American McGee

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American McGee
American McGee in 2004
American James McGee

December 13, 1972 (1972-12-13) (age 51)
Dallas, Texas, U.S.
OccupationVideo game designer
Known for

American James McGee (born December 13, 1972)[1] is a retired[2] American video game designer. He is best known as the designer of American McGee's Alice, its sequel Alice: Madness Returns, and his works on various video games from id Software.

Early life[edit]

American James McGee was born on December 13, 1972, in Dallas, Texas[1] to an eccentric mother who was a house painter. His only interaction with his biological father was on his 13th birthday, a meeting which turned violent as McGee's father drunkenly assaulted him that night.[3] McGee was highly creative and was gifted in mathematics and science, taking an early interest in computer programming. He was eventually accepted to a magnet school for computer science.

In explaining where his name came from, McGee has said that his mother was a hippie and was inspired by a woman she knew in college that named her child "America":

Yes, my mother named me that. She claims a woman she knew in college, who named her daughter "America", inspired the name. She also tells me that she was thinking of naming me 'Obnard'. She was and always has been a very eccentric and creative person.

— American McGee[4]

McGee had a number of stepfathers when growing up until his mother finally settled into a relationship with a trans woman. When McGee was sixteen, he came home from school and found his house empty and abandoned; the only things left were his bed, his books, his clothes and his Commodore 64 computer. His mother had sold the house to pay for two plane tickets and the fee for her girlfriend's gender confirmation surgery, leaving him on his own. He packed up his computer, dropped out of high school and took a variety of odd jobs, finally settling on a Volkswagen repair shop.[5]


id Software[edit]

At 21, McGee, an automobile and gaming enthusiast, moved to an apartment complex where he met and befriended John Carmack. Carmack offered McGee a tech support job at id Software, where he was quickly promoted to level designer and music manager.[3] McGee, along with Kevin Cloud and Tim Willits, were part of id Software's "second generation" of developers, working on games such as The Ultimate Doom, Doom II, Quake and Quake II.

McGee at id Software (October 6, 1995)

In 1998, McGee was fired from id Software.[6][7] Later, McGee would say that the day he got fired was very meaningful to him:[8]

Probably the most meaningful day for me though [working at id Software] ... was the day I was fired. I felt a mixture of terror and freedom that was so significant and powerful—it combined together all the good and bad of the years I'd spent working with Carmack, Romero and the others... and kicked me out into the world to fend for myself. The opportunity to work at id during those early years was so unbelievable—and the path it set me on in letting me go has been even more fantastic. I'm sitting here in Shanghai, China still drawing on many of the lessons and experiences from all those years past... it's been an incredible journey which all started with id [Software].

— American McGee, "American McGee on Quake", interview with (May/June 2011)

According to former id staff Sandy Petersen, Tim Willits was the one responsible for McGee's firing (although he did not mention Willits by name; referring to him only by "Snake" and "X"). Allegedly, during the development of Quake II, Willits deliberately gave bad level design advice to McGee and when he presented his work to Carmack, it angered him and McGee was fired soon after.[9][10] McGee has stated to this day, he still has no idea why he was fired but acknowledged the fact that it was due to "internal politics and my own failings".[11]

Electronic Arts[edit]

McGee soon joined Electronic Arts and worked as creative director on American McGee's Alice (with Rogue Entertainment), which garnered favorable reviews.[12] Discussions began soon after the game's release about making a film adaptation of the game; initially Wes Craven was attached to direct the film,[13] and later actress Sarah Michelle Gellar bought the film rights, but the film has remained in development hell.

After finishing Alice, McGee left EA "in frustration" when the company fired his creative partner R. J. Berg and shut down Rogue Entertainment.[14] In 2002, McGee founded the short-lived Carbon6, which two years later became known as Mauretania Import Export Company.[15]

The Mauretania Import Export Company[edit]

McGee directed the 2002 music video for the song "Same Ol' Road" by the band dredg, from their album El Cielo.[16] Partnering with Enlight Software and its founder Trevor Chan, McGee released the games Scrapland in 2004 and Bad Day L.A. in 2006.

Spicy Horse[edit]

McGee in 2006

The planned American McGee's Oz, which was to be produced in conjunction with Ronin Games, was canceled over financial difficulties at Atari. American McGee's Grimm, developed by his Shanghai-based game development studio Spicy Horse for the online service GameTap, was released in 23 weekly episodic segments, starting in 2007.

