Q&A: American McGee on Grimm

The patriotically named American, currently living in Shanghai, discusses his latest twisted fairy-tale title and reveals that the game may well also be coming to Xbox Live.

American McGee is a master of dark storytelling, with credits that include American McGee's Alice, a third-person shooter starring the heroine of Alice in Wonderland who is all grown up and quite insane due to her traumatic childhood experiences. The artwork was one of the main draws of the game, with the troubled Alice fighting for her sanity inside the creepy wonderland of her own imagination.

Originally released in 2000 for the PC and also on the Mac, Alice introduced gamers to the twisted mind of American McGee, who had previously worked as a level designer and programming staff member on such games as Doom II, Quake, and Quake II at id Software. After id, he moved to Electronic Arts in 1998, where he created Alice.

In 2006, McGee moved lock, stock, and barrel to Hong Kong and then on to Shanghai, where he set up his development studio Spicy Horse. From there, he and his team have been working on Grimm, a retelling of some of the best-known children's fairy tales. Action adventure Grimm will be coming in 24 episodes, initially released for the PC on the GameTap digital distribution service and follow an episodic, TV-style format, complete with cliffhangers to keep gamers downloading. Fairy tales getting the McGee treatment will include Rapunzel, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Snow White. The first episode is due in spring 2008.

The Jack and the Beanstalk episode of Grimm.

After this, McGee says that the game may come to one of the online console platforms, and that once Grimm is done and dusted, he's thinking of getting his teeth into a large-scale project again.

GameSpot UK: How's the game coming along?

American McGee: We think it's looking great. The team has two episodes, Cinderella and Jack, in postproduction. And there are three more levels, Godfather Death, Red Riding Hood, and Pied Piper that are in the preproduction to alpha stage. Building episodic content has presented us with some unique challenges--but these changes to the normal way of building a game are refreshing. Watching people play, we can tell we're definitely creating something different.

GSUK: Why did you decide to go for a digital download-only release? And use the TV-episode-style model?

AM: I like the philosophy behind digital download--it is a disruptive model. And the concept of TV-episode-sized chunks of gameplay is something I've been keen to experiment with for a long time. I love "feature length" games as much as the next person, but I think there's a huge market being undeserved and ignored by traditional long-format games. It will be interesting to see how people react to 30-minute game episodes.

GSUK: Do you think that digital downloads will soon take over from the retail model?

AM: I wouldn't say "soon," but it isn't hard to see a world where all digital content is delivered directly to consumers either in their homes or from something akin to a vending machine in a mall.

GSUK: Any plans for a retail copy on store shelves at any point?

AM: Currently, we are set to have them debut exclusively on GameTap this spring. When we have a few more episodes finished, we'll start planning for alternate forms of release.

GSUK: What do you think is the attraction to fairy tales?

AM: They are timeless reflections on the human condition. We can immediately empathize with the characters and their situations because they often mirror situations in our own lives. And their narratives and morals help to form a sort of cultural shorthand for those who grew up on them.

GSUK: Fairy tales are meant for little kids, but if you actually read them properly, they're very dark and violent...

AM: That's a major theme in this game. The central mechanic focuses on "painting" the fairy tale world dark. Things start cute and then the player makes things grim. Our main character's perspective on the tales is that without their teeth, they lose all their value. So the game is about restoring lessons to fairy tales by restoring the darkness.

GSUK: How come you moved to Shanghai? How's that working out?

AM: A few years ago I was given the opportunity to move to Hong Kong and build a game title. I began fostering relationships in Shanghai and looking for ways to start a development company there. My love for Asia goes back many years, and I've always hoped to find a way to make a life here. Now three years into the adventure, I couldn't be happier. Every day brings new experiences, new lessons, and tremendous satisfaction.

GSUK: Will the game be similar to Alice?

AM: In that both games were based on fairy tales, there are similarities. Aside from that, Alice and Grimm are quite different. Alice was action adventure; Grimm is...well, we're not really sure what to call it. Where Katamari Damacy has "rolling" we have "transforming." Where Alice had "toys as weapons," Grimm has "painting with darkness." And Alice was a much more narrative experience for and about itself. Grimm creates a game fiction that explores stories outside of itself.

GSUK: Any news on the Oz game or the Alice film?

AM: Oz game died a quiet death when Atari/Infogrames had financial trouble years ago. There's almost no chance of the IP (in that particular form) being revived. It's a shame too because the game we had in development looked great and was quite fun. As for the Alice film, I've no idea anymore. I hear there's still something happening with it, but I'm inclined to believe it when I see it.

GSUK: Will Grimm be coming to PC only or are there plans to release it over the PlayStation Network or Xbox Live too?

