer’s session at GDC 2015 today, it was announced Elite: Dangerous would release on Xbox One. Spencer also outlined cross-buy functionality across Windows 10 and Xbox One. Spencer’s talk started off with Frontier Developments announcing Elite: Dangerous for release this summer as a console debut on Xbox One, suggesting the Elite: […]

  • Longbeards Culture Pack available now for Total War: Attila

    The Longbeards Culture Pack is now available for Total War: Attila and it comes with three new playable factions. The Langobards, the Burgundians and the Alamans can be played in both single and multiplayer campaign modes as well as custom and multiplayer battles. A new feature called The Lay of Ybor is also included. It […]

  • Nvidia unveils Titan X as world’s “most advanced GPU” – video

    Nvidia revealed Titan X as “the world’s most advanced GPU” during Epic founder Tim Sweeney’s State of Unreal session a t GDC 2015 today. Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang took the stage during the panel stating it contains “8 billion transistors,” and has 12GB of RAM. Pricing wasn’t announced, but it was rumored back in January […]