It’s been ten long years since met American McGee’s Alice, but thanks to a faithful fan following and a new collaboration with EA Partners, next year the visionary designer once again takes us back to Wonderland. Looking for insight into this new project, Alice: Madness Returns, we spoke to American—now Senior Creative Director and Co-Founder of Spicy Horse Games—from his office in Shanghai.

GFM: How did you decide to set the game 11 years after the first? Why not continue with the story immediately after the close of the first game?
AM: Actually, the game is set almost immediately after the first game. 11 years have passed in the real world – where we’re making the game – not in Alice’s world. Our story couldn’t continue until myself and RJ Berg (who wrote the original game story) had spent some time traveling the world, building experience and eventually founding a game development studio called Spicy Horse in Shanghai, China. Once all that was done, we were ready to tackle another installment of Alice.

GFM: Alice is an adult in Alice: Madness Returns. Will the artwork and gameplay reflect her mature/adult view of Wonderland? If so, how?
AM: Our art director, Ken Wong, drew inspiration for the artwork in Alice: Madness Returns from a number of sources like Beksinski and Mark Ryden. The themes reflected in those sources, as well in the game, often feature contrasting elements of real and surreal, adult and childish, horror and beauty. All of these contrasting concepts feature in the game’s art as well as its story. In terms of gameplay, we’ve maintained a varied style of mechanics ranging from pure platforming to puzzle solving, exploration and intense combat. The variety in combat is mirrored by the variety in setting and characters Alice will encounter throughout this new journey. It’s one of the things that made the first game so appealing to a wide range of audience the first time around, and we hope it’ll have the same effect this time.

GFM: Lewis Carroll’s books are great inspiration but how tied to them did you feel? i.e., how much is drawn from the books and how much is your own invention?
AM: With the original Alice we created a vivid point of departure from the books – one that forged a new path while at the same time respecting Carroll’s fictions. As we began work on the sequel, we kept in mind the need to honor the fiction, Alice herself and the audience’s expectations for the game. The result is a blended combination of old, new and unexpected – all of it very much Wonderland.

GFM: So many great characters appeared in the first Alice – Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, the Duchess – do any characters from the first game make an appearance? What other iconic characters/enemies might we expect to see?
AM: Alice: Madness Returns has an amazing variety of characters – literally over a hundred unique characters from London to Wonderland. Our goal was to ensure that each new domain featured a rich new set of characters and art – completely unlike the previously seen domains. That means you’ll see all the characters you’d expect and then some. It’s going to be quite a visual treat.

GFM: We  loved Chris Vrenna’s Alice soundtrack – will he be returning to do the soundtrack for Madness Returns? If not, who will be contributing to it?
AM: Vrenna was kind enough to lend input early in the project. He’ll have a few featured tracks – but the bulk of the music is coming from our in-house composed Jason Tai, along with support from external composer Marshal Crutcher.  They’re taking the style originally established by Vrenna, updating it and extending it to fill all the fantastic spaces between London and Wonderland.

GFM: Will the original voice of Alice return?
AM: Of course! Alice wouldn’t be Alice without Susie Brann (the voice actress who played her in the first game). She and Roger Jackson (Cheshire Cat and more) are both reprising their roles with RJ Berg writing their lines and directing their VO sessions.

GFM: What can you tell us about combat and platforming? Will you be expanding on the first game’s combat systems and platforming?
AM: Combat is geared around “enemies as puzzles” – each requiring a specific and unique strategy to defeat. Platforming will once again rely on fun mechanics like Alice’s “dress float”. And we’ve added a ton of cool new stuff – including domain specific gameplay elements that really turn the game experience on its head.

GFM: Will the game be linear in nature like the first game, or will it take into account the ever-popular “open world” trend?
AM: Because it’s so heavily linked into story, the gameplay itself will be relatively linear. We want to deliver strong story telling first and foremost – and feel that linear presentation (as opposed to open world) does the trick better, at least for the style of story we’re telling.

GFM: With Alice moving from exclusively PC to console, have you given any thought to making the game playable using the newfangled motion-controllers like Kinect and/or PS Move?
AM: I think advances with interface (controllers) have the highest chance of impacting the way we design, play and think about games – resulting in true innovation and improvement of game play experience. That being said, we started Madness Returns a little late to catch the current wave (Move & Kinect). Something we’ll certainly think about if there’s another installment of Alice after this one.

GFM: Do you think the current climate is friendlier to M-rated games? Do you imagine you’ll still have to deal with the kinds of issues that forced the box art to be changed on the first Alice?
AM: Developers and publishers continue to push the concept of “M” – to the point that I think the original Alice might not capture an M rating if re-reviewed in today’s environment. Certainly the box art wouldn’t have changed. That being said, we not pushing for a M just for the sake of it – nor did we when making the first game. The content is led by the fiction and characters – and we’ve got some dark fiction to deliver.

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Game Name: Alice: Madness Returns
System: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Spicy Horse
Online/Multi: N/A
Release Date: June 14th, 2011

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