The man behind the story of Alice: Madness Returns tells us just how deep the rabbit hole goes.
It’s been over a decade since American McGee’s Alice wowed both gamers and critics. Unsurprisingly, a lot of folks have been following Alice: Madness Returns with quite a bit of interest. Previews have hinted that the game will be much darker and feature an even stranger story than its predecessor. Well, fans can rest easy: After talking with R.J. Berg, Executive Producer and Lead Story Creator for both Alice and Madness Returns, it sounds like this new sequel will actually be pretty crazy, in all the right ways.
Berg has been a staple in the videogame industry for quite some time, having first started writing for it in 1989 with The Faery Tale Adventure: Book I. Over the years, he’s been attached to a pretty wide array of genres, including a number of Star Wars titles. For him, it’s the characters who largely determine a story’s greatness.
“I’ve always been drawn to great stories with great characters-whether they appear in books, movies, plays, opera, TV, or video games-to me they translate, without qualification, to great entertainment-engaging, moving, and satisfying,” he stated. “I think we all want insight into great characters; why they do what they do: how their thoughts lead to action; how their acts shape their lives. We want to understand them and have a relation with them. With the greatest fictional characters, like Alice, we want to be them. We want to be in their dreams, as they are in ours.”
According to Berg, the game’s plot serves as an eventual continuation of that in American McGee’s Alice. While the world that was on display in the original title was pretty dark, things will be even more sinister this time around:
“When [Madness Returns] begins, Alice, now a young woman, living and working in London’s nasty East End, is not well. She’s psychically fragile, frustrated, angry, and nearly lost. She cannot right herself-and she suspects ignorance is the cause-that what she doesn’t know harms her, is driving her mad. And Wonderland, once a place of refuge and security, is more menacing than ever.”
Meanwhile, even though Madness Returns is a sequel, the cast of characters will be noticeably different than they were in the first game. Players will get to see a number of new faces in this updated version of Wonderland.
“A select cast of new characters join the icons in [Madness Returns],” said Berg. “Some of the traditional characters have larger parts to play; all have different roles, because Alice herself is different. Her memories, problems, projections, hopes and fears, are different. And the constructs of her troubled mind and circumstance must reflect the alteration.”
Berg is no stranger to McGee’s worlds, having worked on a number of episodes of American McGee’s Grimm. He’s also familiar with the dark, rather twisted sense of humor that permeates Spicy Horse’s games. With Madness Returns, Berg promises that Madness Returns will feature a fair amount of humor, mainly from the perspective of Alice herself.
“Alice has fine sense of humor-when she’s not feeling embattled, manipulated, lied to, messed with or jerked around,” Berg explained. “She likes puzzles of all sorts, likewise word games, jokes, plays on words, riddles, and the like. She has a sarcastic side, too, especially when she’s on the defensive. She doesn’t suffer fools, and she can be a bit of a wise ass.”
Even though Berg enjoyed creating a new story for Alice, it was also a massive challenge to create something original that was based on a story that’s had so many adaptations. According to him, “No imaginative literature today is more influential than the Alice books.”
As a result, satisfying the books’ massive fanbase was a daunting task: “[Alice’s] fans are unlimited by era, age, or gender. And they are devoted. The audience for new Alice material is insatiable; but it’s a critical, sophisticated, passionate crew with sky-high expectations. That combination can intimidate and stifle new versions of Alice. Derivatives of this powerful character are legion. Creators mess with an icon at their peril.
“I thought I might interest and truly engage players (and not offend fans) of a new, heroic Alice by being mindful and respectful of her knownk character traits-her courage, humor, intelligence, imaginative depth and honesty. I tried to have her never say or do anything I could not believe her mind, as I knew and exposed it, would conceive. By asking ‘What would a grown-up Alice say or do in such and such a situation,’ I had a great base (Carroll’s) and as much latitude as I needed to build a credible and satisfying hero.”
The new story for sounds incredibly promising, based on Berg’s enthusiasm for Alice and the original spin he’s put on both the character and the world she lives in. Alice: Madness Returns is due out on June 14th, the week after E3 wraps up, so you can expect to see some last-minute coverage from the show floor. If you’re thinking of picking up the game, feel free to check out EA’s new tie-in iOS App; if you complete it, you get $10 off the final game.