Sunday, March 28, 2010

American McGee's Alice (2000)

American McGee's Alice is a third-person action game released for PC on October 6, 2000. The game, developed by Rogue Entertainment and published by Electronic Arts, is set in the universe of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. Alice was designed by American McGee and features music composed by Chris Vrenna.

The game is based on the id Tech 3 engine first used in Quake III Arena. A PlayStation 2 port was in development but was canceled. Notably, the game's box art was altered after release to show Alice holding the Icewand instead of a bloodied vorpal sword, and to reduce the skeletal character of the Cheshire Cat's anatomy. EA cited complaints from various consumer groups as its reason for altering the original art, though McGee stated the alteration was made due to internal concerns at EA. A third version of the box art has Alice holding the Cards in her hands instead of a sword or wand.


Set years after Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, the game features an older, more cynical and macabre incarnation of Alice.

Shortly after her second adventure, Alice's house is burned down by an accidental fire, killing her family, and leaving her as the only survivor. Due to her survivor's guilt, she tries to commit suicide (bandages can be seen on her wrists), and becomes catatonic. She is institutionalized in Rutledge Asylum, where she remains insane and is consistently mistreated by the workers. Ten years later, the White Rabbit summons Alice to aid a radically altered Wonderland, which became a twisted version of itself as it came under the despotic rule of the Queen of Hearts. The Cheshire Cat serves as Alice's companion throughout the game, frequently appearing to guide her with cryptic comments.


The game's setting presents a considerably more macabre rendition of Wonderland than seen in Lewis Carroll's original portrayal. Wonderland, being a creation of Alice's mind, has been corrupted by her insanity, which becomes the prevailing theme of the game; if Alice manages to save Wonderland, she will restore her own sanity as well.

The new Wonderland is composed of nine provinces. When Alice falls down the rabbit hole, she finds herself in the Village of the Doomed, the home of the Torch Gnomes. The Village of the Doomed is composed of a network of tunnels and caves, patrolled by the Queen of Hearts' card guards. Beyond the subterranean village is the Fortress of Doors, where the main attraction is a school of insane but harmless children. Within the school lies an ancient book of recipes for magic potions, as well as the ingredients for one concoction in particular which will be useful to Alice.

Beyond the fortress and across a rough, uncharted landscape lies the Vale of Tears, where Alice's friends Bill McGill and the Mock Turtle reside, along with the cannibalistic Duchess. A giant river runs throughout the gloomy, mist-shrouded landscape, and another aquatic location is accessible through a well inside Bill McGill's house. The well is sealed until the Duchess is slain.

On the other side of the Vale of Tears lies Wonderland Woods, one of the largest regions in the game. The woods are initially filled by ponds, cliffs and jump mushrooms, but much deeper into the woods is a region of rock and magma. This section leads to several new regions including the Cave of the Oracle, the Pale Realm, the Jabberwock's Lair, and the Majestic Maze. The Cave of the Oracle is home to a wise entity that is revealed later to be the Caterpillar.

The Pale Realm makes a transition to the surface of a chessboard, as delving further into this area leads to the White Castle of Looking Glass Land, which is home to life-size chess pieces; the White pieces join Alice in the fight against the Red pieces, a deviation from her normally unhelpful "allies" from earlier portions of the game. Alice is twice transformed into a chess piece herself to pass certain obstacles.

Following this is a distorted version of Rutledge Asylum (where Alice has been incarcerated since her parents' tragic deaths). It is run by Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum and also houses the Mad Hatter's laboratory.

The path to the Jabberwock's Lair leads into the Land of Fire and Brimstone, a volcanic region of Wonderland and a reminder of the fire in which her family died. It is here that the terrible Jabberwock—a semi-mechanized servant of the Queen of Hearts and the incarnation of Alice's guilt—resides, in the remains of Alice's old home.

The Majestic Maze ends on the road to Queen of Hearts Land, a region heavily guarded by card guards, boojums, and other members of the Queen of Hearts' personal army.

Queensland is the final province of Wonderland. In it lies the Heart Palace from which the Queen of Hearts commands. Tentacles and other repulsive appendages are seen protruding from every organic wall in this area, and numerous areas even resemble body parts, giving the impression that Alice is travelling through her own body.


The game's characters are generally based on the inhabitants of Lewis Carroll's original novels, but they do not demonstrate the same identities. Many of them are warped incarnations of their conventional selves. The casebook of Q. Wilson (a supplement included with the game and written from the point of view of Alice's doctor) suggests that many of the characters Alice encounters in Wonderland are symbolic of real life people who get through to the catatonic Alice in some way. Other characters within the game are metaphors for Alice's own feelings, and because she is unhappy, they have become twisted. Some people (Cheshire Cat, White Rabbit) help her; others (Mad Hatter, Queen of Hearts) try to cause pain, first by taking away those she loves and then by taking her down with them.


Electronic Arts licensed Ritual Entertainment's Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K.² engine, which is in turn a modified Quake III Arena engine. The most notable changes in the engine include the use of the Tiki model system, which enables the engine to use skeletal animation among other things, the Babble dialog system which enables lip synching of audio with character animations, dynamic music system, scriptable camera, particle system and extended shader support. The changes implemented to the engine for Alice remained minimal however. The game's .bsp files even retain F.A.K.K.²'s headers, albeit sporting a different version number.

