American McGee is one of the veterans of the gaming industry. Having worked at id Software, EA, and now having founded his own company Spicy Horse in Shanghai, he has amassed a portfolio of amazing games. Some of his most well-known titles are “American McGee’s Alice,” “Alice: Madness Returns,” “American McGee’s Grimm,” and “Scrapland.” McGee has worked on multiple platforms and is now working to bring back “Alice” as a film platform and was working on creating a new game based on the Wizard of OZ universe by L. Frank Baum by the working name of “OZombie.”
After the interview took place McGee suspended the Kickstarter for “OZombie” to focus on obtaining the rights to the “Alice” film. A new Kickstarter for the “Alice” film rights should be starting very soon. Since the interview covered a lot more than just “OZombie” we decided to continue publishing it. Thanks very much to American McGee and the people at Spicy Horse that worked with us to allow us to do this interview.
Gerry: One of the things, I’ve never read any of Baum’s OZ books, I grew up with the MGM film, I knew there were books but I did not know there were that many of them. Besides the idea that OZ was a dream, what are the other major theme differences between what you’re doing with OZombie and the actual original works?
American McGee: That is a good question, because if you read about Baum and his feelings about consistency and continuity you’ll discover that he wasn’t very concerned with maintaining continuity. For instance in one book he might have mentioned that death in Oz was a possibility and in the next book he might state it is impossible to die in Oz and in yet another book again come back to the idea that death was possible. There is a lot of inconsistency in the book and that is fine for us as my intention is to create a history of OZ or a moment in OZ that is far beyond the time that you’ve read in the books or seen in the films. One of the biggest differences is that you’ll be running around not with Dorothy but with Dorothy’s great-great-granddaughter. That helps to give you a sense of how much time has passed.
G: Does OZ remember the original Dorothy or is she consigned to the realm of myth and legend?
AMG: I think that I haven’t really gotten to that bridge yet in terms of figuring out if we’re going to answer the question or if that’s even critical to the story. At the moment it’s really about the major characters that I know are going to be involved in this new story. That would be Dorothy as the hero, the Scarecrow as the main enemy and then the allies I know Dorothy is going to align herself with such as the Tin Woodsman and the Lion and so forth. Whether or not we run into the original Dorothy is something I’d rather not say yet.
G: You said on your Kickstarter page, which I thought was really cool as I am a huge sci-fi fan, that you’re a huge Robert Heinlein fan. Which Heinlein books influenced you the most or you would recommend reading before playing OZombie?
AMG: Well I think that is hard to say which one sort of influenced me the most because I read them all when I was in high school and maybe a little earlier than that. I read through just about every single one of the books he wrote. “Stranger in a Strange Land” is one that I’ve probably read more than the others. But you know there are books of his that are less philosophical, less political like the “Stairway to Heaven” which are more scientific. I think that’s Heinlein but it might have been Arthur C. Clark. I’m getting my sci-fi authors mixed up. But definitely for the social and political influence there are things like I said, “Stranger in a Strange Land,” that I can remember to this day that are definitely influencing my thoughts going into the OZombie story.
G: “Stranger in a Strange Land” is one of my favorites, that and “Farmer in the Sky.” Those are two of my favorite Heinleins myself.
AMG: Yeah, and you know there is a book of his called “Number of the Beast” that actually features characters going to the World of OZ. So you know there is a connection there where he has written an extension to the OZ mythos himself.
G: Interesting, I don’t think I’ve ever read that one.
AMG: Yeah “Number of the Beast” is one his more controversial books. It’s one that some people say is the worst thing he ever wrote and some people say is the best thing he ever wrote because it is a very self-referential writer’s book. It’s just sort of he’s showing you all the tropes and making obvious the tricks writers use and all of the things you should not do when writing. It is a very interesting read.
G: I’ll have to pick that up. What other literary or other influences are you using to kind of, or that inspired you in creating “OZombie?”
AMG: Well actually a lot of the themes you’re going to find in here are what you’re would describe as Orwellian. You know, inspired by books like “1984” or “Animal Farm” in that there is definitely a very political slant to them. What we’re seeing the Scarecrow do to this world is very much inspired by events that we’ve seen happen in our history and events that are unfolding around us today of people in power using manipulation and deceit to control populations. And this was actually a topic touched upon by Baum in his books. It was a theme he was exploring though these of course these are books were great for children. There is still that sense of kind of political exploration and commentary contained within them. Orwell would be the other major influence for that kind of content in the game.
G: “1984” is one of the best books I’ve ever read, also one of the scariest.
AMG: Yeah it’s scary but you know what’s really scary about that book, I just recently re-read it. What’s really scary about it is how much its beginning to mirror the world we live in today.
G: Yeah it was meant as a commentary not as an instruction manual.
AMG: Yeah, exactly.