It's been almost a year since we last saw American McGee Presents: Bad Day L.A., the satirically violent action adventure game from the mind of game designer American McGee. In Bad Day L.A., pretty much everything bad that can happen to a city happens to L.A. in a single day, and the results will be over-the-top as you battle zombies, terrorists, angry suburbanites, and the Mexican Army (among others). McGee has stated that he wants Bad Day L.A. to be sort of a commentary on the state of fear and violence in the American media. We caught up with McGee to get an update on the game, which is due out later this year.
GameSpot: We haven't heard about Bad Day L.A. over the past year. Have there been any major changes to the game since we saw it last September? Is the game almost done at this point?
American McGee: Yeah, we got pretty quiet during the middle of development and crunch time. Also, it's pretty easy to ignore the outside world when the development studio is in Hong Kong. Since the last time the game was shown to the press we've added a significant amount of gameplay features, such as chaos management and a greater number of ambient rescue missions. This means that there's a lot more moment-to-moment action than before.
GS: The game focuses on how homeless person Anthony Williams (your character) battles his way out of LA on the worst day possible. Give us a recap of the horrible things happen to LA that day.
AM: The day starts with a terrorist attack that spreads zombie-creating biochemical gas clouds over the city. Soon after the city is hit by earthquakes, meteors, fires, riots, and a tsunami, and the Mexican army invades and tries to take Los Angeles back for Mexico. All of these disasters compound on top of each other, so by the end of the day the city is fully trashed.
GS: We understand that Bad Day L.A. has an over-the-top amount of violence as a reference to both America's fixation on violent entertainment and to the kind of catastrophism that has become common in a post-9/11 world. Have you felt the need to adjust or change any of the satire to take into account recent events, or do you think that the content is still as relevant today as it was when the game first started development?
AM: The only thing I wish we had done differently was make more of a statement regarding these things. I was worried that by the time the game was released, the concept of "fear culture" in the US would have been replaced by a more sensible worldview. If anything, since we began development on the game things seem to have only gotten worse--bird flu, dirty bombs, domestic terrorist cells, and government eavesdropping, to name a few issues. We probably could have incorporated these elements into the game's social commentary. I guess we'll have to wait for Bad Day L.A. 2 to address those new threats. (Badder Day L.A. anyone?!)
GS: The violence in Bad Day L.A. is obviously satirical, but people don't always recognize satire when it's staring them in the face. Do you still feel the same way about the kind of controversy the game is intended to generate as you did when the game's development first started--especially in light of the many video game-related violence stories that have made the headlines in the past 12 months or so?
AM: The concept of video game violence is one that I talk about on my blog frequently. I have Google news alerts set to deliver me stories related to "video game violence," "video game murders," and related topics like "golf murder." It is true that there have been more and more headlines related to the topic. But the strange thing is that I've yet to see any increase in actual video game-related violence. It seems to me that someone out there has a vested interest in making video game violence a headline issue, even though it isn't a real issue.
Originally I had hoped that the violent content in Bad Day L.A. would spur debate over the use of violence in art, movies, music, and other forms of expression, and help to validate video games as an artistic medium where the human condition can be exploded and explored. These days I can see that there is a hidden agenda behind all the "video game violence" propaganda, and I doubt that any real debate will come out of the release of Bad Day L.A. or any other video game for any time to come. It's likely that the issue will only really go away when today's politicians finally croak out and some kind of cyberpunk, direct brain-stimulation entertainment medium replaces video games.
Going Hollywood?GS: About how long will the game be? Will there be anything there to bring players back for another round of replay?
AM: For the average gamer, play time is around 10 hours. If anything will bring players back it will be the game's humor. Personally, I love sharing funny moments from the game with my friends, and I can picture other people doing the same.
GS: We understand that the soundtrack is composed of quite a few licensed songs, but is there an overall theme? For instance, are they all apocalyptic, satirical, violent, sarcastic? And what can you tell us about the voice talent for the game?
AM: Actually, the soundtrack is made up of over 100 unique music tracks, broken into groups representing all the major music genres, such as rock, urban, country, classical, and Latino. The idea was to produce an accurate cross-section of the sorts of music styles that you might hear in different areas of Los Angeles. So when you're in a predominately Hispanic area of town you'll hear more Latin music. Because this is a comedic game, we tended to avoid an overly serious or game-like soundtrack. The "normal" music of the city makes for a good contrast to the disasters going on all around.
GS: We understand that there are apparently plans in place to create a motion-picture adaptation of American McGee's Alice with actress Sarah Michelle Gellar. Any similar discussions going on to bring Bad Day L.A. out of the world of video games and into another medium?
AM: Whenever I set out to create a game I'm always thinking about other ways in which the property can be exploited. These days, the stories, characters, and worlds represented in films and games are so similar that it would be silly not to. Bad Day L.A. is no different. We're currently in talks with several major studios and TV production houses to get Bad Day L.A. out there as linear media.
GS: As we understand it, the game was developed by two studios in China. How were you able to get the social satire across to developers who spoke a different language and came from a different culture? Do you think that working with outsourced studios is the future of game development?
AM: It was pretty difficult. Many times myself and my art director just had to force the content onto the team and tell them what to build, even when they didn't understand it. Early on, this was tough, but eventually the team understood more and more of the comedy.
As for outsourcing of game content: I believe it has the ability to radically shift the way that games are conceived and developed. That's why I am staying in China, helping to build a large-scale game art outsourcing company called Vykarian and starting a large-scale development studio in Shanghai. If anyone out there is interested in joining the new teams, drop me a line at my official Web site.
GS: Thank you, American.