Feb. 14, 2011 at 8:22 AM ET
With a Cheshire Cat, a Mad Hatter and playing cards with sharpened scythes, game developer American McGee asks us to follow him down the rabbit hole once more. "Alice: Madness Returns" is the long-awaited sequel to the critically acclaimed and cult classic "American McGee's Alice" and it's another dark descent into Wonderland.
The first game published in 2000 wasn't a retelling of "Alice in Wonderland" the book; instead, it functioned as a sequel to the Lewis Carroll stories. In this game Alice was haunted by the death of her family in a fire. Alice is committed to Rutledge Asylum and finds herself sinking into Wonderland once again. This time the world has been twisted by her inner torment and the kingdom is now ruled by the Red Queen. Alice escapes Wonderland and regains her sanity, leaving the asylum behind.
Eleven years after the events of the first game, Alice is living in London, but something is pulling her back to Wonderland. In an interview with msnbc.com's In-Game, American McGee fills us in.
In-Game: What is the story for "Alice: Madness Returns?"
American McGee: It's an actual narrative sequel. It finds Alice living in London and now confronting really the mystery of what happened, as opposed to the damage related to it — though there is still a lot of psychological damage as you move into Wonderland, you'll notice.
This game is much more like a murder mystery, it’s her going back into her past again, using her mind as a tool, using Wonderland as sort of a conduit into her mind, and trying to piece back together the events that lead to the death of her family.
Q: What starts her investigation?
A: We start the story already in motion. It picks up in a day in the life for her, and that's actually central to how the story is told. I don't want to give too much away but the idea that this is something that she is dealing with and has been dealing with is critical to how we present her exploration. I think if you look at a film like "Memento," that might be similar to how we are dealing with the story's timeline.
It's a series of snapshots of her days, of her life and all of that, culminating in — hopefully
— the resolution of the mystery.
Q: You have a unique approach to fantastical stories, that approach being realism.
A: We're doing things that are often fantastic, but Alice as a character is always meant to be a real person and the issues she is dealing with are always meant to be real-world issues. Even the things she's seen in Wonderland, as fantastic as they are, have to be things that she would have been exposed to, that her imagination could have come up with by drawing on her real experiences. That focus on realism is definitely something we take seriously.
Q: Do you find yourself ever having to pull punches, or having to worry about people's perception of violence in video games?
A: It's funny actually, when we are thinking about the presentation of our narrative and characters, we typically are working to stay true to our story and our characters, and in fact we often get pressure from outside to make things more violent than we think they should be.
So the battle is actually the other way around, it’s not about trying to have more gore and blood in there, but trying to have what is in there be reasonable and maintain some sense of contrast between the moments of light and the moments of dark.
I don't think people are going to view this game as overly violent or bloody — though it does have some pretty mature themes in it.
Q: Do you feel that video games are an art form?
A: Gaming itself is and can be an art, absolutely; I feel people should recognize it as such. But, as with art there are also limits, where someone takes a crap in a corner and calls it art ... OK it is ... but there are different kinds of art. It's really up to the creators to decide whether or not the thing that they've presented should fit into one category or another of art. Some people are clearly not interested in making anything that they would think should be labeled art.
With the games that we (Spicy Horse) create, we do think there is a particular art in the visuals and and in the story, and so we wouldn't shy away from that.
Todd Kenreck is your intrepid game editor at msnbc.com's In-Game. You can follow his mad ramblings on video game culture right here or on Facebook.
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