At the 2009 D.I.C.E. Summit, Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello announced that a sequel to American McGee's Alice was in development for PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 by McGee's Spicy Horse studio.[17][18] In July 2010, at the EA Showcase in San Francisco, Spicy Horse and EA announced that sequel's title, Alice: Madness Returns, released less than one year after its announcement, on June 14, 2011.

More recently, McGee's Spicy Horse expanded to include another brand, Spicy Pony, to produce digital mobile media games for the iPhone platform. Their first title, DexIQ, was released in early December 2009, and its follow-up, Crooked House, was released in March 2010 (both had iPad versions released in June 2010). On December 17, 2010, McGee's old company The Mauretania Import Export Company was dissolved and all intellectual property was transferred to Spicy Horse.[19]

In 2012, McGee was focusing on free-to-play games for mobile devices with BigHead Bash, Akaneiro, and Crazy Fairies.[20] In 2013, he opened a Kickstarter for a new game, American McGee's OZombie; however, due to slow/lackluster funding the project was canceled. Another Kickstarter for a project called Alice: Otherlands, a planned series of short films leading to a theatrical film, was announced a few days later. This reached its goal on August 4, 2013, and was officially confirmed.[21]

Alice: Asylum, cancellation and retirement[edit]

In September 2017, McGee announced that he was working on a license proposal for Alice: Asylum, the third installment of the Alice franchise. McGee and his small team began working on a pitch book of "artwork, design outline, and financial/business model" which would be sent to EA upon completion.[22] The pitch book was partially funded through the membership platform Patreon, and presented to EA in early 2023.

McGee announced in April 2023 that EA ultimately rejected approving Alice: Asylum for both production and licensing after receiving McGee's pitch.[23] Furthermore, McGee announced that even if EA were to reconsider their stance with production of the game in the future, he was not interested in being involved in future Alice projects.[24]

He also announced his retirement from game development, with plans to focus on his family and their family business Mysterious.[25]

Personal life[edit]

McGee has stated his mission is "to create a unified production method for story telling across the interactive and film industries" and of himself, he says, "I want to be the next Walt Disney, only a little more wicked."[26]

In 2005, McGee left the United States and resided for a time in Hong Kong before moving to Shanghai, where he has lived since 2009.[27] Once in China, he created Spicy Horse, at one point the largest independent Western game development house in the nation,[28] and helped found Blade (formerly Vykarian), a game outsourcing company. They produced American McGee's Grimm for GameTap (now owned by Metaboli) and worked on the sequel to his original Alice game, Alice: Madness Returns.

He also mentions that his inspiration for the macabre tone of Alice comes from his disturbing, dysfunctional childhood.

McGee continues to live in Shanghai with his wife, Yeni Zhang. The couple co-founded Mysterious, Inc., a company that markets art, apparel, and accessories based on McGee's works, with McGee's wife Yeni overseeing the designs.[29]

The couple have two children.[30][31]

One of McGee's favorite books is Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.[32]

McGee had a sister, Mercy Covington, who was reported missing on November 10, 2015. As of January 2024, her case remains unsolved.[33][34]


Year Title[a] Role Developer
1992 Wolfenstein 3D Software support Id Software
1993 Doom Design, level design and technical support
1994 Doom II Design and technical support
1995 The Ultimate Doom Testing, technical support and special thanks
Hexen: Beyond Heretic Design Raven Software
1996 Final Doom Design, level design and technical support Id Software
Quake Level design
1997 Doom 64 Design Midway Games
Quake Mission Pack 1: Scourge of Armagon Design Id Software
Quake Mission Pack 2: Dissolution of Eternity Design
Quake II Level design
1998 Dominion: Storm Over Gift 3 Sound design Ion Storm/7th Level
2000 American McGee's Alice Original concept, director, cinematic script design Rogue Entertainment
2004 American McGee's Scrapland Executive producer MercurySteam
GoldenEye: Rogue Agent Multiplayer director Electronic Arts
2006 American McGee presents: Bad Day L.A. Creative director Enlight Software/TMIEC
2008 American McGee's Grimm Creative director Spicy Horse
2011 Alice: Madness Returns Original concept, director, writer
Cancelled Alice: Asylum[35]
Cancelled Oz: Adventures[36]


