American James McGee was born to an eccentric mother who was a house painter. He never knew his father. In explaining where his name came from, American has said that his mom was a hippie and was inspired by a woman she knew in college that named her child "America". McGee was highly creative and was gifted in math and science. He also took an early interest in computer programming, eventually getting accepted to a magnet school for computer science.
Being the only child, McGee had a number of stepfathers when growing up until his mother finally settled on a man who thought he was a woman. One day when American was sixteen, he came home from school only to find the 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 boyfriend's sex change operation. American was 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.
At the age of twenty-one years old, American was already an automobile and gaming enthusiast. He moved to an apartment complex where he met John Carmack, who after seeing American; the skeletal, chain-smoking, four-eyed, badly grown beard dude talking about games and fast cars, the two immediately became good friends. Couple of months went by, Carmack offered American a job at id Software as a Tech Support answering phone calls. He was later promoted to level designer after John Romero had been skipping work and no other level designers were available at the time. American McGee, along with Kevin Cloud and Tim Willits, were part of id Software's second generation and had worked on such games as Doom, Doom II, Quake and Quake II as level designer and programmer.
John Carmack wanted a level designer who experimented with his technology and could work late hours. John Romero had filled that role for as long as id existed. Sadly, the success of Doom had an impact on Romero's work. He became so engrossed with fame and deathmatching with fans that he neglected his work at id completely. American became the "new Romero" around the office and impressed Carmack by his long hours and was able to complete more Doom II levels than Romero himself. This created a lot of tension during the development of Quake and soon afterwards, Romero was fired from id.
American was one of the few id Software members that opposed the firing of John Romero. But since he was not an owner, just an employee, his voice was not heard. He soon began to despise John Carmack and the fact that he was the de facto ruler of the company. Everything had to work around Carmack's schedule and technology, and American didn't like that. He also felt that without Romero, the perfect harmony at id Software did not exist anymore. American also had some rivalry with Tim Willits, another designer (whom American hired during a job interview) having impressed Carmack with his level designs even more. After the development on Quake II wrapped-up, American was called into a meeting with the owners and told that he was fired for not performing. Carmack thought American had served his purpose and had now gone the route of Romero. Ironically, American was quoted saying that the day he got fired was very meaningful to him.
" 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."
- American McGee (2011)
Doom Maps designed by McGee
The Ultimate Doom
- E4M1 - Hell Beneath
- E4M4 - Unruly Evil
- M02 - Underhalls
- M03 - The Gantlet
- M04 - The Focus
- M05 - The Waste Tunnels
- M06 - The Crusher
- M07 - Dead Simple
- M14 - The Inmost Dens
- M22 - The Catacombs
EA and Beyond
In 1998, McGee joined Electronic Arts as the Creative Director and created his own game called American McGee's Alice, his most critically and commercially successful game to date. The game was developed by Rogue Entertainment, whose office was in the same building as id Software. After finishing Alice, he left Electronic Arts in January 2002 and founded his own company, The Mauretania Import Export Company, of which he was the president. The only game Mauretania ever made was Bad Day L.A., which received negative reviews upon release. Mauretania was shut down on January 2011. He also formed another game company called Vykarian in 2006 but the company only lasted for two years.
Made In China
American McGee now lives in Shanghai, China where he established another new game development studio in August 2006 called Spicy Horse. He has noted that game development is an untapped market in China. Spicy Horse has released the not-so-well-received American McGee's Grimm series of episodic games. In the spring of 2009, EA announced that Spicy Horse will develop a sequel to American McGee's Alice. American has noted in his blog that Spicy Horse will handle the design aspect of the development, and the asset-creation part will be outsourced.
The sequel, titled Alice: Madness Returns, was released on June 14th, 2011 and had received mixed to positive reviews from critics. The game was praised for its strong visuals and creative presentation but criticized for its repetitive gameplay and questionable level design. Since then, American and his team have shifted their focus from making AAA titles to Free To Play mobile games.