AM: The game could be brought to both consoles pretty easily. We're developing the title using Unreal 3, which makes the port process relatively simple. The big issue will be finding the right home. I'm leaning toward XBLA, but we'll have to wait and see what happens.

GSUK: Where do you get your inspiration from?

AM: I try to draw inspiration from everywhere; films, music, books, history, and the world around me. Being in China is a daily source of inspiration. Life here is chaotic, energetic, and slightly dangerous (in a good way). And I go out of my way to surround myself with creative, talented people. Ultimately, I feel my inspirations and creative abilities are only as good as the people I share my inspirations with.

GSUK: What artists do you admire/are you influenced by?

AM: Our internal team of artists: Ken Wong, Ben Kerstlake, Tyler Lockett, Yuan Xiao Fen, and Nako provide me with all the inspiration I need. These guys are really the heart and soul of our endeavour here in Shanghai. Without them to give life to the team's vision, we'd be lost.

GSUK: Which fairy tales will you be featuring in the game? Was it a hard choice to decide which to choose and which to lose?

AM: We have a list of 24 that we're working from. We chose them based on three criteria: popularity (awareness), content (location/characters), and contrast (ability to skew light/dark). The last two points made the decision-making process pretty simple. Many tales are too simple in setting and story to adapt into something worthwhile.

GSUK: What are you currently playing and what do you think of it?

AM: I just finished playing Portal and BioShock. I was highly impressed with both and wished in both cases that the play experience wouldn't end. BioShock convinced me that I could enjoy an action adventure game on a console (360 in this case), and Portal revived my faith in the PC (and downloadable content) as a place for radically new and interesting designs.

GSUK: Thanks for your time.

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48 comments
snakebite262
snakebite262

I want to see this thing on xbox live...

ObiKKa
ObiKKa

This episodic series could have one very dangerous pitfall - pricing. You can read in this interview that each episode lasts only 30 minutes, so the price would need to be incredibly cheap per episode, like US 75 cents per episode. Coz, I mean, if you multiply that price by 12 episodes, which totals about 6 hours, the equivalent of a Sam & Max episode, which costs over US $8 as a standalone episode from Gametap, then it equates to US $9. It can't be much more than that...

cckcmain
cckcmain

I hope it's as good and successful as Bad Day L.A.

Pie_FOREVER
Pie_FOREVER

This guy is an absolute whackjob who made one great game and a bunch of bombs. He even had the nerve to compare America to Nazi Germany (including those against say, the war in Iraq) in an interview about his awful creation "Bad Day L.A.", calling every American facist ****s (the f-word mind you) and saying we should be sunk to the bottom of the ocean. Not only does this show how ignorant he is, but also how dangerous someone like him can be that this crap he spouts out get's published I'm glad he doesn't make any more money from any of his newer stuff. Why is he hiding out in Shanghai now? Was "Bad Day L.A." really that awful McGee? Couldn't take the critism and flat out acknowledgment it was an awful game? If America is so bad why are you named after it? This guy should get absolutely no attention whatsoever. Journalists, please make a unanimous decision to ignore any further garbage he decides to concoct for consumer's consumption. It's not worth the time or effort

false_prophet
false_prophet

SINCE Alice, this poor sod has yet to release a game that hasn't sucked. Can we just pay him to not release a game and stay in Shanghai? Seriously, this guy's like a Mini-Romero.

hrah
hrah

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

hrah
hrah

I loved the Crazy alice story & I would like to see a sequel or a remake with next gen graphics.

Beards_Mahoney
Beards_Mahoney

So Oz is officially dead. Looks like i've got a $20 bet with my friend to collect on.

Beards_Mahoney
Beards_Mahoney

So Oz is officially dead. Looks like i've got a $20 bet with my friend to collect on.

V-Nine
V-Nine

Just as long as they re-release a version of American Mcgees Alice all will be well(as can be sadistically cool).

boomboomkid
boomboomkid

Omg sorry for multiple posts, something is wrong with the javascript on this page.

boomboomkid
boomboomkid

Even though I think the episodic format is more due to easier funding (they will make a few episodes before they get people to finance the rest), it's an interesting shift from the overlong games that get made these days. I like the idea of playing through a shorter episode if it manages to play well and wrap up the story nicely. And you have to give credit McGee is a passionate man that thinks out of the box, and God knows more people like him are welcome in today's gaming industry (yes, most "creative" people are just re-re-rehashing age-old concepts).

boomboomkid
boomboomkid

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

boomboomkid
boomboomkid

Even though I think the episodic format is more due to easier funding (they will make a few episodes before they get people to finance the rest), it's an interesting shift from the overlong games that get made these days. I like the idea of playing through a shorter episode if it manages to play well and wrap up the story nicely. And you have to give credit McGee is a passionate man that thinks out of the box, and God knows more people like him are welcome in today's gaming industry (yes, most "creative" people are just re-re-rehashing age-old concepts).

