American James McGee was born to an eccentric mother who was a house painter. He met his biological father only once, at his 13th birthday party. 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". McGee was highly creative and was gifted in mathematics and science. He also took an early interest in computer programming, eventually getting accepted to a magnet school for computer science.
"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."
McGee had a number of stepfathers when growing up until his mother finally settled into a relationship with a transgender woman. When McGee was sixteen, he came home from school to find 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 sex change operation, 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.
At the age of twenty-one, McGee was already an automobile and gaming enthusiast. He moved to an apartment complex where he met John Carmack. They became friends, and Carmack offered McGee a tech support job at id Software, where he was quickly promoted to level designer and music manager. 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.
In 1998, McGee was fired from id Software . Later, McGee 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."
McGee soon joined Electronic Arts and worked as creative director on American McGee's Alice (with Rogue Entertainment), which garnered favorable reviews and became a cult classic. After finishing Alice, McGee left EA "in frustration" when the company fired his creative partner R.J. Berg and shut down Rogue Entertainment. He then founded his first company, The Mauretania Import Export Company.
Partnering with Enlight Software, McGee released the games Scrapland in 2004 and Bad Day L.A. 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 on-line service GameTap, was released in twenty-three 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. 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.
In 2012, McGee was focusing on Free-To-Play games for mobile devices with BigHead Bash, Akaneiro, and Crazy Fairies.
In 2013 he opened a Kickstarter for a new game, American McGee's OZombie, however due to slow/lackluster funding the project was cancelled. 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.
In July 2016, McGee announced the closure of Spicy Horse on Twitter. Inspired by Jacques Cousteau, he is now pursuing the "life at sea;" travelling, making games and doing vlogs across South East Asia on a sailboat. He created a Patreon account to seek support for this endeavor.
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."
In 2005, McGee left the United States and resided first in Hong Kong and now in the Chinese city of Shanghai. Once in China, he created Spicy Horse, at one point the largest independent Western game development house in the nation, 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. For instance, on McGee's 13th birthday, his father, whom he had just met for the first time, was "stinking drunk" and assaulted the young McGee by attempting to gouge his eyes out with the intent of either killing or molesting him. McGee escaped this event by suggesting they "take both of their cars" to a bar and get drunk. Luckily, the father agreed. Shortly afterwards his father was involved in a car accident. "They got no more than 100 feet away when American's dad crashed into a telephone pole."
McGee is an atheist and a libertarian.1994 - Wolfenstein 3D, Tester (Atari Corporation)
1994 - Doom II: Hell on Earth, Level Designer (id Software)
1994 - Doom, Level Designer (Sega)
1995 - The Ultimate Doom, Level Designer (GT Interactive Software)
1995 - Doom, Tester (WMS Industries)
1996 - Quake, Level Designer, Sound Designer, Tools Programmer (id Software)
1996 - H!Zone, Co-Producer (WizardWorks)
1996 - Hexen: Beyond Heretic, Co-Producer (GT Interactive Software)
1996 - Final Doom, Level Designer (id Software and Atari, Inc.)
1997 - Quake Mission Pack 1: Scourge of Armagon, Level Designer (id Software)
1997 - Quake Mission Pack 2: Dissolution of Eternity, Level Designer (id Software)
1997 - Quake II, Level Designer, Sound Designer, Tools Programmer (Activision)
1997 - Doom 64, Level Designer (Midway Games)
1998 - Dominion: Storm Over Gift 3, Sound Designer (Eidos Interactive)
2000 - Timeline, Co-Designer, Co-Writer (Eidos Interactive)
2000 - American McGee's Alice, Creative Director, Co-Writer, Designer (Electronic Arts)
2004 - American McGee Presents: Scrapland, Producer (Enlight Software)
2006 - American McGee Presents: Bad Day L.A., Creative Director, Writer, Co-Designer (Enlight Software)
2008 - American McGee's Grimm, Project Leader, Creative Director, Co-Writer, Co-Designer (Turner Broadcasting System)
2009 - DexIQ, Project Leader, Creative Director (Spicy Horse)
2011 - Alice: Madness Returns, Creative Director, Co-Writer, Designer (Spicy Horse) (Electronic Arts)
2012 - BigHead Bash (Spicy Horse)
2012 - Crazy Fairies (Spicy Horse)
2012 - Akaneiro: Demon Hunters (Spicy Horse)
2013 - OZombie (Spicy Horse) [Cancelled]
2013 - The Gate (Spicy Horse) (Mobage)
2015 - Chains of Darkness (Spicy Pony)