  1. ^ All titles sourced from MobyGames


  1. ^ a b Birth record for American James McGee - Dallas, Texas, Birth Index, 1903–1997 - (subscription required)
  2. ^ "End of the Adventure | American McGee on Patreon". Patreon. Retrieved April 7, 2023.
  3. ^ a b "The Great American (McGee) Game". December 25, 2000. Retrieved July 13, 2019.
  4. ^ "American McGee's Personal Website and Weblog". Archived from the original on April 3, 2005. Retrieved February 20, 2009.
  5. ^ Kushner, David (2003). Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created An Empire And Transformed Pop Culture. Great Britain: Judy Piatkus Ltd. ISBN 0-7499-2489-6.
  6. ^ Mullen, Micheal (March 13, 1998). "Id Designer Let Go". GameSpot. Archived from the original on October 13, 2000. Retrieved October 25, 2022.
  7. ^ "John Carmack Archive - .plan 1998".
  8. ^ "American McGee on Quake". Quaddicted. Retrieved July 13, 2019.
  9. ^ Bored With Nelly. "The Person That Destroyed Id Software From Within". YouTube. Archived from the original on December 12, 2021. Retrieved July 16, 2021.
  10. ^ Petersen, Sandy. "Why Is Quake Like That?". YouTube. Archived from the original on December 12, 2021. Retrieved July 16, 2021.
  11. ^ McGee, American. "American McGee, 1995". Twitter. Retrieved July 18, 2021.
  12. ^ Tang, Stephanie (August 4, 2017). "Despite a Nail-Biting Funding Finale, Alice: Otherlands Is a Go!". GameSkinny. Retrieved July 13, 2019.
  13. ^ Linder, Brian (December 7, 2000). "Wes Craven to Dark Wonderland". Retrieved July 13, 2019.
  14. ^ McGee, American (2011). The Art of Alice: Madness Returns. Milwaukee, OR: Dark Horse Comics. p. 6. ISBN 978-1-59582-697-8.
  15. ^ "American McGee Meets Enlight". IGN. March 4, 2004. Retrieved July 13, 2019.
  16. ^ "RES ALERT December 5, 2002". Archived from the original on July 15, 2007. Retrieved February 20, 2009.
  17. ^ Crecente, Brian (February 19, 2006). "The Return of American McGee's Alice Set For PC, Consoles". Kotaku. Retrieved July 13, 2019.
  18. ^ "EA and Spicy Horse Return to Wonderland for All-New Alice Title". February 19, 2009. Retrieved July 13, 2019.
  19. ^ "TMIEC Website Announcement". December 15, 2010. Archived from the original on February 11, 2011. Retrieved February 18, 2012.
  20. ^ Gera, Emily (June 5, 2012). "How American McGee left 'Alice' for a world of free-to-play, toy stores and life without EA". Polygon. Retrieved July 13, 2019.
  21. ^ "Alice: Otherlands".
  22. ^ "PATCHES, PPT, (un)-Packing | American McGee on Patreon". Patreon. Retrieved November 20, 2019.
  23. ^ Zheng, Jenny (April 8, 2023). "The Decade-Long Effort To Make Alice: Asylum Has Reached An End". GameSpot. Retrieved April 8, 2023.
  24. ^ "End of the Adventure | American McGee on Patreon". Patreon. Retrieved April 7, 2023.
  25. ^ "End of the Adventure | American McGee on Patreon". Patreon. Retrieved April 7, 2023.
  26. ^ "ScrewAttack sits down with American McGee". March 1, 2013. Archived from the original on March 5, 2016.
  27. ^ "An American (McGee) In Shanghai". Kotaku. January 7, 2009. Retrieved July 13, 2019.
  28. ^ "Spicy Horse, History". October 12, 2014.
  29. ^ "About". n.d. Retrieved September 5, 2020.
  30. ^ American McGee [@americanmcgee] (September 2, 2020). "Born in Shanghai on September 2nd, 2019, Lucky Jack McGee (张吉克) is the first child of Mysterious founders Zhang Yan and American McGee. According to the Chinese Zodiac, 2019 was the year of the Earth Pig, with a pig…" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  31. ^ "Leeloo McGee - The Littlest Insane Child". Retrieved May 8, 2022.
  32. ^ "American McGee talks modders' remixed Quake maps". Red Bull.
  33. ^ McGee, American. "Instagram Update". Instagram. Retrieved January 9, 2024.
  34. ^ NamUS. "Missing Person NamUs #MP32670". NamUS. Retrieved January 9, 2024.
  35. ^ Tibbetts, John (June 14, 2022). "Ravenlok Looks Like We're Finally Getting American McGee's Alice 3". ScreenRant. Retrieved November 22, 2022.
  36. ^ Oloman, Jordan (February 25, 2021). "American McGee Reveals Oz: Adventures, a Hybrid TV And Video Game Project". IGN. Retrieved March 12, 2021.

External links[edit]