How did you get involved in gaming?

By luck. I've had a passion for computers and technology going back to when I was a kid and attended a science and engineering magnet, seemingly on a path towards a career that involved programming or technology. A family "situation" forced me to drop out of high school before I had a chance to graduate. That derailed my life for a while and I ended up  working as a car mechanic. While I genuinely enjoyed the hands-on nature of that work, I also hoped to apply my computer skills towards more creative endeavours.

Fate intervened and I moved into the same apartment complex where John Carmack, founder of id Software, was living. John and I became friends, he offered me a job doing tech support at id, and the rest is history. Once I had my foot in the door at id I refused to go home. I spent all my waking hours learning about their tools and technology - eventually moving into a role building levels for the DOOM and Quake games.

What are you currently playing?

I've been playing "The Walking Dead" series by Tell Tale and Naughty Dog's "The Last of Us." Seems I'm on an apocalypse bender. Prior to that I'd taken a break from games and only occasionally jumped into Minecraft. Most of my leisure time is spent doing "real world" activities like tinkering with electronics and robotics (for example, I'm programming a Raspberry Pi to track my dog and a drive a laser pointer with a servo gimbal system - to create an automatic dog tracking laser pointer toy).

How has the industry changed since you first started compared to now and the future of the gaming world?

The sad thing is that it hasn't really changed at all. If you look at PC or console gaming, we're still using the same basic interfaces and playing the same basic types of games. Only within the mobile world (and with touch-screen games) have we seen any major evolution in terms of game delivery or interface. The Wii probably represented the single largest leap forward in terms of interface allowing for new design. My hope is that with improvements to Kinect and upcoming i/o devices like Oculus (combined with mobile technology) we're going to start seeing some truly revolutionary advances in the way we design and play games.

How did you become involved with Spicy Horse?

By founding the company. I'd been living in Hong Kong and visiting Shanghai to help a friend start an outsource art studio (producing assets for games). Gametap asked me to develop and original title for them - to help promote their online distribution system. At the time I was a "free agent" and explained that I'd have to start a new studio to get the game made - they agreed to fund the effort and so I moved to Shanghai and started building the company. By the time we'd finished "Grimm" the studio employed over 35 people - and we parlayed our experience and capabilities into landing a development agreement with EA to build "Alice: Madness Returns." We've been in business 7 years now and are still having a great time.

Where did the name come from?

When naming a new company or game (or anything) you first want to find open "name space." We compiled a list of possible names, then checked to see if the domain name was available, how clear the name space was, what sorts of logos might be inspired by the name, etc. Ultimately, "Spicy Horse" won the contest. It also happens that my name in Chinese is "lucky horse" and I'm a big fan of spicy food.

When Chinese people hear the company name ("ma la ma" in Chinese) they think it sounds like a hot-pot restaurant.

Why Shanghai?

When I first left the US almost 10 years ago I moved to Hong Kong. I'd always wanted to live in Asia and when the chance presented itself I jumped. Once in Hong Kong I started travelling to the mainland (China) to help a friend start his outsource art business. While in Shanghai I realized there were no independent game development studios - only large outposts for the major Western publishers, outsource art studios or the massive local Chinese publisher/operators.

When the opportunity presented itself to open a new studio I could have gone anywhere in the world, but I placed a bet on Shanghai. I figured back then that an independent studio focusing on original IP development would attract artists and engineers away from the corporate giants and outsource studios. Turns out that was a good bet - because we've been able to attract some of the best artists, animators and developers from around China and the world.

This is a truly unique city at a monumental time in history. To be in China and see all the changes taking place within society is amazing. I really had no sense of what I might experience or accomplish when I first moved here, but in hindsight it was absolutely the best decision I ever made to take a leap and start a new life here.

OZombie! How did you come up with the story for OZombie?

OZombie is an update to the story and world of L. Frank Baum's Oz series. It takes place some years after the now-famous visit by Dorothy. Scarecrow, once ruler of the Lands of Oz, is waging a war to regain control of the kingdom. He's using manipulation and deceit to drive the countries of Oz into battle against one another. This story will explore concepts of society, conformity and control. This is where we get the idea of "zombies," from conformity, as opposed to your traditional brain-eating zombies. This is a theme that's been linked to zombies since the first Romero films - and one that I think is even more relevant into today's world. 