boomboomkid
boomboomkid

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

boomboomkid
boomboomkid

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

boomboomkid
boomboomkid

Even though I think the episodic format is more due to easier funding (they will make a few episodes before they get people to finance the rest), it's an interesting shift from the overlong games that get made these days. I like the idea of playing through a shorter episode if it manages to play well and wrap up the story nicely. And you have to give credit McGee is a passionate man that thinks out of the box, and God knows more people like him are welcome in today's gaming industry (yes, most "creative" people are just re-re-rehashing age-old concepts).

dr_moreau
dr_moreau

Awwwww Oz is dead :( Ahhh well... These episodes sound like they'll be a breath of fresh air into the games industry.

Erebus
Erebus

It's hit or miss with American McGee. My advice is to wait for the reviews; his games range from plain awful to good.

Erebus
Erebus

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Erebus
Erebus

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Erebus
Erebus

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Erebus
Erebus

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

jakob_187
jakob_187

I've quite enjoyed all of McGee's work over the years (and talk to him quite often via e-mail). He's quite a passionate man when it comes to his games, and I can't knock him for any of his attempts. People can say "ah, he's the guy that made Scrapland and Bad Day L.A.", but what most fail to realize is that those games were like a lot of his projects: experiments. He's not the kind of guy that goes for the straight-forward idea of a first-person shooter for the sake of making some money. If he makes a game, it's going to be something he loves. For that, I respect the man more than most game makers out there. If McGee were ever actually given a real budget, like he was given with Alice, then I could almost guarantee you could see him blow away most of the games that ever reach store shelves. I'm definitely looking forward to Grimm...and I'm sad to hear that we'll never see Oz. That would've been an amazing project...especially since I think he and I are two of the only people on the planet that realize that Oz proper was a trilogy, with dozens of books that go into each individual main character after that.

Bozanimal
Bozanimal

@uberjannie - Not true; the PC has had a shift in titles away from Adventure and platformers (e.g. Commander Keen) to FPS and RTS titles, but there is definitely not a lack of interest (evidence). Consoles have more great games than ever, making it appear as though the PC has less available, particularly when you look at the store shelves, but the PC has lots of great titles. Think of Bioshock, Civilization, The Sims, C&C3, UT3, Crysis, Supreme Commander, WoW, Starcraft II, etc.

Da1ShrpSh0trGrl
Da1ShrpSh0trGrl

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Da1ShrpSh0trGrl
Da1ShrpSh0trGrl

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Da1ShrpSh0trGrl
Da1ShrpSh0trGrl

Nice! This game looks very interesting and I sure hope Microsoft takes on the fact that it could transition to make it happen. If it came out for console I would buy it!

YukoAsho
YukoAsho

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

YukoAsho
YukoAsho

This is also the guy responsible for Scrapland.

uberjannie
uberjannie

I see more and more people are losing interest in the PC as a gaming platform =( Even McGee is noticing it :/ Bullocks!

puppet12ca
puppet12ca

alice was freaking awesome I hope they bring this to the Console

galerian86
galerian86

And this fella also made American McGee Presents Bad Day LA, which isn't that good. Hope this one turn out better coz I love Alice. I know the graphics will be good at worst(you know,coz they're using Unreal engine), I'm just concern about gameplay.

Del_The_Prophet
Del_The_Prophet

Bring it to XBOX Live and you have something. They shouldn't limit themselves to just GameTap.

SpazH3d
SpazH3d

I love when fairytales get a dark and evil twist. Its pure awesomeness!

gordanfreeman53
gordanfreeman53

I really like Sam & Max, and i have gametap, so that equals I am going to get it.

ebookerd1
ebookerd1

AM sounds freaking Cool!!! I hope he comes out with something new soon

Demonknight
Demonknight

Ok, that sounds cool... But what happened to Oz? Oops, my bad, didn't read about the silent dead....RIP Oz

Steinin
Steinin

If he can make another game anything like Alice was then I'm interested.

the_monkey_god
the_monkey_god

Darn. GameTap sux. I wish it would hit xbox live for download.

thebeefydog21
thebeefydog21

One good game (Alice) does not make him a master of dark storytelling, though I'd look forward to this one.

londonrider
londonrider

I love the concept. I hope it will come out really good

DirtyRotten
DirtyRotten

Coolness. Alice was a trippy game, not mind blowing gameplay wise but it had a great art style and soundtrack. I'm always up for some twisted takes on classic fairy tales.