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Vol. 2, Issue 1
November 8, 1999
Through the Looking Glass

An interview by Russell "RadPipe" Lauzon

Old-schoolers like myself remember American McGee for his beautiful words of wisdom concerning llamas (and their care), but it was at id Software that he really earned a name for himself. His mapping work can be found on some of the all-time great First Person Shooters including Doom2, Quake, and Quake2. Some of his best levels are still routinely played on DM servers across the Net.

American McGee left id Software in the spring of 1998 with a cryptic message about a plan to start an online gambling adventure. But clearly gaming was in his blood, for not long after McGee was back in the game and working for Maxis. But he wasn't there long. An opportunity arose at Electronic Arts to work on a game, a new game following the most unlikely of children's stories, "Alice in Wonderland".

What prompted you to leave id Software?

I left id Software after finishing Quake II. I think that after so many years it was just time, and I'm actually very thankful to the id guys for the chance they gave me and for the time I spent there.

Is it true you did a stint at Maxis before settling into EA? What did you work on there?

I did start out with EA at Maxis.  I spent some time there while deciding what I wanted to work on.  The opportunity to work on Alice came up at EA and I grabbed it.  One project I spent some time on at Maxis is still in development so I can't talk about it.

Did you do any level designing in your spare time, or was it purely a dry period after your departure from id?

Since my departure from id I've worked on a number of DM maps purely for fun and exercise. Just recently I completed a Quake III map called "The Gibhole". I'll release that to the net as soon as Quake III is out.

When you left, you mentioned that you were going to go work for an online gambling company. What happened there?  Is this something you'd like to return to someday, or are your plans for the future purely in video games?

This is a pretty long story. The short of it was that I thought I wanted to get away from the gaming industry and try something new. A few friends and I took a stab at starting a company based on online and on location based gambling. After a while I realized that I was missing video games. I looked around at where the industry was, saw an opportunity to work with some really great people inside EA and took it.

Why Alice? Is this an idea you've been working on for awhile?

Alice was conceived during the course of work last summer. It came out of discussions with friends and separate game ideas that I was working on at the time. A lot of credit goes to the brilliant people I was surrounded by at the time.

What sort of liberties are you taking with the source material?

Quite a lot actually. A person could create many different types of games using the characters and spaces in Wonderland. Anything from a children's game to a full-on death and destruction fest. The real challenge is to stylize Alice in such a way that the existing 1st/3rd person market really gets into it. I'm trying to go for more of a 'Nightmare Before Christmas' type feeling with my version of Alice and so far it's working out really well.

Was Alice ever conceived as purely a first person game, or was third person the idea from the start?

I've been wanting to work on a 3rd person game for some time now. Alice has lent itself beautifully to being in 3rd person. First person is great, and it will be available in multiplayer, but single player is going to be 3rd person only. I think that the Alice design called for 1st person for about a week. Then I realized that the Alice character and the Wonderland environment were much better served by a 3rd person perspective.

Rogue Entertainment has always been a company that's spoken softly yet carried a big stick.  In other words, they say very little but consistently produce great work.  How did they get involved in the Alice project?  Was it your experience with them in previous projects (such as mission packs for Quake and Quake II) that led you to them?

I've know the guys over at Rogue since my first days at id. The fact that they are now working on this product is one of the nicest examples of serendipity I've ever seen.

Using the Q3A engine for Alice seems like an obvious choice considering both your and Rogue's experience with id-engine games, but since its focus is on multiplayer play, how do you see it as a development tool for single-player?  Are there any obvious enhancements you're planning to make that you can talk about now?

We've already made enhancements to allow us to immediately start single player development, but we're not ready to go into it yet.

What variations of multi-player play are you considering?

Lots! But we're not going to go into it yet.

The multiplayer game is from a first person view, while the single player is played from a third person view. Can you explain why you made this decision?

Well, this comes mostly from talking with various people in the industry, the players, and online community, and from my own personal preference. It just doesn't seem that a proper DOOM/Quake style deathmatch can take place in 3rd person. This does not mean that you won't be able to run a 3rd person server, but multiplayer will default to 1st person.

Will the weapons be identical in both the single and multiplayer games? How will the difference in perspective change them, if at all?

The weapons will be identical. You can see how the 1st/3rd person switch works in the current version of Q3.

Since the game is based on the Alice books (which are fairly tame), who will you be fighting against? Will the game's emphasis be on pure action, or exploration?

I'm hoping that we can recapture the action adventure feel of the original DOOM. The characters you will be fighting against are a mixture of original characters (Mad Hatter, Tweedledee, etc) and new characters that we've designed just for the game.

What prompted the decision to have two geographically separate teams to work on the single-player and multi-player aspects of the game?  What challenges do you foresee in communication and shared development?

The decision was based on the fact that this solution offers us the best chance at creating a solid product on time and on budget. The Rogue guys have Quake-based game development down to an art. We also have internal support from large group of very talented people at EA who are focusing an amazing amount of creative energy on this product.

Since you're the Game Designer, how do you plan on communicating your vision to the troops (friendly people at Rogue) when you live in a different city? Will you be sending anyone from EA to Rogue to help? How much time are you spending at Rogue's office?

This is one of the best parts about working with Rogue. Since we've all known each other for so long the communication issue is almost non-existent. The vision was communicated a while back when I spent a week in Dallas working with the Rogue guys. They are as much a part of the creative process as I am, and we've really come together on the design of this product.

What will your role at EA entail in addition to Game Design?  Will you also fill the slot as Lead Level Designer?  How about Project Manager?

At the moment my official title is "Creative Director". Under that guise I find myself doing everything from game design to level design to project management. Again, I'm also surrounded by a great group of people here at EA who are constantly helping with every facet of production.

What's the best thing that you learned at id Software that you've carried over to EA?

Wow, that's a really difficult one. id taught me so much about games, work, and life in general. I think the most important lesson I learned there is the one that I take with me even when I'm not at work: "Never take yourself too seriously."

What's the work environment at EA like? 

Just amazing. And speaking of which... I need to get back at it now :)

Thanks American McGee!

- Russell "RadPipe" Lauzon is currently exhausting all his free time researching Beer Goggles.


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