It might also be worth pointing out that we're changing the name to something other than "OZombie." There's been too much confusion (and even anger) at the idea of "zombies" in the title.

What are some of the challenges that Spicey Horse faces with this game?

Since we're making a type of game (action adventure) that we've made before and using a technology that we're really comfortable with (Unity3D) the main challenges will be addressed (and hopefully solved) during the pre-production and design phase. The idea is to do as much cool stuff as possible without going over budget or running out of time. Finding a balance where the development is as efficient as possible is always a challenge. We need balance our own desires (or the desires of the audience) against the realities of time and budget constraints. Historically, we've done a pretty good job at this sort of thing - as is evidenced by the efficiency and reliability of our developments to date.

Once you reach your Kickstarter amount, when could we see the game hitting the e-streets?

Really depends on how much money we raise (which will impact the development schedule), but we'd aim for an initial release around 12 months after the end of pre-production. That could be as early as late 2014.

Why have you taken the route of Kickstarter opposed to contacting a publisher to support this project?

A lot of people seem to think that securing funding is as simple as picking up the phone and calling an investor or publisher. In practice, funding doesn't work like that. Investors are only going to put money into relatively sure bets - usually into ventures that are already generating healthy cash flow. Entertainment (like games) is viewed as speculative (meaning risky) and so it's largely avoided. Game publishers these days are spending more money, but on fewer projects. They aren't investing in "small" projects like our Oz game - something that's going to sell to a limited audience or be delivered on non-console platforms (like PC, Mac, Linux). If we took Oz to a publisher it would have to be in the form of a massive, multi-million dollar console pitch... and I'm just not interested in making those kinds of games these days. There's too much pressure to stick with "what works."

Do you believe that Kickstarter is the future of gaming?

It's already proven itself to as a valuable part of the game development ecosystem. It's doubtful a platform like Kickstarter could ever support funding for a 10+ million USD development (plus another 10+ million to market such a title), but who knows. Crowd funding certainly won't be "the future," as in the end all be all of game funding.

What's a downside to Kickstarter?

There are advantages and disadvantages to all funding options. With Kickstarter the biggest downside comes from campaigns that aren't properly planned - resulting in situations where developers underestimate how much of their funding is going to simply support the campaign costs.

What are some of things you are really excited for in OZombie?

The narrative theme of conformity and how we'll explore this through characters and interactions in the world gets me excited. I think we still have lots of interesting ways of pushing emotional and psychological buttons with games - things we've yet to discover or really explore.

What are your plans for the Alice film?

If we're able to secure them, then the first thing we'd do is produce animation shorts - at least one and as many more as our funding allows. Those shorts would be based on the Alice: Otherlands concept - where we see Alice travelling into the minds (Otherlands) of characters in London. Beyond that, we'd explore getting a feature film made - either live action or animation. To that end, I already have some great conversations going with well-known writers and directors.

Was securing the rights for Alice difficult?

It took a while to get the current deal done, but that deal just gives us time to actually buy the rights - it doesn't secure them beyond that. It's a purchase window. We're going to need support from Alice fans to actually buy the rights - and we'll be running a Kickstarter campaign for that purpose.

American Mcgee's Alice was an awesome game, what are you most looking forward to in the film?

Thanks! Glad you like it. With the animation projects, I think the Otherlands concept can establish itself as an awesome outlet for artists and directors - kinda like we saw with the "Animatrix" shorts. There's so much potential there... so many great minds to explore during that period in Victorian London. Mark Twain was there, Van Gogh, Edison, Jules Verne, just to name a few.

If you could pick any actress in the world, who would you cast as Alice?

I still think Christina Ricci would be awesome as Alice - and that idea seems to make even more sense these days. But who knows? Everyone has different feelings about how would best represent Alice. The important thing is that we get our hands on these rights and push to get something made!

Finally, any last words to your fans?

Just that they come and join us over on Kickstarter. We really need their support for both the Oz game project and the Alice film project.

Thanks for your time American!

Images used with permission



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