An early version of the game featured the ability to summon the Cheshire Cat to aid the player in battle. Though this feature was removed from the final product, beta screenshots of this version do exist online. An Alice port for the then-unreleased PlayStation 2 was also in development but was later cancelled, which caused Rogue Entertainment to shut down, another decision which angered American McGee. The game's retail release was also noticeably less gory than the demo that had been released earlier.

The game was ultimately released on October 6, 2000, receiving praise for its visuals; the graphics were very elaborate for its time. Many levels depict a world of chaos and wonder, some reminiscent of the inside of an asylum or a madhouse, visually linking Wonderland to Alice's reality. The exterior views of Wonderland show the Queen of Hearts' tentacles dipping out of buildings and mountain sides, especially in Queensland.


All of the music created for the fittingly twisted official American McGee's Alice soundtrack was written and performed by Chris Vrenna with the help of guitarist Mark Blasquez and singer Jessicka. Most of the sounds he used were created using toy instruments and percussion, music boxes (in a short documentary about the making of the game that appeared on TechTV, the music box used appears to be an antique Fisher-Price music box pocket radio), clocks, doors, and sampled female voices were manipulated into nightmarish soundscapes, including instances of them laughing maniacly, screaming, crying, and singing in an eerie, child-like way.

The music lends an eerie and horrifying feeling to the world Alice is in. The Pale Realm theme, as well as the track "I'm Not Edible", features the melody of the chorus of a popular children's song, "My Grandfather's Clock". In addition, there are many instances of the ticking and chiming of clocks being used as a musical accompaniment.

Marilyn Manson was originally involved scoring the music for the game. His composition has been described by American McGee as "very cool" and having "a very beautiful Beatles-in-their-harpsichord-and-Hookah-pipe-days-sound to it." Manson's contributions persisted into the final product, notably the influence of alchemy and the character of the Mad Hatter whose adaptation was somewhat influenced by him; for a time Manson was considered for the voice of the Hatter. Manson has indicated that the same music may be used in his forthcoming film Phantasmagoria: The Visions of Lewis Carroll.

American McGee's Alice Original Music Score was released on October 16, 2001 by Six Degrees Records. It features all twenty original compositions by former Nine Inch Nails live drummer and studio collaborator Chris Vrenna. It spans a 2-disc set, and includes a previously unreleased theme as well as a remix of "Flying on the Wings of Steam."

American McGee's Alice Original Music Score (74:02)

1. "Falling Down the Rabbit Hole" 1:20
2. "Village of the Doomed" 3:35
3. "Fortress of Doors" 3:51
4. "Fire and Brimstone" 3:46
5. "Wonderland Woods" 3:59
6. "The Funhouse" 3:38
7. "Skool Daze" 4:10
8. "Time to Die" 3:55
9. "I'm Not Edible" 3:09
10. "Taking Tea in Dreamland" 3:44
11. "Fungiferous Flora" 3:35
12. "Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum" 3:46
13. "The Centipede" 3:31
14. "Pandemonium" 3:55
15. "Flying on the Wings of Steam" 4:35
16. "Late to the Jabberwocky" 3:17
17. "Battle with the Red Queen" 4:11
18. "A Happy Ending" 3:44
19. "Pool of Tears" 4:08
20. "Flying on the Wings of Steam (Remix)" 4:03


Film adaptation

In December 2000, director Wes Craven signed on to develop a film adaptation of the game, with screenwriter John August hired to adapt the game for the big screen. American McGee had begun negotiations with Dimension Films 10 months before, with the studio committing to the project before Craven's signing. In September 2001, August explained that he had turned in a script treatment for Alice and was not attached to develop fuller drafts for the film adaptation. In February 2002, Dimension Films signed brother screenwriters Jon and Erich Hoeber to write the screenplay for Alice. In July 2003, the brothers announced that they had completed the script for the film adaptation.

In 2004 the project moved from Dimension Films to 20th Century Fox, but in 2005 Universal Pictures acquired the rights. As of June 2008[update], producer Scott Faye indicated the film was in "turnaround" from Universal. He admitted that the script needed development, but would be used to attract the attention of a new studio.

Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland is based on a similar premise of an older Alice returning to wonderland to free it from the Red Queen and kill the Jabberwock.


With a movie adaptation of American McGee's Alice in the making, Electronic Arts had also expressed interest in releasing a remake of the game, although initially it was unclear whether it would be a remake, an update, or a sequel.

On 19 February 2009, EA CEO John Riccitiello announced at D.I.C.E. 2009 that a new installment to the series is in the works for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. It is being developed by Spicy Horse, who recently worked on American McGee's Grimm. Two pieces of concept art were also released, depicting Alice and large allied birds fighting an oversized, semi-mechanized snail and its children on top of a lighthouse, and Alice swimming in a pond, with the Cheshire Cat's face in the background. Although no official date has been announced, it is planned for release early 2011.

In November 2009, a fan-made video based on the Alice 2 announcement was mistaken by gaming websites as a teaser trailer for the game. In it, Alice is in therapy after a relapse nine months after the events of the first game, and appears to hallucinate an image of the Cheshire Cat in place of her doctor.

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